Drawbridges Down! A German Plea For A More British Europe

Essay: The euro crisis has exposed something deeper than debt: a reminder that Europe must be outward, not inward, looking. Conventional wisdom says the British are not committed to Europe. The smart money says they're the right model for the who

The new Shard building and the Tower Bridge in London (George Rex)
The new Shard building and the Tower Bridge in London (George Rex)
Alan Posener

BERLIN - On the Continent, we often hear claims that the British are bad Europeans. And some Brits believe it too. Echoing such dissatisfaction is David Cameron"s recent mention of a possible referendum to gauge the pulse of the nation's relation to the European Union – the British aren't happy with what they have now, he said, and neither was he.

But seeing the British as bad Europeans is a stubborn misjudgment. It probably stems from the fact that the British reject the idea of an ever closer Union – closer as in a shared currency, for example. However, now that this idea of a deeper union has led to the ongoing crisis in the euro zone, it's time to remind ourselves of what exactly Great Britain means for the EU.

A look back at the EU summit held in December 2011 is helpful in this regard. France's then-President Nicolas Sarkozy summed things up this way: "There are now clearly two Europes. One of them wants more solidarity between its members and regulation. The other is attached solely to the logic of the single market."

Editorialists had a field day with this, of course. If the euro zone goes on like this, they said, it would become an "alternative system" to Anglo-Saxon capitalism. And here the cynics say: have fun creating your "alternative system," your "regulation" and "solidarity," without Britain and with Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Co. – not to mention the same France now run by Socialist François Hollande!

But it would be equally cynical not to recognize that Europe actually needs Great Britain, just so that this nightmare doesn't come to pass. The Anglo-Saxon tradition of economic liberalism and social liberality paired with significant economic, cultural, diplomatic and military power – in short, a unique blend of "hard" and "soft" power – means that Great Britain is not only essential to the EU but that it's an essential partner for its biggest partner, Germany.

Of course, this all assumes that Germany wants to be more than the Continent's cash cow, and that Europe aspires to being more than a mere transfer union.

British journalist David Rennie recently wrote that in Europe the decisive political poles were no longer right and left, but rather "drawbridge up" and "drawbridge down." Those who were for raising the drawbridge cried the battle cry of Old Europe in their wish for protectionism, for closing off from international markets - particularly financial markets - , for "solidarity" instead of competition, "regulation" instead of freedom. The xenophobic "drawbridge up" folks also favored limiting migration.

"Drawbridge down" - New Europe - meant being open to the world, markets, the familiar and the unfamiliar. And nowhere is such an attitude more in evidence than in multicultural, cosmopolitan London.

Liberalism and eccentricities

It is not an accident that the British capital is the hub of the financial industry in Europe. According to Eurostat, 35% of all financial services in the EU-27 are provided in London: 90,000 bankers work there, 8,000 of them for Deutsche Bank, which conducts most of its business out of London, and all told, 251 foreign banks have London offices.

In the eyes of many Germans, this does not reflect well on the British. Proper economies build cars and refrigerators, or at least so goes the fairy tale, even as 74% of jobs in Germany are now in the service sector. And while it may currently be the thing to badmouth Wall Street, it shouldn't be forgotten that the EU-27's financial services sector is the second largest in the world after the US.

Europe tops the US as the world's greatest exporter of financial services, largely thanks to London, the most important link between the markets in the States, Asia and Europe, and also home to the world's foremost shipping agents without whom Volkswagon couldn't export and supermarket chains like Lidl couldn't import. Anybody who wants a Europe that doesn't include London's City wants a Europe cut off from the world.

In his remarkable essay "On Europe's Constitution," Jürgen Habermas (Germany's most renowned philosopher) points out that "peoples of a continent with shrinking political and economic weight" cannot limit themselves to using the EU "defensively, to maintain their cultural biotope." On the contrary, they need to use political leeway "offensively as well by arduously building further global steering capacities."

Without Britain's global experience and political weight as an atomic power, and member of the UN Security Council, the Commonwealth and the "Anglosphere" that spans the planet, Habermas's call would be illusory.

And finally: let us not forget the British contribution to European culture. This isn't just culture in the narrow sense, from Amy Winehouse to Julian Barnes via Ken Loach and Jamie Oliver. This is culture in the sense of a disposition – the relaxed liberalism of a geographically and societally eccentric nation. And even more important: a nation that naturally shares the values of the United States of America.

Some Europeans, who secretly dream of a continental mini-empire under German leadership, or a Gaullist alliance led by the French, fear that Great Britain could hinder an ever closer Union.

But if the euro crisis has one lesson to teach, it's this: that the unthinkable "deepening" of the Union harbors infinitely more explosive power than a broadening of it. And that's what the British always said – not as "bad" Europeans but as the best of the best. Now that the dream of the euro is turning into a never-ending nightmare, Britain is more important for Germany - and Europe - than ever before.

Read the original article in German.

Photo - George Rex

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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