Kent’s Communities and a No-Deal Brexit: Accessibility Planning, Now!

From Dr Susan Kenyon, Faculty Director of Learning and Teaching at Canterbury Christ Church University.  She has studied transport and travel behaviour since 1998 and has published extensively in the area of transport, accessibility and social exclusion.  Dr Kenyon worked at a number of UK Universities and at Transport for London, before working at CCCU. You can find her University profile here.

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I don’t have a crystal ball, or a political equivalent of the Gray’s Sports Almanac, to tell me if the UK will exit the EU on 29th March.  However, an analysis of alternative futurological sources – betting odds, opinion polls and ‘expert’ media commentary – suggests that, whilst the probability of leaving on the 29th is declining, the probability that, if we do leave, we will leave without a deal, is rapidly increasing.

For communities in Kent, this is deeply worrying.

Kent is home to the Port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel, border crossing points which, together, represent the principal points of entry and exit for the UK’s goods trade with the EU.  Approximately 4 million freight vehicles and 23 million passengers cross these borders every year[1] – that’s around 11,000 HGVs and 63,000 passengers every day.  More than 40% of vehicles on Kent’s roads at any one time are freight vehicles, travelling through Kent, to reach their final destination.

For communities in Kent, this becomes a problem when these vehicles cannot pass through our county.  The Strategic Road Network (SRN) through Kent is limited, in terms of length and capacity.  Any disruption to the flow of vehicles through Kent, to the west into England or the east into Europe, very quickly leads to congestion on motorways and trunk roads.  This, in turn, leads to traffic leaking onto the Local Road Network (LRN), spreading congestion from the SRN into our towns and villages.

So far, so interesting – to transport planners.  But what has this to do with Brexit?

In the event of a no-deal, at 11pm on 29th March, the regulations that govern the entrance and exit of goods and people from the UK will change.  Because we will no longer be part of the single market, the conventions that currently allow people and goods to flow freely across our borders, from the UK to Europe and vice versa, will no longer apply.  This means that border checks will need to be introduced on goods, to enforce tariffs and compliance with safety, sanitary and security regulations.  Travellers are also likely to face changes to their border crossing, with increased customs, passports and security checks.

Increased checks will slow the flow of people and goods across our borders.  People and goods will not be able to exit Kent to the east into Europe as quickly as they could, before Brexit, because our border crossing points are not yet equipped to process vehicles, goods or people with these additional checks.

Previous experience tells us that delays at these borders very quickly leads to gridlock on Kent’s roads, with destructive effects for people in Kent’s communities.

In 2015, border closures resulted in a devastating reduction in accessibility to key services for local communities.

Within hours, the bottle necks at our ports resulted in traffic jams on our major roads, which quickly led to traffic jams on our local roads.  Because of this, people simply could not get to where they needed to go.

Within days, our communities were suffering from the consequences of this.  Care workers were not able to get to those they look after.  Patients were not able to get to doctor’s surgeries.  Hospital appointments were missed.  People could not get to shops to buy food.  Employees could not get to work.  Pupils could not get to school, nor students to Higher Education.  Parents lived with the fear that they would not be able to get home to look after their children[2].

The increase in HGV use of local roads, plus increased non-designated HGV parking in our towns and villages, also had negative impacts on the living environment.  This included community bifurcation, fear of road traffic incidents, fear of crime, alongside local environmental impacts, including noise, waste, pollution, air quality and potential localised climate change.

Could this happen again?

If our borders are slowed, or blocked, after Brexit, the logical assumption is that it is inevitable that this will happen again.

Astonishingly, however, we do not yet have any reliable studies telling us what the impacts of Brexit border changes for communities in Kent will be.

Three small studies have reported gridlock on specific roads on the SRN, focusing on the impact on through-times from the border crossings in the east to exit in the west[3].  Political concern has focused on the impact of this on through-traffic carrying time-limited products, including vegetables and medicines, or products for just-in-time manufacturing, to the rest of the UK and Ireland.

However, we desperately need to understand the impacts of congestion on all roads in Kent.  We need to understand the impacts not only on access by car, but also by public transport and on foot.  We then need to understand the impacts of congestion across Kent upon accessibility for Kent’s communities.  Will children be able to get to school, employees to work, carers to the people that they look after?

With information, we could plan to travel by alternative routes or modes, at different times, or to different locations.  We could arrange community-focused solutions, for example co-ordinating medical appointments with others in the local area and car sharing to the surgery, co-ordinating delivery of goods/medicines, co-ordinating work at home days to enable collection of children from school.  We could develop safe walking routes and schedule walking buses along these routes, in place of vehicular transport, or develop contingency plans to ensure that care can continue, if carers cannot get to those they care for.  We could plan for short-term virtual delivery of key services.

All of these are possible short-term solutions to ensure that communities in Kent can thrive in the event of Brexit border disruption.  But we need to act now.

How can we do this?

An important step is to create a transport model: mapping how traffic behaves under normal conditions, before adjusting key variables – in this case, congestion and road closures – to predict what will happen to the road network in different situations.

A whole-county model will take time to develop.  A more immediate solution would be to study the communities that we know will be affected first.

Kent County Council’s 5-step Freight Traffic Management Plan for Brexit, Operation Brock, gives us a clue as to which communities will be in the front line[4].

  • Communities in the Dover Port and Eurotunnel buffer zones and affected by Dover TAP.
  • Communities in the vicinity of the M20 Junction 8-9 contraflow.
  • Communities along the routes from Dover to Manston and from the west of England to Manston; communities in the vicinity of Manston, who will be affected by this pop-up town.
  • Communities in the vicinity of the M26, many previously affected by Operation Stack.
  • Communities in the vicinity of holding areas outside of Kent.

With information from such a study, we can develop contingency planning, to ensure that our communities can continue to function in the event of no-deal Brexit border issues.

The government’s no-deal Brexit border planning has, thus far, reduced Kent to a through-route for goods and travellers.  But we are more than a through-route.  We are a community of 1.8million people, who need to move.  When we can’t move, we can’t access education, employment, health and social care, food, family and friends.

We need to plan to maintain access for Kent’s communities, in the event of a no-deal.  We need to plan now.

[1] https://www.kent.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0012/6105/Freight-action-plan.pdf, viewed 01 February 2019.

[2] http://data.parliament.uk/WrittenEvidence/CommitteeEvidence.svc/EvidenceDocument/Transport/Operation%20Stack/written/29779.html, section 3.6, viewed 01 February, 2019.

[3] https://www.ft.com/content/d05498f6-1299-11e9-a581-4ff78404524e, viewed 01 February 2019.

[4] https://democracy.kent.gov.uk/documents/s88112/Item%207%20-%20Brexit.pdf, viewed 01 February 2019.

 

 

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May’s Defeat in Parliament, Vote of Confidence and Plan B – What Next in the Brexit Saga?

On Monday 14th January 2019, Theresa May’s Brexit Plan suffered the heaviest defeat any government bill has ever received in the House of Commons. A day later, her government survived a vote of no confidence. On Monday 21st January 2019, May will present her “Plan B” in the Brexit negotiations. In the following blog post, we look at what our Politics and International Relations staff at Canterbury Christ Church University make of all the drama and the potential next steps.

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The vote against Theresa May’s deal has created a lot of insecurity. Her government remains dependant on those Eurosceptics that reject her deal (and the DUP), this is what we have learnt from the vote of confidence. Will she be able to come up with a compromise that will be acceptable to some of the opposition MPs? For this to happen, a softer approach to Brexit, with a possible continued membership in the customs union with the EU, seems inevitable. However, she might also aim for some form of deal with her hard-core Eurosceptic party colleagues, which would involve addressing the nature of the backstop for Northern Ireland – something which the EU will be unlikely to want to renegotiate. So, what is left? A no-deal Brexit looms in the background and might be the result of Parliament’s inability to find a compromise and Theresa May’s inability to come up with a Plan B that can find a majority in the House of Commons.

                                    Dr Soeren Keil

Director of the Centre for European Studies

 

 

In any other circumstances, a defeat of the scale which we saw on Tuesday night would have spelt the end for a Prime Minister. However (and not for the first time), internal Tory Party politics intervened. Her victory in the confidence vote in December means that May is safe from removal through a challenge for a whole year, though few think that she’ll stay that long (risking an almost immediate challenge once the year is up). So, we are left with a curious situation – a Prime Minister leading a government that has become the first to be held in contempt of Parliament, and which has just recorded the largest-ever margin of defeat on the most significant policy issue of the day, but who can’t be removed unless she grants an election or resigns.

This side of Brexit (whenever that will be), don’t expect May to resign – Teflon Theresa continues to move forward with the determination of a January snow plough. General Election? Possible but unlikely whilst the chances of a Corbyn government seem to be slightly improved. So, we’re left with a paralysed political system that can’t deliver satisfactorily for anybody and which seems full of contradictions. One might almost be tempted to say that nothing has changed…

           Max Stafford

PhD student in Politics and Module Leader

 

 

I’ve come to dread the predictable question on Brexit: “So, what’s going to happen?” For those of us expected to have some degree of expertise on politics, it is an uncomfortable feeling to confess: “I really don’t know.”

Whilst that remains true, one thing I am convinced of is that to achieve a resolution, the question before parliament will have to be boiled down to a straight binary choice. If MPs are forced to choose between a deal or no-deal, there is a good chance a deal will be passed, but if it comes down to a second referendum or the existing deal, the outcome is more uncertain.

Much will depend on what the Labour Party does – whilst Jeremy Corbyn has maintained a careful balancing act, he is under increasing pressure from his party to clarify his position. Seeking a General Election is to my mind a distraction which holds little prospect of breaking the deadlock, and would simply add to the chaos.

Dr Nigel Fletcher

Assistant Lecturer for Parliamentary Studies and Comparative Politics

 

 

As a European citizen and politics lecturer I get asked about Brexit all the time and it is wearing me out. It looms large over every decision I make for my family and at work. So when I was asked to contribute to this blog, my initial reaction was to refuse. I feel drained. I can’t see the point in adding to the trillions of words written about Brexit, where there seems to be nothing constructive left to add. Theresa May has interpreted the referendum result as a rejection of immigration, of me and my family.  She has pursued her red lines into a dead end, which could lead to the whole country crashing out of the EU without a deal. However, the ways that we have lurched to this point, have left me (and I suspect many more) numb to the whole process. What’s next? I honestly have no idea. I don’t know what it means for parliamentary processes, for trade and industry, for supply chains, traffic jams, the Northern Irish peace process, the rights of my family and many friends and colleagues to live and work in this country, or anything else for that matter. Sorry.

Dr Laura Cashman

Programme Director for the Undergraduate Programme in Politics and International Relations

 

Brexit and the Age of Uncertainty

From Dr Soeren Keil, Reader in Politics and International Relations and Director of the Centre for European Studies (CEFEUS).

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There are now fewer than 80 days until Brexit is supposed to take place – meaning the UK will leave the European Union (EU). The date for this – 29th March 2019 is coming ever-closer, yet neither the government, nor parliament, experts nor the electorate have a concrete idea of what will happen once the UK has left the EU. Indeed, Brexit and the surrounding ambiguity are a good example of our current political, social and economic environment; we truly live in an age of uncertainty.

The great British historian Eric Hobsbawm described the 20th century as “The Age of Extremes” – the extremes of World Wars, of Fascism and Communism, and the ultimate victory of liberal democracy and capitalism, which the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama labelled as “The End of History”.

Indeed, the end of the 20th century was for many an era of hope – hope that democracy, international law and free market economics would provide a framework for global rules, cooperation and peace. Yet, at the beginning of the 21st century this hope vanished, first with the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent War on Terror, and later with the rise of China (and to some extent Russia) as alternative powers to an American dominated world order. Since then, the world has been shifting away from a unipolar system based on US hegemony towards a more multipolar system in which different global actors rival for influence and compete with each other. Brexit is symptomatic of these shifts – an end in the belief and faith in multilateral decision-making and cooperation as key pillars of a Liberal Internationalist world order. Instead, Brexit was fuelled by nationalism, misunderstandings and a nostalgic love for Britain’s imperial past.

So, what do Brexit, the rise of China, and the American retreat from Syria have in common? They all symbolise the Age of Uncertainty – an age in which the dominant Liberal Internationalist discourse based on international law, democracy and multilateralism is challenged. But this is not only a result of the rise of China as a key challenger to Western domination, it is also a sign of Western weakness and self-doubt – parts of which were articulated during the Brexit debate, which also has opened up a wider discussion about what Britain is and the role it plays on the world stage in the 21st century.

But the Age of Uncertainty is not only visible in global politics, it is a sign of our everyday life. The British government recently simulated the impact of a no-deal Brexit on Kent’s infrastructure. It used 89 lorries at the former airport in Manston to see what would happen if up to 10,000 lorries got stuck on Kent’s roads.

Likewise, the Age of Uncertainty has also become visible when the British government decided to give a contract of £13.8m to a ferry company in Ramsgate, which promised to increase British trading capacity with mainland Europe. The problem is that Seaborne Ferries has yet to purchase any ferries and finalise dredging at Ramsgate harbour.

What is more, in a vote in Parliament on the 8th of January 2019, parliamentarians decided to limit the amount of money ministers can spend on preparing for a no-deal Brexit. While many would argue that preparing for a no-deal Brexit is sensible in light of the possible rejection of Theresa May’s deal in Parliament on 15th January, the supporters of the budget amendment bill argued that if ministers cannot spend more money on preparations for a no-deal, they will have to get their act together to get a deal.

Politicians such as Anna Soubry are publically labelled as “Nazis” in this Age of Uncertainty, because they are pro-EU and demand another referendum, taking into account the misinformation and fraud that took place in the first referendum in 2016. How an ideology of Social Darwinism and violence can be connected to the demand for more transparency and a greater voice for the general population is rationally difficult to explain, but makes perfect sense in this Age of Uncertainty.

Shortly before the vote, the Age of Uncertainty also demonstrates the double-speech and unclear meaning in the government’s discourse – with the Prime Minister saying at the same time that a rejection of her deal means “no deal” and “no Brexit”. When a binary choice such as this becomes more or less the same, then clarity – or indeed certainty – becomes a problem.

This all highlights the new political climate we live in – The Age of Uncertainty, where nobody knows what will happen next week, let alone in three months. It is particularly challenging for academics to analyse these processes and predict what will happen next – but it must be a lot harder for politicians and especially those in government to foresee where to go to next. This is another sign of the Age of Uncertainty – Politicians are disliked and disrespected more than ever, yet everyone in the country is looking at them to find a solution for this mess.

The Age of Uncertainty of course will not end with Brexit – it will go on and influence our political culture for decades to come. Whether this is a good or a bad thing depends on your standpoint – and of course it can be both – in The Age of Uncertainty.

LONG READ: Trudeau vs. Trump: A Two-Fold Tale of Tantrums and Tariffs

From Amelia Hadfield – Professor of European and International Relations.

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I admit it. I’m a foreign policy junkie. I admit to getting a buzz during the G7, the EU, the UN. Not even Brexit has worn down the intoxication of the international. But I wasn’t prepared for the adrenalin rush of the recent G7, and the war of words between the US and …Canada?

Donald Trump vs… Justin Trudeau?? Flashbacks of Nixon vs. Trudeau Senior! It’s all so close to the UK-US press conference in the Mike Nichols film Love Actually, when Hugh ‘I can play Conservative or Liberal leaders with equal aplomb’ Grant tells the reassuringly sleazy US President to stop being a bully (after the latter flirted with the former’s non-quite-but-probably-final-scene-girlfriend).

Having won the foreign policy shoot-out, Grant then indulges in some impressive interpretative dance throughout No. 10 to the strains of ‘Jump’ by The Pointer Sisters to prove his quintessential coolness (a major omission from the otherwise magisterial 3-part A Very English Scandal, in my opinion). Not sure if young Justin Trudeau can bop with similar aplomb along the oak-lined corridors of 24 Sussex Drive (that’s the official residence of the Canadian PM), in Ottawa (that’s the capital of Canada). If the raw material for such hip swinging is a good old, fashion foreign policy spat, then he’s off to a good start. Of course, like any good spat, it needs to be made clear at the outset that THEY started it.

 

The Tariff Tango

Let’s recap. Back in April, President Trump first floated the threat of tariffs, demanding that Canada, Mexico and the EU agree to voluntarily limit their exports to the US. They said no, unlike Argentina, Australia, Brazil and Korea. A couple of weeks ago, Trump then made good on his threat to implement 25% tariffs on steel imported from the EU, Canada, and Mexico and a further 10% on aluminium (yes, I know, Canada and the US alike pronounce it al-u-minum).

Why? Because there is a surfeit of cheap steel in the global market, driven by Chinese practices of dumping low-cost steel in other markets? That’s one reason. Because US steel can’t compete however low they drop their own prices, and require government subsidies to survive? That’s another. Because US steel is consequently an imperilled part of a poorly managed national economy? Yes again.

BUT (and here’s the key question), is US steel vital to the national security of the US and therefore entirely to be defended via tariffs? Rubbish. US steel is an economic sector. It is one part of the wider national economy. It is not on its own strategic to US national or even economic security. As argued by Professor Alan Winters of the Sussex Trade Policy Observatory, while “World Trade Organisation rules permit members to impose trade restrictions in the name of national security… the USA has not made a plausible case of immediate national security threats. Rather, US government statements refer to the travails of the US steel sector – that is, the tariffs are simply protection for an economic sector, not of a national economy”.[1] As such, the tariffs are therefore clearly illegal.

 

The Land of Consequences

By slapping trade tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, Trump has created three major hurdles for himself, with damaging repercussion for the US both at home and abroad.

First, Trump has made a collective trade foe of EU, Canada and Mexico. Slapping tariffs on their steel and aluminium, insisting on the strategic (even military) rather than economic role of steel, and finally throwing a temper tantrum when Trudeau reasonably pointed out with other leaders at the recent G7 that such tariffs won’t be taken lightly reveals that Trump’s adolescent approach to world affairs won’t mature anytime soon. More on the implications for the land of the maple leaf in Part II of this blog.

Second, Trump has given rise to genuine ‘bad faith diplomacy’ between him, and the rest of the G7 (at a minimum). As the fabulous ‘Last Supper’ photo of a resentful Trump opposite a deliciously peeved Merkel indicated, Trump has continued to alienate both the key personages within grouping like the G7, and the underlying system and values that they represent. Not wise. If contemporary political history teaches us one thing, it’s that you don’t ride roughshod over hard-won allies. Bridge building with North Korea may seem cool and edgy, but bullying those historically supportive of America – both remote and proximate – is a singularly injudicious approach (that’s Canadian for stupid).

Trump’s approach will have political consequences. And it will have trade consequences – some of which have already begun. The EU, Canada and Mexico have responded identically: with limited but target tariff retaliations of their own. The EU swiftly opened a case at the WTO, with EU trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström announcing reasonable, proportionate, WTO-compliant retaliatory tariffs on classic US products from, bourbon whiskey to peanut butter and jeans, concluding that “this is not the way we do business, and certainly not between longstanding partners, friends and allies”.[2] Britain’s UK international trade secretary Liam Fox also declared US tariffs as ‘patently absurd’, while (possibly football obsessed) Germany argued that hitting symbolic US products like Harley Davidson would show Trump a red card[3]. Even EU diplomacy supremo (supremette?) Federica Mogherini weighed in, arguing that the EU supported free and fair trade, and busy “multiplying the trade agreements with our partners in the world” rather than foreclosing on key opportunities.[4]

Beyond the shores of Europe, many within the US, both Democrats and Republicans, arguably support the pithy observation of Republican Senator Ben Sasse from Nebraska that Trump’s approach was – in a word – “dumb”. In foreign policy terms, Sasse suggested that “you don’t treat allies the same way you treat opponents”; and further, that “blanket protectionism is a big part of why America had a Great Depression. ‘Make America Great Again’ shouldn’t mean ‘Make America 1929 Again’”.[5]  Compelling stuff.

Third, in terms of the global system of trade, ‘Trump’s Tariffs’ represents a genuine threat to the wold trading system, which has underpinned the majority of post-war global prosperity, boosting income increases and sectoral decreases in poverty. Trump is famously antagonistic to multilateralism in general, and key institutions like the EU, the UN, and the WTO in particular. Taking aim at the WTO, Trump has refused to agree to the appointment of judges to the WTO’s Appellate Body, which as Winters points out will prevent the WTO from hearing appeals on disputes, halting the entire system, with the result that “there will be no enforcement mechanism for the rules-based system”. Worse, steel and aluminium tariffs are only the beginning. Trump has launched an inquiry into making a case for US national security out of car and car part imports – a vastly larger sector. Tariffs here – whatever the raison d’etre of their imposition – would result in “massive and widespread economic costs and vigorous retaliation” from China, Japan, the EU and more.[6]

The Canadian G7 marks an exciting new low point in transatlantic relations; its febrile atmosphere emphasised exquisitely in the above-mentioned pic of Angela “look me in the eye when I’m talking to you, dammit” Merkel staring down Donald “I’ve got a plane to catch” Trump. Donald’s chickens may come home to roost. The EU, Canada and Mexico together can easily combine their respective retaliatory tariffs to make it genuinely costly for a whole range of US exporters – from farmers to whiskey producers – to ship their products abroad. And they’ve got the moral high ground in simply being seen to stand up to Trump (including a satisfyingly chastened Macron).

Surely the right response to is to keep the rules-based system in place by supporting rather than hobbling the WTO; working on a compromise with allies to reduce the overall output of steel; and targeting Chinese (and global) steel overcapacity in a more balanced series of measures. Fallacious arguments suggestion steel, aluminium and cars represent American national security interests won’t wash with anyone. Trump should look more closely at the US’s own steel imports which in 2017 represented $29 billion (only $1billion of which came from China in terms of steel, and $1.7 billion in aluminium), and ask whether its domestic balance is where it should be. A basic lesson in economics wouldn’t go astray for the current White House resident: a trade deficit is very simplistic measure by which to measure national growth and sustainability.

 

‘No More Mr Nice Canada’[7]

Onto the fun stuff. First, in terms of local signalling, were Canada and Mexico given any notice of Trump’s decision to impose steel and aluminium tariffs? Based on the “earnest negotiations” that both have undertaken with the US against the backdrop of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, a decent smoke signal would have been expected across both America’s north and south borders.[8] But it transpires that neither country was notified by the White House of the tariffs, nor the broader picture of US intentions regarding NAFTA, which will likely be impacted should tariffs boil over into an all-out trade war. Neither side took kindly to the Trump rationale either. As Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland chippily observed, “Canada considers it frankly absurd that we would in any way be considered to be a national security threat to the United States.” Turning to the domestic sectors, Freeland went on to “absolutely assure” Canadian steel and aluminium sectors “that the government is absolutely prepared to and will defend Canadian industries and Canadian jobs”.[9] This from a Canadian politician! Well, if you’re trade minister, and on the brink of a trade war, you get to haul out the big guns…

As I’ve suggested, the retaliatory tariffs levied by the US, Mexico and Canada on symbolic American products are a natural consequence of Trump’s own strategy. But Trump underscored his strategy with a national imperative: that steel and aluminium are fundamental to America’s collective security. Canada in particular has reacted strongly at the suggestion that it (via its imports) somehow poses a national security threat to America. Only Trump’s bizarrely illogical take on bilateral relations would interpret Canada’s refusal to cave to the tariffs as  intrinsically weak, or that Trudeau’s suggestion (made ever so politely) that neither Canada & Mexico nor the EU would ‘take them lightly’ rendered him feckless.

 

Trump’s Tantric Tantrums

Trudeau’s response is in no sense weak. Indeed, from bourbon to peanut butter, from diary to gherkins, it’s pretty darn robust. Trudeau’s stance provoked a full-blown Trump Tantrum, labelling Trudeau weak on Twitter. Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade advisor colourfully suggested to Fox News Sunday that “there’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad faith diplomacy”.[10]  The presidential hissy fit has in consequence scuppered that final G7 communique (which the US refused to endorse), and prompted both international and national unity.

Trudeau – and Canada as a whole – were happy to act as G7 hosts. I suspect Trudeau and Canadian Trade Minister Freeland would likely have considered alternatives to the ballooning trade war, not only with their EU and Mexican colleagues but against the backdrop of the faltering NAFTA negotiations (a deal even worse than Iran? Probably). But not now. Now it’s a national issue. As Jen Gerson neatly pointed out, ‘Trump may be a polarizing figure in the US, but he is turning out to be a great unifier of Canadians’.[11] We may not all be card-carrying members of Trudeau’s Liberal party, but trade tariffs and insults suggesting Trudeau – and by extension all Canadians – are meek and mild, are a step too far.

 

Warning: Angry Canadians Ahead!

Well done, Donald. Worse than cosying up to Kim Jong Un, you’ve actually upset the Canadians! That’s virtually unheard of. It’s also a classic foreign policy blunder. Do you realise how hard it is to genuinely upset a Canadian? How virtually impossible it is – bar hockey defeats – to upset the entire Canadian nation? I’m going to quite Gerson again, because she’s got this spot on:

“If a nation of millions can have a collective character, then it is true what is said about Canadians. We are a stoic, rule-abiding and polite people. We are also smug, passive-aggressive [except in hockey, that’s just flat out aggressive-aggressive] and proud.”[12]

Canada’s easy-going attitude only extends so far. You don’t mess with bilateral trade, and you don’t bully her. Or, indeed, anyone. Canadian values, culture, and support for international peace and multilateralism are entrenched in its respect for differences, in the need for honesty, decency, and the judicious interplay of individual interests that produces good deals collectively. All of these are hallmarks of how Canada is – for the most part – generally prepared work with others at home and abroad.

But you don’t mess with our apparently overpriced cheese. Maybe last week, we could have negotiated the supply of steel, aluminium, and even our delicious, if overpriced dairy products. But not now. We may the nice guys internationally, but we won’t be insulted or treated as a cheesy client state. Like it or not, Trump has arguably taught Canada a valuable lesson. At this point – and echoing Angela Merkel’s sombre assessment – we can no longer trust, or rely, engage maturely with America as we have before. They are neither a trusted trade partner, nor a political ally. Under the Trump administration, America is a liability. We need to rethink our trade policy, and also our foreign policy.

 

Tricky Trade

Trump needs to reflect on the key message found in the US Department Commerce’s January 2018 report. Essentially, that there is no self-standing American steel industry because its various supply chains are so comprehensively tied to Canada. It’s more a cross-border dual market than two single markets. The report suggested that while tariffs might work in America’s favour in signalling the US’s inability to tackle world-wide excess steel production, failing to exempt Canada from such tariffs would produce retaliations that would consequently harm the entirety of America’s own exports in a far more profound way in the long-term. The bad news is that any tit-for-tats would ultimately harm Canada too. As Margaret Macmillan recently observed, “the recent spat has backed Canada into an uncomfortable position: while attempting to remain steadfast against a belligerent trade partner, it must also reckon with the fact that much of its economic productivity is tied to seamless free trade with its southern neighbour.”[13]

 

Rewriting Canada’s Reputation

As Justin Ling argued in Foreign Policy, history is strewn with superbly droll examples of Canadian tenacity. The maple leaf hit parade starts with the War of 1812 when British forces (somehow conflated to represent Canadians) led by General Robert Ross set fire to Washington DC, including the newly-built White House. Other hit singles include Lyndon Johnson telling Lester B. Pearson not to ‘piss on my rug’ when the latter suggested a halt to the Vietnam War, and Richard Nixon calling Pierre Trudeau (Justin’s father) a ‘pompous egghead’ and an ‘asshole’ after the latter attempted to explain the inextricable nature of cross-border supply chains.[14] These quarrels still rankle with our southern neighbours. Indeed, Trump himself rather hilariously underscored his ‘tariffs = security’ philosophy by citing Canada’s malevolent White House arson (probably to the ironic approval of most Canadians).

But the latest addition to this list arose at the G7 when Trudeau said simply that Canada (like other key US trade partners) would respond to Trump with proportionate tariffs of their own. Trump then conflated Canada, Canadian trade and the Prime Minister by suggesting that Trudeau “stabbed the US in the back” for having the temerity to even defend Canada against his aggressive trade measures, and cheekily suggesting to the leader of the free world that “Canada will not be pushed around”. Forget 1812. This is a new nadir for US-Canadian relations (predictable hockey allegory here). While the two countries have generally accepted that their relationship remain “as efficient and profitable as possible”, the fundamental trust and respect accompanying reliable, and progressive bilateralism has under Trump withered on the vine.[15]

 

The Lone North

Trudeau – and Canada as a whole – have had two nasty awakenings. First, however handsome and youthful you are, there’s no such thing as a Trump whisperer. The latter will do what the hell he likes, regardless of logic, evidence or the sound judgement of others. Second, only a minority of key US politicians can now be reliably included in Justin’s ‘Team Canada’ approach to cross-border relations. As Macmillan argues, “although there is little to suggest that his aggressive trade policy has spirited support within his party… Trump has seized on the duties as a weapon he can wield without needing congressional approval.”[16] Canada: you’re on your own.

Trudeau’s response that Canada won’t be bullied suggests that he’s got the message. About time? As Ling suggests, “for a country with a famously polite political and cultural reputation… it’s that reputation, more than anything, that’s in need of revision”.[17] We don’t need to be rude. Heavens, no. But we do need to stand our ground. Ling suggests that between now and the US mid-terms, Canada needs to prepare for “an end run around Trump” by lobbying congress and the US Treasury alike to scrap trade penalties. Agreed. I think Canada also needs to help dial down the security rhetoric, even if THEY started it. It may fall to the ‘True North’ to remind Trump of J.F. Kennedy’s tear-jerkingly famous words that “Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies.” I’m tempted to conclude that “those whom God has so joined together, let

[1] https://blogs.sussex.ac.uk/uktpo/2018/06/01/the-imposition-of-tariffs-by-the-usa-on-steel-and-aluminium/.

[2] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-18-4006_en.htm

[3]https://www.politicshome.com/news/world/united-states/donald-trump/news/95614/liam-fox-slams-donald-trumps-%E2%80%98patently-absurd%E2%80%99

[4] https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/45708/remarks-hrvp-federica-mogherini-following-eu-china-strategic-dialogue-wang-yi-chinas-state_en

[5] http://uk.businessinsider.com/trump-trade-war-tariffs-on-steel-aluminum-rattles-washington-2018-5

[6] https://blogs.sussex.ac.uk/uktpo/2018/06/01/the-imposition-of-tariffs-by-the-usa-on-steel-and-aluminium/.

[7] An irresistible by-line: the work of Justin Ling, in Foreign Policy, June 15, 2018: http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/06/15/no-more-mr-nice-canada/

[8] https://www.politico.eu/article/donald-trump-duties-steel-aluminum-global-trade-war/

[9] https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2018/05/30/ottawa-readying-its-options-as-nafta-and-tariff-talks-stall-with-us.html

[10] https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2018/06/10/special-place-in-hell-canada-us-relations-reach-new-low-as-trump-aides-heap-insults-on-trudeau-to-impress-kim-jong-un.html

[11] https://www.theguardian.com/world/commentisfree/2018/jun/11/trump-canada-bully-trade-trudeau

[12] https://www.theguardian.com/world/commentisfree/2018/jun/11/trump-canada-bully-trade-trudeau

[13] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/11/trump-canada-relationship-us

[14] http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/06/15/no-more-mr-nice-canada/

[15] http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/06/15/no-more-mr-nice-canada/

[16] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jun/11/trump-canada-relationship-us

[17] http://foreignpolicy.com/2018/06/15/no-more-mr-nice-canada/

 

Bulgaria’s EU Council Presidency: The last great expansion?

20171208PHT89936_original

On the 1st January 2018, Bulgaria assumed control of the EU Council Presidency for the first time since joining the European bloc in 2007. For the Black Sea Republic, the role allows it a crucial six month period to dominate European policy and political discourse. The EU Presidency has also taken place during an incredibly important year for Europe, where Brexit talks will need to be concluded to allow sufficient time to pass through the various legislatures necessary to prepare for Britain’s departure, in addition to talks around how to replace Britain’s significant contribution to the EU budget with one eye already on the upcoming elections in 2019 for President of the European Commission.

 

The former Communist state has set out four primary objectives for the Presidency; the future of Europe, improving relations/the integration of the Western Balkans into the EU, the digital Single Market, and security/stability, with a wide range goal but in particular on refugee policies. The six month stint will be carried out under the slogan ‘United we stand strong’, which follows on from Estonia’s ‘Unity through balance’.

 

Future of Europe

Much of this has been centred around the ongoing Brexit discussions. Prime Minister Boiko Borisov has previously advocated for a soft Brexit, and was the first leader of the EU27 states to break ranks and insist that a hard Brexit was not in anyone’s interest[i]. Unfortunately for Borisov, whilst some sections of the media saw his comments as a possible softening in the EU’s negotiating position, it has not thus far made an apparent difference in the talks. Britain remains on course for leaving the Single Market and Customs Union, with talks of a ‘No Deal’ scenario continuing to be mentioned by politicians[ii]. Rounding off the objective has included the preliminary discussions on how the EU’s budget will be spent from 2021-2027, with the European Commission proposing an increase in spending to €1.25 trillion, despite Britain’s impending withdrawal[iii]. With news emerging in the last few days that Britain has been invited to the discussion on how the proposed budget will be spent[iv], it once again highlights the growing tensions between member states on the future of Europe.

 

The Western Balkans

Since the European Union began expanding into the former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe in 2004, talk has often been centred around when Western Balkan states will be admitted into the European Union. The deadly Yugoslav Wars during the 1990s made things particularly difficult, although some of the contender states have struggled due to corruption and authoritarian stances over the media amongst other issues. Yet, Bulgaria, which has historically enjoyed a mixed-yet-close relationship with the former Yugoslav states, has been keen to push the issue. This led the European Commission to declare that the earliest that the next round of expansion would take place is 2025[v], although this is seen as unlikely as the most likely state to be admitted, Serbia, continues to delay resolving issues with the contested state of Kosovo. In addition, Spain’s refusal to attend the recent summit in Sofia shows that the road to EU membership is far from assured[vi]. However, Bulgaria’s hard work on the issue has forced meetings and concession to take place, and make the goal of European Union membership for Western Balkan states seem just that little bit more realistic, aided by the recent Sofia Declaration on 17th May 2018[vii].

 

The digital Single Market

In recent years, the European Union has pushed for the creation of the digital Single Market, with the objective of placing Europe at the centre of digital development in the coming decades. Part of this objective for Bulgaria’s EU presidency came in July 2017, when Mariya Gabriel was nominated to be the EU Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society after her predecessor, Kristalina Georgieva, left the European Commission to become CEO of the World Bank. Gabriel seemed a natural choice for Borisov; a young, ambitious MEP since 2009 that was well liked and chosen twice as ‘MEP of the year’ in 2013 and 2016 respectively. Unfortunately, she has come in for much criticism over the last few months for being unable to push through necessary changes for the digital Single Market, and in particular, how the roll out of 5G across the continent in the next decade will be financed[viii]. Most of the criticism faced her way has been over the soft-handed approach she has applied, being unable to force things through like Georgieva in the past. However, some successes in the telecoms industry has meant that the objective has not been a complete bust for Bulgaria, and it will remain optimistic going forward that Gabriel will find her feet and bring in the necessary changes.

 

Security/Stability

Showing the growing rise of populism and authorism across Central and Eastern Europe, Bulgaria’s Government has become increasingly hard line on security issues. Part of this has been influenced by the makeup of Bulgaria’s coalition government, with the minority member, the United Patriots, comprised of a coalition of three right-wing, populist parties. However, some of the posturing from the Government predates the formation of the coalition in 2017, as seen in 2015 when Borisov ordered the construction of a wired fence along the border with Turkey, largely funded by the EU[ix]. Bulgaria’s tough stance on migration is believed to be partly motivated by its desire to join the Schengen Area, which has previously been vetoed by states such as the Netherlands due to concerns over illegal immigration and smuggling[x]. Therefore, Bulgaria placing security concerns as one of its objectives has been largerly motivated by self-interest, although does represent some genuine concerns across the Central and Eastern Europe membership of migrants. However, there has been no major breakthrough on this issue to date.

 

Overall, Bulgaria’s EU Presidency has laid an ambitious but mostly achievable targets. It was always unlikely that there would be a major breakthrough in the Brexit talks at this stage, and instead, all eyes will roll-over to Austria in July when it becomes the next EU Council President. However, its work on the digital Single Market, aided in part by Estonia which placed a ‘Digital Europe’ as one of its themes in the proceeding Presidency[xi], and on the Western Balkans, shows that it is a state that is gradually beginning to find its voice in a post-Cold War Europe. It remains to be seen what the legacy will ultimately be of Bulgaria’s EU Council Presidency, but the Black Sea Republic will be desperately hoping that it will ultimately have delivered a lasting impact on EU policy that each Council Presidency promises, but so rarely delivers.

 

Rating of the objectives of the Presidency

Future of Europe: D

The Western Balkans: B

The digital Single Market: D

Security/Stability: C

 

Overall rating of Presidency: C

 

For more information on Bulgaria EU’s Council Presidency, visit https://eu2018bg.bg/en/home

[i] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/11/24/britain-headed-hard-brexit-bulgarian-prime-minister-says/

[ii] https://www.ft.com/content/23663bc4-619e-11e8-90c2-9563a0613e56

[iii] https://www.ft.com/content/e4aa3004-4d5a-11e8-97e4-13afc22d86d4

[iv] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/brussels-and-brexiteers-united-in-anger-over-budget-extension-t80hsc7p2

[v] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/06/serbia-and-montenegro-could-join-eu-in-2025-says-brussels

[vi] https://www.politico.eu/article/johannes-hahn-mariano-rajoy-emmanuel-macron-balkan-enlargement-spain-france-upset-brussels-balkan-plans/

[vii] http://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/34776/sofia-declaration_en.pdf

[viii] https://www.politico.eu/article/mariya-gabriel-digital-single-market-on-the-rocks/

[ix] https://www.euscoop.com/en/2017/8/31/more-funding-for-border-fence

[x] https://www.ft.com/content/dd7dfaea-e51f-11e0-9aa8-00144feabdc0

[xi] https://www.canterbury.ac.uk/social-and-applied-sciences/psychology-politics-and-sociology/cefeus/jean-monnet/jean-monnet-blogs/Estonia’s-EU-Council-Presidency-The-Needed-Push-for-a-Digital-Europe.aspx