It's Britain vs Germany on the Robin Hood tax

Merkel ally warns that Britain will not "get away with" opposition to a transactions tax.

"A bullet aimed at the heart of London". That was the vivid language used by George Osborne to denounce proposals for a Europe-only financial transactions tax (better known as the Tobin tax or the Robin Hood tax), warning that it would be "economic suicide" for the EU to impose the levy unilaterally. And, to put it mildly, his comments haven't been well received by Germany.

Volker Kauder, the parliamentary leader of the ruling Christian Democrats, told his party's congress:

I can understand that the British don't want that when they generate almost 30 per cent of their gross domestic product from financial-market business in the City of London.

But Britain also carries responsibility for making Europe a success. Only being after their own benefit and refusing to contribute is not the message we're letting the British get away with.

Why, you may ask, are two notional conservatives so at odds with each other? In the case of Kauder, the answer is simple: revenue. It's thought that a Tobin tax could raise up to £35bn for a eurozone bailout. For this reason, Angela Merkel is determined to push ahead with the tax even if agreement with the US and China can't be reached.

In the case of Osborne, the answer is finance. The Chancellor is determined to veto anything that threatens London's status as a global financial centre. Indeed, a recent City AM report suggested that Osborne is minded to oppose a transactions tax even if it is applied internationally. In a private letter to bank chiefs, the Chancellor wrote: "I agree there would need to be further discussions about whether any FTT model offers an efficient mechanism to raise revenue." All of which suggests that Friday's meeting between David Cameron and Merkel in Berlin could be the testiest for some time.

Incidentally, Kauder's comments on the EU's political direction were just as notable. He declared:

Now all of a sudden, Europe is speaking German. Not as a language, but in its acceptance of the instruments for which Angela Merkel has fought so hard, and with success in the end.

His phrase of choice ("Europe is speaking German") has prompted a typical burst of Germanophobia from the Daily Mail.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Donald Trump wants to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency - can he?

"Epa, Epa, Eeeepaaaaa" – Grampa Simpson.

 

There have been countless jokes about US President Donald Trump’s aversion to academic work, with many comparing him to an infant. The Daily Show created a browser extension aptly named “Make Trump Tweets Eight Again” that converts the font of Potus’ tweets to crayon scrawlings. Indeed, it is absurd that – even without the childish font – one particular bill that was introduced within the first month of Trump taking office looked just as puerile. Proposed by Matt Gaetz, a Republican who had been in Congress for barely a month, “H.R. 861” was only one sentence long:

“The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018”.

If this seems like a stunt, that is because Gaetz is unlikely to actually achieve his stated aim. Drafting such a short bill without any co-sponsors – and leaving it to a novice Congressman to present – is hardly the best strategy to ensure a bill will pass. 

Still, Republicans' distrust for environmental protections is well-known - long-running cartoon show The Simpsons even did a send up of the Epa where the agency had its own private army. So what else makes H.R. 861 implausible?

Well, the 10-word-long statement neglects to address the fact that many federal environmental laws assume the existence of or defer to the Epa. In the event that the Epa was abolished, all of these laws – from the 1946 Atomic Energy Act to the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – would need to be amended. Preferably, a way of doing this would be included in the bill itself.

Additionally, for the bill to be accepted in the Senate there would have to be eight Democratic senators who agreed with its premise. This is an awkward demand when not even all Republicans back Trump. The man Trum appointed to the helm of the Epa, Scott Pruitt, is particularly divisive because of his long opposition to the agency. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said that she was hostile to the appointment of a man who was “so manifestly opposed to the mission of the agency” that he had sued the Epa 14 times. Polls from 2016 and 2017 suggests that most Americans would be also be opposed to the agency’s termination.

But if Trump is incapable of entirely eliminating the Epa, he has other ways of rendering it futile. In January, Potus banned the Epa and National Park Services from “providing updates on social media or to reporters”, and this Friday, Trump plans to “switch off” the government’s largest citizen-linked data site – the Epa’s Open Data Web Service. This is vital not just for storing and displaying information on climate change, but also as an accessible way of civilians viewing details of local environmental changes – such as chemical spills. Given the administration’s recent announcement of his intention to repeal existing safeguards, such as those to stabilise the climate and protect the environment, defunding this public data tool is possibly an attempt to decrease awareness of Trump’s forthcoming actions.

There was also a recent update to the webpage of the Epa's Office of Science and Technology, which saw all references to “science-based” work removed, in favour of an emphasis on “national economically and technologically achievable standards”. 

Trump’s reshuffle of the Epa's priorities puts the onus on economic activity at the expense of public health and environmental safety. Pruitt, who is also eager to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, spoke in an interview of his desire to “exit” the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. He was led to this conclusion because of his belief that the agreement means “contracting our economy to serve and really satisfy Europe, and China, and India”.

 

Rather than outright closure of the Epa, its influence and funding are being leached away. H.R. 861 might be a subtle version of one of Potus’ Twitter taunts – empty and outrageous – but it is by no means the only way to drastically alter the Epa’s landscape. With Pruitt as Epa Administrator, the organisation may become a caricature of itself – as in The Simpsons Movie. Let us hope that the #resistance movements started by “Rogue” Epa and National Parks social media accounts are able to stave off the vultures until there is “Hope” once more.

 

Anjuli R. K. Shere is a 2016/17 Wellcome Scholar and science intern at the New Statesman

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