October 2012
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Month October 2012

Has the European Green Party lost its radical edge?

In elections yesterday, the Greens were almost invisible.
In Catalonia, the result will be better, but that’s the only place in Iberia where we register our presence.

In Greece, there has been a political upheaval. Natalie Bennett, the Leader of the English & Welsh Greens called for a new Syriza here.
She couldn’t very well say the Greek Greens.

In Portugal, where are we?
In Italy?
In Ireland, the Irish Greens disastrously joined the government and did what the LibDems are doing in the UK. Lust for power = ditching principles = the people ditch you too!

In all these peripheral countries in Europe, the political situation has changed incredib;y as disillusioned people have searched for alternatives.
They have NOT looked at the Greens.

We need to ask ourselves this question and very quickly come out with an answer.
One clue to our misfortune is the disgraceful actions of the European Green co-leader, Danny Cohn Bendit.
He berated the French Greens for opposing Hollande’s austerity budget and resigned in a huff.
Good riddance.

This may be a turning point in the slow slide to mediocrity and listlessness in the face of unprecedented ecological and economic crises.
The “me-too” politics of concession, surrender and coalition at any cost proves to be electorally disastrous eventually.

But where’s the debate?

Farid Erkizia Bakht

Basques – to the left or the right?

The Basque elections yesterday resulted in the Nationalists winning almost two-thirds of the total vote.
The unionist parties were routed.
Out of 75 seats, the right-wing nationalists (PNV) won 27 while the left-wing pro-independence coalition (EH Bildu)won 21 with 25% of the total votes.

PNV now have to make a decision.
Do they rule in a coalition with fellow nationalists, the EH Bildu?
Or do they go with the so-called Socialists of PSOE (a kind of PASOK)?

Given that PNV sees Bildu as the ultimate threat to their monopoly on nationalism (as the left wing nationalists were disenfranchised for years), realpolitik would suggest that PNV will opt for PSOE.

If they did, it would be a strategic error in the medium term.
The austerity cuts will bite even deeper the next 24 months and if PNV don’t challenge Madrid effectively, it could see support ebb away to EH Bildu.
The left nationalists are a very young grouping with only one way to go: UP.
As Paul Mason says, they are a cross between Sein Fenn and Syriza.
In the long game, they are likely to gather strength (as their name implies).
They have won legitimacy.

The two highest items on the Basque agenda will be:

a) end of the Basque conflict, starting with prisoner repatriation to the Basque country and a formal agreement for peace
b) a rejection of Austerity

The right wing nationalists of PNV will struggle and thus lose support steadily in 2013 and 2014 to the Left.

Teresa May expects all UK citizens in Spain to pass intermediate Spanish test

Well, if she were Home Secretary in Madrid and applied the same principles as she wants to apply to immigrants in the U.K., then logically she must expect emigrants from these shores to follow the same logic overseas, in the costas in Spain.

If not, why not?

She wants to restrict EU migration to “stem the flow of Eastern European migrants to the UK”.
What about middle class “Expats” from the UK settling in France or of all classes in Spain?
Have these Tough On Immigration politicians ever insisted that their own voters should learn foreign languages and their culture, when they live abroad?

We are talking big numbers here. Emigration is the great taboo subject.

Source: migrantrights.org

….”from October 2013, all people applying to settle in the UK will need to pass an intermediate level English language test and pass the ‘life in the UK’ test.
Currently, applicants can either take the Life in the UK Test or take combined English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and citizenship classes – the system is geared towards accommodating different skills in language ability. This means that the change will impact in particular those without strong English reading and writing skills.

How does “English jobs for English workers” sound? Good, Bad or Ugly?

At the Labour Party conference, Chris Bryant, Shadow Immigration Minister said:

“…. I think there are three industries, the hospitality industry, the construction industry and agriculture who have done remarkably little to make sure there are British people able to come in [and work in] those industries.

“Why is it that you go to a hotel in France and you’re welcomed by a French person, that’s delightful.

“You’ve actually got to invest in skills and training and make sure you’ve got the balance and work force that is going to take on those jobs.”

OK. Between 1997 to 2010, didn’t Labour invest in skills and training, then? I thought they did.
If not, why not?
If it did, why do British businesses employ foreign workers?
And what does Chris Bryant mean regarding British businesses need to do more? How?
How will he ensure that restaurants and hotels employ more people from Britain, to match his vision of France? Quotas? If it’s left to market forces, how long would it take to up-skill people? Then, isn’t this a long term project being sold as a short term fix?

I worry that if you add this to Ed Miliband’s speech in the summer when he was “sorry” about immigration, come election time, in front of a hostile media, it will be all too easy to be all too tough on immigration.

If the Tories are trying to take a sledgehammer to the EU’s freedom of movement by people, where will Labour be by the time they are courting votes in the South-east of England?
And where in all this is Blue Labour?

John Cruddas, once the darling of the Left, made me uncomfortable as I watched his interview a few weeks ago. Everything seemed to be up in the air, to be looked at.

The suspicion was that this is all a prelude to a return to Gordon Brown’s “British jobs for British Workers”.
Today, a deal on a referendum to decide Scotland’s independence was signed.
If the Scots did decide to leave, then would that slogan have to be changed to “English Jobs for English Workers”?

Now, how nasty does that sound?

What’s the future of Green Politics?

On Saturday, I went to an all-day conference run by the GreenHouse Think Tank on the Future of Green Politics.
The title interested me. This is exactly the type of dialogue we need to be involved in, both within and beyond the Party.
It didn’t start off too well.
I was shocked by the main presentation in the morning by Roger Scrutton of ‘Green Philosophy’ fame. Apparently, he jetted in from Princeton for this event. I wish he hadn’t.
In front of a panel, including Caroline Lucas MP, he went on to make an extraordinary pitch for retreating from the clutches of the Left which, according to him, had captured the Greens. Instead, we should be looking at ‘Conservatism’ through a new lens, especially Localism.
He then went to paint an idealised picture of 19th century Conservatism, and reeled off names such as Adam Smith.

Frankly, it was drivel. But it was Dangerous Drivel.
Thank God, Caroline Lucas stood up to say that the agenda is altogether different: that Redistribution of power, wealth and income is the key.

Roger S has taken the first 10 letters of conservation and conservatives and linked the two.
Sorry but the 19th century to me signifies imperialism abroad, the ransacking of resources and people in what today we call the Global South and at home the horrifying conditions of factory work for millions, living in slums.
Late 20th century and current Conservatives are about Big Business, the rule of the City of London and quasi-imperial war in Asia and North Africa.

Thanks also go to many in the audience who stood up and disagreed with the thesis. Forcefully.

Surprisingly, there was a workshop on how the Green Movement could work with Trade Unions (run by Natalie Bennett, Leader of the Green Party) and another on Eco-Socialism (run by Adam Ramsey).

My summary: I think it was worthwhile raising the subject, a recognition that we need some fundamental rethinking perhaps or at least take stock.
This was reinforced by the make up of the 100+ audience (no mean feat on a Saturday at £10 entrance fee): Mainly middle aged, some being present at the birth of the People Party nearly four decades ago, and white.
There were some young people, though no way near enough.

I didn’t hear the word Nationalism mentioned. Nor Religion. I heard something about Corporate Social Responsibility and how apparently there was no space left of Labour.
To be fair, this was challenged as someone retorted that SNP was left of Labour in Scotland and Bradford West gave an inkling of what is possible in England.
A remark, which might not have quite sunk in, judging by the reaction, was that politics was likely to change very quickly, very suddenly, echoing what is occuring in mainland Europe.
Some of the tame strategies suggested of cherry-picking ideas & allies from both New Labour and the Tories look decidedly out of date and plainly wrong, and surely against the Green Party Philosophy about the anti-capitalism and social and environmental justice.
I much prefer the strategy of Lucas and Bennett of seeking a space where the millions of ex-Labour voters might want to visit. Towards the Left.

Rupert Read said ” we could believe in eco-socialism but don’t necessarily want to call ourselves eco-socialists”. That’s a valid tactical point about messaging.
The point is however to decide after 40 years and dashed hopes, that perhaps now the Zeitgeist reflects an era of Low Growth or Negative growth, rising unemployment, a Lost Generation of Young People, Austerity, Nationalism,fight over the Welfare State and the nature of the EU.

Is it more about talking about the whole Green political philosophy rather than moving to the Right, disguised as neither Left, nor Right, but Forward?

I am going to read some more of the Reports that have come out of the Think Tank. The fact they put together such an event as on Saturday deserves praise. The day was stimulating. The issues raised were crucial. The choice of workshops subjects showed a willingness to be inclusive.

May the dialogue continue.

Nationalism threatens the European status quo

I am not saying that it’s a bad thing.
What I am concerned about is the position or non-position among the more progressive and green parts of the spectrum in England.
Many activists might be unaware that the European Greens work together with the European Free Alliance, a group of Nationalist parties, including Plaid & SNP to EA in the Basque country and beyond.

Yesterday, Belgium via its Antwerp election took a giant step to a split.
On Sunday, 21st October, the Basques go to polls where it looks like the nationalists will win two thirds of the vote.
Catalonia has a referendum on independence on November 25th.

But I have yet to witness any debate within the Green movement on what happens if Europe splinters into new states. Wallonia anyone? Catalunya?
The EU can forget about basking in the halo of a Nobel Prize (!). The position of Brussels would need to be resolved if Belgium split.

2014 looks to be a pivotal year..

a) Scottish referendum on Independence
b) 200th anniversary of Catalan subjugation into a Spanish state & elections
c) Belgian general elections
d) European elections

Europe is changing before our very eyes. We had better recognise this and adapt or state our position.
The fight against austerity is very much linked to rising nationalism. The English question may not be being asked right now, but it will. Much sooner than we think.
What I am very afraid of is that we leave those questions to be asked by the right wing who then go on to frame a debate which focuses on exclusivity, a barely-veiled racism and an immoral economic system which unites all three mainstream Unionist parties.

Farid Erkizia Bakht

AFP reports the Belgian bombshell election this way:
Flemish nationalist leader Bart De Wever scored a breakthrough election win Sunday and immediately urged Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo to radically re-shape the federal state.

Hailing a “historic” victory for himself in Antwerp with big gains right across Dutch-speaking Flanders in local polls, De Wever said Di Rupo and his coalition partners should “assume your responsibility.”

With results from Antwerp almost all in, De Wever’s New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) bagged 37.7 percent and Socialist incumbent mayor Patrick Janssens 28.6 percent, and the win was underpinned by scores of 20-30 percent across the territory of six million people.

With backers readying for a party in City Hall, De Wever demanded negotiations “to enable both Flanders and Wallonia to look after their own affairs.”

In the run-up to tense 2014 general elections, he wants to turn Belgium into a “confederation,” effectively seeking fiscal independence for the Dutch-speaking north and French-speaking south although sharing areas like defence.

Only this, De Wever said, would allow Belgium as a whole to “find a path of solidarity,” which could also affect the future of Brussels, the largely Francophone EU, Belgian and Flemish capital.

London: the 6th French City

Source BBC:

London is home to the majority of the vibrant UK French population for whom the capital is not just a city of transit.
(It is now) represented by a new French MP for the recently established Northern Europe constituency comprising the UK, Ireland, Scandinavia and the Baltic states.
It is difficult to measure the exact number of French people living in the British capital.
Over 120,000 are officially registered at the French consulates in London and Edinburgh, but not everybody decides to register and other London estimates put the French population at anywhere between 300,000 and 400,000 citizens.

‘Key issue’
Although the French have long had a tradition of MPs from their overseas territories, this is the first time France will allow elected MPs for its expat population to have a seat in parliament.
The decision to create new constituencies for the French abroad was taken by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, whose government passed legislation in 2008 to give them the right to choose their own MPs.

The French already have expat representatives in the Senate
Prof Marliere argues this can be seen a political move by the right to boost votes. Traditionally, the French abroad are less likely to support the left, even if the gap is narrowing in the UK.
Statistics from the French Ministry of the Interior show that the majority (53.05%) of overseas French citizens voted for right-wing candidate Mr Sarkozy in the 2012 presidential election.
But French people in the UK bucked this trend for the first time by voting for Socialist candidate Francois Hollande – though Mr Sarkozy won almost 52% of the second round vote in London.
Party politics aside, Prof Marliere says there are more and more French people living abroad. They can encounter problems with the education, pension, tax, social welfare and health systems in their host country, issues that an expat MP could help them with.

Candidates for Northern Europe constituency
Axelle Lemaire, Socialist Party (London)
Emmanuelle Savarit, UMP party (London)
Yannick Naud, Democratic Movement (London)
Will Mael Nyamat, independent (London)
Olivier Bertin, Green Party (London)
Olivier Cadic, Centrist Alliance (London)
Denys Dhiver, supported by the Christian Democratic Party and France Ecologie (Leicester, UK)
Gaspard Koenig, Liberal Democratic (London)
Guy Le Guezennec, National Front (Kent, UK)
Jerome de Lavenere Lussan, independent (London)
Marie-Claire Sparrow, Gathering of French residents overseas (Essex, UK)
Bertrand Larmoyer, independent liberal (London)
Aberzack Boulariah, independent (Ireland)
Olivier de Chazeaux, supported by the Radical Party, New Centre, and Republican, Ecologist and Social Alliance (Paris)
Lucile Jamet, Left Front
Patrick Kaboza, independent candidate (Riga, Latvia)
Ezella Sahraoui, Radical Party of the Left (Lille, France)
Christophe Schermesser, European Federalist Party (Finland)
Edith Tixier, Solidarity and Progress party
Anne-Marie Wolfson, independent (Paris)

This is reflected in the official manifestos of the candidates, which also mention the challenges faced by French people abroad in business.
But Prof Marliere says that the “key issue” for the UK-based candidates is education, as French families are keen to send their children to French schools.
Providing a French education for their children can be costly for parents and French-speaking schools are oversubscribed.
Because of this, the French embassy, teachers and parents have been working to deal with the shortage of places, opening a new school in Kentish Town, London, last September, says Frederique Brisset, headmistress of L’Ecole des Petits and L’Ecole de Battersea.
“The choice of French schools is limited and there are fundamental differences between the French curriculum and the British curriculum.”
“French schools are not free,” says Prof Marliere. “Although the French state subsidises education by sending French teachers, the rest is not paid for by the state.”
This issue is not going away as within the UK, the make-up of the French community is changing. It is getting younger, and therefore more likely to have children.
In addition to those working in the financial sector and employed by international companies, the UK’s French population now includes “students, people in the service industries, public servants and young families”, says Prof Marliere.

French Londoners
Clelia-Elsa Froguel, a 26-year-old consultant born in France, is part of this younger generation.
She says the creation of an expat MP enables the voices of French emigrants to be heard in the French parliament.
Muriel Demarcus says that it is difficult to see how the French “MP for London” will change anything
We are French Londoners, not expats,” she says. “The election of an MP for us is extremely important.”
While she can vote in the French presidential elections, up until now she did not vote in the French parliamentary elections because she felt she was “not represented.”
And David Medioni, a political journalist based in Paris, points out that French people in France view it as “normal” that expats should have some political say.

‘More and more British’
But others are less than enthusiastic about the idea, arguing that the MP will have little impact as the French abroad are not the government’s priority.
Prof Marliere says it is difficult to see how the French abroad can place demands on the government, as many do not pay taxes in France.
He asks: “Why would the government in France supplement our life choices?”

Key facts
11 expat MPs to be elected
The other 10 constituencies include the US and Canada, South America, Spain and Portugal and East Africa
Second round of voting will take place on 17 June
Italy has had expat MPs since 2006
French people in France vote on 10 June in the first round of the parliamentary elections

And Muriel Demarcus, a 39-year-old business owner, says the introduction of an expat French MP is unlikely to change anything.
“After four or five years you turn a corner and you become more and more British. I don’t think we are French any more.”
The successful candidate will sit in the French National Assembly in Paris and will have the same duties as any other French MP, representing a vast constituency stretching across 1.5m sq miles (4m sq km).
Prof Marliere expects that the elected representative will divide their time between the French capital and their home country, making frequent trips to other regions.

Although the figures are disputed, the London population has grown so big that it is sometimes referred to as France’s sixth city.
As a result, French people in other European countries, such as 22-year-old Maite Delvarre from Stockholm, say that the views of non-UK based constituents won’t be heard.
“The culture in the UK and the Nordic countries is not the same. That’s why we need somebody else here.”
Even for experts like Prof Marliere, the outcome of the election is difficult to predict.
“It’s totally new. Nobody knows what is going to happen.”