Tag Archives: Europe

The Beginning of the End of the Road? Britain and the European Council meeting, 8/9 December 2011

The meeting of the Heads of State and Government in the European Council in Brussels on 8/9 December 2011 marks nothing short of a caesura in the UK’s almost thirty-nine years of membership of the European Union. There are five principal points to note from this:

1. Regardless of the content of the new intergovernmental treaty, the fact that the somewhere between 23 and 26 countries are likely to sign up for this, with potentially only the UK on the sidelines, represents a spectacular failure of British diplomacy. Hitherto, the UK’s underlying approach to European negotiations had always been predicated on the idea of being in the room when the decisions are taken, even if Britain did not always formally participate in the outcomes of these decisions. And when it did oppose proposals, the British government has generally managed to ensure that it is not the only country doing so. Of course, one could argue that this ‘having your cake and eating it‘ tactic could not continue indefinitely; nonetheless, it is David Cameron, not John Major or even Margaret Thatcher, who will go down in history as the first UK Prime Minister to have failed on this account.

2. In truth, there was little chance of Cameron ever agreeing to the proposed new treaty. For one thing, the City is not only a major contributor to the British economy, but also to the Conservative Party (see the FT’s telling blog on this issue) – given this, it would have been astonishing had he agreed to more regulation of financial services. Second, had he signed up to a treaty it would have meant, at best, a drawn out and tortuous parliamentary ratification process (with Eurosceptic backbenchers literally queuing up to demand repatriation of powers) or at worst a full-blown referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, with terminal consequences for the Conservative Lib Dem coalition. It’s a moot point whether this prompted a deliberate strategy by Cameron to deploy his veto – Charles Grant of the CER certainly seems to think so.

3. One might therefore even be tempted to show understanding for the Prime Minister’s decision – if only it had not come at such a terrible price for the UK. Although the UK has de facto been outside key EU policies (the Euro, Schengen, Justice and Home Affairs / immigration) for many years now, that exclusion has now been institutionalised. Moreover – and this is perhaps the central point of this posting – it is an illusion to suppose that Britain will still have a full say in matters concerning the Single Market. The new treaty will spell much closer coordination and integration for participating member-states and to expect that this will not have implications for the forming of common positions in other policy areas, such as CAP and the Single Market, is frankly rather naive. It is not, as the Prime Minister suggested in his post-summit press conference, a question of whether EU officials will or will not support the work of the new treaty: in the EU, most decisions are prepared informally in the corridors between plenary meetings. Yet if the UK from the outset is not in the corridor, it cannot be part of that decision-making process. The very real likelihood over time, therefore, is that the UK will increasingly be presented with a series of faits accomplis by the other member-states, which it will have to accept, or face being outvoted on.

4. The decision to wield Britain’s veto formally has also cost an enormous amount of political capital. Already, patience with Britain has been wearing thin, but it has now erupted into open anger. The situation was not helped by some very poor preparatory work by the British government – in particular, David Cameron made no real attempt to win allies for his position, preferring instead to ‘go to Brussels’ and fight it out, mano y mano, with the other leaders. The BBC has an interesting collation of responses to Britain from around the EU, but the palpable anger in the comments by the Lithuanian President, Dalia Grybauskaitė, in her comments to German television gives the best impression of how isolated the UK now is.

The summit, therefore, has left Britain more on the margins of the European Union than at any previous time in its history. Its outcome moreover now poses questions of a fundamental nature about the UK’s future role and position in the EU, which, ultimately, may even lead to referendum on the UK’s membership itself. That may cheer the hearts of the Conservative Eurosceptic Right, but it is scarcely a credible position for a relatively small (and heavily indebted) trading nation on the northwestern fringes of Europe to take.

Welcome to Europe, Mr President!

A post by Dr Jorg Mathias, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Aston University

Finally, Obama behaves like a President. It has taken him a while, he is now in office for two and a half years. Re-election is looming, campaigning has in practice already begun. Congress is firmly in the hands of the Republicans. National debt as a percentage of GDP is higher than ever in the history of the United States, paling even the Cold War excesses into insignificance. It was time for a wake-up call, and Barrack Obama seems to have gotten the message of late. The US President’s job is to exercise executive power, after all. Even Democratic Presidents in the past knew that, and the one who didn’t, or didn’t want to know, Carter, suffered the electoral consequences.

So, the Obama of 2011 is markedly different from the Obama that ran for office in 2008, who traded heavily on his guaranteed place in history, sprouted evocative platitudes about Lincoln and Kennedy, and basically honed his general “Mr Nice Guy” image at home and abroad. Policy contents will take care of itself…  This time, however, with the Democratic nomination practically in the bag, it’s nevertheless time to convince the American electorate to give him a second term based on the performance during the first term. It’s time to act presidential, then.

The Arms Limitation Treaty with Russia, 18 months ago, was just a small clear-up action from the Cold War, tiny compared to SALT, START and other strategic arms limitation treaties (thankfully, there is not much more left to clear up). The camp at Guantarnamo is still running – a key election promise broken. What makes this nevertheless good Presidential leadership is that Obama is largely unapologetic about it, and doesn’t even hesitate to blame a lack of international co-operation in repatriating the inmates. Still, civilian trials on US soil might spectacularly backfire, and he knows the risk – though he used to noisily blame Bush Jun. for not taking it. Violating the sovereignty of a supposed ally by means of a military incursion is always a good vote winner if it works, and thankfully dear old Osama was at home this time, not gone like in Clinton’s Tora Bora effort. In a throwback to the Eisenhower era, earlier this year Obama even managed a Latin American scandal, ATF Arms to Mexico, with Federal Agents cheaply selling illegal firearms ceased on the streets of the USA to Mexican gang lords in the hope of starting a gang war among them instead of them joining forces against the Mexican authorities. Neither the NAFTA partners nor the civilian victims in the northern provinces of Mexico were impressed. Sometimes, it also pays not to be in the driving seat, and let NATO take the lead in the Libyan mess. American firepower will be provided, but let Sarkozy and Cameron rush headlong into the political stalemate, for unlike those two Obama has not forgotten the “No Foreign Intervention” posters waved in the streets of Benghazi in the early days of the uprising. Ah, the Middle East: Harsh on Israel and soft on the Palestinians, as attempted in the early days, had precisely the same effect in terms of progress as the opposite stances taken by previous administrations, i.e. none. So, as the new “presidential” President, it’s worth to go for an attempt to re-write history and tell the assembled great and good of the American Jewish lobby on 22 May that the stalwart phrase “a return to the 1967 borders”, when spoken by Obama, means “negotiation between the two sides as to what these borders should be, taking into account the events and demographic shifts that have occurred since then”. Rapturous applause guaranteed, and one can safely travel off to Europe while the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nethanyahu is in Washington (well, he prefers to talk with the Republicans anyway).

Compared to this, Europe is safe territory, an oasis of peace and tranquillity, a good place to combine business and pleasure, visiting places that provide resonance with key sections of the electorate at home, while strengthening traditional international political ties. The first stop is Ireland, practically home ground in any case. As the Corrigan Brothers told us in 2008: “O’Leary, O’Reilly, O’Hare and O’Hara, nobody is as Irish as Barrack O’Bama”. “Fenian to Kenyan the American way” – even if it’s five generations in the case at hand, Irish roots are a Must for Presidential hopefuls ever since Kennedy, and duly an eight cousin was ready in Moneygall, Co. Offaly, to welcome the long-lost relative. (By contrast, Kenyan roots are not so essential, so the one state visit early in the presidency, though highly symbolic, was of no practical consequence).

On to Britain then, sneaking in a few hours ahead of schedule, the middle of the night, to avoid the volcano ash, for a historic First: the great pleasure to speak in the Parliament of the former colonial masters. “No taxation without representation”, remember? But before that, the traditional “special relationship” talk had to be wheeled out at the state dinner (yes, when Queen Elizabeth II began her reign, Winston Churchill was still Prime Minister, and she saw no less than 11 US Presidents come and go in the meantime). Nevertheless, the close friendship between the two countries is more than a myth, and in the modern era is just as essential as it was sixty years ago. Indeed, Cameron employed the very phrase, “essential relationship”, in place of “special relationship” – a new quality of co-operation already in evidence with the Blair-Clinton and Blair-Bush partnerships, though Brown was really not into it in the same way, with either Bush or Obama. However, the traditional party-political links between the Democrats and Labour on the one hand, and Republicans and Conservatives on the other hand, seem to be of less relevance in recent years. If Bush could work with Blair, there is no reason for Obama not to work with Cameron. By and large, American Presidents, in London’s eye, simply can do no wrong.

Paris, by contrast, will be a more tricky proposition. Sarkozy is also gearing up for re-election, and the photo opportunities will be beneficial for both – and maybe, just maybe, a way out of the Libyan deadlock can be found between Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy. However, there will also be a G8 meeting and lots of international trouble to talk through. Yet there is the budget deficit at home, so Obama will hopefully not have to make too many new costly promises, Congress will simply not stand for it. The last-second budget deal last month was enough financial brinksmanship, and if Newt Gingrich is really going to make a serious run for the Republican nomination, he will no doubt claim that the balanced books of the 1990s were as much his achievement as Clinton’s.  Still, Russian President Medvedev will probably need some sweetener so as not to object too noisily to the business planned for Poland, the final station…

The Polish community is of course another key constituency at least in the New England Democratic heartlands, so Warsaw is almost as much a Must as Dublin these days. This time the trip even makes business sense, fortunately those F-16 fighters are still bestsellers on the global arms market, and the Polish have now been close NATO allies for over 15 years. The Russians may make some noises about their national security, but deep down they know that in the current international climate that’s just business, and neither Russia nor NATO need to have serious security concerns about each other. In military terms, the “threat axis” has shifted South by Southeast, for both sides.

A visit to Germany, by contrast, can be dispensed with this time. The serious rift from the Bush era has already been healed by the pre-election visit in 2008, but Kennedyesque speeches in Berlin work only once per President. At present, the agreement with Merkel to quietly disagree about just about everything seems to work well enough for both sides, not endangering the long-term friendship. Another one to avoid is Berlusconi, despite his obviously important role in the Libyan crisis. Yet he is not on the same wavelength as Obama, Sarkozy and Cameron. Also, one wouldn’t want to give the American press excuses to engage in another round of private mud digging, the Republicans will probably try that again anyway come next year. Luckily, however, the Italian is essentially on his way out, and won’t feature largely in a 2nd term. Also, it would be wise to avoid any upset with Russia before the election, so Ukraine and Georgia will also have to wait to a 2nd term as well.

So, barring unforeseen incidents, it should be a relatively pleasant week in Europe, and key boxes will be ticked with the voters at home at the same time. Overall, so far it looks as if Obama is doing just enough to earn a 2nd term, and with it the freedom to do what he really wants without having to face the electorate again, ever. A state visit to Cuba, perhaps?

Britain and Europe: Securing the Economic Recovery

Aston Centre for Europe with the European Commission invites you to a seminar on the European policy of the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition entitled:  Britain & Europe: Securing the Economic Recovery’ on Wednesday, 19 January 2011 from 2.30 to 6.30 pm.

The event will begin with a roundtable discussion chaired by Lord Kerr of Kinlochard at 2.30 pm.

Confirmed speakers include:

Professor Tim Bale (Sussex)

Professor Simon Bulmer (Sheffield)

Professor Helen Wallace (LSE)

Professor Richard Whitman (Bath)

After the roundtable, a keynote speech will be given by Dr Adam Posen of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee entitled, ‘Decoupling and Divergent Recoveries in Europe’.

The event will be held at the Lakeside Conference Centre at Aston University. A buffet lunch will be available from 1.30 to 2.30 pm and the event will be followed by a reception at 6.30 pm.

The event is free of charge and open to all, although since places are limited, participants are requested to register their intention to attend in advance with Baljeet Jhheent by sending an email to: europe@aston.ac.uk

ACE students quiz former UK Ambassador on life in the diplomatic service

Michael Arthur MA visitACE today welcomed Sir Michael Arthur KCMG, who recently retired from the Diplomatic Service as HM Abassador to Germany. Prior to that, from 2003-2007, Sir Michael served as British High Commissioner to India.

Students had the opportunity to hear Sir Michael deliver some candid reflections on his role as the UK’s representative overseas, and to hear his thoughts on the current state of both UK-India relations and UK-German relations. He also offered ACE students some useful pointers on how to develop a career in the UK’s diplomatic service.

MA students quizzed Sir Michael on the role of bilateral relations between European states in the context of a European Union.

Conference: Does God Matter? Religion and Politics in the European Union and the United States

On 12/13 November 2010 a very successful conference on ‘Does God Matter? Religion and Politics in the European Union and the United States’ was held at Aston Business School Conference Centre. The event was supported by the Aston Centre for Europe and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and was organised by Dr Lucian Leustean as part of his ESRC project on ‘The Politics of Religious Lobbies in the European Union’.

The conference brought together sixty-eight participants from fourteeen countries including religious practitioners involved in dialogue with European institutions in Brussels and academics from both sides of the Atlantic. Twenty-one papers were presented on both days addressing the evolution of religious representation from historical, sociological, juridical, philosophical and political science perspectives.

The conference is grateful to the following publishers for their financial assistance towards the costs: Oxford University Press, Brill Publishers, Ashgate and Routledge.

 You can downloand the draft papers and full programme here.

Immigration and Citizenship in Germany Twenty Years After Unification: Deutschland einig Einwanderungsland?

One of the most resilient fixtures on the domestic policy agenda of the old West Germany was immigration and citizenship. By the late 1980s, it already had a thirty year long history, with the first recruitment treaty for temporary Gastarbeiter signed with Italy in 1955. It had also been over fifteen years since the end of recruitment (Anwerbestopp) in 1973 heralded the start of the transformation of a hitherto temporary migrant population into a more permanent community, as well as the advent of dependant migration. Even so, throughout this entire period West Germany remained resolutely wedded to the notion of not being a country of immigration (kein Einwanderungsland), a position which especially the CDU/CSU maintained on the basis that, in contrast to countries such as the United States, West Germany had not actively sought to attract new permanent migration to increase its population. At the same time, for good historical reasons, West Germany had maintained a comparatively liberal policy on political asylum and offered a homeland for ethnic Germans who had been persecuted under Communism (so-called Aussiedler).

Unification in 1990 had a seismic impact on all aspects of this self-understanding. For one thing, the associated end of the Cold War and collapse of the Iron Curtain triggered unprecedented migratory flows to Germany: Between 1988 and 1993, over 1.4 million asylum seekers and over 1.6 million ethnic Germans and their dependants arrived in the country. The sheer scale of this migration led to its curtailment in two separate items of legislation in 1992. At the same time, the demise of the GDR formally allowed united Germany to reconsider the basis of its citizenship and to move away from the pan-Germanic and ultimately ethnic definition which underpinned it. This culminated in the 2000 Citizenship Law, which inter alia introduced ius soli for the first time in history into German citizenship.

So, twenty years on after unification, does this mean that Germany is now an undisputed Einwanderungsland? Even when one moves beyond the rather simplistic interpretation of this question during the 1980s to consider whether Germany now reflects the structures and experiences of other countries with large migrant populations, the answer, perhaps unsurprisingly, remains a resounding ‘Jein.’

On the one hand, Germany’s immigrant population is more settled than ever. At the end of 2009, almost 7 million non-Germans resided in the country, including 1.7 million Turks. Over 95 percent of non-Germans lived in the old Länder, with an overall average residence period of over eighteen years; indeed, over one-third had more than twenty years’ residence. Around one-fifth of the total population of Germany is formally considered to have a ‘migration background.’

In policy terms, Germany has witnessed a visible convergence with other countries in the EU. Thus, over the past five years, and in addition to the citizenship reform of 2000, Germany has passed not only the first immigration law but also, thanks to the EU, the first dedicated anti-discrimination legislation in its history. High-skilled migration is now possible from outside the EU. There has been a concerted policy focus on integration, with the introduction of formal language courses in 2005, a national integration plan in 2006, and citizenship tests in 2007. Institutionally, integration is now recognized as a core policy task under the auspices of a government minister in the Federal Chancellery, as opposed to a non-governmental commissioner located in the Labor Ministry in the 1980s. And although the educational attainments and labor market outcomes of migrants generally remain well below those of the indigenous population, this too is common to other countries with a similar migration history.

On the other hand, despite the 2000 reform, and in clear contrast to countries such as France and the UK, citizenship in Germany remains largely exclusive. Contrary to initial expectations, the number of naturalizations has actually halved over the past decade. Dual citizenship remains formally rejected and thus constitutes a key impediment to higher numbers. More broadly, and despite their long residence periods, migrants in Germany have struggled to make an impact on society as a whole and, some notable exceptions notwithstanding, remain largely under-represented in the professions, public service, and especially in politics. Perhaps even more fundamentally, Germany is no longer a major recipient of migration. Ethnic German and asylum migration flows have slowed to a comparative trickle from their peak in the early 1990s and net migration too has been broadly around zero since 2006. If anything, Germany is becoming a country of emigration once more, as both Germans and high-skilled Turks increasingly seek opportunities elsewhere.

In general, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Germany continues to struggle to come to terms with its situation as a culturally diverse and pluralistic country. Discussions about a German Leitkultur in 2000, or more recently Thilo Sarrazin’s tendentious and frankly prejudicial claims about what he perceives as the apparent inability of Muslims to integrate into German society, completely miss the point. For better or for worse, Germany has and will continue to have a permanent and large migrant population. Migrants cannot be expelled for integration deficits, as such a policy could scarcely be reconciled with the principles of the Rechtsstaat. Germany therefore has no choice but to do much more to give this significant part of the population a full and active stake in Germany’s economy and society at large. Calls for Turks to do more to ‘integrate’ are thus not only by definition tinged with a hefty dose of hypocrisy, they are also unrealistic and counterproductive: By tarring entire groups with the same brush, they, if anything, risk alienating those migrants who might otherwise have been willing to play a more active role in German society.

In any case, the demographic realities Germany is facing dictate that the country will need more, not less immigration. The most recent Statistisches Bundesamt demographic projections show that the country’s population is set to fall from currently 82 million to 65 million by 2060, with the proportion of the population of working age falling from 61 percent to 50 percent over the same period. Crucially, as well as a constant fertility rate, this assumes annual net migration of 100,000 persons – a level Germany last experienced in 2003.

Perhaps Germany could learn more from immigration countries such as the United States. For all its problems, the ‘American Dream’ remains a powerful image, which helps to attract thousands of determined and often highly able migrants from across the world. Tales of first generation migrants who are now millionaires abound in the U.S.; by contrast, in Germany there are literally only individual parallel stories. And yet this is not, as Sarrazin would have us believe, a question of the genetic make-up of migrants; rather, German policymakers have long overestimated the country’s attractiveness for high-skilled migrants from across the world, especially compared to the U.S. The ‘Green Card’ program of 2000 filled only two-thirds of its very modest quota of 20,000 places over five years, and those who came quickly found out just how conservative the immigration authorities remained. Tellingly, although such migrants can now be granted immediate permanent residence in Germany, only 450 persons obtained this status between 2005 and 2008 – that’s just 150 each year.

Germany has certainly come a long way since the late 1980s, something which is already reflected in the fact that the term Einwanderungsland no longer appears in public discourse, on either side of the political spectrum. But Germany has not yet grasped the extent to which recent migration has already changed it, as well as the extent to which it must change itself in order to prepare itself for the future.

This essay appeared in the Advisor of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies (AICGS) on 1 October 2010. It is part of a series of AICGS essays celebrating twenty years of German unity.

Welcome to our new MA students

We are very pleased to welcome our new cohort of twelve Masters students this year. The students are taking part on the programme MA EU and International Relations, and the Double MA programme which is offered jointly with the Institut d’Etudes Politiques Lille. This semester’s lectures on European Security, International Relations and Research Methods have started, and the group is hard at already work in their MA students’ office, preparing their readings and class discussions.

This week, we will also welcome our new postgraduate student from Albania, who is taking part on our Professional Development course through a specially designed one semester programme for students from the European University Tirana. The students on this programme will take part in MA-level classes and will begin to prepare their MA thesis, before returning home to complete their degree.

In other MA student news, Luke John Davis (MA EU and International Relations in 2009-2010), has just returned from a Youth in Action Conference in Belgrade, Serbia, where he discussed problems of European integration with other students from across Europe.

Malcolm Harbour MEP lecture on the European Parliament

Malcolm Harbour MEP
Malcolm Harbour MEP

We are very pleased to announce our first event of the new academic year.

Malcolm Harbour MEP is coming to Aston on 15 October to talk to students about the work of the European Parliament in European governance. His talk is at 14.00h in MB578 and is open to all. There is no need to book, but if your require further information, please email europe@aston.ac.uk

Prof Anand Menon: Europe, State of the Union

Prof Anand Menon, Europe: State of the Union

As a part of our series of events examining the changing nature of Europe, we will be hosting a public lecture with Prof Anand Menon, entitled ‘Europe: The State of the Union’.

Anand Menon is Professor of West European Politics at the University of Birmingham. He was previously founding Director of the European Research Institute, one of the largest academic institutions devoted to the study of Europe. Prior to this, he taught for ten years at the University of Oxford (St Antony’s College), and has held positions at the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, Boston University, Columbia University and New York University. He has written widely on many aspects of contemporary European politics, particularly the institutions and policies of the EU and on European security. He is author of Europe: The State of the Union (Atlantic Books 2008) and France, NATO and the Limits of Independence 1981-1997: The Politics of Ambivalence, (Macmillan, 2000). In addition, he has edited 9 books on the European Union, and published widely in the media, including the Financial Times and Wall St Journal. He has worked as a special adviser for the EU Committee of the House of Lords and as speech writer for European Commissioner Neil Kinnock. He is currently preparing the Oxford University Press Handbook of the EU.

Event Details

27 October 2010
4.30pm until 6.00pm
Byng Kendrick Lecture Theatre (G11)
Main Building, Aston University

The event is free and open to all. There is no need to book.
For further information, please email europe@aston.ac.uk

Welcome to Aston Centre for Europe


Welcome to the Aston Centre for Europe blog!

Aston Centre for Europe has had an exciting year.  We have grown in size, won research and event funding and put on a series of interesting events. Over the last twelve months, we’ve hosted  high level speakers who addressed our audiences on a diverse range of topics.

In December 2009, we started with the first of our series of events funded by the European Commission. We discussed the European parliament with Prof Simon Hix as the keynote speaker, with Gisela Stuart MP, Malcolm Harbour MEP, Phil Bennion (Liberal Democrat MEP candidate), and David Harley (former Deputy Secretary General of the European Parliament and a practitioner fellow of Aston Centre for Europe) taking part in the debate.

In April 2010 we hosted a conference on the Legacies of 1989, another European Commissions funded event, which examined democratic change in Eastern Europe. We were very privileged to hear Sir Christopher Mallaby, former British Ambassador to East Germany, Prof Alan Mayhew (Sussex) and Prof George Kolankiewicz (UCL) who provided a fascinating insight into the twenty years of democratic change in Eastern Europe.

Our final event of the academic year was a high level conference on Green Growth and Sustainability.  The conference was funded by the European Commission and we worked very closely with the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. At the conference we heard from Ian Robertson (BMW AG), Peter Vis, (Head of Cabinet to European Commissioner for Climate Action), Fiona Harvey (Financial Times), Prof David Bailey (Coventry University), Naresh Kumar (Rolls Royce), Chris White MP and Paul Tilsley (Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council) amongst many other notable speakers.

In between the larger conferences, we kept busy hosting smaller lectures and guest speakers.  We discussed the Cambodian genocide with Denise Affonco; examined the reasons behind global conflicts with Prof Daniel Chirot (University of Washington); talked about Eand examined the future of the Euro with David Marsh, and discussed population change with Prof Jane Falkingham during the British Science Festival 2010.

Our series of exciting events and lectures continues this year. To make sure you keep up to date with the latest, join our email list by sending us your details to europe@aston.ac.uk