Friday, June 22, 2007

Debating the pros and cons of the EU.

The argument for European integration will never be won in Britain (or any other nation) because it is fundamentally harder to explain the benefits of cooperation than to argue against limiting national sovereignty. The present negotiations for a new EU treaty is a case in point.

The essential elements in the proposed treaty are, in my opinion, these: 1) extension of majority voting in the Council to some 50 policy areas; 2) a new 'double majority' voting system, based on majority of countries and population; 3) the creation of a Council President; and 4) the creation of EU 'Foreign Minister'. Other issues, such as the legal status Fundamental Charter of Rights and the legal persona of the EU, are less important.

The move to more majority voting is the most significant proposal as it would entail the handing over of some sovereignty from member states to the EU. Whether this is a good idea should be debated and not just as a question of loss of sovereignty to 'Brussels' and the creation of federal super state. First because the super state scenario is exaggerated, and secondly because the treaty would also the strengthen democratic decision making process by giving the European Parliament more power through the extension of the co-decision procedure.

However, the media only presents the question of the new treaty as one of handling power away from member states to the perceived undemocratic European Union. The merits of cooperation, the double majority voting system and the strengthening of the European Parliament is hardly ever mentioned or discussed.

An example of how the pro-EU argument is always on the defensive could be seen in yesterdays Newsnight programme. The reporter Jeremy Paxman had a pro and anti EU representative debate the proposed treaty. Paxman didn't ask any difficult questions to the euro-sceptic and let debate center on whether the new treaty was necessary and the certainty of the coming super state. Considering that the BBC is considered by conservatives as a pro-EU and liberal biased, I found the programme decidedly euro-sceptic.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hampshire Cricket

I went to see the semifinal of the domestic one-day cricket cup competition between Hampshire and Warwarkshire yesterday.

I'm not a great connoisseur of cricket, although I have attended and played cricket matches since first moving to England in 1993. I don't actually like the one-day game very much, to me its 'just not cricket"! To limit the amount of overs bowled alters the objective and nature of the game from the full four or five day game.

Yesterday's game was, however, good fun and a pleasant and relaxing way of spending a day (a cricket game starts at 11 AM and continues to 6-7 PM). Got sunburnt in spite it being a cloudy day and wearing a cap.

It was exiting to watch the great Shane Warne bowl and see how he, as captain, was constantly changing the fielding positions. I'm not that strong on fielding positions (I don't know a 'square leg' from a 'gully') but it was fascinating anyway.

As the respective innings progressed and the white ball got dirtier I had trouble seeing it and missed the only hit for 6 runs (Unfortunately it was heading in my direction and landed 2 seats in front of me)!

Also playing was Kevin Pietersen, England's perhaps best cricketer at the moment (in spite of being born and raise in South Africa).

Hampshire won and will now play Durham in the final.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Being told off.

Yesterday I went to an old manor house owned and run by the National Trust. In one room I mindlessly touched a door hidden in a wall. Immediately I was told off by a guard with the words "don't touch please!"

In spite of the guard using what I consider to be the rudest word in the English language, i.e. please, I didn't consider the guard to be rude or out of line. Yet, the incident provoked emotions in me that took me by complete surprise. I apologized, left the room and continued the tour around the house. However, inside I was feeling humiliated and angry, I just wanted to get out of there and vowed never again to visit a National Trust site.

The National Trust is a snobbish and stuffy organisation and avoiding it will be a pleasure, but my strong reaction to what happened is admittedly immature. The incident somehow transformed me back into the boy who was always getting in trouble and constantly being told off. All I heard was my teachers correcting me and I felt again the burning skin on my cheek as a teacher in a fit of range smacked me!

PS. 'please' is contrary to conventional wisdom not a polite word. The word is almost always used to disguise what would otherwise be considered to be a rude or aggressive sentence. Attaching the word to a command, such as 'don't touch, please' or 'pass me the butter, please', does not make is less of a command, it simply allows the speaker/writer to be authoritative, rude or aggressive without public condemnation.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Tax Returns.

The discussion of tax under the June 5 'New Illusion' entry reminded me that I hadn't filed my taxes in either Denmark, UK or US. Despite having a filling requirement in three countries I wasn't bothered. Since I'm a trained tax specialist I thought it would be fun...

The Danish Tax return, due the 1st of July, took 2 1/2 minutes to complete.

The UK tax return is not due before January 31 2008, so I let that one lie.

Finally, the US tax return. By far the most complicated, but also the one that usually doesn't leave me with any tax payable.

The US taxes its citizens on their world wide income whether or not they are resident in the US. The US tax code therefore assumes that US writ extends to the whole world.

While the filing deadline in the US is April 15, as a foreign resident I have an automatic 2-month extension. However, this extension does not extend to payment of tax due, which this year will come back to haunt me!

It turns out that I have tax payable of $ 34 (assuming I've completed the form correctly). The reason is that while my student maintenance grant is taxable in Denmark and my interest income is taxable in the UK, the personal exemption in the UK wipes out any tax liability giving me no possibility of claiming a foreign tax credit on US taxes for the interest income.

So there you have it. I'm both ordinarily resident and domiciled in the UK, but it is Denmark and the US that is taking my money in tax!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Confusion in Europe.

Whether or not Angela Merkel is successful in gaining support for a revised EU treaty (see here and here), most Europeans probably won't understand or even care what the new treaty will contain. The general confusion over the EU is sometimes at 'babylonian' levels, and is evidenced by numerous news reports mixing up the institutions and misunderstanding the powers of the EU.

The question of the Charter of Fundamental Rights is an interesting example of the confusion. To include the charter in a treaty would be unpopular in Britain. The charter's unpopularity in the UK derives largely from the unpopularity of the European Convention of Human Rights, which is kind of ironic as the convention's unpopularity derives partially from the mistaken belief that it is an EU creation. Of course it is not, but that just adds to the confusion.

The politicians who created the European institutions are to large extent to blame for the confusion as I hope to illustrate with this short overview of the European institutions:

The European Convention of Human Rights is a pan European convention established in 1952 with its own court: the European Court of Human Rights. The European Court of Human Rights should not be confused with the European Court of Justice, which is the court for the European Community (known previously as the European Economic Community), which in turn is the largest constituent part of the European Union.

The European Community was created together with the European Atomic Energy Community by the Treaty of Rome in 1957 as a parallel community to the European Coal and Steel Community (created by the Treaty of Paris 1951). Since 1965 the three communities have been served by the same institutions, i.e. Council, Commission, Parliament and Court. In 2002 the European Coal and Steel Community ceased to exist and its funds transfered to the European Community, which then had become part of the European Union (created by the Treaty of the European Union (also known as the Maastricht Treaty) in 1993).

The European Community and European Union are governed by the same institutions. The most important is the Council of the European Union (previously known as the Council of Ministers), which should not be confused with the other EU institution the European Council, which in turn should not be confused with the Council of Europe.

The Council of Europe is an international body completely separate from the European Union (although the two do share the same flag). The Council of Europe's main function is to protect human rights as the guardians of the European Convention of Human Rights...

Friday, June 08, 2007

Conservative Anger.

So I'm left wing/liberal/progressive/socialist/whatever, and I admit that the left wing is not devoid of anger and frustration. But I'm often amazed by the way conservatives brake out into rantings against liberals/left wingers and liberal/left wing politics, even in situations which are completely out of context.

For example, on a Internet discussion of sports uniforms and logos (a most peculiar interest I have and share in the dark allies of the Internet), someone wrote the following concerning the London 2012 Olympics logo:
Unfortunatly what was once Great Britain has become a haven for yougart knitting lillyliverd politicaly correct liberal morons who think you have to bow to the less desirable aspects of society,and underdtand them ,hence the 2012 logo a Graffiti based monstrosity bringing out everything that is wrong and discusting with this city and country.
The comment would be pathetic and sad if it wasn't so typical.

Why all this anger? The last 20-30 years have seen neo-liberal and conservative ideology in the ascendancy throughout the western world, yet conservatives are more angry than ever. Yes, the world is not as it should be and liberal values such as tolerance and inclusion have manifested itself into what some negatively label 'policial correctness', but surely that's is not the source of the anger?

P.S. What does 'lillylivered' mean?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Nothing more to do!

Yesterday I had my last exam. The subject was EU Law which I've enjoyed studying and I thought the exam went well. I now have to wait 2 weeks for the results.

I've promised myself not to think too much about the future before I get the results. The thing is I don't have any future plans, which is shocking to most people I talk to. If I'm honest and answer their questions of what I'm going to be doing now with "I don't know", an embarrassing silence emerges.

To not have an occupation (or plans for one) is, in essence, not to exist. In Western societies, perhaps in all societies, we define ourselves by what we do and to a lesser extent with what we own. I don't own much and I don't have a career or calling. So who am I?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

New Illusion.

The rise of the new political party New Alliance in Denmark is a textbook example of how politics today is more about presentation and style than substance, and how the socialist and left wing is increasingly being marginalised.

New Alliance was founded by three prominent politicians from the center and right of Danish politics 4 weeks ago. They have made only two policy announcements: 1) a flat income tax at 40% for all, and 2) the party will only support a conservative/right wing government.

The tax proposal would increase income tax for the majority of taxpayers as it would eliminate all deductions and exemptions.(1) While the top income earners would pay less tax under a flat tax scheme, those with lowest the income, i.e. those on welfare and state pensions, would have their tax increase with 100%.(2).

Yet in spite of such radical liberal tax policies and lack of any other political thought, the party already has 19.000 members(3) and is polling at 10-12 %(4). This would make New Alliance the fourth biggest party in Denmark and put it into a position of influence. The really astonishing thing is, however, that party is mainly attracting voters from the left, i.e. the Social Democrats and Social-Liberals!

Denmark is therefore heading towards a situation similar to the US and UK where the political spectrum does not contain a left.

1) New Alliance haven't really been specific about their proposal but I'm assuming its a flat tax they are talking about, as the base tax rate is presently 38-39 % with incremental increases and with extensive personal exemptions and deductions.
2) Based on an income of 100.000 kr. and no deductions other than the personal exemption (personfradrag).
3) According to the party website:
4) see: Danmarks Radio.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Here we go again...

Another month, another Prime Minister, another tough anti-terror measure: The Guardian: Brown sets out plan for tough new terror laws!

When will it ever end?

Its not that I'm against all of the proposals laid out by Gordon Brown, I can for example readily accept the admissibility of phone-tap evidence in court. But why does the Labour leadership think that it will be more popular if it keeps talking tough and acting like conservatives? Is there really a hunger and outcry from the British population for less civil liberties and more police powers?

I can't be the only person longing for a political leader willing formulate an ideology intended to create better a better society and a better life, and not just intended to be tomorrows headline and tomorrows police state.

Yes, the world has changed but here's some news: the world has been always been changing. Change is the only constant! However, new problems and new threats should not change values, such as the right to habeas corpus, previously considered to be absolute and universal. Neither is freedom and democracy defended by authoritarian laws and increased police power.