Tag Archives: european union

At the edge of history

On Saturday, I attended the Unite for Europe March in London.

Together, for now

It was the first time I’ve ever taken part in an organised protest or march, and it was probably also the first time I’ve ever felt strongly enough about an issue to feel motivated to do so.

As I walked from the Tube to the meeting point at the start of the route, I was thinking about all we’ll lose as we head into this coming week, towards Mrs May’s intended date for triggering Article 50 and starting the two years of exit negotiations.

My father was born into a world that within weeks, was plunged into the Second World War. My grandparents must have spent some time hiding in shelters with their children, my father and uncle, the fear and uncertainty something I cannot imagine. My mother was born into the hesitant peace that came immediately after that conflict, and the years of austerity, rationing and rebuilding that followed, as borders closed and dangers loomed in the east.

And then came the Treaty of Rome, and the start of 60 years of peace, cooperation and (relative) economic stability, in a continent previously torn by wars and economic rivalries.

By contrast to my parents, I was born into a nation that was by then already a member of the EU. I’ve held the rights of an EU citizen since 1993 when those rights were established by treaty. So, for my entire working life I’ve enjoyed the benefits of freedom of movement, freedom from discrimination based on my nationality within the EU, and rights to consular protection abroad (among others). It makes me incredibly sad that the rising tides of nationalism in individual member states are starting to dilute these feelings of freedom and partnership that have been hard-won through (initially) post-war negotiation, and then expanded through the end of the Cold War to our neighbours further across the continent.

(hint: we never lost it)

It’s fairly clear that in the nine months since the referendum took place, every one of the main planks of the groups advocating that Britain should leave the EU have been thoroughly dismantled or proven as falsehoods — most famously the £350 million per week we’d get back to put into the NHS, which was a claim withdrawn on day 1 after the result. Given that many of the staff of the NHS choose to live and work in the UK but come from outside, we can also guess that things will become even further strained as the Government refuses to guarantee the rights of existing EU citizens. There may be a large fee of billions to pay to get out, but we just don’t know yet, and probably will not through the coming (doubtless even more uncertain) two years ahead. Some of the UK regions and industries significantly dependent on EU grants and funding have started to realise the austerity they face in the future. Immigration has yet to be proven a failed policy, and our terrorists have consistently been home-grown.

Not only that, but those in favour of the exit appear intent on trampling on genuinely useful rules agreed across the EU, such as protecting wildlife habitats and regulating drug trials. My mind boggles as to what comes after our EU rights are stripped and businesses are given free reign to profit in any ways they choose… there’s nothing to fear in the past, but a leap into the dark unknown ahead.

I’m appalled that a minority voting outcome for an advisory process to Parliament has led us down this sad path, and it is largely those under 40 who will pay the price for this in the coming decades.

The march on Saturday was glorious, with a far larger turnout than the organisers expected, and with people coming to London from across the country to join together to speak for Europe. A source of joy and love.

Bad ideas should always be challenged — it is our democratic duty to speak out and persuade

For the moment, I’m proud to be a European citizen. I celebrate all of my friends and colleagues who decided to come to the UK to work and live here, and long (I hope) may they do so. The EU is far from perfect, and could do with many structural reforms and revisions, but I applaud what it has brought to this continent of ours for the past 60 years — peace, freedom, friendship, greater understanding, opportunity, and prosperity.

Happy birthday, EU!

(originally posted on Medium)

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EU to restrict Internet access?

Blackout Europe

For the past week my avatar image has changed to show one of the logos of the Blackout Europe campaign.

“What’s that all about?”, many folks have asked me in the past few days. Well, as I understand it, this is the situation: the European Union is debating a set of measures called the Telecoms Package. This package is set up such that ISPs will in future be able to parcel out Internet capabilities to consumers in much the same way that satellite and cable TV companies do today – so, for example, there is a possibility that in future you will not pay a flat rate fee and have access to “everything” online, but you might have “starter package” with a certain range of sites plus, say, Skype access, and a “gaming package” which would give you access to various online games services, and a “pro package” which enabled all sites plus any services you wanted. Basically, they will be able to filter what you are doing based on site or protocol – those are just some examples I thought up rather than anything known to be in the works.

How does that differ from Internet packages in Europe now? Well, right now there’s no real differentiation between the services and sites that can be accessed, although there are often speed limits and download caps. This is potentially a fundamental change to the way in which access to the ‘net might be regulated and controlled.

It’s all a bit technical, but for more detail see this page on the Blackout Europe blog and look under section 6 for a set of annotated PDFs which discuss the measures in detail. You can also read the open letter already sent to the EU Parliament.

It’s a hypothetical situation, and as several folks have pointed out to me over the Twitter stream, it might be pretty difficult to actually implement. Other people have pointed out that the site itself “looks unprofessional”, which I suspect is more a factor of translation and time than anything else. I don’t think either of those two issues should really stop people from registering their discontent at these proposed changes. There are forms available on the site to enable people to contact MEPs. I’m late in blogging this, as the deadline is really in the next 24 hours – frankly, I’m surprised that the site, Facebook page and other social networks haven’t attracted more attention.

The press release about the Telecoms package makes it all sound very reassuring and good for the public, but as ever, the devil is in the detail.

Computerworld UK has published a great article on the issue today – here’s an extract:

Unfortunately, it’s an openness that is fairly subtle for non-technical people; above all, it’s not at all obvious to politicians, who seem to assume that apparently minor tweaks won’t change things much.

At least, that’s the most charitable explanation for the fact that European politicians are on the brink of passing legislation in the current Telecoms Package that will destroy a key part of that openness, by allowing telecoms companies to discriminate in the way that they handle IP packets according to their type.

(via @glynmoody)

One of the issues that still exists with the EU is the visibility of the institutions and processes at a national level. As a supranational organisation, it’s commonplace for people not to be aware of what is going on in the Parliament, even though in my experience, the EU’s web presence actually provides a great deal more transparency and insight into what is happening in Parliament than many national governments. People tend only to respond to EU legislation once it has been enacted and then re-enacted within their own national context. So, there are a whole bunch of things going on at an EU level that most people in European countries pay no attention to unless they are picked up by the media, and even then only if enough noise is made about the issues at hand.

It’s not too late to take a look at the site, and contact your MEP to let them know how you feel about freedom of access to the Internet – get the amendments that neutralise the offending clauses in “the Telecoms package” passed.

Update: another good article on the detail of the package, again via @glynmoody

Some thoughts on openness and trust in government

One of the things I’ve been taking an interest in lately is the slow progression of Internet technologies into UK politics – or should that be the progress of UK politicians onto the web?

We have a small number of Members of Parliament on Twitter (you can find them at Tweetminster), and a few have their own blogs too. Sadly some of the initial government moves to use social media were a bit of a disaster (remember David Miliband’s efforts in this area?). Things have improved as the individuals themselves are more savvy (increasingly true as new generations of MPs come into politics) – Tom Watson is a good example and I was delighted to be able to contribute to the open discussion he invited on the proposed Internet site classification idea.

Recently I was particularly pleased to hear Jo Swinson defend her use of Twitter on Radio 4’s Any Questions. I was also impressed with the tech-savvy she showed in a defence of Wikipedia, and her willingness to respond to people who are not even her direct constituents during a subsequent discussion on Twitter. I don’t want MPs on Twitter so that they can lecture me or send out press releases on their politics; and actually, I don’t see it as a gigantic waste of their time. It’s an excellent way to build relationships, and it can also make them seem more human too. Blogging and twittering encourages the use of more conversational language, and that is important particularly in the political sphere.

In an age of increasing distrust and apathy in democracies around the world, I’d like to see more of this. I’d like to see it extend to both the local level, and the international level, too. Local councils in the UK should be encouraged to make more use of social media. Larger bodies like the EU should be making better efforts in this space too – it’s all very well for them to stream proceedings online, but without a level of human interpretation of the jargon and dense documentation that comes out of the European Parliament, it’s very difficult for ordinary citizens to make sense of what goes on.

Pop quiz: does covering up a significant budget scandal in an intergovernmental body give opponents of that body less, or more, to complain about? Thanks to Google Translate I’ve been able to read a Swedish MEP’s blog entry on the subject

One of [my colleagues] argued for example that I should propose to discharge only to “avoid giving boost to European opposition before the European elections”. A hair-raising way of arguing, I think! This is exactly the opposite. If we do not take problems seriously and sweep justified criticism under the carpet, then we give arguments to the EU opponents!

I have to say that I agree – and more open attitudes like this would do a lot to improve public trust in the institutions that work for us.