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OPINION

Give us a vote: we’ve got most to lose if UK quits

Brits in the rest of the EU should all be given a vote in the country’s upcoming referendum - as should Europeans who live in the UK. We’re the ones with most to lose, argues The Local's managing editor James Savage.

Give us a vote: we've got most to lose if UK quits
2.2 million Brits live in another EU country. 2.3 million people from elsewhere in the EU live in the UK. Photo: Charles Clegg.

Who is more affected if Britain leaves the EU: the South African student living in the UK for six months or the German who has lived there and paid taxes for fifteen years? The Indian working in the City for a couple of years before moving back to Mumbai, or the British pensioner who retired to Spain in 2002?

Some time in the next year or two there will be a referendum on whether the UK leaves the EU. 

In a bizarre anomaly, if you’re one of the million people from the rest of the Commonwealth living in the UK, you will likely be given the vote (as you are in general elections) – but you won’t if you’re one of the 2.3 million people from another European country, or if you are British and have lived outside the UK for more than fifteen years. 

As I left the UK in 2003 I’ll probably get the vote if the referendum is held in 2017, but it will be a close-run thing. Millions of others who moved slightly longer ago will be deprived of a say.  

If you’re one of the 2.2 million Brits who lives in another EU country, it might not always feel like Europe made your move easier. 

When I came to Sweden I was made to line up at the Migration Board office with everyone else for a stamp in my passport. That certainly didn’t feel like free movement (they’ve streamlined things since then, I hear); in Italy, one British woman told us how she was made to wait two years for her official paperwork to be sorted out.

But, in reality, these hurdles are minor compared with what non-Europeans face. And our rights are part and parcel of the European project.

Just ask a non-European about their experiences at the visa office. One Canadian friend who split up with her boyfriend recently found that in addition to dealing with the emotional fallout, the split meant she lost her visa – and with it her right to work over here. 

Ah, some people say, but Britain will negotiate a good deal if it leaves. Look at Norway or Switzerland – it’s easy to move there. 

Maybe it will, but why should EU governments give the UK – or its citizens – an easy ride if it breaks up the Union? They won’t want other potential quitters to think they can have their cake and eat it by keeping the fun bits like freedom of movement, while jettisoning the boring bits like environmental legislation.

Those of us who have moved within the EU, either to or from Britain, are those who lose most if Britain quits. We’ve planned our lives, our loves, our jobs around an arrangement that we had every right to think would be permanent. 

Yet as things stand, we are unlikely even to be consulted. 

None of this is yet certain – and we won’t know exactly what the government’s planning until David Cameron presents the EU Referendum Bill to the House of Commons in a week or two. Then MPs will have a chance to amend and vote on the proposal.

The EU is far from perfect, God knows. It certainly needs reforming. But it has also provided opportunities for millions. Over the next few months, The Local will make sure that the voice of people who have gained most from Europe – and have most to lose if Britain quits – are heard loud and clear.

 

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ENERGY

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

European governments are announcing emergency measures on a near-weekly basis to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine.

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

Hundreds of billions of euros and counting have been shelled out since Russia invaded its pro-EU neighbour in late February.

Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to households to fill up their cars.

The public spending has continued, even though European Union countries had accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.

After announcing €14billion in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted the latest spending put Italy, “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.

The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank that is tracking energy crisis spending by EU governments, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe, after Germany.

READ ALSO How EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Rome has allocated €59.2billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product.

Germany tops the list with €100.2billion, or 2.8 percent of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.

On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.

France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises early, ranks third with €53.6billion euros allocated so far, representing 2.2 percent of its GDP.

Spending to continue rising
EU countries have now put up €314billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.

“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, told AFP.

The energy bills of a typical European family could reach €500 per month early next year, compared to €160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy, to the energy price freeze in France, and subsidies public transport in Germany.

But the spending follows a pandemic response that increased public debt, which in the first quarter accounted for 189 percent of Greece’s GDP, 153 percent in Italy, 127 percent in Portugal, 118 percent in Spain and 114 percent in France.

“Initially designed as a temporary response to what was supposed to be a temporary problem, these measures have ballooned and become structural,” Tagliapietra said.

“This is clearly not sustainable from a public finance perspective. It is important that governments make an effort to focus this action on the most vulnerable households and businesses as much as possible.”

Budget reform
The higher spending comes as borrowing costs are rising. The European Central Bank hiked its rate for the first time in more than a decade in July to combat runaway inflation, which has been fuelled by soaring energy prices.

The yield on 10-year French sovereign bonds reached an eight-year high of 2.5 percent on Tuesday, while Germany now pays 1.8 percent interest after boasting a negative rate at the start of the year.

The rate charged to Italy has quadrupled from one percent earlier this year to four percent now, reviving the spectre of the debt crisis that threatened the eurozone a decade ago.

“It is critical to avoid debt crises that could have large destabilising effects and put the EU itself at risk,” the International Monetary Fund warned in a recent blog calling for reforms to budget rules.

The EU has suspended until 2023 rules that limit the public deficit of countries to three percent of GDP and debt to 60 percent.

The European Commission plans to present next month proposals to reform the 27-nation bloc’s budget rules, which have been shattered by the crises.

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