Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Bring on the referendum!

So, people of Britain, you’re going to vote No in the constitution referendum because you’re a bunch of xenophobes are you? Because you’re a mass of ignorant bigots who still remember the bosch marching over the Channel to make you all drive VWs. Forget Europe, you’re all Americans now!

Actually, there are plenty of reasons why, with a decent bit of publicity, people might vote Yes especially if this vote comes down to whether we should stay in Europe altogether. Nobody will vote No if their nice farmhouse in France will get snatched back as a consequence. They won’t vote No if a quick weekend break in Venice might involve visas. They will vote Yes if they realise that most of the advances in employment and consumer protection have come from Europe and not our own government. They will vote Yes if they go along to Birminham’s city centre and see the remarkable transformation that has been achieved largely with European money.

The good thing about the referendum is that it forces the government to start promoting Europe’s achievements and power instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. They need to avoid the pathetic arguments and marginalise the thinking that says all Europe does is dictate the shape of our bananas. Where Europe has faults, which it does, they should work to address them. They should force MEPs to talk to their constituents from time to time. This is a real opportunity to get the British people to understand how regional, national and European government interlink and who deals with what, empowering them to start using these institutions to their advantage.

Most of what is being said about the constitution is too vague for anyone to make any sense of. It may not be the perfect constitution but if anyone really wanted us to be involved in making it better they would have kicked up a fuss two years ago during the consultation period, not when the thing is virtually finished. For good or bad, it will set out what we can expect from Europe in one document which we can refer to when required. This isn’t a concept we’re used to in Britain, but it might not harm us. The introduction to the constitution is actually quite an inspiring collection of values which few would disagree with and the rest is mainly aims and aspirations rather than specifics.

Many people in Britain actually have a very wide world view – that’s the nice consequence of the British Empire and what makes us feel so superior to the Americans (amongst many, many other things - smugness being one of our less attractive traits). The EU is already involved in common foreign policy where it’s efficient and where help from an individual state such as Britain might not be welcome. That’s a Good Thing. But if the UK wants to go to war against the wishes of France and most of its own population, this constitution isn’t going to stop it. We need to stop thinking of the EU as a sneaky Germanic superstate and compare it to America. Texas and California have entirely different tastes when it comes to the death penalty but they all manage to work together where it suits them. The EU is no different and all this talk of protecting ourselves against the threat of federalism is simply making us look stupid.

The British people should be trusted to have a bit of sense and vote Yes. It might help if Blair wasn’t in charge of the campaign though.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Israel and Palestine: an idea for peaceful separation

This is an idea that came to me while passing some of Europe's great rivers on a long and boring coach journey. I have lived overlooking one of London's docks for nearly two years and the water, filled with fish and birds, has been a calming influence for me in that time. It's a pretty twee idea, but imagining peace solutions is somewhat more cheering than trying to deal with the reality. And probably just as effective really.

The borders that have been effectively agreed since 1967 should be firmly established by the international community, with as much cooperation as is possible from Israel and Palestine. Israel has to be reassured that the international community will always support its right to provide a homeland for Jews, but that its current tactics are simply not providing security for its people. Israel has to give up its settlements and Palestian refugees must give up their right to return to what has become Israeli land. Both settlers and refugees should receive help in building a secure and permanent life within their own borders. The practicalities of all this has been sketched out by many other people so there's no need to go into in detail. The point is that both sides must be given viable states an international peacekeepers should take over security in the area as a prerequisite. It may be a semantic starting point to switch from Israel/Palestine to Israel and Palestine in writing about the area.

So, once the borders are decided and security established, the international community would oversee the construction of a canal running from the sea, around the Gaza Strip and the Westbank and the areas' agreed 'corridor'. A canal could be effectively patrolled with speedboats and each side would be free, if they wished, to construct any form of further security on their own side to prevent incursions.

While water would initially be used to separate, it could contribute in a very real way to bringing peace. Technology could be utilised to turn the sea-water into usable water for those living in Israel and Palestine. Water can be calming, it can create an oasis. Projects could be formed to bring young Israelis and Palestinians together in building attractive waterside areas. Eventually, and optimistically, bridges could be built over the canal to link the two communities. Instead of being a symbol of separation, the canal could become a symbol of peace and progress could be visibly marked: from the deconstruction of walls to the building of bridges.

The canals built in Britain in the past were great technological feats: ambitious but also very practical in moving goods and people. The world could contribute to peace and security in Israel and Palestine with a canal: it is certainly their moral duty to take more practical steps to solve this situation, which is not getting any better while a seemingly unending state of conflict exists between them. The Palistinian state cannot be said to truly exist while Palestinians have to justify their movements to Israeli soldiers all the time and lose their farmland to the fence/wall and the Israelis cannot feel comfortable in the state which was supposed to be their sanctuary while they live in fear of being blown up as they eat pizza. An international peace force is the only way to move towards peace.

Afterthought: in the light of this week's news of the peace agreement on Israel and Palestine agreed by Israel, the idea of international intervention seems more remote than ever. Well done Dubya...

Friday, April 02, 2004

Friday questions

This isn't your traditional Friday-bored-in-the-office-so-I'll-fill-in-a-questionnaire questions, but some of the questions that I have mulled over in what has been a busy week. Now that I can write shorthand at 60wpm (so far!) I can capture these questions. If you, the public, have the answers to any, or all, of them, please post them below

1. [actually, I deleted this question, but I can't be bothered to re-order the numbers. If I think of another question before I leave this computer, I'll put it in this slot]
2. If the (British) media really made an effort to report on some of the terrible things going on in the world, would anyone actually care?
3. How can the EU be made to work better?
4. Who should I vote for in the London Mayor and EU elections?
5. What is good luck?
6. Is there life on other planets?
7. [I deleted this one too. You don't need to worry yourself over that]
8. Why is Beverley Hughes saying she did everything right when she just admitted to misleading everyone?
9. Do I *really* look like the actress out of that film Secretary?
10. Are there lions in Rwanda?
[note: I met some very nice Rwandans this week, but it seemed too stupid to ask]
11. Would you buy one of these peace baskets?
[note: you already can in America and Rwanda]
12. Will they ever turn the lovely old buildings in Stoke-on-Trent into cool apartments?
13. What the hell is going on in Darfur?
[note: Human Rights Watch have released a report on this here. It's helpful]
14. Why are people racist?
[note: that question isn't meant to sound whiny and preachy, I really don't get it. I understand why people split up into different groups and might not like each other as part of those group, but I really don't get why you just wouldn't like a person who's sitting right opposite and is a person, only he looks different to you. Well?]