After the horrendous terrorist attacks in Paris, François Hollande has assumed emergency powers across the totality of French territory. It is the first time that this has happened since 1963 and they are an inheritance from Charles de Gaulle and Michel Debré who designed the French Constitution in 1958 amid the crisis of the war for Algerian independence. The events of 1958 almost led to a regime collapse as General Jacques Massu was planning a military takeover. Instead de Gaulle’s new constitution beefed up the powers of the President and provided him with quasi-dictatorial state of emergency powers under the new Article 16 (see text below) in order to deal with the crisis of Algeria and to head off insubordination in the army born of the near-breakdown of the French Republic. It is these powers that Hollande has inherited.
Left-wing parties’ biggest reason for campaigning against the new constitution in the referendum of September 1958 was Article 16, which they feared would be used against them. But the fact is that, until now, the only time Article 16 was applied in the whole of France occurred between 1961 and 1963 to deal with a further attempted coup by French generals in Algeria and, in 1962, to deal with the forcible evacuation of French settlers from an Algeria that was granted independence. In other words, de Gaulle never used Article 16 against the Left, not even in May 1968, and instead applied it against those who had been his political sympathisers in the army and among the French settlers in Algeria.
To get the 1958 constitution approved, de Gaulle and Debré included a number of checks and balances within Article 16. First, the President must “consult” with the Prime Minister, the Presidents of both chambers of Parliament, and with the Constitutional Council (which is France’s Constitutional Court). He can ignore them but must ask for their views. If consensus on emergency powers is lacking, this could have a powerful effect on public opinion. Likewise, if they are not already sitting, the Parliament has to be recalled and cannot be dissolved for early elections. The Parliament may not exercise legislative power but it is forced to deliberate, which could again have a powerful effect in the court of public opinion if a President abuses his powers. After two months, the Constitutional Council has the right to end the state of emergency if circumstances no longer require it and if the President refuses to do so. The Constitutional Council also has this power after just one month if the President of either chamber of Parliament, or 60 members of either chamber request it to do so.
Where the institutions of the Republic, the independence of the Nation, the integrity of its territory or the fulfilment of its international commitments are under serious and immediate threat, and where the proper functioning of the constitutional public authorities is interrupted, the President of the Republic shall take measures required by these circumstances, after formally consulting the Prime Minister, the Presidents of the Houses of Parliament and the Constitutional Council.
He shall address the Nation and inform it of such measures.
The measures shall be designed to provide the constitutional public authorities as swiftly as possible, with the means to carry out their duties. The Constitutional Council shall be consulted with regard to such measures.
Parliament shall sit as of right.
The National Assembly shall not be dissolved during the exercise of such emergency powers.
After thirty days of the exercise of such emergency powers, the matter may be referred to the Constitutional Council by the President of the National Assembly, the President of the Senate, sixty Members of the National Assembly or sixty Senators, so as to decide if the conditions laid down in paragraph one still apply. It shall make its decision by public announcement as soon as possible. It shall, as of right, carry out such an examination and shall make its decision in the same manner after sixty days of the exercise of emergency powers or at any moment thereafter.
BfB, one of the Eurosceptic campaign groups, is running with a story that “UK pays nearly a fifth of all VAT that goes into the EU budget”. Actually the UK pays 13.9% of the EU’s VAT contribution but accounts for 14.4% of the EU’s gross national income (GNI). In other words, the VAT contribution paid by the UK is marginally lower than what we might expect for its economic size.
Looking at the EU’s most recent published annual financial figures, which are from 2013 [the figures for 2014 still need to be audited], we see that on the tab for 2013, the total VAT resource for the EU (box G72) was €14,019 million and that from the UK (box AI72) was €2,527 million – or 18%. This does not take into account the UK rebate, which is calculated on the basis of the UK’s VAT and GNI percentage contributions.
The UK rebate in 2013 (AI74) was €4,329 million, of which 13.47% or €583 million was discounted from the VAT contribution. The real VAT contribution was therefore €1,944 million out of €14,019 million or 13.9%, some way below “nearly a fifth” and very reasonable when we consider that the UK accounts for 14.4% of the EU’s economy.
In its paper, BfB omits to note that the VAT precept is tiny and worth just 0.3% of VAT and that the EU budget itself is likewise tiny and worth just 1% of GDP or 2% of total public spending. It is time for a more open debate about the future of the EU budget.
It is Europe Day, and I am writing this in Britain, where a government has just been elected promising to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership. Those of us who believe in the merits of Europe need to find a way to help David Cameron achieve a “yes” vote in the referendum even if our politics are the diametric opposite of his.
This means being very clear about the advantages that the European Union has brought for all of us – and this should go beyond the familiar shopping list of common standards in a single market or the enhanced rights of consumers such as the lowering of mobile phone roaming charges. Although positive, these details will not inspire. Let us remember that the European Union won the Nobel Peace Prize for being the cause of peace in Europe since its first incarnation in 1951. Ah, reply the sceptics, it was NATO and mutually ensured destruction that kept the peace, not the trading agreements of the European integration. But what the sceptics haven’t thought of is that the European Union’s institutions and agreements guarantee a stability between member states that prevents the kind of descent into chaos that Europe experienced in the 1930s or the summer of 1914. In 1929, the Wall Street Crash led to an economic crisis that the democratic Germany of the Weimar Republic could not withstand, given the costs of World War I and reparations. In 1929-1933, there was no European Union or other international institution with solidarity at its core that could step in to rescue the German economy. The result was a totalitarian regime that produced a nightmare for my grandparents’ generation.
Compared to the events of 1929 to 1933, the response of the European Union to the crash of 2008 has shown the value of European unity in salvaging, at considerable cost, the economies of Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus and preventing a reversion to all the instability of authoritarianism. Given the rise of the populist far-right across Europe, of which UKIP is an expression, salvaging the economies of Europe and protecting ourselves from authoritarianism is a work in progress that has to be finished.
To succeed, the “yes” campaign for continuing British membership must be decentralized; indeed it will need to run as multiple “yes” campaigns, given the very different sorts of voters that have to be convinced in order to win: skilled and unskilled working people, those in precarious employment, small and medium entrepreneurs, farmers, public sector workers – across different parts of the country and through different media. If David Cameron talks only the language of de-regulation to the Left, we shall fail to win a “yes” vote. Let Cameron talk to the CBI and small businesses. The multiple Left(s), including the trades unions, the professional apparatus of the Labour Party, community or environmental activists, Greens, and Welsh and Scottish nationalists will each need to run their own campaigns. Diverse “yes” campaigns may have to be off-message and in mutual contradiction.
The Scottish unionist campaign won the independence referendum using fear and fear will have to be part of the mix in the EU membership campaign(s). But the “yes” sides will also have to borrow the techniques of the Scottish pro-independence campaign in social media, spontaneity, and inspiration, particularly for young and first-time voters for whom the future matters. One of the failures of previous pro-European campaigns during the time of Tony Blair was their uninspiring centralization, control, and use only of boring economic arguments like lower roaming charges. British exit from the European Union would be very costly and these costs, notably falling employment due to disinvestment, need to be communicated. The tasks then of the “yes” campaigns must be to inspire but also to warn of the risks of exit to the British economy and to Britain’s status as an open and welcoming society.
Britain at the Polls 2015: some personal reflections on an eventful night - Dr Nicholas Allen
The 2015 General Election was the most unpredictable and eventful that I can remember. Several colleagues and I followed the unfolding drama of the night in the company of over fifty Royal Holloway students. We knew that something was up once the exit polls were published. By the early hours of the morning, it was clear that the outcome was going to be very different from that which everyone had envisaged.
We saw Scotland ‘yellow-washed’ as the Scottish National Party won all but three of the seats north of the border. We saw the Liberal Democrats reduced to a rump of eight MPs. We saw many leading figures in British politics lose their seats, including Douglas Alexander, Ed Balls, Vince Cable, Simon Hughes and Charles Kennedy. We saw Nigel Farage fail to win in South Thanet. And we saw the return to Downing Street of David Cameron, this time at the head of majority Conservative government. To coin a phrase, very few people saw that coming.
So much can be written about the results, and a great deal will be written in the coming months. For the time being, several issues stand out for me, many of which relate to the mechanics of Britain’s curious voting system.
First, there was no dramatic increase in turnout (see Figure 1). Although this was a very close election, and although there were big choices at stake, the number of people who thought it worth voting did not shoot up. It increased by one point to 66.1%. Admittedly, this was the highest turnout since 1997, and perhaps we should be grateful for small mercies. However, politicians of all parties should be worried.
Compounding this reason to be worried is a second issue: the further fragmentation of the party system and the associated decline in the governing party’s share of the vote. In 2015, the two major parties won barely two-thirds of the popular vote. The Conservatives won their small majority on 36.9% of the vote. If this was David Cameron’s sweetest victory, he’s clearly never tasted real electoral sugar. Yet this small share of the vote was also won on a relatively low turnout. Since 1945 there has been a long downward trend in the ‘legitimacy’ of British governments, as defined by their share of the potential vote, which includes all eligible voters and not just those who did cast a ballot (see Figure 1). Measured in this way, the Conservatives’ mandate (24.4% of all voters) is the third weakest since 1945. Only Labour in 2001 (24.2%) and 2005 (21.6%) had a lower share of the potential vote.
Thirdly, of course, we saw the further uncoupling of Scotland’s voting behaviour and party system from the rest of the UK’s. Half of Scottish voters plumped for the Scottish National Party (SNP), which campaigns for independence. The party won 56 out of 59 seats, leaving the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats with one MP apiece. These results will place further strains on the United Kingdom. It is quite conceivable that the SNP will press for a second referendum after next year’s Scottish Parliamentary elections, and it is also conceivable that Scotland will be independent in a decade.
Fourthly, the SNP are now comfortably the third largest parliamentary party, but they secured this influence on less than 1.5 million votes. Britain’s first-past-the-post or single-member-simple-plurality voting system rewards parties that concentrate their support. The SNP concentrates its support in Scotland. Other parties, notably the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the Greens spread their very substantial support much more thinly. UKIP won nearly 4 million votes across the UK, the Greens over 1 million. Their rewards were just one MP each. A strictly proportional voting system would have given them about 80 and 25 MPs respectively.
Voting reform is almost certainly not on the Conservative government’s agenda, but it should be. And some kind of German-style mixed-member voting system, which delivers a very high degree of proportionality (subject to a threshold) and maintains the tradition of a constituency MP, would be best.
On the one hand, such a system would help to limit the distinctiveness of Scotland from the rest of the UK, and it may reduce the prospects of independence since all unionist parties would pick up a decent number of seats. The Conservative and Unionist Party, if it still believes in the Union, should take note. On the other hand, the voting system, it would help future governments govern for the whole country. The present voting system is manifestly unable to translate Britons’ multi-party preferences into Westminster representation. If Cameron wants to govern in the interests of ‘One Nation’, he should think about the 5 million Green and UKIP voters who are represented by just two MPs between them.
The University of Canterburyin New Zealand this week plays host to a major international symposium based upon the Strategic Narratives approach to international relations advanced by Alister Miskimmon, Ben O'Loughlin and Laura Roselle. The approach helps to explain how states and other actors in international affairs project and contest narratives about the past, present and future of international relations in order to shape the behaviour of others and steer global order - and history itself - in a certain direction. Strategic narrative research involves researching the formation, projection and reception of narratives in local and global media ecologies. Speakers at this symposium will address that most difficult of questions: how do audiences receive, interpret and respond to narratives of global order and identity?
Miskimmon and O'Loughlin will provide two keynote addresses, and the event features important speakers from China and Ukraine.
A full programme for the event can be downloaded here.
If you are in the area and wish to join, please RSVP to Gabriel Weibl firstname.lastname@example.org for catering purposes.
- Date: Friday 27 February 2015, 9:00AM to 5:00PM
- Location: Undercroft Seminar Room 101, Puaka-James Hight building, Ilam Campus