Uploaded on Tuesday 4 April, 2017 to the world order
Brexit: The UK's letter triggering Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union
On 29 March, 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May formerly began the process to repeal the European Communities Act of 1972, which legislated for the accession of the United Kingdom to the European Economic Community (EEC), as it was then called, by invoking Article 50 of the 2007 Treaty on European Union appended with a notice of intent to withdraw from the European Union as a member state. In her letter to the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, Theresa May raised the importance for the UK to remain a committed partner and ally to the mainland continent, whilst at the same time exercise its right to repatriate its parliamentary sovereignty and trade with whomsoever it wishes. The European Commission, for its part, remained steadfast; entrenched in its position that the UK cannot expect to keep hold of the single market so long as it refuses to uphold the 'four freedoms' set out in the 1957 Treaty of Rome.
The UK is not the first country to opt out of the EU. That accolade goes to Greenland, which signed up to the European Economic Community in 1973 as part of its affiliation with the Kingdom of Denmark, and formerly withdrew on 1 January, 1985. The UK's withdrawal is, however, a more significant blow to the European project.
The Schuman Declaration of 9 May, 1950 was the process which set the European Union in motion, whereby Robert Schuman, a French statesman, proposed to set up a European coal and steel community. Schuman held the view that it had been a mistake of calamitous proportions to punish Germany so severely after the First World War, and his strategy was that peace and stability could be secured through reconciliation. The intent behind his proposal was to neutralize the possibility of war from ever breaking out again in Europe and to prevent a recrudescence of German nationalism by: (1) pooling together the raw materials which were necessary to manufacture munitions; (2) setting up the High Authority (now called European Commission) tasked with overseeing the output and distribution of coal and steel; (3) establishing an order of interdependence via a uniform market; (4) fostering trade and dialogue between France and Germany that had been sworn enemies for hundreds of years; (5) integrating Germany into Europe; (6) nurturing the notion of a European demos to counter nation-state nationalism; (7) bringing the participating countries to the coal and steel community together into ever closer union.
Political unity was the next stage of the European project after it had successfully drawn nation-states together economically. Schuman said: "Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity. The pooling of coal and steel production should immediately provide for the setting up of common foundations for economic development as a first step in the federation of Europe‚Ä¶"
The 1951 Treaty of Paris, signed on 18 April, 1951 by France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, officially established the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), which came into force on 23 July, 1952, and was chartered for fifty years. The United Kingdom sent a delegation to the talks in Paris, but declined to become a member. The UK was even less enthusiastic about a second attempt to forge European unity, which was to establish a common European Defence Community. Such a bold plan never came to fruition.
The preamble leading up to the momentous 1957 Treaty of Rome was the Spaak Committee—an intergovernmental committee set up in 1955 by the foreign ministers of the six member states party to the ECSC—to which the UK was invited to take part in. Rather than dispatching a senior delegation, the UK chose to send a junior civil servant of the Board of Trade, Russell Frederick Bretherton, as a demonstration that the UK was unsympathetic to the creation of a customs union. In his brief, Bretherton was instructed beforehand not to commit to any agreement. When it became clear that, more than just trade related, the Spaak Committee touched on processes leading towards supranational unification, the UK withdrew from the talks. A member of the French delegation, called Jean-François Deniau, would later smear Bretherton by alleging that he had walked out moments after saying: "Gentlemen, you are trying to negotiate something you will never be able to negotiate. If negotiated, it will not be ratified; and if ratified, it will not work." But, a series of reports found in the National Archives tells a different account: "We have, in fact, the power to guide the conclusions of this conference to almost any direction we like, but, beyond a certain point, we cannot exercise that power without ourselves becoming, in some measure, responsible for the results‚Ä¶ If we had been able to say that we agreed in principle, we could have got whatever kind of common market we wanted."
Alas, there was nothing more Bretherton could do. The United Kingdom, under Anthony Eden's premiership, walked away from the Spaak Committee and played no part in the subsequent Treaty of Rome, which established the legal framework of the European Economic Community. The common market was at odds with the British economy. It created a single market for goods, labour, services, and, capital across the EEC's member states (the four freedoms). This provided for free trade within the six member states, but, a common external tariff imposed on all goods coming from outside the EEC. Such an undertaking posed a threat to British industrial exports. Among other things, it also created a common agriculture policy subsidizing the agricultural output of domestic farmers [the primary reason for French presidential candidates to visit cattle markets and pose for photographs prior to elections is because peasant farmers still remain a formidable voting bloc among the French electorate]. The UK economy, accounting at the time for fewer than 4% of the agricultural labour force, was comparatively less agrarian than that of continental Europe in comparison with circa 20% in France, 25% in Italy, and 12.5% in Germany. The protectionist model set out in the common agriculture policy called for subsidies to be divided proportionally among the agricultural labour force throughout the EEC, which would have resulted in a net loss of sterling to the UK economy. Other factors which stood in the way of the UK joining the other six nations were the methods by which agricultural subsidies were funded. With only a decade elapsed since the end of the Second World War, food was very much at the heart of British government policy. The European common agriculture policy proved inflationary, as the subsidies were raised through high sales tariffs to the consumer. In contrast, British subsidies were furnished by giving tax breaks to farmers, which provided for better price stability. Because of her small agricultural sector and her vast population to feed, the UK was reliant on food imports from the Commonwealth, the United States and other countries, since it could not possibly meet its food quotas domestically. The UK benefited then from imperial privilege in the form of cheap food imports from the Commonwealth, which were loaded onshore tax free. Former colonies, such as New Zealand and Australia, accounted for much of the UK's dairy, fruit and vegetable supplies; and their prices were kept low, whereas those of continental Europe rose. What the UK sought was free trade in agriculture, coupled with industrial protection to protect a weak industrial sector; but, the common market required the opposite policy: free trade in industrial products and protection in agriculture.
From then on, the UK stood at a precarious crossroads: either to allow integration to continue on the continent at the risk of finding itself isolated, or, to concoct an alternative trade pact to the common market. The UK's first response was to try to dilute the common market into a free trade area of 17 European countries. Dubbed 'Plan G', it called for free trade in industrial goods between all the 17 powers of Western Europe, with no common external tariff, and agriculture would not be included in the free trade agreement so as not to impact food imports from the Commonwealth realm. The scheme was conceived purely for economic purposes and bore no political implications. But, the initiative quickly faded into the abyss, as it failed to muster any momentum.
The UK made a second attempt, in 1960, when it led the way in setting up the European Free Trade Association (EFTA)—an agreement consisting of the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Portugal, Sweden and Switzerland. Known as the 'Outer Seven', EFTA competed with the common market, dubbed the 'Inner Six'. EFTA did get off the ground, but was a poor substitute to the common market. Moreover, transatlantic ties between the EEC bloc and the United States of America intensified at Britain's expense. Faced with degenerating diplomatic and economic prosperity, the United Kingdom, under the premiership of Harold Macmillan, deemed it right in 1961 to file its first application to the European Economic Community. This time out, the UK was not negotiating from a position of strength, like it had done during the 1950s when it took part in the early discussions leading to its formation, but, as a supplicant applying to join the European club. Such a policy marked a sizeable shift in the UK's stance insofar that it was exploring ways in which it could reform its economy and make overtures towards continental Europe. Membership to the EEC required the unanimous approval of all six member states. However, when that application was tabled in 1963, the President of France, General Charles de Gaulle, vetoed it, emphasizing that the United Kingdom was unprepared, and its accession to the ECC would have put the common market in peril.
On 14 January, 1963, de Gaulle held a press conference outlying his reasons for the veto. A notable extract of his speech goes as follows: "L'Angleterre, en effet, elle est insulaire, elle est maritime, elle est liée par ses échanges, ses marchés, son ravitaillement, aux pays les plus divers, et souvent, les plus lointains. Elle exerce une activité essentiellement industrielle et commerciale et très peu agricole. Elle a, dans tout son travail, des habitudes et des traditions très marquées, très originales. Bref, la nature, la structure, la conjoncture, qui sont propres à l'Angleterre, diffèrent profondément de celles des Continentaux." ("Britain, in effect, is insular, she is maritime; she is linked through her exchanges, her markets, her supply lines to the most diverse and often the most distant countries. She pursues essentially industrial and commercial activities, and only slight agricultural ones. She has in all her doings very marked and very original habits and traditions. In brief, the nature, the structure, the conditions, which are particular to Britain, differ profoundly to those of continental Europe.").
Four years later, in November 1967, the UK would try again; this time under the premiership of Harold Wilson. Alas, once more, de Gaulle's veto stood in the way, and Britain's application was frozen indefinitely. The news of General de Gaulle's continuing intransigence on the issue was met with disdain back in the Palace of Westminster; and the contempt that ensued gave rise to accusations of Anglophobia, which may perhaps be substantiated by an earlier precedent just four months previously.
In July 1967, de Gaulle set sail for a visit to Canada. His itinerary was to commence in Quebec, and conclude in Ottawa. As a means of transportation, he decided on a voyage by boat, which took eight days to accomplish. Had he flown to Canada, which would have taken him just ten hours, he would have had to endure a prior landing in Ottawa, the Anglo capital in Ontario, since there were no direct flights to Quebec from France. De Gaulle, ever the proud patriot, regarded Quebec as a French exclave by right; and he never fully came to terms over the fact that the territory had been ceded to the Crown following the French defeat in the Seven Years' War, which lasted between 1754 and 1763. Once de Gaulle arrived in Quebec City, in full fanfare and basking in the fervour of the adulating crowd, he traveled to Montreal accompanied by his cortège, saluting the crowd from his limousine in the process. Upon his arrival, he stood on the balcony of the municipal town hall to deliver an impassionate speech which he appended with: "Vive le Québec libre; vive le Canada Français, et vive la France !" ("Long live free Quebec; long live French Canada, and long live France!"). De Gaulle's cavalier attitude to diplomacy drew the ire from the Canadian authorities, who retaliated by pronouncing him persona non grata with a request to vacate their homeland. The humiliation that de Gaulle sustained meant little since he never had any real intention of setting foot in Ontario.
Charles de Gaulle stood down from office in 1969. The UK reapplied for membership to the ECC under Edward Heath and, on that occasion, it was third time lucky. In the decades that followed, Britain's relationship with the European Union has not been a bed of roses by any stretch of the imagination.
In June 1984, at Fontainebleau outside Paris, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher successfully negotiated a rebate with other EU members. The sum was calculated on data acquired on customs duties collected on imports from the rest of the world, agricultural resources, and, VAT base (value added tax). The justification for the rebate was based on a disproportionate contribution paid by the UK to the EU budget in relation to its comparatively smaller agricultural sector vis-à-vis EU subsidies granted, in addition to discrepancies concerning sales tax generated through non-EU trade. More scuffles were to follow. On 30 October, 1990, Margaret Thatcher addressed the House of Commons with a memorable EU-sceptic quote: "Of course, the President of the [European] Commission, Mr. Delors, said at a press conference the other day that, he wanted the European Parliament to be the democratic body of the community, he wanted the Commission to be the executive, and, he wanted the Council of Ministers to be the senate. No! No! No!"
Her successor, John Major, negotiated against an abnegation of the pound sterling for the euro, stating therein his reasons that a uniform monetary union could not adequately function without it being tied to a fiscal union, void of a centralized bond market. Furthermore, the UK did not sign up to the Schengen Agreement that abolished border checks across EU member states.
The EU referendum, offered by Prime Minister David Cameron on 23 June, 2016, has divided a nation, resulting in 51.9% for brexit against 48.1% for remain. It has been estimated that a large proportion of brexiteers accounted for the generation born prior to 1973. Quoting the statistics, 64% of over-65s voted for brexit, compared with 71% of under-25s who voted for remain. Whatever the case may be, the United Kingdom never fully reconciled itself to the idea of supranational unification with the European continent, for various reasons: Britain was among the victors in the Second World War, along with North America and Russia. Britain had not been ruled by a Nazi or fascist government, nor had it been occupied. Britain's institutions remained intact, whereas the other countries had to start all over, adopting new constitutions. Some parts of continental Europe had to come to terms with the experiences brought forth by fascism and collaboration. In contrast, few in Britain had any cause to be ashamed of what was done in their name. The psychology was different. An atmosphere of confidence reigned, and Britain saw itself as a superpower that commanded a great empire. Jean Monnet, a founder of European federalism, wrote in his memoirs: "Britain had not been conquered or invaded: she felt no need to exorcize history. Her imperial role was not yet at an end, and her experience of general well-being had only just begun."
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