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Now for something completely different! the TAV

This is the first part of some thoughts I am putting together out of my own interest. The TAV refers to the proposed high-speed railway link between Turin in Italy and Lyon in France. It is entitled New Thinking, New Opportunities, New Skills and Jobs

Abstract

The preparation of this document has been stimulated by a recent meeting that had the objective to discuss the preparation of proposed Piedmont legislation to protect closed railway lines in the Piedmont Region from being dismantled. Naturally, this provokes the question of why and who should be concerned? And of course, linking the proposed legislation to the ongoing debate surrounding the highspeed rail link between Turin and Lyon; and other similar projects planned or underway in Italy.

In writing this piece, I have been inspired by the Strategic Foresight Primer[1] of the European Political Strategy Centre. The document does not constitute a proposal or represent the views of any political party or interest group but rather provides some ideas for discussion, and, wherever possible, point to areas where short stories to stimulate a further exchange of ideas and visioning. As Angela Wilkinson quotes “We can either slow down the pace of change or speed up our ability to learn our way into the future”⁠([2]), and as such the document avoids any dogmatic and/or ideological approach. 

Taken in isolation, the proposed legislation risks: opposition from various political parties and interest groups; bogged down in detail by discussions regarding specific lines and technical detail. A key issue is that the future development and/or reinstatement of closed railways does not feature as a priority for the Region. The topic was not included in current POR (Regional Operative Programme of the European ESF “New Skills for New Jobs”), nor, at this stage, does it appearin the Regional Tourism Strategy that is currently under preparation ([3]) Arguably, a convincing justification for the proposed legislation should be linked to a broader medium long-term vision for the Region. 

The Context outlines some of the key issues that will impact upon the future development of the Region in the context of climate change and sustainable development; and, naturally the debate of rail vs road transport in the Region and beyond, and the importance of Turin and the Region in the related to culture in its broader sense, its tradition for engineering, research and innovation and the role they can play in under the auspices of the Alpine Convention strategies to promote a Green economy linked to innovation with respect to, among others, rural development beyond the regional conurbations.  The “headline” contextual analysis forms the basis for New Thinking, New Opportunities, New Skills and Jobs.  At the same time, suggestions for the proposed use of the lines within the context of this broader vision could be more appropriate e.g. commuter, freight, tourism, heritage, etc. and associated innovation that will develop Turin as a European Centre of excellence for research linked to the vision of European Transport in 2050. Above all, for the Region to be the European showcase for environmental sustainability and healthy legacy for future generations in line with ambitions set out in recent strategies under the auspices of the Alpine Commission and those of the European Union. 


[1]Strategic Foresight PrimerAngela Wilkinson European Political Strategy Centre; https://espas.secure.europarl.europa.eu/orbis/sites/default/files/generated/document/en/epsc_-_strategic_foresight_primer.pdf

[2]Op.cit. p.2

[3]It is not clear how advanced the tourism strategy is. There are currently two formerly closed railway lines in Piedmont that operate occasional tourist trains.

Some thoughts on UK’s EU Membership

I didn’t gain a 1st class degree in political science or a PhD in European affairs. However, I have to state that I am quite pessimistic. A significant element of the Tory Party has been pushing for a hard Brexit to fulfil their dream of a de-regulated UK and the privatisation of the welfare state on all fronts. The EU has said that the deal on the table is the only one to accept. Fine. But seen in the context of the European Parliament elections next year and the rise of the extreme right and anti-EU parties, it could be that the EU will say (as they have been doing), get on with it or crash out, they have prepared for such an eventuality. This would be a lesson to others who have signed up to a whole range of agreements and treaties and who think that these can easily be undone. For those who believe in a strong and united Europe, May’s behaviour is doing us a great favour. Whatever happens, combined with a long history of opt-outs, the UK can never be a trusted partner again. I am convinced that the experience of the past two-plus years has reinforced the opinion among the many Member States that the EU will be better off without the UK, an opinion that has also been articulated last week by Norway an EFTA member. I am not any way suggesting that the EU negotiators are being vindictive; they have followed the rules. It’s the UK that has made a fool of themselves and, I would argue, for ulterior motives that I set out above.

The Brexit Dilemma

I am a UK citizen by birth but haven’t lived in the UK since 1980 and thus did not have the possibility to vote. I look on in amazement at what is happening to my country of birth. I am worried about how misinformed the population is about the EU; its origins, what it does and its role in the global arena, in particular taking the lead on sustainable development and climate change mitigation. Putting aside the jingoistic comments by those who voted Leave, I am most concerned me the most is the naivety of many of the comments in newspapers of presumably well informed and level-headed readers. Notwithstanding what appears to be severe Brexit crisis syndrome, despair at the situation, many comments for those arguing for remain seem to have an underlying belief that the UK is entitled to some form of special treatment. Unfortunately, the current situation has been self-inflicted and has been on the horizon since the Thatcher years; Blair did very little to change the British perceptions of the EU and also had his fair share of opt-outs. So back to the worrying naive comments: People’s Vote-Second Referendum? one only has to read the various articles in the Guardian on the considerable pro-Brexit sentiments that persist in the country (e.g. Peterborough yesterday)- it will not be a clear-cut case; blaming Corbyn-that’s all too easy – he has been stuck in a straight-jacket and already being blamed for the Tory incompetences; renegotiate? renegotiate what? The UK has been told quick clearly that there is no room for further negotiations. Norway-EFTA? the UK is not wanted as a member. I’m afraid that the UK population has been outmanoeuvred by a group driven by self-interest that has patiently been planning this for years, first by supporting Thatcher and then the malleable Blair to promote the gradual disintegration of the UK’s social fabric to suit their own ends.

To take this further, I only see two options. Hard Brexit and a period of chaos and isolation, this will possibly serve the EU interests as a warning to the other Member States that have a degree of anti-EU sentiments what could happen to them.  I don’t believe the EU and EC are being vindictive but such as a situation would serve their interests. Even as a committed European, we have to recognise the faults and the interests that influence EU policies. On the other hand, there is the option I have suggested concerning Labour. Corbyn hinted at this in the recent meeting in Portugal. They must put the arguments forward of how they will address the issues that caused the Brexit vote and why it is best to work within Europe to make the necessary changes on a Continental scale. This will require full engagement in the next European Parliamentary Elections, the UK status on this I am not clear about. By not taking this route, the Tories and Hard Brexit will allow them to pursue their policies of dismantling the welfare state; and at a European level, it could risk business as usual with a few policy tweaks. Time is running out at national and European levels. 

Despite the constraints that Labour has, I strongly believe that it is time for them to take command, face the consequences and the wrath of the MSM and to fully engage in the proposals by the Social Democrat group in the European Parliament to force the necessary reform of the EU institutions and policies. https://www.progressivesociety.eu

Some reflections – Post Brexit Referendum

I don’t want to appear condescending but over the past two-plus years since the post-referendum, there are two subjects that have forced me to vent my ire. (1) A segment of the UK population, (especially the Brexiters, politicians and those who have posted comments here) thought that the UK was the focus of European attention and that in the end, the EU would surrender to the UK demands. The truth is, as I mentioned many times in my comments, apart from the day after the referendum and the last week, Brexit has not received the attention of continental newspapers if it did, it would have appeared somewhere near the birth, death and marriages (divorce!) notices. (2) Being half Italian and having lived in a number of EU countries, I have been particularly annoyed at the level of superiority and ridicule directed at some of these countries, in particular, my adopted country Italy. A past front cover of the Economist Bring on the Clowns when the Five Star Movement gained popularity, typifies the UK stereotypical opinion of EU partners. It is therefore with some satisfaction to see the coverage of the evolving chaos in the press of EU Member States. As somebody else has remarked in the Guardian, the Italians are becoming quite proud of the fact that they are (maybe) no longer regarded as the most chaotically governed country in Europe.

Politicians: Tweets, Twits and Twats

In response to Alex Clark The Observer 26 August 2918

Perhaps MPs should add the odd novel to their reading lists…

Technology seems to precipitate a decline in the quality, focus and intellectual capability of our politicians. I used to say they tended to open their mouths before they engaged their brains; now it has become more dangerous. They tap on their smartphones before they engage their brains.

They easily incite hate, create uncertainty in financial markets, abuse and lie about opponents publicly, all for the sake of publicity and to show that “they are on the ball”. Quite frankly, I can’t see how they have time to do any work, let alone read a book. Could this explain the slow progress in the BREXIT negotiations? Maybe they have been too engaged in keeping abreast of the WhatsApp and Twitter accounts to focus on the interests of their country.

Unfortunately, we seem to be governed by a bunch of publicity seeking twits (the vowel can be changed!). I have tried to explain this to Italian and Danish friends but there is not a similar pronunciation between Tweet and their language equivalent of twit. Although, an Italian speaking English may easily pronounce the word Tweet as Twit. (A constant embarrassment for me as a child when my Italian mother used to ask me in front of friends to collect the sheets off the washing line).

Without interfering with the right to free speech, safeguards against politicians abusing social media are needed. The antics in Italy this week are a prime example. A Minister incites hate and racism, when rumours circulated of him facing indictment, members of his party responded by threating to attack the prosecutors and of course the press, very reminiscent of Trump’s approach.

Yes, politicians (and their electorates) should read more; and, in the current environment of hate, a few history books wouldn’t do any harm.

A Peculiar Triangle of Friendship Fake News, Real News or is it just summertime?

As an ordinary person in the street, I’m becoming extremely confused. For quite some time, we have been bombarded with news that the Russians interfered with the US Presidential elections and that somewhere along the line, the newly elected President may have gained financially. To confuse the matter further, it seems that one of the promoters of BREXIT had contacts with the Russians and may well have received some financial assistance to promote the exit EU project. Several hundred kilometres away in the sunny land of Italy, there have been constant rumours that one of the current coalition parties, apart from apparently securing the support of the Mafia may have been involved in some financial chicanery to the tune of 49M€, and have received support financially or in kind from the Russians.

It transpired this week that President Trump is so impressed with Italy’s anti-immigrant stance that he has intimated at US support to pay the Italian debt. The other coalition party in the current Italian Government has made a similar claim regarding Russia’s apparent willingness to underwrite some of Italy’s debt.

This all sounds a bit Mickey-Mouse to me, or is it? But the question is why? What can explain these gestures (or jest-ures) of international philanthropy towards a country that seems to be constantly in the headlines for all the wrong reasons (increasing racism and associated political instability that is impacting on the economy (Spread) and future FDI? Of critical importance, one needs to wonder who are the puppet masters (Russians and/or Mafia) and what leverage do they have on the likes of Trump, BREXIT promoters and the Italian Government?  And, who has the upper hand?

A very interesting triangular relationship – but then it could be the sunny season and all those Spritz and G&Ts! Even reporters are human and make mistakes.

However, it does seem that my prologue to Triple Edge is not so far-fetched (written some years ago!). Note also my blog post of four  years ago Strange Bed Fellows – The Rise of European Right Wing Parties and Russia’s Influence

BREXIT Dilly Dallying

This dilly dallying is not going to serve anyone other than the speculators (think how much they have made over the last week) and cause even greater harm for that segment of society who voted BREXIT because they are at the receiving end of  the UK government’s austerity programmes. There is no point in believing that the terms both Johnson is proposing and Cameron basically repeating yesterday in Brussels will be met. Cameron has already been through a negotiation process and that was not accepted by the electorate. So why believe that the outcome of a future negotiation process is going to be any different?

So for the good of the UK (or whatever may remain after a BREXIT) and for the countries of Europe who want to push ahead with a more integrated Europe, just get on with it. One can keep on about the narrow majority but how many times has Britain been governed by governments that have received less than 40% of the vote in elections?

Neither the UK population nor the Europeans should be held to ransom as a result of a bunch of men with bloated egos who don’t have the interests of the country as their priority. This goes for both sides. The current work plan of the Commission http://www.politico.eu/article/junckers-ten-priorities/ is interrupted each time the UK wants special conditions or opt outs. UK voters decided that they did not want to part of this plan but for the benefit of 400+ million Europeans allow them to get on with it.

BREXIT has been a wake-up call for Europe and hopefully there will be some move towards the original philosophy of the founding six countries and in particular “jobs, inclusion and a new democracy”.  It is still early days but there are some indications that this may happen; including a re-assessment of the relationship with Russia which has always been shackled by the UK pushing the US agenda.

In the days following the Referendum result I have read the opinions of many left leaning commentators whom I respect. However, just to criticise EU as being a block that represents the interests of multinationals is not going to go anywhere. How are the left  and trade unions in an isolated UK (or England & Wales) going to have any weight in the fight/discussion to return Europe to more human values? There is a growing momentum across Europe to roll back the power of the multinationals, major tax evaders, banks and the financial speculators; unless there is a strong left within Europe to take up a united front, the risk is that  the far-right, such as UKIP, will increase their appeal through distorted information; and not serve the interests of the majority of the populations of Europe and future generations in an increasingly globalised and technological world.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, an immediate start to the BREXIT process is going to minimise the impact on the angry part of the population who voted to Leave. It may also bring about important changes to how the UK (and its parts) are governed and above all how Europe is governed.

What is happening to Britain?

I have been following the events in the UK leading up to the referendum from another country; I have to ask myself what has happened to the country I grew up in and love; one that has been looked up to for its democracy and openness? A country that gave me a free education and support to postgraduate level; an education system that allowed and encouraged access to universities that were previously confined to the so-called elite; a free health service that saved my life; I could go on. When I saw the presentation of UKIPs poster with a smug Farage and then shortly after heard of the assassination of Jo Cox; I was just stunned. Can this be the country where my family and some of my best friends live?

When did this all happen? When did the rot start? Britons were responsible for the founding of major international humanitarian organisations such as Amnesty International and Oxfam. At the time, there was an overall consensus that this was the right thing to do among the broader population. Despite the welfare state having been introduced by the Labour Government after WWII, it was not wiped away when the Conservatives came into power and was sustained throughout their fifteen years of power through to the mid-1960s and at the time was the one that offered the most comprehensive coverage in Europe.

So back to the question of when the rot set in. I remember clearly during my last undergraduate year in the late 1970s a friend saying to me “if that woman (Thatcher) gets in. she is going to change the face of Britain as we know it”. And he was probably right. The concept of consensus disappeared; social partnership (kill off the unions-if you want a job “on-your-bike”), a healthy and functioning public sector (privatise) and a sense of responsibility of the State towards its citizens in the broadest sense. She started the culture of the “them and us” whether it be the unions or Europeans; the lazy and the industrious (those who can make money); immigration/race (if you don’t support the English cricket team you can’t be British). Above all, she was smart in understanding how to use the media to manipulate popular thinking. Has anyone asked themselves what might have happened to Britain outside of the EU and Thatcher been given a totally free hand? Remember many of the BREXIT supporters in the Conservative Party have views of where Britain should be moving that are not too distant from Thatcher’s.

Since that time, the media has supported and encouraged the policies of the small elite, irrespective of the party in power. And politicians have played to the power of the media; including Blair who flagrantly abandoned the interests of the working class and the broader philosophy of the role and responsibilities of the State and the concept of social mobility (e.g. student loans that paved the way for student fees). Politicians sought the support of newspapers whose owners openly supported Fascism in the 1930s and, not surprisingly, whose present owners have much to be worried about if the EU with the OECD seriously tackles the issues of tax transparency (evasion).

These are problems that are not confined to the UK but have been exacerbated by a very powerful press that represents interests that are not necessarily beneficial to the broader UK population. So whilst politicians and certain political commentators have appealed to moderate the language, it will be very difficult to change a mindset that has carefully been cultivated for the past 30 plus years.

It is a very sad moment for Britain that these divisions in a fundamentally open and caring society have been opened up for egoistic motives and the interests of a small (elitist) group that has been able to misinform and manipulate. Unfortunately, these scars are not going to be easy to repair. It is clear from the comments to articles in newspapers (including the Guardian and Independent) are based on an ignorance of how Europe works and how national politicians pass the blame onto Europe when they have themselves been the architects of the policies. And remember it has been the UK Government that has been the main driver of the neoliberal policies, both in Britain and Europe, that have contributed to austerity (and immigration); not to mention de-regulation that caused the 2008 financial crisis. But with the help of the media, governments can always point the finger at somebody else; governments that increasingly have distanced themselves from the broader population and politicians who willingly have allowed our democracies to degenerate into a system of “divide-and-rule” for the benefit of a few and a return to the agenda of the Victorian era.

All this does not mean that I embrace the EU blindly with open arms; it needs  urgent reforms if Juncker is to live up to his statements of “open and inclusive Europe”. Maybe the BREXIT referendum will give that push; certainly the comments of the newly elected President of Austria are a positive sign. In the meantime Britain is going to have to deal with a gaping and divisive wound to its society which going to take a long time to heal.

 

 

 

Bloated egos of politicians

Blairites follow Tory neoliberal policies and also their behaviour. Only a week into the job, the new mayor of London Sadiq Khan is trying to emulate Boris by clearly making a pitch to be leader of the Labour Party; just as Johnson has done with the Tories.. When will these politicians grow up and put the country before their own bloated egos

The New Mayor of London

The new mayor of London is already giving Corbyn advice. So there is a new London mayor and the first Muslim mayor of a major European capital. I wonder how much will change? I can remember all the promises Blair had made; but in the end what happened?  He virtually continued the Tory economic policies to keep big business and the financial sector happy – result 2008 crash which everyone (apart from the 1%) feels the consequences of on a daily basis. Blair joined the USA and led the country into a military conflict in the Middle East and the era of “politics of fear” that we also are made aware of on a daily basis. Despite these disasters we are still told that the Labour Party should continue the New Labour Blairite Line. Is that what we really want? Shouldn’t there be an opposition that has a clear set of policies that take us down the road of a more equitable society? Let’s hope that after the referendum Corbyn may start to spell out what those policies might be. Just dangling in the middle road is going to turn more and more of our democracy over to the finance and corporate sectors. If Corbyn and the Labour Party are not prepared to come up with alternatives we may as well have a grand coalition; or come out in the open and admit that we have a dictatorship that is run by a junta comprised  of the Lord Mayor of the City of London Corporation in partnership with the head of CBI, banks and  the Big Four accountancy firms.