Sunday, 28 February 2016

Why I'll Be Voting to Stay In in June (Part One)

Unless you've spent the past few weeks on a desert island with your head buried in a bucket of sand, you almost certainly know that in June this year the UK will hold a referendum on whether to remain a member of the European Union or not. I don't normally post about political subjects, but this is such a hot topic that it almost seems wrong not to.

Obviously, if the UK voted to leave the EU, it would be a major hassle for me. I wouldn't have to leave the country, but there would certainly be plenty of paperwork to do, and the idea of queueing outside the prefecture at 4am to obtain a carte de séjour, as some of my American friends have had to do, doesn't really appeal.

However, I understand that it's not up to the rest of my fellow citizens to remain a part of a political institution against their will just for my convenience, so here are the real reasons why I believe the arguments for the UK to leave don't hold water.

Argument 1: EU decisions are made by politicians we never elected and can't get rid of if we want to

This is statement was made by UK Justice Secretary Michael Gove when he declared himself on the side of the "out" campaign last week. Michael Gove represents a constituency in which I have no right to vote, and much as I would like to, I can't get rid of him, and neither could all the members of the constituency in which I vote, even if a majority wanted to. This is exactly analogous to the UK not being able to kick out an MEP from another European country. It's how our democracy works, and the fact that our Justice Secretary thinks that he can get away with pretending not to understand this is somewhat scary.

Argument 2: EU decisions are made by unelected Brussels bureaucrats

The EU is governed by the European Commission, a cabinet government made up of one representative per member state. Commissioners are appointed by the democratically elected heads of state who make up the European Council and approved by the democratically elected European Parliament. This process of indirect election is similar to the system used for the French Senate, and a lot more democratic than the process by which people are appointed to the UK House of Lords. The other "bureaucrats" in Brussels are the equivalent of the UK civil service and government advisors.

Ironically, one of the most undemocratic aspects of European politics is the power of lobbyists in Brussels. If you ask many French people, they would say that the UK is largely to blame for the importing of what was originally much more a feature of American politics into the European Union.

Another supreme irony is that many of the people who complain about the lack of democratic representation in Europe will have voted UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) in the last European elections.  The MEPs from this party make a point of not attending the European Parliament as much as possible and of claiming their parliamentary allowances anyway. And then they claim that the UK has no voice in Europe ...

Up Next: Brussels Regulation and Unchecked Migration

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Cotentin Peninsula

Sometime in January, my hiking friends and I decided that we needed a weekend away to escape the grimness of winter in Paris. Our first choice of destination was the Vosges, but when we realised that the only weekend we all had free was the one when the three holiday zones for French schools collide, we opted for a change of plan.

(For those who are not familiar with the system, the regions of France are divided into three zones and the February and Easter holidays are staggered according to which zone you are in. In February, each zone has two weeks, but staggered over four, so there is one horrific weekend in the middle where everyone is on holiday and if you have the misfortune to end up on a motorway anywhere between a ski resort and a large town, you will probably find yourself stuck in traffic jams at 1 am and wishing you had spent the weekend at home doing housework.)

And so it was that we ended up going to the Cotentin peninsula in Normandy. It was damp and windy and grey, but there was, almost literally, nobody else there. And when you have good friends, good food and coast walks in the bracing fresh air, you don't really need any more. (The other reason the Cotentin peninsula is not a hot tourist destination is that it's beautiful coastline is sadly marred by a nuclear waste processing plant, but none of us came back glowing green, so I think that was OK.)

On the first day, we had a wet and windy walk around the coast at Port-Bail. It didn't rain all day, but we did have to encourage ourselves along the way with a trip to the boulangerie for pain aux raisins and macarons. On the second day, however, there was no real need for auto-bribery, because the weather was better and the hike along the length of coast from the beautiful little village of Vauville to the Nez de Jobourg was stunning. My photo doesn't really do it justice, but the vertiginous cliffs and rolling waves, combined with the pretty stone houses and the newborn lambs we spotted along the way really did make for a good day out.

And we didn't sit in a single traffic jam.