Article by Brian Hayes MEP which appeared in the Irish Independent on Thursday 30th October 2014
The recent use of highly-charged language such as “swamped” and “under siege” by British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon when talking about immigration is another indication that the issue is now a hot-button topic in British politics. Even the Labour Party leadership has requested all of its MPs to hold public meetings in their constituencies on the issue.
Immigration has also become conflated with deepening anti-EU sentiment, particularly in England. The recent bust-up over Britain’s contribution to the EU budget could not have come at a worse time for British Prime Minister David Cameron and for the Conservative Party. For UKIP leader Nigel Farage and his party, on the other hand, the bust-up is political manna from heaven.
UKIP has the Conservative Party on the run. A crucial by-election will take place in Rochester and Strood on November 20. Mark Reckless – who defected from the Tories to UKIP – is now a strong favourite to win. If he does there is a real possibility that more Conservative MPs will defect to UKIP before the May 2015 general election.
An opinion poll published on October 28 showed UKIP on 19pc, with both the Conservatives and the Labour Party on 30pc each. UKIP’s ambition – to hold the balance of power after the next election – is now beginning to appear a real possibility. There are some ironies in the British government’s difficulties with the EU on immigration and Britain’s budget contribution. As regards Britain’s budget contribution the recent request for an extra once-off contribution of €2.1 billion came as result of the British Office of National Statistics retrospectively increasing the size of the British economy. Each country’s contribution to the EU is related to the size of its economy. However, there is no getting away from the fact that €2.1 billion is a large sum of money. Both France and Germany will receive a rebate under the revised budgetary rules, which made the issue all the more politically difficult for Mr Cameron.
Much of the anti-migrant coverage in the British media is focused on migration from the 10 EU countries which joined in 2004 and Bulgaria and Romania, which joined in 2007. Britain was enthusiastic in its support for EU expansion into Eastern Europe and – unlike some other EU countries – placed no restrictions on migrants from the 10 countries that joined in 2004.
In retrospect the decision to put no restrictions in place in 2004 was probably unwise. Certainly, high levels of migration have contributed to suppressing wage levels among low-income workers, as well as putting pressure on education and social services in some English towns. Conflict in Syria and Libya and other North African and Middle Eastern countries has resulted in an increased flow of refugees into the EU.
Some of those refugees do eventually make their way to Britain. And, of course, England – as distinct from the rest of the UK – is a densely-populated country; within the EU only Malta has a higher population density. If the Republic of Ireland had a population density equivalent to England’s we would have a population of around 27 million. The British media coverage of migration has been mainly one sided. While there are approximately 2.5 million EU citizens living in the UK, there are about 1.8 million British people living and working in other EU countries; it is not all one-way traffic. During the last 10 years, however, there has been net migration from other EU countries of the order of 400,000 people into Britain. During the same period there has also been increased migration into Britain from non-EU countries. Between now and the next British general election the two major parties will continue to talk tough on migration. Interestingly, while some politicians and sections of the media have stoked anti-EU sentiment, a recent IpsosMori poll in Britain showed 56pc were in favour of staying in the EU while 36pc favour withdrawal. The wider British public may be more perceptive about the benefits of membership.
There is no doubt that Mr Cameron and the Conservative Party is engaged in a tough political fight with UKIP. Some Labour Party seats may also be at risk to a strong UKIP surge. The danger for Mr Cameron and for Britain is this. As the general election approaches Mr Cameron and his party may feel forced to take ever stronger anti-EU positions, such as his recent proposal to put a cap on immigration numbers from the EU. Mr Cameron’s anti-EU rhetoric and the anti-immigrant sloganeering of the Conservative Party is winning no friends anywhere in Europe. Mr Cameron is in serious danger of making public demands as regards renegotiating Britain’s membership of the EU, which will not be capable of being delivered if he is Prime Minister after the next election. You never beat your political opponents by playing on their pitch. You take the fight to them.
His speeches and those of his colleagues in the Conservative Party are creating the conditions for a possible British exit from the EU. Standing alone is one element of English national identity and it still exercises a powerful tug on the English imagination. There is no doubt, however, that British withdrawal from the EU would have enormous political and economic consequences for Britain itself, for the EU and for Ireland. It is in Ireland’s national interest that Britain remains a fully-engaged member of the EU. We should use all our influence in Britain and in the EU to prevent the UK going overboard.
Following the release of the ECB Stress Test results today, Brian Hayes MEP said banks that have passed the tests must get lending activity back to normal levels.
“The Stress Tests have now assessed the level of risks as well as the quality and amount of capital which banks have. It is imperative that those banks which have passed the Stress Tests now start engaging in increased lending activity; this will encourage investment and stimulate growth right across the EU,” said Mr. Hayes.
“Bank of Ireland and AIB both returned to profitability this year and PTSB is making progress towards profitability. But the underlying issue is that lending to businesses has continued at an extremely slow pace; this needs to change. An ISME survey carried out in June this year found that 52 per cent of businesses were declined bank credit applications in the previous 3 months. This is evidence of the ultra-cautious lending policies Irish banks have been employing in the run-up to the Stress Tests.”
“The results show that 25 Eurozone banks failed the tests, including PTSB in Ireland. This does sound worrying but it is nothing we weren’t prepared for – it is no mystery that many Eurozone banks needed more capital. Irish banks are in a lot healthier state now than in 2011 when the Irish banking system was in turmoil,” continued Mr. Hayes.
“We should take stock of the success of the 2009 US Stress Tests which helped restore confidence to the banking system and enabled successful recapitalisation, particularly for stressed banks.”
“On November 4th, the ECB will take over supervisory powers of the main banks in Ireland. The new Supervisory Mechanism will give a further boost to bank reform across the Eurozone by harmonising banking systems and practices and will put Irish banks are on a level playing field with European partners,” concluded Mr. Hayes.
Fine Gael MEP for Dublin, Brian Hayes has today (Saturday) called for the introduction of contactless payment on public transport services across Dublin. A similar system has recently been introduced in London allowing commuters to use their contactless debit card to pay for buses, the underground and light rail. Contactless Debit Cards are normal debit cards which are now issued by financial institutions as debit cards expire and are reissued. In Ireland they can be used to purchase products up to a value of €15 by holding your card to terminal. No pin is required.
“I was recently in London and saw the enormous benefit of their new contactless payment method using a debit card. Many people would be familiar with the Oyster card system which operates in London that is very similar to our Leap Card. With the introduction of this system the requirement for the Leap Card would become redundant.
“The system works much the same way as the Oyster Card does. When you board a bus or enter the underground you hold your contactless debit card to the reader. The relevant fair is then deducted from your bank account.
“There are great benefits to this system – especially if it was to be introduced in Dublin. The biggest plus is that commuters would not need to worry about topping up their Leap Card. It is much more convenient.
“In recent years it has become much more expensive to pay with cash on transport services across Dublin – in a campaign to get people to you use a Leap Card. This system would mean that those who don’t use public transport all that regularly and do not have a Leap Card can easily benefit when it comes to paying for public transport. It also allows tourists to benefit. There is also a growing trend whereby shops are imposing a surcharge on Leap Card top-ups. The contactless system will prevent this.
“The Leap Card has been a great success. In order to make public transport more attractive and convenient we need to change with the times. The Oyster Card was introduced in 2003 and the Leap Card in 2011. Let’s not wait another 8 years to introduce contactless payments.”
Brian Hayes MEP today (Friday) called upon the Central Bank of Ireland to reduce their planned deposit requirement rules for home buyers from 20% to 15%.
“While I welcome efforts to prevent another property bubble, a 20% deposit requirement is just not possible for many people, particularly first-time buyers. 15% would be a much more reasonable rate that makes home ownership achievable for young families and those new to the market,” said Mr. Hayes.
“As well as the 20% requirement, homebuyers will only be able to borrow no more than 3.5 times their annual income – this is much more restrictive than many other countries including the UK, where the loan-to-income ratio is capped at 4.5 times annual income,” added Mr. Hayes.
“The proposed measures, which would clearly affect first-time buyers disproportionately, need to be revised. Increasing rental prices will make it very difficult for young people to save for a 20% deposit of the value of a home.”
“In Dublin these measures would hit people very hard. The amount of new houses being built in Dublin is dreadfully low and this is leading to steep rise in house prices in recent months.”
“It is important that the housing market is well regulated to withstand any shocks but this should not come at the cost of pushing first-time buyers out of the market,” concluded Mr. Hayes.
Dublin MEP Brian Hayes has criticised British Prime Minister David Cameron on his latest “race to the bottom contest with UKIP”.
Speaking in Strasbourg, Mr Hayes said: “By articulating in advance impossible demands David Cameron, and the Conservative Party appear to be setting themselves up for failure in their planned renegotiations of British membership of the EU. Some of the demands being made by elements of Conservative Party are not compatible with full membership of the EU. It’s important they hear that loud and clear.
“It is unfortunate that an issue of such critical importance to Britain, the EU and to Ireland is becoming entangled in internal British party politics. Electoral considerations now appear to be driving Britain’s relationship with the EU rather than the long term strategic interest of the UK. The strident anti-EU tone of some of the comments by senior British politicians is not winning any friends among other countries in the EU,” MEP Hayes continued.
“The four fundamental pillars of the EU are the free movement of goods, services, people and capital throughout the Union. It is not possible for a country to remain a full member of the Union if it insists on changing one of the fundamental pillars. There is a real risk that hard line positions on the EU may be taken by some British parties in the coming months; positions from which it may be hard to withdraw after the general election in May 2015,” he warned.
Fine Gael MEP, Brian Hayes, today (Monday), spoke at DCU on European Economic Policy – What’s in it for Ireland. MEP Hayes took this opportunity to discuss Ireland’s economic relationship with the EU and to discuss where we go from here.
“If we look at the economic, social and political developments in Ireland since our independence, it is clear that while the first few decades marked an era of economic and social stagnation, our membership of the EEC in 1973 totally changed the way we do business, how Ireland is perceived and it provided huge opportunity for development.
“Until Ireland joined the EEC we had a very one-sided and dependent economic relationship with Britain. Membership of the EEC, now the EU, has profoundly transformed this relationship economically, socially and politically.
“The value to Ireland of strong political engagement with Europe was recognised in particular by Garret FitzGerald and a tradition of engagement has continued to the present day. Ireland is a small open trading economy but membership of the European Union provides us with the opportunity to trade freely in a single market of 500 million plus people. That is Ireland’s economic opportunity and our challenge.
“Attracting Foreign Direct Investment has been a central strategy of Irish Economic Development for more than 50 years and it has been tremendously successful. Ireland is the location of choice for many international ICT, pharmaceuticals, financial services and medical devices companies, particularly companies from the United States. These companies provide well paid, stable employment, and Ireland’s membership of the EU is one of the factors that attract these companies to base themselves here.
“Membership of the EU has been good for Ireland but it has meant that we have increased competition and there is no doubt that in order to continue to attract Foreign Direct Investment we must be prepared to fight our corner where necessary. and to recognise that improvements could be made across the Eurozone.
“Looking at the Eurozone response to the recession, unemployment in the US and Britain is close to 6%, in the Eurozone it’s 11.5%. Growth in the Eurozone in 2014 is below 1% while growth in the US and Britain is over 3%. There is a definite gap here and Europe’s lag in digital technology is, I believe key. Jean-Claude Juncker has recently announced a €300 million investment on IT networks, energy networks, transport and education, research and innovation in order to address this shortfall.
“The EU Digital Agenda launched in 2010 and upgraded in 2012 aims to create a Single Digital Market with EU wide standards and regulations. It has been estimated that 900,000 new jobs can be created directly in this sector, a further 1.2 million jobs in developing IT infrastructure and 3.8 million new jobs in the long-term.
“The recession bankrupted several EU countries including Ireland and almost broke the euro. Many experts, advisers and stakeholders gave their opinions about how this crisis was dealt with. It is clear however that without the existence of a bailout, this country would have faced total collapse. Reforming the EU banking sector is a bit like carrying out open heart surgery while the patient is walking around but it is essential that the EU has a banking system which is fit for purpose and a currency which is robust.
“The European Investment Bank is one example of an unexploited source of infrastructural investment that can drive growth. €850 million in new EIB lending will be made available to Ireland this year and a €300 million social housing programme which will deliver almost 2500 social housing units in Ireland is being developed. We’re currently at an advanced stage of negotiations on an historic EU-US Trade Agreement. Since 2010, more than 14% of all US investment to the EU has gone to Ireland. A successful outcome will allow for the removal of tariffs and bureaucratic obstacles that currently make it difficult to trade and do business with the US.
“The biggest losers from the prolonged recession were those who lost their jobs and young people unable to find jobs. The EU has responded to youth unemployment by introducing the Youth Guarantee which was negotiated at EU by Joan Burton under the Irish Presidency of the EU.
“Despite the many setbacks and despite the recent severe economic recession Ireland is now one of the most developed countries in the world. According to the UN Development Index, Ireland ranks no. 11 in the world. Sometimes it is easy to forget how far we have travelled in the last forty years but we must remain confident in our capabilities and in the relationship that we have developed with Europe.”
Dublin MEP, Brian Hayes has this week been appointed as the Vice President of the European Parliaments Iraq Delegation.
“Over the last number of months the security and political situation in Iraq has deteriorated substantially. It is estimated that in 2014 there has been 12,653 civilian deaths.”
“The European Union has a responsibility to work with the new Iraqi government in every way possible. ISIS represents a threat not just to Iraq but to the entire region. Clearly they will stop at nothing in fermenting their brand of fundamentalism – which is rotten to the core” said Mr Hayes.
“In the coming weeks I intend to meet with my EU delegation colleagues and hopefully members of the Iraqi Parliament to discuss how we can work together for the benefit of Iraq and the region.”
“Europe must be prepared to lead the international community in helping to reconstruct Iraq. Appalling decisions were taken over the past decade which has made the development of a new Iraq more difficult. Europe needs to work with the new unified Iraqi Government to secure a better future for all of the people in Iraq.”
“The new threat of ISIS provides an opportunity for the world and the region to work together. Europe can be a key bridge in making that happen” Concluded Mr Hayes