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A marginalised Britain makes the break-up of the EU more likely

European integration has been defined by two, apparently contradictory trends: technocracy and popul

Europe's Franco-German motor, which many thought had been consigned to the dustbin of history, has returned in the shape of "Merkozy". The relationship between the two countries has always been based on a balance. But where the partnership once benefited Europe by offsetting Germany's economic might against France's political and military leadership, it now merely balances Teutonic power with French weakness. France is so frail financially that it must hug Germany close and agree to most of its demands in order to preserve its triple-A credit rating. Berlin, on the other hand, needs a Parisian fig leaf to conceal the extent of its dominance.

For all the lengthy summits and bickering about the details, there is a gathering consensus about what needs to be done to save the euro: tighter fiscal rules, recapitalisation of the banks and deep fiscal integration, rather than persisting with the miserable, piecemeal progress that has done so much to spook the markets and so little to solve Europe's banking and sovereign debt crises. Yet the politicians are faced with a dilemma. While they agree on the necessity for more integration, they cannot see how they can carry their voters with them.

Populist backlash

European integration has been defined by two, apparently contradictory trends: technocracy and populism. Technocrats aimed to build Europe incrementally through the "Monnet method". As the EU matured as a political project, however, its very success as a bureaucratic phenomenon fuelled a populist backlash.

The backlash started in Britain under Margaret Thatcher but has become a pan-European force that embraces groups from both left and right. Their common complaint is that the EU is an elite conspiracy to build "Europe against the people". In its place, they plan to mobilise the "people against Europe".

For them, the EU looks after the welfare of big business and the banks, but not ordinary people; it promotes globalisation rather than protecting its citizens from it.

Populism and technocracy are treated as opposites, but they are mutually reinforcing, as the saga of the Lisbon Treaty illustrates. The more EU leaders try to remove European integration from national politics, the more brittle the EU's legitimacy becomes. The result is that policymakers become even more suspicious of public opinion, which in turn creates a space for populist parties.

The technocrats have three options for solving the institutional crisis that lies behind the euro crisis. The first is to continue muddling through with the current system of incremental shifts without treaty change, by creating new intergovernmental arrangements, continuing to marginalise the European Commission and encouraging the European Central Bank to buy bonds. This model places much greater burdens on the deficit countries than the creditors through agreements that penetrate deeply into domestic policy.

The second option, favoured by the Germans, would be to change the European treaties to create a "stability union". This could entail the establishment of a de facto finance ministry and the creation of a parliamentary and legal basis for budgetary rules, allowing the European Commission to take EU member states to the court if they do not stick to the fiscal rules.

The third option would be for the 17 eurozone members to break free from existing treaties and sign a legally binding agreement among themselves for fiscal union. The former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer has argued for a two-speed Europe that will divide the EU into a vanguard (the euro group) and a rearguard (the rest). The irony of this arrangement is that it would create a kind of "federalism without the federalists". Institutions such as the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice, and enthusiastic member states such as Poland, would be left outside the new euro-core.

Road to ruin

Each version of the deal has advantages and disadvantages, but they have one thing in common: none of them is likely to close the gap between Europe and its citizens. Since the No votes by the French and the Dutch in 2005, pro-Europeans have found themselves defending an unsatisfactory and unsustainable status quo: a currency that is not backed by a treasury; joint borders without a common migration policy; and a European foreign policy that is divorced from national sources of power.

The only way to regain credibility will be to tackle the problems that the populists talk about, and head-on - showing how the single market can be made to work for ordinary citizens as well as bankers; engaging with fears of migration and ensuring that the costs of accommodating refugees are distributed fairly; overhauling the common foreign and defence policy.

The fragmentation of Europe is a real threat; and each of the three paths I've just described could lead to ruin. In the first scenario, the eurozone crisis could lead to a collapse of the single currency. The second danger is that the attempt to agree a bold change to European treaties fails, triggering the disintegration of the EU. The third and most dangerous possibility is that of disintegration in disguise. Eurozone leaders could save the euro, but in the process destroy the EU by building a core that is so tightly integrated that it kills the single market, leaving Britain permanently in the slow lane and preventing Europe from exercising its collective power on the world stage.

The tragedy is that the coalition government in Britain, by deliberately marginalising itself in European decision-making and refusing to take part in the rescue of a eurozone that accounts for almost half of all British trade, is making this last scenario the most likely.

Mark Leonard is director of the European Council on Foreign Relations

This article first appeared in the 31 October 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Young, angry...and right?

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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.