Archive for European Union

The Anthem of Europe

Posted in Music, Politics with tags , , , , on January 31, 2020 by telescoper

(I was tempted to put up the version that is currently No. 1 in the UK charts, but I’m afraid I draw the line at André Rieu…)

 

Brexit Day Blues

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , on January 31, 2020 by telescoper

Well, here we are then. It’s January 31st 2020. This morning, Facebook reminded me that exactly seven years ago today I left Cardiff University to take up a new job at Sussex University. What a strange 7 years followed! I moved to Sussex, then back to Cardiff, and then here to Maynooth in Ireland. It seems impossible, looking back, that all that happened in just seven years.

Today’s date has a much wider significance, of course. After 11pm (Irish Time) today, the United Kingdom will no longer be a member state of the European Union. Some people seem, for some reason, to think this is a good idea. I don’t, but that’s irrelevant now. It’s happening. And I don’t live in the United Kingdom any more anyway.

It has taken three and a half years since the Brexit referendum for the UK to leave. I’ve heard it said that’s been too long, but historically it usually takes a lot longer to get the British to leave. Just ask Ireland or India, for example.

Anyway, yesterday I planned how to mark the event, and came up with the following.

Dinner will comprise Irish, Spanish, Greek, Dutch, Danish and French ingredients, with Italian wine and afterwards a glass of (Portuguese) port. That’s not all the EU countries, of course, but it’s the best I could do with the available shopping time!

Musical accompaniment will be provided by Beethoven (courtesy of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra live from the National Concert Hall in Dublin on RTÉ Lyric FM). I was hoping to go to the concert, but I left it too late to buy a ticket and it’s sold out!

And at the appointed hour I’ll raise a glass to the EU, to everyone in the UK who is being dragged out of it against their will, to my colleagues in the UK who hate what’s happening as much as I do but haven’t had the opportunity to escape, and to all the EU citizens in the UK who have been treated so shabbily by the British Government.

Living in a country that has chosen to define itself by its contempt for foreigners is not going to be easy, and is certain to get worse when Brexit fails to deliver the `sunlit uplands’ that were promised. There are very good reasons to fear for the future.

I wrote back in 2017, when it seemed that the madness of Brexit might still be halted, but I’d decided to leave Britain anyway:

The damage has already been done. The referendum campaign, followed by the callous and contemptuous attitude of the current UK Government towards EU nationals living in Britain, unleashed a sickening level of xenophobia that has made me feel like a stranger in my own country. Not everyone who voted `Leave’ is a bigot, of course, but every bigot voted for Brexit and the bigots are now calling all the shots. There are many on the far right of UK politics who won’t be satisfied until we have ethnic cleansing. Even if Brexit is stopped the genie of intolerance is out of the bottle and I don’t think it well ever be put back. Brexit will also doom the National Health Service and the UK university system, and clear the way for the destruction of workers’ rights and environmental protection. The poor and the sick will suffer, while only the rich swindlers who bought the referendum result will prosper. The country in which I was born, and in which I have lived for the best part of 54 years, is no longer something of which I want to be a part.

The Me of 2020 thinks the Me of 2017 was absolutely right.

I got this today from a friend. Posted on the front door of an EU resident.

The Brexit Visa

Posted in Politics, Science Politics with tags , , , , , , on January 28, 2020 by telescoper

I noticed yesterday a news item about a new fast-track ‘global talent visa’ to be launched days after Brexit. The Tory press have been jumping up and down touting this as a way to attract the best scientific talent from around the world to the United Kingdom. Global Britain and all that.

Given the very short timescale involved, it seems very likely to me that this new visa is likely to be just a slight re-branding of the existing `Exceptional Talent’ Tier 1 visa. There is at present a cap of 2000 on the number of such visas that the Home Office will issue per year but this has never been reached. The proposal to remove the cap would be of no practical consequence were it not for the fact that when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, freedom of movement of EU and EEA citizens will be brought to an end so such citizens will also have to apply.

Currently, for most applicants the total cost of a visa application under the Exceptional Talent scheme is £608 per person (and dependent thereof). It seems likely to me that extra staff will be needed to process the larger number of applications expected under the new scheme, so I infer that additional charges will be imposed to pay for them. Remember that, currently, a scientist (or anyone else) from the EU does not need a visa to work in the UK.

In addition, EU citizens will almost certainly have to pay the so-called Healthcare Surcharge of £400 per person per year from which they are currently exempt. I’ve always felt this charge was grossly unfair to all immigrants. The National Health Service is paid for out of income tax and national insurance. If an immigrant pays tax and national insurance anyway, what possible justification can there be for a health surcharge? If you ask me it’s just another manifestation of the Tory Government’s intrinsic hostility to anyone foreign. This visceral xenophobia is now perceived across the world to be the defining characteristic of Brexit Britain. You don’t need to be a budding Einstein to see what is going on. Everyone knows the language routinely used by the Government and Tory press to demean and humiliate immigrants.

Given this hostile environment, and the fact that scientists who are EU citizens still have freedom of movement within the EU (along with everyone else), why would such a person come to the UK instead of a country with a more civilized attitude?

It is true that the science base of the United Kingdom is generally pretty strong, but that is at least in part due to the influx of EU scientists thanks to freedom of movement. I’m not saying that all the wonderful Italian, Danish, French, German and other scientists currently in the UK are going to leave immediately because many have deep roots in the United Kingdom. In the long run, however, Britain’s self-imposed loss will be Europe’s gain, and no amount of cosmetic tinkering with the visa system will change that.

On Zero-Hours Contracts

Posted in Maynooth, Politics with tags , , , , on October 20, 2019 by telescoper

In a week dominated by stupid things being said by stupid British politicians, one of the stupidest of all was the claim by Labour MP Caroline Flint that the European Union is to blame for the rise of zero-hours contracts. Caroline Flint is a Brexit supporter, of course, so she will not be interested in facts, but it is a fact that the European Union recently adopted a directive that protects workers’ rights and, in most cases, rules out zero-hours contracts. It’s up to the national governments to implement EU directives, something that the United Kingdom has yet to do and obviously will not do if and when Brexit happens and all employment protections go on the bonfire. As a Labour MP you would think Caroline Flint would care about this, but apparently not. She’s content to recite lies she hopes will curry favour with her leave-voting constituents and perpetuate her own political career at their expense.

Meanwhile, here in Ireland, the Oireachtas recently passed legislation making zero-hours contracts unlawful in Ireland `in most circumstances’. There’s a nice summary of the effects of the new law here.

I probably don’t need to spell it out but I rather think that the existence of this law and Ireland’s membership of the European Union comprehensively refutes Caroline Flint’s claim. Zero-hours are on the rise in the UK because of it’s own Government, not because of the European Union. I can think of dozens of other things that the EU gets the blame for that are actually the fault of the idiots in Westminster. Perhaps after Brexit British politicians will no longer be able to use the EU as a scapegoat for things they themselves mess up, though something makes me think they will continue to try and that the gullible public may actually believe them.

Anyway, the legal changes around zero-hours contracts in Ireland have had a significant impact in higher education, where many people – often (but not always) graduate students – are employed on casual part-time arrangements to run small group teaching sessions (i.e tutorials), demonstrate in laboratories, mark coursework and so on. The contracts on which such people have been employed have hitherto often been of the zero-hours type that is now unlawful.

As a response to this change in the law, here in Maynooth we have changed the contracts we issue to casual teaching staff, introducing clearer terms and conditions of employment as well as giving clearer indications of hours to be worked. In particular there is now a new category of employment designed for graduate students who are doing teaching, with terms and conditions that reflect their special status. All this required quite an effort at the start of teaching term this year to adapt to the new arrangements in time for the first teaching sessions. I only started as Head of Department on 1st September, and teaching started on 23rd, so this all caused quite a few headaches for me personally as I tried to get to grips with the new system. Fortunately, in the end, the transition actually went relatively smoothly and we have now settled into a steady state.

Of course it wasn’t the existence of graduate student teachers that precipitated the change in the law in Ireland. There are far worse offenders than universities in the use of exploitative employment contracts. Nevertheless but I am glad that the change has happened. Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, according to UCU figures, around 46% of universities use staff on zero-hours contracts to deliver teaching.

Open Letter to the EU: Reinstate the Commissioner for Science and Research

Posted in Science Politics with tags , , , , on September 19, 2019 by telescoper

It may have escaped your attention (as it did mine) that, when the candidates for members of the European Union Commission were presented last week, the role of Commissioner for Research, Science and Innovation has apparently been phased out, and its remit subsumed by that of the Commissioner for “Innovation and Youth”.

Downgrading the role of Science and Research in this way is a retrograde step, as is the introduction of a Commissioner for `Protecting the European Way of Life’, which is a racist dog-whistle if ever I heard one.

Anyway, back on the subject of Research and Science, there is a letter going around protesting the loss of a specific role in the Commission covering this portfolio.

Here is the text:

Your Excellencies Presidents Sassoli, Dr. Juncker and Dr. von der Leyen,

The candidates for the new EU commissioners were presented last week. In the new commission the areas of education and research are not explicitly represented anymore and instead are subsumed under the “innovation and youth” title. This emphasizes economic exploitability (i.e. “innovation”) over its foundation, which is education and research, and it reduces “education” to “youth” while being essential to all ages.

We, as members of the scientific community of Europe, wish to address this situation early on and emphasize both to the general public, as well as to relevant politicians on the national and European Union level, that without dedication to education and research there will neither exist a sound basis for innovation in Europe, nor can we fulfill the promise of a high standard of living for the citizens of Europe in a fierce global competition.

President von der Leyen, in her mission letter to commissioner Gabriel, has emphasized that “education, research and innovation will be key to our competitiveness”.

With this open letter we demand that the EU commission revises the title for commissioner Gabriel to “Education, Research, Innovation and Youth” reflecting Europe’s dedication to all of these crucial areas. We also call upon the European Parliament to request this change in name before confirming the nominees for commissioner.

I have signed the letter, and encourage you to do likewise if you are so inclined. You can find a link to the letter, together with instructions how to sign it, here.

Voting Matters in Ireland

Posted in Politics with tags , , , , on May 21, 2019 by telescoper

Arriving back in civilization last night I discovered that my polling card for Friday’s voting has arrived at last along with instructions on the Referendum to be held alongside the Local Council Elections and the European Parliament Elections, all held on 24th May.

I’m looking forward to casting my ballot. It is a new experience for me to vote here in Ireland. Both elections are held under Proportional Representation (Single Transferable Vote) which seems to me a very sensible system. One ranks the candidates in order of preference with votes progressively reallocated as the lowest-ranked candidates are eliminated. You can rank all the candidates or just some. In the system employed here one ranks the candidates in order of preference with votes progressively reallocated in various rounds until one ends up with the top n candidates to fill the n available seats. Surplus votes from the top candidates as well as those of eliminated candidates are reallocated to lower-preference candidates in this process.

The Local Elections involve filling 40 seats on Kildare County Council, with five councillors representing Maynooth. The nine candidates are listed here, in case you’re interested.

For the European Parliament Elections things are a bit more complicated. For the purposes of the EU elections Ireland is divided into three constituencies: Dublin, Ireland South and Midlands North West. I am in the latter, which elects four MEPs. There are 17 candidates for this constituency, listed here.

As a relative newcomer to Ireland I first sorted the candidates into three groups: (i) those that I would be happy to see elected, (ii) those that I don’t really like but could tolerate, and (iii) those that I wouldn’t like to see representing me under any circumstances. There are plenty in the latter category. There seems to be a law in Ireland that there has to be at least one deranged simpleton on every ballot paper, and there are several in this election. I will choose my lower-preference votes to ensure that none of these dickheads, especially racist gobshite Peter Casey, benefit from my vote in any way.

Although the STV system seems very sensible to me, it does lead to a rather lengthy counting process – especially if everyone does what I plan to do, i.e. rank all the candidates instead of just their favourites.

Changing Time

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2019 by telescoper

Among the many sensible decisions made yesterday by the European Parliament was to approve a directive that will abolish `Daylight Saving Time’. I’ve long felt that the annual ritual of putting the clocks forward in the Spring and back again in the Autumn was a waste of time effort, so I’ll be glad when this silly practice is terminated.
It would be better in my view to stick with a single Mean Time throughout the year. I’m only disappointed that this won’t happen until 2021 as EU countries have to enact the necessary legislation according to their constitutional processes.

The marvellous poster above is from 1916, when British Summer Time was introduced. I was surprised to learn recently that the practice of changing clocks backwards and forwards is only about a hundred years old. in the United Kingdom. To be honest I’m also surprised that the practice persists to this day, as I can’t see any real advantage in it. Any institution or organisation that really wants to change its working hours in summer can easily do so, but the world of work is far more flexible nowadays than it was a hundred years ago and I think few would feel the need.

Anyway, while I am on about Mean Time, here is a another poster from 1916.

Until October 1916, clocks in Ireland were set to Dublin Mean Time, as defined at Dunsink Observatory rather than at Greenwich. The adoption of GMT in Ireland was driven largely by the fact that the British authorities found that the time difference between Dublin and London had confused telegraphic communications during the Easter Rising earlier in 1916. Its imposition was therefore, at least in part, intended to bring Ireland under closer control and this did not go down well with Irish nationalists.

Ireland had not moved to Summer Time with Britain in May 1916 because of the Easter Rising. Dublin Mean Time was 25 minutes 21 seconds behind GMT but the change was introduced at the same time as BST ended in the UK, hence the alteration by one hour minus 25 minutes 21 seconds, ie 34 minutes and 39 seconds as in the poster.

Britain will probably not scrap British Summer Time immediately as it will be out of the European Union by then. British xenophobia will resist this change on the grounds that anything to do with the EU must be bad. What happens to Northern Ireland when Ireland scraps Daylight Saving Time is yet to be seen.

Moreover the desire expressed by more than one Brexiter to return to the 18th Century may be behind the postponement of the Brexit deadline from 29th March to 12th April may be the result of an attempt to repeal the new-fangled Gregorian calendar (introduced in continental Europe in 1582 but not adopted by Britain until 1750). It’s not quite right though: 29th March in the Gregorian calendar would be 11th April in the Gregorian calendar…