Italy’s mini “treasury bond” project: will it imply Italexit?

 

In the recent days, a proposal from the yellow-green government, in charge in Italy, is to introduce mini “treasury bonds”, so-called minibot, in order to pay the debt of the public administration towards private enterprises. In the calculations of the CGIA association in Mestre, those debts amount to €65 billion of which €34 billion are due to delayed payments.[i] The debt of public administration towards private companies is of a great concern for the Italian economy, as it constraints the economic activity and the private economic initiative and investment. The issue, which is mounting in the recent public debate, is what ways to use in order to process these debt repayments. In principle, the European Union (EU), although calling for more careful management of Italian public finances, is not opposing debt repayments in favour of private companies as long as it is not done through raising the public deficit as this will increase Italy’s crippling public debt and will take the country away from the Maastricht standards. However, the current Italian government does not seem keen to accept EU recommendations most of the times, but it is trying to avoid the direct increase of debt through ordinary treasury bonds’ emission. For this reason, the President of the Financial Parliamentary Commission, the League party deputy Mr Claudio Borghi, elaborated the minibot plan that would be used to repay the debt of the government towards public companies.

minibot

Image 1 https://moneymaven.io/mishtalk/economics/meet-the-mini-bot-italy-will-break-up-the-eurozone-ooP7hX4VDE-b6M955QojCg/

But what are these minibot? In the proposal of Mr Borghi, minibot would work as a tax credit, with a fixed nominal value, unlimited duration and no interests’ payment. In addition, it would have a paper form, such as banknotes. However, it is not meant to be used in all transactions differently from usual currency, therefore, it is not arguable that it consists of a new currency. On this point, in fact, the President of the European Central Bank (ECB), Mr Mario Draghi, clarified that minibot “could be either currency, and in this case they would be illegal, or bonds and they will then increase the stock of debt”. They would be similar to the so-called “I owe you” (IOU), an informal document indicating a debt, which in this case is from the government to the companies. Riccardo Puglisi, associate professor of Economics at the University of Pavia, stated that, in his view, minibot are “a first step to prepare Eur-Exit”. [ii] Mr Borghi added also, that, because they have similar features to an ordinary currency, they would “always be useful as spare tire in case Italy would exit the Euro area”. And, here is where the proposal triggers the worries for financial investors, particularly in view of the frequent declarations, before last Italian political elections, by the League and Five Star Movement parties to put on the table thoughts about returning to Italian Lira, the former national currency before the Euro.[iii]

Italy altare della patria

Image 2 https://www.financialexpress.com/world-news/how-italys-mini-bot-parallel-currency-would-work/1181377/

However, these worries do not have strong foundations, as exiting the Euro is a complex procedure and would imply a bank run in future, so, in the view of Luigi Zingales, the minibot would be a way to “blackmail” the EU during negotiations’ process on Italian fiscal policy.[iv]

Overall, the central point is not how to pay the commercial debt of the State to the private companies, that is using the minibot or other ordinary ways, but rather to perform rapidly the payments as these debts are a substantial limitation for private investment and economic activity. With a strong commitment, which is what is slowly happening in these last days, from the two ruling parties in Italy to not abandon the single currency, the minibot, or other similar instruments, might be a suitable way to address the issue. Exiting the Euro is not and will not be in the agenda for the future of Italy; on the contrary, paying the debt of public administration towards the private sector is today’s, definitely not tomorrow’s, priority.

 

[i] CGIA Mestre Association, 30th January 2017, http://www.cgiamestre.com/quanti-sono-i-debiti-della-pa-nei-confronti-dei-fornitori/

[ii] The New York Times, 13th June 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/13/world/europe/italy-mini-bot-eu-brussels-debt.html. Accessed on 21st June 2019.

[iii] Bloomberg, 7th June 2019, https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-06-07/italy-s-scary-alternative-currency-idea-the-mini-bot. Accessed on 21st June 2019.

[iv] New York Intelligencer, 17th June 2019, http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/06/the-mini-bot-one-weird-trick-for-leaving-the-euro.html. Accessed on 21st June 2019.

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Flat tax. Is it convenient to adopt it? The case of Italy

Flat tax is a system with a single rate of income tax independently from the amount of earnt income. Much of the debate concerns the fact whether it is convenient or not to adopt a flat tax rate and in many countries this topic has become of a great importance, especially during electoral campaigns. A flat tax system can have positive effects on the economy if the chosen rate is the exact one in order to not lose much tax revenues, but, at the same time, making it more convenient for to invest and create business, as well as boosting employment and consumption. [i]

Flat tax the economist

Image 1 https://www.economist.com/special-report/2005/04/14/the-case-for-flat-taxes

Flat tax has some advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage of the flat tax is the simplicity. Without a flat tax, individuals and companies spent a lot of time and/or money to figure out how much they have to pay. A second advantage is certainty. In a system with multiple rates and a complex intertwinement of exemptions and deductions, individuals with very similar economic situations might end up paying very different amount of income tax due to inconsistent interpretation of the tax system. The last advantage is compliance as a more complex system is more vulnerable to tax evasion, flat tax should reduce this phaenomenon. On the other hand, flat tax is necessarily leaving the public budget with less funds because of the massive tax cut compared to multiple rates system. This would mean that the government would be forced to obtain the needed resources through deficit and debt. Otherwise, the parliament would need to approve equivalent expenditure cuts, but at the cost of compromising on welfare and reducing substantially the positive effect of the tax cuts on economic growth.  In addition, local taxes would not be affected by the flat tax and, therefore, the simplicity gains might be much smaller than expected.

In the UK, the two main voices respectively pro and against flat tax or “flatter taxes” are those of Rory Meakin and Richard Murphy. The first is the Head of Tax Policy and sustained the need of a flat tax to reduce the complexity and encourage new business ideas to be implemented. The second is the Head of Tax Research and brought the case for opposing the flat tax as it would be a gift for very wealthy individuals while it will worsen the position of lower earners that would need to pay much more for the National Health System (NHS) in case they would need healthcare services. Furthermore, the complexity would not actually be solved by the flat tax because the main difficulty is not to apply a multiple rates and the calculations that goes with them, but it is to define what is taxable and what is not[ii].

In recent times, the debate about the adoption of a flat tax has been particularly intense in Italy, with the right-wing party Forza Italia proposing the adoption of a flat tax rate, said to be around 23 percent, while the populist movement League lead by Matteo Salvini, current Interior Ministry, supports a much lower rate (about 15 percent). The public policy economist Daniel Mitchell believes that a flat tax might be a way for Italy to foster economic growth considering the fact that productivity did not increase in Italy for almost the whole 21st century so far[iii]. The Director of Istituto Bruno Leoni, a think tank supporting free-market reforms and policies, did a similar endorsement and proposed a single flat tax rate of 25 percent[iv]. The main cons of the Italian flat tax system concern the characteristics of the political and economic situation in Italy. The country has one of the highest income inequality rates in Europe and a flat tax would increase the inequality.

JohnCochrane

Image 2 https://johnhcochrane.blogspot.com/2017/11/tax-graph.html

In addition, massive expenditure cuts would be needed to finance the flat tax, as calculated by the Istituto Bruno Leoni and Italy normally faces great resistance when it comes to reducing public expenditure. In relation to economic indicators, Italy has a substantially high public debt, which does not allow unbalanced fiscal measures[v]. George Turner, a non-executive director of Tax Justice UK and Finance Uncovered, criticised strongly the flat tax proposed by the League party in Italy, saying that it will redistribute resources from the poorest to the richest. In this perspective, many MPs of the 5-stars Movement in Italy, the party that is ruling the government together with the League, expressed their deep concerns about the flat tax in terms of its regressive effects and for the loss of revenues that will worsen the financial position of the government[vi].

Overall, flat tax might be good or bad depending on the economic and social context of the country adopting it as well as on the chosen rate. A low rate will potentially produce the expected economic effects of the tax policy, but will pose a problem in terms of public finances. A high rate will be ineffective and will make poorer big shares of the population. Let us see, how it will evolve and we will be able to assess more comprehensively its effects.

 

[i] The Balance, online newspaper. https://www.thebalance.com/flat-tax-pros-cons-examples-compared-to-fair-tax-3306329

[ii] BBC news. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-22575135

[iii] Blog of Daniel Mitchell. https://www.austriancenter.com/can-flat-tax-rescue-italy-economy/

[iv] Rassegna stampa. Istituto Bruno Leoni. http://www.brunoleoni.it/flat-tax-for-italy

[v] The Atlantic Sentinel. https://atlanticsentinel.com/2018/01/the-pros-and-cons-of-a-flat-tax-in-italy/

[vi] Tax Justice. https://www.taxjustice.net/2018/05/17/m5s-lega-nord-tax-plans-would-be-a-disaster-for-italy/

Corporate Tax Harmonization in the EU

The debate around corporation tax policies in the EU developed substantially since the beginning of the 2000s. The idea, which reflects the current EU policy, is to harmonize the corporation tax rates between the various European countries. Given the resistance to a “real” harmonization of the corporation tax rates among the different countries, the EU tried to create other mechanisms to reach this aim. The first attempt was made in 2012, when the European Commission designed the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB). It referred to a set of rules involving a mix of different economic dimensions at country level, such as GDP, employment and welfare.[i] More recently, the EU discussed the common corporation tax policy in June 2015 with the CCTB Action Plan (no consolidation of the rate), and France and Germany, among others, proposed a system for avoiding cross border loss. In that occasion, the former UK Prime Minister David Cameron opposed the proposal as this would imply an increase of the UK rates and, most importantly, a loss of national sovereignty.[ii] As it is known, the resent towards EU policies and its interference in national affairs brought to the Brexit referendum hold in June 2016. In October 2016, the European Commission (EC) reaffirmed the relevance of the CCCTB with a two-step approach in which before the consolidation of the rates the Member Countries were called to agree first on a common base for the taxation and then proceed to consolidation. However, the outcomes, so far, are not close to expectations.

Opponents to the CCCTB made criticisms based on its beneficial effects only for the large countries in Europe, while it is likely to damage the small countries with low tax rates, such as Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.[iii] In the article written by the three MEPs, respectively Dutch, Irish and Swedish, they stated that the problem of corporation tax avoidance should be faced at a global level (not only European) with the starting point being the OECD Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) process. The BEPS refers to the strategies of tax planning for shifting corporate profits to locations, often referred as “fiscal heavens”, where the taxation is low and there is little economic activity. These strategies (although legal in the majority) have mainly two detrimental effects. Firstly, multinational companies gain a competitive advantage, based on lower costs and higher profit margins, against companies operating in domestic markets that cannot obtain such favourable conditions. Secondly, domestic companies see the tax avoidance carried by multinational businesses and are less willing to pay taxes in their country. The solution proposed by the OECD Inclusive Framework for the BEPS consists of a set of rules and international tax standards agreed by different countries to ensure that profit taxes are paid where the profits are effectively generated.[iv] A strong opposition to the idea of a single corporation tax rate was made last January 2018 by Leo Varadkar and Vitor Orban respectively the Prime Ministers of Ireland and Hungary. As their countries have tax rates among the lowest in Europe, respectively 12.5 and 9 percent, they foresaw negative effects of the harmonization on the competition in the single market also declaring that it would be a “foot in the door” for creating a single tax system in the EU.

The academic research provides different evidence about the advantages of the harmonization of the flat tax. A report of the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) stated that the harmonization of the corporate tax rates in Europe would reduce income-shifting between one Member Country to another in the EU.[v] From another perspective, Leon Bettendorf, member of the CPB Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis and other authors, found that tax consolidation, that is, enlarging the income base that is taxable, would not yield greater effects on welfare under the CCCTB. Instead, harmonization of the rates (having a single rate across countries) combined with consolidation would substantially improve welfare gains in the EU.[vi] However, the path towards the harmonization depended mostly on the views of the politicians with the liberal and the EU sceptical parties opposing the idea of a single minimum tax rate, while left parties seemed historically to be supporting the unification of the fiscal systems.[vii] Favourable to the harmonization, Agnès Bénassy-Quéré, Professor at the Paris School of Economics of the Sorbonne reached the conclusion that “although tax competition may be beneficial, a single corporate tax rate could avoid the under-provision of public goods”.[viii] Moreover, as confirmed by a Press Release of the business adviser company Grant Thornton, the majority of the companies in Europe (around 53 percent) would welcome the setting of an EU-wide corporate tax rate.[ix]

Many further steps would be needed in order to get to a full harmonization of the corporate tax rates in Europe, but we can think that the efforts of the EU are going in the right direction. Having a single minimum rate collected at European level, potentially in the form of a European tax, will avoid or at least reduce “beggar thy neighbour” behaviours of multinational companies and protect the Member Countries’ welfare systems. It would possibly replace the transfers that are now made from the Member Countries to the Budget of the EU and it will represent the first actual and concrete step towards the fiscal and political unification that could benefit all the citizens across the old continent.

[i] https://ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/corporate-tax-policy/common-consolidated-corporate-tax-base.

[ii] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/eu/11630468/France-and-Germany-behind-plans-for-common-EU-corporation-tax.html.

[iii] https://euobserver.com/opinion/141092.

[iv] http://www.oecd.org/tax/beps/beps-about.htm.

[v] https://www.ifs.org.uk/publications/1881.

[vi] https://www.jstor.org/stable/40929914?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.

[vii] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0176268012000493.

[viii] https://voxeu.org/article/partial-corporate-tax-harmonisation-eu.

[ix] https://www.grantthornton.global/en/press/press-releases-2017/future-of-europe-corporate-tax/.

The EU position in the Palestinian – Israelis conflict

The conflict between Israel and Palestine, both for its dimensions and its relevance in the Middle East, has involved the International Community and the EU for trying to find a durable solution. In order to understand the reasons behind the years-long “standoff” between the two countries, we need to look at the history they share.

Back in the 20th century Jewish people were fleeing mass persecutions in Europe and were trying to build their own state in the territories corresponding nowadays to the State of Israel and Israeli-occupied areas. As a reaction to this movement, perceived as an invasion, the Arabs living in the Palestinian territories started fighting the newcomers.[i]

Following negotiations failure, a first war broke out in 1948. It resulted in Gaza, a thin stretch of land located on the western side of current Israel, being controlled by Egypt, whilst the West Bank, East of Israel, fell in the hands of Jordan.[ii]

After the armistice in 1949, a new war was waged in 1967. In this occasion the mighty Israeli military reconquered the previously-lost territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli authorities insidiated its population through settlements and outposts in the occupied territories.

 

map

Image from: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/178807047674923880/

The occupation of Gaza lasted until 2005. Once the Israelis left, the Islamist group Hamas won the local elections in 2006. Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist group, was founded in 1987 during the military occupation of Gaza. It carried out multiple attacks against the Israelis through suicide bombs and, more recently, mortars attacks and rockets. Hamas does not accept the existence of the state of Israel, however, its territorial claims for a future Palestinian state are limited to the areas of  theWest Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The peace process was brought to the attention of the International Community’s negotiating table that first established a peaceful solution in 1993 through the Oslo agreements. A relative peace lasted until 2001 when a new escalation of violence started. The formula included in the Oslo Accords is probably the most feasible at this stage of the peace process. It is based on the exchange of the West Bank and Gaza from Israel to Palestine for a definitive stop of the attacks from Hamas to Israel.

In particular, the EU is in favour of a two-state solution that will end the occupation started in 1967 and will restore the original borders based on that year. The EU strongly supports the sovereignty (see image above) of Palestine within its legitimate borders and calls for an ending to the Israeli occupation in order to reduce or even end the attacks towards Israel and to prevent the resurgence of terrorism[iii].

The EU over the years has used its normative power to approach the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. However, in 2011 the EU countries were hesitant in recognizing Palestine in the UN context. Later, in 2012-13 the EU condemned occupation and settlements policies implemented by Israel. Therefore, the settlement areas are excluded from any agreement or bilateral relation of the EU with Israel.[iv] However, in the meantime, settlements in the West Bank are increasing despite the disapproval of the EU. In 2013 and 2014, there was a huge expansion of settlements even in East Jerusalem. Currently, the settlers amount to at least 555,000.

The EU’s position has recently been defied as the new President Donald Trump rolled back on years-long diplomatic efforts to push for a two-state solution and recognized in a speech at the White House the 6th December 2017, Jerusalem as the indivisible capital of Israel. He also announced the movement of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a process that will take at least three years[v]. Trump’s decision was rejected by a UN General Assembly vote declaring it “null and void”[vi]. The position of Donald Trump is in support of the right-wing Zionist Likud party in Israel and reflects the view of Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu. From its side, the EU through its President Donald Tusk reiterated the historical position of the EU, the solution should involve two states whose borders should be the same as they were before the six-day war in 1967[vii].

Clearly a unilateral decision cannot be the solution to the current situation. This was also stated by the Czech foreign minister Lubomir Zaoralek that argued that “we are talking about a Israeli state, but at the same time a Palestinian state” although the country, together with Hungary, was in favour of a closer link with Israel[viii]. Evidently, following what was stated in the Oslo Agreements in 1993, Jerusalem should have a special status and be the capital for both the states. So far, the position of the EU varied a lot among member countries, with Sweden recognizing the Palestinian state in 2014 and Germany strongly supporting Israel[ix].

The EU approach was strongly criticized, in particular, by University of Birmingham engineering Professor Kamel Hawwash on the last 6th February 2018.[x] He sustained that, although the EU supported the creation and universal recognition of the state of Palestine for the territories of West Bank and Gaza, it did not take much action. The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, declared that a solution had to be found “together with the US, but not by the US alone”, but the talk was not followed by concrete “actions”, such as a total ban of weapons sales to Israel from the European countries, as stated by Prof Hawwash.

Despite the failures and the merits of the EU actions in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the path for a peace process should be now clearly defined at the international level in order to put an end to hostilities and civilians’ death. The most acceptable solution is the same solution that has been proposed for years: two states following the borders’ definition in 1967, reflecting the crucial Oslo Agreements in 1993.

 

Gianluca Bortoletto is a second year PhD student at the University of Birmingham. His research focuses on the economic effects of immigration for the destination countries and his interests cover a broad range of topics including trade, taxation and international politics.

 

[i] For a wider explanation refer to the online newspaper vox.com, available at the URL: https://www.vox.com/cards/israel-palestine/intro.

 

[ii] Guide: Why are Israel and the Palestinians fighting over Gaza?, BBC news, available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/20436092.

 

[iii] European External Action Service (EEAS), information available at: https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/337/middle-east-peace-process_en

 

[iv] Article from the LSE blog http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2017/09/12/eu-normative-power-israel-palestine-conflict/.

 

[v] Video of the speech and dedicated article available at: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/06/donald-trump-us-jerusalem-israel-capital.

 

[vi] Article from The Independent website at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/un-jerusalem-trump-vote-result-decision-general-assembly-null-void-a8123106.html.

 

[vii] Information from: https://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/239353.

 

[viii] Article from the New York Times, available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/11/world/middleeast/eu-netanyahu-israel-jerusalem.html.

 

[ix] Article from Reuters, available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-israel-eu/eu-vows-push-to-make-jerusalem-capital-for-palestinians-too-idUSKBN1E11GY.

 

[x] From the blog Middle East Eye, available at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/eu-all-talk-and-no-action-israel-palestine-conflict-389786078.

Brexit and the future of the UK as a “global trading nation”

The question of international trade has been the central tenet of several leading Brexiteers. Theresa May herself qualified Brexit as an opportunity to transform Great Britain into a “great, global trading nation”[i], although she did not campaign to leave the European Union (EU). These Brexiteers often argue that the regulatory framework that allows the functioning of the European single market is too stringent, and holds British businesses back. They also remark that some developing countries have been growing faster than European countries, making them attractive trading partners. They conclude that leaving the EU and the single market would make it easier for the United Kingdom (UK) to strike bilateral trade agreements with the rest of the world and to become a champion of free trade. It is also not unusual for them to argue that the history of the UK as a colonial power, and the existence of the Commonwealth, would be an asset after leaving the EU.[ii]

     This article will not discuss how colonial nostalgia sometimes shapes conservative thinking in the UK or in Europe[iii]. It will instead focus on the economic and political reasons to believe that it is only illusionary to expect the Brexiteers’ view of the world to lead to a bright (trading) future.

The fundamentals of International trade

In the present context, it might be important to start with a simple description, or reminder, of the forces that actually drive international trade today. This is easy to do because it concerns one of the most robust empirical findings in economics. Bilateral trade between two countries is proportional to their respective sizes (measured by the wealth they produce, i.e. their gross domestic product), and inversely proportional to the geographic distance between them.  This observation is widely known as the Gravity Model.[iv] It is also well known that countries tend to simultaneously import and export similar goods. Paul Krugman earned his Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 2008 for explaining this observation.[v] If we are to sum up the essential features of modern international trade in a few words, we can say that similar countries trade similar goods with their close neighbours. It is therefore not surprising that roughly half of the total trade of the UK is done with EU countries. The narrative according to which the UK could become a champion of free trade by turning its back on the single market is thus in direct contradiction with the economic forces that shape international trade today. Irrespective of how romantic the idea of sending ships to former colonial and exotic territories can be to some people, Antigua and Barbuda, South Africa or Australia will not replace the single market as a trading partner.

     Unsurprisingly, the Brexiteers have tried to call into question the robustness of the Gravity Model, and also tried to argue that the trade of services could be different from the trade of goods, but the evidence is strong.[vi] And this is only one of the many reasons to be sceptical of Euroscepticism.

Developing countries are no cornucopia for the UK

The claim from Brexiteers that several developing countries have, on average, been growing faster than the EU is factually correct. But the interpretation they make of this fact is very questionable. The group of countries known as the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have experienced impressive growth since the 2000s. But this does not mean that they are destined to become trading partners of the same importance as the EU, and certainly not in the short term. The economic health of Brazil and Russia is highly dependant on world commodity prices (gas and oil for Russia, iron ore and agriculture for Brazil). Brazil is in the midst of a political crisis that has damaged its economy. Russia is under international sanctions. China faces at least two major challenges that the government sees as priorities to access the full rank of a major world economic power. Firstly, it is operating a necessary, but very delicate, change of economic regime (from a model based on mass exports to a more balanced model with a stronger domestic market). The new regime will inevitably be associated with a weaker growth if it is successful. Secondly, China wants to internationalize its currency, and thus needs to open itself to the international flows of capital. This last objective includes major risks for the stability of the domestic and global financial system. The Indian government is persuaded (with good reasons) that further development will only be possible if the country can improve the technological content of its production and trade. So, whoever wants to trade with India (and have easier access to its 1.3 billion potential consumers) will face Indian negotiators asking for technologies and intellectual property rights to be transferred to their country. Overall, in contrast with the enthusiasm the BRICS have generated until recently, the prevalent opinion about their economic performance is now more moderate.[vii]

     The conclusion is that even if these countries have, or had, impressive levels of growth, they also have their weaknesses, their own priorities and their own interests. They are not simple trade reservoirs, idly waiting for the UK to exploit their potential. It is certainly in the best interest of the developed economies to have trade agreements with the BRICS. And for once, the Brexiteers share a common opinion with the other European countries since the EU already has an agreement with Russia and South Africa, and is currently negotiating with India and Brazil. But the process of trade negotiations is far from straightforward and not the panacea that would transform the UK into a champion of international trade.

Bilateral agreements do not rule iternational trade, regional agreements do.

In any case, trying to multiply bilateral trade agreements after leaving the single market is hardly a viable strategy at all, for at least two reasons.

     Firstly, the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973, and as such, has not negotiated any trade agreement on its own for 45 years. All the trade agreements in which the UK participates today were negotiated by the EU, to the benefit of all its members. This fact has a concrete and very serious consequence: the UK administration is left without experienced international trade negotiators. Crawford Falconer (a former New Zealand ambassador to the World Trade Organization) has been hired by the Department for International Trade to address this shortage of competence. However, in a response to a written question in the Commons in October 2017 (16 months after the result of the referendum), the department’s minister could not cite the name of any other official employed in the department with « substantial experience of international trade negotiations »[viii].  This should be a particularly worrying observation given that the UK will lose the benefits of the more than 100 trade agreements (already in place or being negotiated) that the EU has with third countries,[ix] irrespective of the result of the Brexit negotiations. According to the data collected by the Peterson Institute for International Economics  it takes on average 45 months for a team of experienced American negotiators to start the implementation of bilateral free trade deals after the opening of negotiations.[x] How many bilateral trade agreements would be necessary to the post-Brexit UK to become a champion of free trade? How long would it take for the UK to form a team of experienced negotiators ? How many negotiations could be held in parallel ? All these questions are crucial to determine how long it would take to achieve the Brexiteers’ stated objective of becoming a champion of free trade. But these questions are virtually totally absent from the current debate. “A long time, certainly” is the best answer we can reasonably give.

     Secondly, no single country can pretend to be a major world economic power without being part of a trading bloc. There are no less than 420 regional trade agreements in place in the world today[xi], and every continent, or even sub-continent, has its own major trade area. Some Brexiteers cite Singapore as an example for the future of the UK after leaving the single market. However, they conveniently forget that Singapore is already part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (which is one of the world major free trade areas, and attracting new members) and is also part of the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is deemed to become an even bigger trade deal. In the modern world, it is simply impossible for any country to consider itself as the centre of international trade, and to expect its economic interests to prevail by occasionally striking simple bilateral trade agreements. The economic world is organized in large, wealthy, and politically influential blocs. Any country which refuses to see this reality is doomed to remain at the margin of world affairs. The EU is by many measures one of these major blocs.[xii] It is for instance the world’s first exporter and importer. It is also the top trading partner of about 80 other countries (the United States in comparison are the top trading partner of about 20 countries). The irony, of course, is that it is precisely in this context that the UK has decided to leave the EU, without a clue about how to retain its place in the world after that.

And let us not forget the domestic political aspect

     There are many more reasons to be doubtful about the promises of the Brexiteers, in particular for those interested in more technical aspects of the question. But among all the points neglected so far, there is one consideration that deserves everyone’s attention far above all the others. The consensus among economists, and also among the political class, is that, overall, international trade can be beneficial to every country. However, at the individual level, some agents in the economy do suffer from adverse effects when their country is open to trade. In other words, the gains from international trade are not equally distributed in the economy. Those who lose are dissatisfied with the economy and become easy targets for populist politicians who never waste an opportunity to point at foreign scapegoats. Then, when the populists are getting started with scapegoating, they inevitably reach an even wider audience of people beyond their core target of “economically dissatisfied” people. Irrespective of any other consideration, the UK cannot be a “great, global trading nation” if this project is not supported by the overwhelming majority of the British electorate. Obtaining this support requires paying much more attention to the distribution of the gains from trade, and depriving the populists of any room for manoeuvre.

 

Date of publication: December 2017

Author: Mallory Yeromonahos, Post Graduate Researcher in Economics at the University of Birmingham and member of the GCfE’s committee. I am studying the role of household debt in the economy and the consequences for monetary policy, with a mostly theoretical approach.

Links to references and articles of interest:

[i] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/01/17/theresa-mays-brexit-speech-full/

[ii]This view is often expressed in The Telegraph. For instance:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/eureferendum/12193101/Brexit-will-allow-Britain-to-embrace-the-Commonwealth.html

[iii] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/boris-johnson-poem-burma-rudyard-kipling-mandalay-a7975246.html

[iv]You can find here an academic paper with a presentation of the Gravity Model. It is not the most recent on the question (2010), but it is relatively easily readable for the most part, and it gives a good overview

http://www.nber.org/papers/w16576

[v]Find P. Krugman’s Noble lecture on this question here:

https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economic-sciences/laureates/2008/krugman-lecture.html

[vi] https://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21707912-brexiteers-need-respect-gravity-models-international-trade-down-earth

[vii] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/04/what-is-the-state-of-the-brics-economies/

And also

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-29960335

[viii] http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-question/Commons/2017-10-12/107364/

[ix] http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/negotiations-and-agreements/#_in-place

[x] https://piie.com/blogs/trade-investment-policy-watch/how-long-does-it-take-conclude-trade-agreement-us

[xi] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/05/world-free-trade-areas-everything-you-need-to-know/

[xii] http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/eu-position-in-world-trade/

Film Series on Terrorism

The Graduate Centre for Europe invites you to our film series on Terrorism:

 

Romanzo di una strage (Marco Tullio Giordana, 2013)

introduction : Dr. Alan O’Leary, University of Leeds

when: Tuesday, 19 November 2016 – 6-8 pm Westmere House, University of Birmingham

 

The Wind that Shakes the Barley (Ken Loach, 2006)

introduction: Dr. Christopher Finlay, University of Birmingham

when: Tuesday, 31 January 2017, 6-8 pm Westmere House, University of Birmingham

 

Battle of Algiers (1966)

when: Tuesday, 28 February 2017, 6-8 pm Westmere House, University of Birmingham

 

The wolf (2004)

when: Tuesday, 28 march 2017, 6-8 pm Westmere House, University of Birmingham

 

Combat girls (2011)

when: Tuesday, 25 April 2017, 6-8 pm Westmere House, University of Birmingham

 

Made in France (2015)

when: Tuesday, 30 May 2017, 6-8 pm Westmere House, University of Birmingham

GCfE Newsletter: Issue 5 Online

We are pleased to announce that the fifth issue of our GCfE Newsletter is now available, although we do apologise for the delay. The final issue of the 2014/2015 offers a re-cap of our 9th annual conference as well as a farewell address from the GCfE’s academic Dr Nick Martin, who has been with the forum since its inception. We are delighted to announce that Dr Isabelle Hertner, who has been involved with many of our events in the past and has even provided a short article on our conference keynote in this newsletter, will be taking over as the new academic director in the 2015/2016 academic year. Next year will mark the 10 year anniversary of the GCfE and it will certainly prove to be an exciting year. With the new postgraduate space opening in Westmere House next year we definitely aim to make this interdisciplinary forum a more integral part of all college’s at the university. The forum is open to all postgraduates at the University of Birmingham, research and taught, and is a great way to network with peers researching into any aspect of Europe, as well as gain experience planning seminars, workshops and conferences. Initial plans for next year, including developing the conference theme, are already underway and if you would like to get involved with the forum please feel free to drop us an email at gcfe@contacts.bham.ac.uk or visit us at our welcome lunch when the next academic year begins, more details about that will of course come at the end of the summer break.

We want to thank everyone who has come to any of our events this year and of course to our fantastic committee, in particular this year’s Events Co-Chair Emma Gardner. None of this would be possible without the hard work of the postgraduate students who steer and lead this academic forum. Thank you again to Nick for all you’ve done for the forum over the year, we hope you will still be able to visit us from time to time. Finally, many thanks to Isabelle for agreeing to work with such a diverse group of postgraduates, which will hopefully lead to the group moving in new and exciting directions in the next decade of European studies.

The GCfE Newsletter is now online on our publications tab available here: https://gcfebham.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/gcfe-newsletter-no-5-spring-2015.pdf and should shortly be on our university webpage www.birmingham.ac.uk/gcfe.

Happy summer everyone, we look forward to seeing you next Autumn!

Upcoming Conferences on Europe

A few upcoming conferences may be of interest to GCfE followers:

The first is Imagining Europe: Cultural Models of European Identity, 1814-2014 which will take place on 15 July 2015.

Imagining Europe is the final event in a programme that aims to consider the extent to which alternative politico-cultural imaginings of Europe are influenced by factors including religion, ethnicity and national identity. The last day to book your place for this conference is the 3rd of July and you can find the booking form along with the programme for the day here: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/arts/birtha/events/imagining-europe/conference/

For more information about Imagining Europe please visit: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/arts/birtha/events/imagining-europe/

The second event is the 24th annual conference of the European Reformation Research Group (ERRG) which will take place on the 9-11 September 2015.

The ERRG has been the UK’s principal forum for research into the religious history of early modern Europe. The conference is unthemed and invites papers connected to researchers current work as it relates to European reformations. Papers are particularly welcome from postgraduates and early career researchers, but is also open to established scholars. Abstracts of 200 words for 20 minute papers should be emailed to theerrg@gmail.com by Friday 26 June 2015.

The conference registration form can be found here: ERRG 2015 Registration Form

More information about the ERRG can be found at their new website available here: https://theerrg.wordpress.com/

Newsletter CFP

If you would like to submit a short article for the final issue of the GCfE Newsletter for this academic year you have until Friday to do so. The Newsletter runs 2-3 issues per academic year and alongside publicising our GCfE events also looks to feature short pieces by postgraduates. Submissions might include brief articles about your work or current research in your field, conference and seminar reviews or opinion pieces. Feel free to submit anything from your thoughts about the election results to the upcoming Women’s World Cup. We’d also be willing to run original creative pieces such as poems, cartoons or photography.

Please send your submission to gcfe@contacts.bham.ac.uk by 22 May 2015. Please include your name and any affiliation details (e.g. university, degree, etc) you would like published alongside your piece. You can also request to have your submission printed anonymously.

Past newsletters can be found on our publications tab or on our academic website available here: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/gcfe/news/index.aspx.

Call for Papers

The Graduate Centre for Europe publications team has a couple of cfp announcements for our end of year GCfE Newsletter and the Birmingham Journal for Europe.

First, our GCfE Newsletter is open for submissions for short articles on any topic. This can include reports of recent conferences and seminar series, new research and works, collaborative projects, opinion pieces and so forth. The Newsletter would also be happy to run artistic pieces such as original poems, sketches and photography. For the Newsletter submissions do not have to be linked exclusively to European research, although the GCfE always loves to see more topics of this nature. If you would like to submit a short piece for publication within our final newsletter of the 2015/2016 year please email your submission as a Word Document to gcfe@contacts.bham.ac.uk by 22 May 2015. If you have any queries feel free to send those our way as well. Previous versions of our newsletter can be found here: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/gcfe/news/index.aspx.

Second, our cfp for the next issue of the Birmingham Journal for Europe is open for article submissions. This issue is accepting articles on any topic relevant to research in Europe. This is an interdisciplinary publication which is peer-reviewed by relevant academics at the University of Birmingham. In previous years this publication has been linked to our conference themes, and articles related to this year’s Dissidence theme or last year’s Travelling Europe theme are certainly welcome as we do not have journal issues on these topics. However, articles touching on other themes, topics and ideas are also encouraged as the journal moves to broaden its scope over the next year. Articles should be approximately 6000 words in length and adhere to the MHRA referencing guide. The full cfp for this issue is available on our publications tab and articles should be submitted no later than 30 November 2015. To see the previous issues of our journal please visit: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/gcfe/journal/index.aspx

Finally, if anyone is interested in getting involved with the GCfE committee and/or publications team we are always looking for new members to get involved. The committee organises a series of events and an annual conference and the publications team edits and publishes the journal, a newsletter and this blog. If you would like to get involved please do get in touch. Official positions may be advertised soon, but there is always room for members who would like to participate in the forum without taking on a dedicated role.