Make ’em pay: Can Europe agree on a common corporate tax?

I debated Paul MacDonnell (Executive Director, Global Digital Foundation), Ross Gerber (President and CEO, Gerber Kawasaki Wealth & Investment Management) and Kate Moody (France 24 business editor) on Amazon, Apple, tax justice and transparency.

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Does honesty matter? The example of Nigel Farage

Also posted on Labour International Paris’s blog, here.

“Cheeky chappy”.

“You’d have a pint with him.”

“The others ones are such odd twats.”

Every single reasonably aware British voter has heard these phrases – or similar versions thereof – with regards to Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, that seemingly unstoppable political juggernaut currently on 20-30% in most national polls for the upcoming European election in May, closely behind Labour. This improbable party leader, this Eurosceptic husband of a German wife, this former commodities trader now seen as a “man of the people” figure by many Britons, is such a Teflon politician that he even experienced a bump in popularity when it was revealed that he may well have been conducting an affair with his longstanding spokeswoman Annabelle Fuller (an affair that was an open secret for many UKIP members).

This comes despite much talk of expenses scandals, a lack of commitment to parliamentary duties, and the regular nomination of what more than one Tory has called “swivel eyed loons” as candidates for office at a European, national and local level. One look at current and recent Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) is enough to see that apart from Mr. Farage himself, UKIP’s elected representatives in Brussels have made sexist comments and been accused of sexual assault, been convicted and jailed for expenses fraud, and in the case of Ashley Mote held onto an MEP position despite actually serving prison time while still in office.

One might think any mainstream political movement would have long disappeared if it had UKIP’s record and elected officials. Yet even in polling for the upcoming general election in 2015 – national elections being notoriously bad for third, fourth and fifth parties – UKIP is polling at 10-15%, often ahead of the Liberal Democrats, and certainly high enough that it is now systematically counted as a “big” national party and not a fringe movement. How is this possible?

Well, let’s call it the “Berlusconi factor” – or perhaps the “Rob Ford factor”, after the crack cocaine-smoking drunkard who is currently mayor of Toronto. This factor is one that I remember all too well from my teenage years (in the early 2000s) in Dublin, when the obviously corrupt and incompetent Bertie Ahern (who once, as I remember, declared that drink driving rules shouldn’t apply to him as he ‘could drive just fine after ten pints’) was Prime Minister (or Taoiseach, as the Irish would say). The general populace had little to no trust in Ahern, yet he was elected in 1997 and re-elected twice thererafter. One might also call it the “George W Bush factor”, after that famous teetotaler who was voted into office as the candidate that the electorate would like to have a beer with.

That factor decreases with time, as voters actually see what such obvious populists can and will do once they actually get into power. However, it’s a slow process – Berlusconi is only now being gradually pushed to the sidelines – and the damage in terms of the destruction of public trust in their elected officials as obviously bonkers politicians exercise public office in the meantime is potentially awful. Little to nothing suggests that UKIP’s popularity is waning even as light is shed on the inner workings of the party. When and where their progression will be stopped is not clear.

Putin’s ploy in Ukraine should be resisted at the ballot box

Also posted in EurActiv here. Co-written with Anna Garmash and Anna Jaillard Chesanovska.

Vladimir Putin’s ploy to show that he is not in control of the pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine is working well. The world now wonders if the Russian president is truly in control of the situation in Eastern Ukraine, write authors from the EuroMaidan France Collective, calling for Ukrainians to vote massively at the 25 May Presidential election.

The day after the pseudo-referendum organised by the pro-Russian separatists and characterised by massive fraud, Russia unsurprisingly called on all parties to “respect the will of the people of Eastern Ukraine”.

Last week, Vladimir Putin surprised the West by asking the separatists to push back the referendum and promised to withdraw his troops from the Ukrainian border, as well as expressing cautious approval of the 25 May presidential vote.

Vladimir Putin’s ploy to show that he is not in control of the pro-Russian insurgents is working well. The world now wonders if the Russian president is truly in control of the situation in Eastern Ukraine.

A week after his declaration that gave us some hope of an end to the crisis, we are now just as bitterly disappointed as ever: the Russian troops are still amassed at the border and the referendum – that Russia now demands be respected – did indeed take place on 11 May. Moreover, Ukrainian security services recently intercepted a significant money transfer from Moscow destined for the separatists who were preparing their “referendum” in Eastern Ukraine.

What motivates Vladimir Putin? The Russian president is one of the richest individuals in the world, has an unhealthily tight grasp on power and strongly disapproves of the creation of a free and democratic state on the other side of the Russian border. A united Ukraine free of the corruption that has kept it from developing for so many years is a direct threat not only for his power, but also his imperialistic ambitions – building a new Russian empire for which a strong Europe would be an obstacle.

In this worrying context, the 25 May is a decisive date for all of Europe. Presidential elections in Ukraine and European Parliament elections across the EU have only two possible outcomes: either contributing to building a stronger Europe or exposing us all to economic and geopolitical threats that will weaken Europe still further.

It is, therefore, our duty as Ukrainian and European citizens alike to go out, vote, and say no to the conservative, authoritarian Europe influenced by the Kremlin’s ideas and defended by Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Heinz-Christian Strache, Nigel Farage and so many other populists. We must support a strong, united and democratic Europe. We must support Ukraine.

Ukraine, Europe: le 25 mai, stoppons Poutine dans les urnes

Egalement publié dans EurActiv ici. Co-rédigé avec Anna Garmash et Anna Jaillard Chesanovska.

La tactique de Vladimir Poutine qui vise à démontrer son absence de contrôle sur les insurgés pro-russes semble bien fonctionner. Il appartient maintenant aux citoyens Ukrainiens et européens de stopper l’Europe de Poutine et des populistes lors des élections du 25 mai.

Le lendemain du pseudo-référendum organisé par les séparatistes pro-russes et entaché de fraudes massives, la Russie, sans grande surprise, appelle à « respecter la volonté des Ukrainiens de l’Est qui se sont exprimés ».

La semaine dernière Vladimir Poutine a surpris l’Occident en demandant aux séparatistes de reporter le référendum et en promettant de retirer ses troupes des frontières ukrainiennes, tout en approuvant à demi mot les élections présidentielles du 25 mai.

La tactique de Vladimir Poutine qui vise à démontrer son absence de contrôle sur les insurgés pro-russes semble bien fonctionner. Le monde s’interroge : le Président russe maîtrise-il vraiment la situation dans l’est de l’Ukraine ?

Une semaine après sa déclaration qui avait donné un semblant d’espoir pour une sortie de crise, le constat est amer : les troupes russes sont toujours massées aux frontières et le référendum – que la Russie demande désormais de respecter – a bien eu lieu le 11 mai dernier. Pire encore, les services ukrainiens ont intercepté le virement d’une importante somme d’argent provenant de Moscou pour le compte des séparatistes en plein préparatifs du « référendum » dans l’est de l’Ukraine.

Mais quel est le but de Vladimir Poutine ? Le Président russe est l’une des plus grosses fortunes du monde, il s’accroche frénétiquement au pouvoir  et voit d’un très mauvais œil la création d’un Etat libre et démocratique  à ses frontières. Une Ukraine unie et débarrassée de la corruption qui la ronge depuis tant d’années est une menace directe non seulement pour son pouvoir, mais aussi pour son projet aux ambitions impérialistes, celui de la construction d’un nouvel empire russe et pour lequel une Europe forte serait un obstacle.

Dans ce contexte tendu, la date du 25 mai est décisive pour l’avenir de l’Europe entière. Ce jour des élections présidentielles en Ukraine et des élections européennes aura deux issues possibles : ou bien il posera les nouvelles bases d’une Europe forte, ou  bien l’exposera à tous les dangers économiques et  géopolitiques qui l’affaibliront encore plus.

Il est par conséquent de notre devoir, à nous tous citoyens ukrainiens et européens, de dire “non” à l’Europe conservatrice, autoritaire et influencée par les idées du Kremlin que défendent Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Heinz-Christian Strache, Nigel Farage et bien d’autres populistes. Soutenons une Europe forte, unie et démocratique. Soutenons l’Ukraine.

Europe, Labour and the next general election: Labour International Paris debates

Cross-posted from LIP’s website (original blog post here)

Our latest general meeting (5 February 2014) saw our first ever formal debate, which will take place bi-monthly. The purpose of the debates is to explore key issues to the movement while encouraging members to explore alternative perspectives and ideas. Two volunteers spoke on alternative sides, tasked not necessarily to express their own opinion but rather to present a coherent argument for or against the motion. This then facilitated the debate amongst the group so that all members (including the original speakers) could discuss their own perspectives and as a group we could decide how this would guide our future policy.   Writing for the first time for Labour International Paris, Evan O’Connell sums up the debate and gives his thoughts on the conclusions drawn.

The ability to live, work and travel without constraints anywhere in Europe is a freedom that most Britons are only technically aware of, but that ex-pats live with every day. It is not a surprise, therefore, that being mostly ex-pats or friends and colleagues of ex-pats, most members of Labour International Paris (LIP) are reasonably pro-European.

Yet Parisian Labourites are but a small fraction of the Party and the movement as a whole – and not necessarily representative of where the country is on European integration. With that in mind, LIP recently organised its latest debate on how Labour should position itself on the EU in the upcoming European elections in 2014 and the subsequent general election in 2015.

Arguing for the motion “The Labour Party should promote greater engagement with Europe”, Ben Rickey focused on changing the narrative around Europe. He described a successful experiment that brought a peace and prosperity continent once divided by war and that continues to provide benefits to its citizens even today, whether in terms of environmental legislation, harmonised rules on telecoms or workers’ rights.

At the same time, in acknowledging that Europe faces significant challenges today, Rickey pleaded for a strong Britain in a strong Europe, underlining that “Europe needs reform, and reform can only be achieved by effective engagement.” Economic reforms that would bring growth and dynamism back to the EU’s economy could only come to pass if the UK fully participated in the decisions that would shape Europe’s future.

Furthermore, Rickey argued that Labour’s often timid line on Europe has allowed eurosceptics to define the terms of the debate and allow misconceptions and falsehoods to become commonly accepted by the British population. It was Labour’s duty to counter these lies and mistruths. In so doing, and in turning the tables on Europe, Labour could usher in a new era of pro-European politics in the UK.

Dave Parry, meanwhile, shifted the focus of the question from what was right for Britain in the long term to what Labour should do in 2015. Citing Gaitskell and Callaghan, Parry underlined that there was a long-standing Labour Eurosceptic movement and that expressing doubts about the benefits of European integration was certainly not new territory for Labour.

Underlining that “the debate this evening is not about the merits of the EU: it’s about how Labour wins the next election”, Parry pointed out that the Conservatives would undoubtedly focus on Europe and the referendum pledge: “If Ed wants to show how he is different by promoting his own judgment, he should not promote greater engagement with Europe. He needs to stand up to the perceived view that a Labour leader is a ‘blind follower of the EU gravy train’.”

Reminding attendees of Tony Blair’s ‘Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ speech, Parry pleaded for a ‘tough love’ discourse acknowledging the criticisms by many that “[T]he EU is too expensive, bureaucratic, and not fit for purpose in its present state” and arguing that Britain needs to have greater control on access to its labour market. Suggesting openness to a referendum on EU membership, he argued, would help win support with non-Labour voters and help Ed into no. 10.

While attendees generally agreed more with the sentiments expressed by Ben Rickey in favour of a pro-EU line, there was sympathy for Dave Parry’s argument that an EU-critical position might be more electorally sound. While some suggested that Labour would in any case be perceived as pro-EU and should be proud of its position, others felt that there was little upside in being perceived as out of touch with the views of a majority of Britons who seem to support loosening ties with the continent.

A hope for a change in UK political discourse in the long term was generally shared by most, however – and as suggested by both Ben Rickey and Flora Bolter, LIP activists and sympathisers committed themselves to knocking on doors as part of the PES grassroots “#KnockTheVote” initiative. All agreed that LIP should continue building ties with the PES Paris CityGroup (FacebookTwitter) and with the local Paris “Fédération” of the French Socialist Party.

Evan O’Connell