Months ago I called for a vote out. Why did you have to listen, Britain? Why???

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Last February, I wrote a short piece praising British humour and weather, thanking London for hosting me and, yes, asking Brits to vote for Brexit. The text was full of irony, and I warned the reader that I would not do it if I were British. But, as a European citizen living in London, I did call for a vote out. And I regret it deeply now.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m well aware my text didn’t make a difference on the 17+ million Brits who chose to leave the European Union yesterday. But I feel sorry anyway.

I feel sorry because last weeks I have added one more item to the long list of things I like from this country and its global capital.

I have discovered a European side to London and its British inhabitants that I had never seen before. Yes, most of my friends and London-based Facebook acquaintances are highly educated and sophisticated. And London is multicultural, multilingual and profoundly diverse. Unsurprisingly, it has gone 60/40 for Remain. England is an entirely different story. Still, one didn’t really see EU flags hanging out the window in London flats, and in common parlance locals used to refer to Europe in third person, as if the English Channel was not 20 mile long, as if Britain constituted its own continent. We may easily go back to that sooner than later, but somehow Brits and Londoners campaigning for Remain made me feel welcome in a way that I had never felt before.

Like most people, I was convinced Brexit was not going to happen. Hence I felt I could stand by my ironic and provocative “vote-out-if-you-dare”. And I believed (and still do) the EU had a lot to work on in terms of social rights protection and democratic accountability. So I didn’t want to line up behind Cameron and Osborne.

I felt welcome and confident with my predictions and convictions. So yesterday, when I put an “in” sticker on my t-shirt, I had to clarify to someone that it was “a critical in”. As if it made a difference.

If yesterday I felt welcome, confident and critical, today I feel sad, shocked and sorry.

We’ll have to resort to the trite keep-calm-and-carry-on. We need to live with the consequences. I say “we”, because I for one don’t intend to leave just yet. But I say “we” although I know that the burden will not be fairly shared among “us”. Disenfranchised English working people, many of whom voted out, will suffer the consequences of Brexit just as much they missed most of the benefits of being part of the EU. This strikes me as the most devastating outcome of this referendum.

There are other critical issues that Brits will have to face, of course. For example, the future of a Europhile Scotland outside the EU, the profound divide between London and the rest of England, or the generational gap between a Eurosceptic elderly and a younger generation that had envisioned their future as part of the European Union. That is gone now.

Other European countries will not be in a good mood, and EU institutions are unlikely to let the Tories regroup and trigger Article 50 TEU (the exit door from the EU) at their convenience: “Of course, Sir, we’ll wait until October for you. Anytime, really. Thank you very much for these lovely decades of charm”. England may see Scotland go, Northern Ireland join the Republic and Boris Johnson hold the keys of Number 10. And at this point it’s too early to tell if the meagre chances of having a socialist Labour opposition have just evaporated. After all, supposedly Jeremy Corbyn has also lost this referendum.

Recapitulating, Britain, I understand you couldn’t care less about my opinion, but I still want you to know that I regret urging you to vote out. If I had known, I would have kept quiet. To the 17+ million of you who voted out, I’m also sorry for bothering you with my presence in your country. For now, however, I don’t plan to do anything about that.

The postman just knocked on the door to hand me a parcel. “Thank you”, I say. “You’re welcome, my friend”. Well, at least, I have that.

Koldo Casla

@koldo_casla

Open letter from a Eurocitizen living in London: Brits, vote for #Brexit.

This post was published first in Open Democracy.

London-Cable-Car-Emirates-Air-Line-1I have lived in England for nearly five years, mostly in London, but for personal reasons I have also become familiar with other parts of the country as well. I have always felt welcome here – for which I am grateful. I like England very much. I adore the preciseness of language, the humour, the diversity and buzz of the capital… I don’t even mind the weather! Ideally, I would like to stay for some time.

This is my caveat, which I believe to be necessary since I will argue that the European Union would be better off without the United Kingdom.

The UK has been part of the European Communities and then the EU for more than four decades. In the second half of this period it has enjoyed a special treatment granted by the other Member States. It did not adopt the Euro, it does not participate in Schengen, and it can pick and choose from within the areas of security, justice and police cooperation as it pleases. Even the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights is not fully applicable in the UK.

But, as is well known, David Cameron promised to get more leeway or leave. After intense talks behind closed doors, on 19 February the European Council discussed and agreed on a new settlement for the UK in the EU. Brits will be called to an in-or-out referendum scheduled for 23 June.

I say it is time to fly free – both for the UK and for the rest of the EU..

As a EU citizen (Spanish national) living in London, I urge you to vote for #Brexit. Continue reading “Open letter from a Eurocitizen living in London: Brits, vote for #Brexit.”

The Greek tragedy proves that Europe does not believe in economic and social rights as a matter of justice

Early this morning, the President of the EU Council has announced that a deal had been reached. After one referendum and a collection of ultimatums, Grexit is out of the question, for now.

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The details of the agreement remain unspecified as I write these lines. The Guardian reports that, this last intense weekend, the German Government proposed measures such as Greece leaving the Euro temporarily if it refused a new bailout or, Greece setting aside €50 billion worth of assets as collateral for an eventual privatisation (hopefully, the Acropolis wasn’t in the list of assets). The paper says that the proposals “did not enjoy a consensus among eurozone leaders”, which is a slight relief.

At this point, the exact lyrics of the song have not been made public, but the stage where they have to be performed is well known. In 2013, the UN Independent Expert on Foreign Debt and Human Rights warned that “the prospects of a significant number of Greeks securing an adequate standard of living in line with international human rights standards have been compromised by bailout conditions imposed by Greece’s international lenders”. After visiting the country, he denounced that more than 10% of the population lived in extreme poverty. National economy has shrunk by a quarter since the beginning of the implementation of extreme cuts in 2010, with rocketing unemployment (nearly 30%), especially among youngsters (twice that percentage). In late 2014, the FIDH and the Hellenic League for Human Rights reported a similarly bleak picture, with radical cuts in minimum wages since 2012 (22-32%) and rising inequality.

164 countries from all over the world, including all EU Member States, have ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), which demands from Governments the adoption of all necessary measures to achieve progressively the full satisfaction of the rights to work, housing, health and education, among others. All EU Member States have also ratified the European Social Charter, either the original (1961) or the revised one (1996). Economic, social and cultural rights are also included in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (2000), “which shall have the same legal value as the Treaties” (Article 6.1 of the Treaty of the European Union, since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009).

ICESCR Continue reading “The Greek tragedy proves that Europe does not believe in economic and social rights as a matter of justice”

What matters in the EU debate? Numbers, authorship or content?

article-2330871-19FEC6D0000005DC-122_634x434I attended yesterday an event organised by the European Institute of the LSE. The title was: “European Parliament Elections: What is at stake?” The speakers were Stuart Wheeler, UKIP treasurer, Maurice Fraser and Sara Hagemann, from LSE, and Mark Leonard, director of ECFR. The event was supposedly chaired by John Peet, Europe editor of The Economist. I say “supposedly” because he was there, but he didn’t do anything to prevent questions from the audience from becoming speeches from the audience. He didn’t really do a very good job, to tell the truth.

Anyway, one of the points that stirred up most comments was the issue about the amount of legislation that comes “from Brussels”. Mr. Wheeler said it was more than 70 or 80%. Others responded it was only 7 or 8%. My conclusion: Who knows? My question: Considering that 31% of Brits would vote for UKIP, does it mean that nearly 1 out of 3 don’t care about who decides in Brussels and, more importantly, what kind of decisions they make? Continue reading “What matters in the EU debate? Numbers, authorship or content?”

What does a 6.5% public surplus mean from the perspective of the ICESCR?

201416114832861621_20Earlier this month, the Greek Government assumed the Presidency of the Council of the EU for this semester. In an attempt to show off the austerity efforts made by his Government, the Deputy Prime Minister, Evangelos Venizelos, said in a recent interview with Euronews:

Over the past three and a half years, Greece has made the biggest fiscal adjustment in the history of the western economy. We began back in 2009 with a 12 percent primary deficit, and now we have achieved a primary surplus, which in terms of structural surplus – that is not taking into account the circumstantial results of the recession – is as high as 6.5 percent. We are by far the best-performing country in Europe in terms of primary fiscal results, and one of the best in the world.

As written some time ago, if Greece had been militarily occupied instead of “rescued” by the Troika, international law would have provided some more tools to protect the local population. Having said that, even in the current situation international human rights law imposes certain obligations. In particular, one must question whether such an impressive evolution of the public accounts over a short period of time (from -12 to a projected +6.5 in a lustrum) goes in line with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), ratified by Greece back in 1985. Continue reading “What does a 6.5% public surplus mean from the perspective of the ICESCR?”

Human rights and the financial crisis in focus: some thoughts after a meeting in Vienna

20130701_100422Last Monday I took part in an “expert meeting on promoting a rights-based approach to financial regulation and economic recovery”. The meeting took place at the UN office in Vienna and it was co-hosted by the OHCHR and the Center of Concern, as part of the ongoing work of the OHCHR on the issue of human rights and the financial crisis (see further information here; I´ve been told that the statements and presentations will be available there soon). The meeting (find agenda here) gathered UN human rights experts (Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures), OHCHR representatives, experts from the financial sector, NHRIs, NGOs and academic experts. I attended the event on behalf of the Ombudsman of the Basque Country (Ararteko) to present our views about the impact of the economic crisis and austerity-led policies on the enjoyment of human rights in the Basque Country.

According to the 1978 Spanish Constitution (Article 54) and the 1979 Basque Statute of Autonomy (Article 15), the Ombudsman of the Basque Country is defined as the High Commissioner of the Parliament of the Basque Country for the protection and promotion of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, which must be interpreted in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights law (Article 10.2 of the Constitution). Therefore, the mandate of the Basque Ombudsman is not only dealing with individual complaints (although this is definitely our main task from a resource perspective), but also constructing and defending a human rights approach to public policy and fostering human rights values and principles in the Basque society.

I believe the most productive ingredient of this meeting was that it brought together very different people and made them discuss the same topics, namely, the crisis, economic policies, financial regulation and human rights. Human rights people and financial regulatory services seldom talk to each other. It often seems they speak in different languages. To tell the truth, I don´t think we managed to break this sound barrier last Monday but at least we paid attention to what each other had to say, which is no mean feat. Continue reading “Human rights and the financial crisis in focus: some thoughts after a meeting in Vienna”

Spot the differences between these two constitutional courts

tribunal constitucional alemánIn its ruling of 12 September 2012, the German Constitutional Court approved the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and the Fiscal Compact, which envisages the possibility that a country’s budget could be controlled by the European Union if the budget didn’t follow the EU fiscal diet. The petitioners claimed that the ESM and the Fiscal Compact were in contradiction with the German Constitution, since they attempted to limit the national sovereignty over a critical element of public policy, that is, the national budget. Continue reading “Spot the differences between these two constitutional courts”