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The Euro has become a prison. There needs to be a way out

I've long opposed the single currency for Britain. But a middle way has to be found between leaving the European Union and being trapped by the single currency, and not just for the UK, argues Molly Scott Cato.

Eurosceptics will no doubt seek to capitalise on the misfortunes of the Greek people to further their own Brexit agenda. Indeed, it would be somewhat surprising if the Greek crisis and the way it has been handled by European leaders and institutions had not sown doubts in people’s minds. But as we enter the process of debating our place within the continent, and deciding whether this will include our membership of the European Union, it is important to draw a clear distinction between the European Union and the European currency of the Eurozone.

I must confess that the Eurozone is the issue where I have felt most isolated from other members of the Green group in the European Parliament. My colleagues are prepared to hear the serious reservations I have about the viability of a single currency, but do not sympathise with them. This in spite of the fact that nine other EU members have made the same decision as the UK, including Poland, Sweden, Denmark and the Czech Republic. By doing so, I believe they have also kept hold of vitally important economic powers.  

Perhaps we have forgotten just what a live issue the Euro was in the UK until relatively recently. Labour and the Liberal Democrats were keen for us to join the single currency. That we did not is, I think, credit to Jimmy Goldsmith, who poured money into a single-issue party to prevent this from happening. In 1997 the party stood candidates in every UK constituency to force this sole issue into the political debate and gave the Tories the courage to stand against the single currency.

 At that time I represented the UK on the steering group of the No Euro campaign. As Greens we broadened the campaign's base and provided political cover for the Little Englanders and their uncomfortable left wing allies.

I was also involved in the publication of a collection of essays that reflected a progressive case against the Euro. This outlined the extreme stretch of solidarity required by a functioning single currency area as well as critiquing the lack of democratic control over Eurozone institutions. It was a left wing argument for the preservation of national sovereignty, and for linking control of currency to where we vote, to match similar concerns on the political right.

Studying as I was for a PhD on employment policy at the time, I was party to the near unanimity of UK economists on the issue. It was a fairly easy question theoretically: with such a diverse range of economies requiring such wildly different interest rates, it was nearly impossible to conceive of the Eurozone as a single currency area. The success of the currency was always going to depend on the willingness of countries with more successful economies being prepared to transfer wealth to the weaker economies. A generation of European politicians decided to force that issue and the rise of Euroscepticism across the continent is the consequence. What was designed as a project to enhance solidarity and encourage federalism has done precisely the reverse.

Greece chose the loss of sovereignty that comes with joining a single currency. That has led to the appalling situation it faces today of losing control of its economic policy and its national assets, just as Portugal, Spain and Ireland did in their turn. But we should not allow the siren song of the anti-Europeans to blind us to the fact that it was the Euro and not the EU that gave the financiers this power. We do not face any similar loss of control precisely because we rejected the Euro and its flawed design.

Ever closer union is the logic of the European project and of the single currency area. This forced Union, brought about by the design of the Euro, is now undermining the whole EU. Those countries that are part of the single currency area will inevitably develop political and democratic institutions to guide how their currency is governed. Indeed, it is an urgent necessity that they do so. But there must also be a way out for countries for whom the Euro is now destructive and a way forward for countries that choose not to join but still want to be part of the European partnership.

 

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the southwest of England, elected in May 2014. She has published widely, particularly on issues related to green economics. Molly was formerly Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton.

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Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital