New Year, Same Brexit Headache

New Year, Same Brexit Headache

Brexit day is fast approaching, with the UK on track to officially leave the European Union in less than two weeks. If you’re new to Rachel Husson’s Brexit series, no worries, here are the basics, the EU’s perspective, a view of the craziest week of 2019, what Brexit means for Ireland, and what it means for students. Also, don’t forget to test your Brexit knowledge by taking our quiz!

 

What has happened over the last couple of months? 

Since the last time you read the series, some events worth mentioning took place in the Brexit saga. After the European Council agreed in late October on an extension of Brexit’s due date, an early general election was granted by the British parliament (438 votes in favour, 20 against). This election occurred on the 12th of December and the results set several strong statements. First, the Conservative Party, led by Boris Johnson, won a comfortable majority of 364 seats of a total 650 (against 203 seats for the Labour Party, and 13 for Lib-Dem Party). Therefore, it seems that the 2016 referendum’s results were not a “mistake” after all. The second statement was made by Scottish electors. Out of the 59 seats in Parliament granted to Scottish constituencies, 48 were swiped by the Scottish National Party (SNP) – who campaign for Scottish independence within the European Union.

Five days before Christmas day, Johnson’s EU Withdrawl Agreement Bill was presented (again) to the House of Commons, which passed after two readings. From there, the Agreement had to be transposed in British law. A “transposition” bill was drafted and passed the Commons on the 9th of January by 330 votes against 231 and the UK is now expected to finally meet the latest Brexit deadline.

 

What’s next?

The text of the Withdrawal Agreement is now in the hands of the House of Lords, where the Government has no majority. So, this should be interesting. If the bill gets the Lord’s approval, then the Queen will have to give her royal consent. Normally, this should just be a formality. But we have to keep in mind that the European Parliament also has to vote the deal before Brexit can officially happen. If everything goes on track, Brexit will happen on the 31st January.  For 11 months, the UK will still follow all the EU’s rules and regulations, it will remain in the single market and the customs union and the free movement of people will continue. The challenge for the UK will be to get all its new rules and policies in place by the end of this year.

The UK and the EU will enter a new phase of negotiations about their new relationship. The stake is huge because they’ll have to agree on a “partnership” for future decades. Let’s be honest, 11 months (until the 31st of December precisely) to deal with that kind of negotiations is really short. Look how long it took them to reach the leaving deal. Of course, Johnson doesn’t want any delay. But you know it, loyal reader, the British PM has said that before, and look where we are – the initial exit date back in Halloween seems like ages ago. However, this time Johnson is so committed that his promise was enshrined in the bill passed on the 9th. No extension should there be. He has said that he’d rather have part of a deal than ask for a delay. So, you get it correctly, a no-deal Brexit is still a possibility. 

Knowing that, Ursula Von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, said that the period of time they have is “very very tight”, not long enough to cover every topic, so they will have to prioritise. The Prime Minister of Croatia, which currently has the presidency of the Council of the European Union for 6 months, agreed and wish to work first on trade and fishing. 

Nevertheless, prioritizing doesn’t mean compromising. On one hand, the EU recalled on several occasions that it will not consent to anything that would damage its own integrity, common market or customs union. On the other hand, Johnson expressed that he wouldn’t allow any kind of alignment on the EU’s regulation nor would he accept staying in some way under the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction. The British PM wants to “maintain control of UK fishing waters and [its] immigration system”.

 

 

Review on Scotland and Northern Ireland

The call for a second referendum on Scottish independence made by Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish PM and leader of the SNP, was formally rejected by Johnson who sees a second vote as a “political stagnation” that would impact Scotland “because of a campaign to separate the UK”. “It is time that we all worked to bring the whole of the United Kingdom together and unleash the potential of this great country”, he added. The PM claims that by refusing he respects Scots’ democratic decision: the 2014 referendum was promised to be a “once in a lifetime” occasion and set Scotland to remain in the UK. But one could argue that the situation has changed since 2014. It seems understandable that Brexit made a difference… According to the SNP, the Conservatives are afraid of the results if the vote took place in the pro-Europe nation. The full answer of the Scottish Government is expected to arrive by the end of January. Stay tuned… 

With the New Year came great news for Northern Ireland: a new executive is in place after three years of talks. Called “New Decade, New Approach”, the 62-page deal was published by both British and Irish Governments and set out guidelines and commitments for the new executive. This agreement comes after Northern Ireland was really divided on the December UK general election: 8 seats in Westminster for Unionists (DUP) and 9 for Nationalists (7 for Sinn Fein which practice abstentionism, meaning they refuse to sit in London, and 2 for the SDLP). Would Northern Ireland be inspired by Scotland? It’s not that easy, mainly because it’s not the same situation. Scotland wants its independence, when in the North the idea would be about changing the Parliament they answer to, talking about “Irish unity”. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, for such a vote to be called, the initiative must come for the British Secretary of State when they think the majority of the Northern Irish population would support Irish unity. One may argue that some elements point to that. If Northern Ireland’s choice was to leave the UK, then the Irish Republic would have to vote on that Irish unity too. Surveys have shown than 51% of the Irish population is in favour of this unity. Short advance, especially when you think of the margin of error. It appears clear that the whole island is deeply split on the matter… The post-Brexit daily life and the future deal may help some islanders to fold one way or another. 

 

It seems to me that the UK’s History might be made in the next few years…

 

 

Photo by Jannes Van den wouwer

 

 

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New Year, Same Brexit Headache

Brexit day is fast approaching, with the UK on track to officially leave the European Union in less than two weeks. In this article in our Brexit series, Rachel gives us an update on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and the future of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Is Political Reform on the Horizon for Kazakhstan?

Kazakhstan has been under autocracy since it first began to be taken over by the Russian Empire in the 18th century, throughout its years as part of the Soviet Union, and since its independence in 1991. After all that time, could it be possible that the country is heading towards future democracy?

The Leaderless Protest Series – Lebanon

Every day we are witnessing the kindled spirit of youth with their involvement in political protests throughout the world. With so much noise, sometimes it is difficult to understand what the issues are. In this particular article, Editor Deepthi Suresh helps us to understand recent developments in Lebanon.

Aung San Suu Kyi Denies Genocide at the International Criminal Court

In the realm of international politics, few world leaders have incited such hope and then despair as Myanmar’s president Aung San Suu Kyi. Amidst allegations of genocide against the treatment of Myanmar’s Rohingya population, Suu Kyi has been summoned to the International Court of Justice to answer for her nation’s transgressions.

NewB: a bank to inspire others

NewB is a “new bank” based in Belgium that managed to collect €35 million in 6 weeks, in order to be granted a banking license by the European Central Bank. NewB wants to change the way finance is done and perceived by working to build an ethical and sustainable bank caring for human rights and mother earth.

The European Investment Bank’s decision to divest from fossil fuels

The European Investment Bank (EIB) recently announced that it would be phasing out investment in fossil fuel companies by 2021. The EIB is the biggest public lender globally and the move was celebrated by those within the banking industry and the environmental movement. It sends a clear message that markets are moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energies.

Unsustainable Biking?

Unsustainable Biking?

A lot of us are aware that our carbon footprint is terrible and that we have to change our habits. For some of us, this means leaving the car behind and starting to bike. It is, itself, a wonderful commitment – feel free to be inspired by this and turn it into a new year’s resolution – but unfortunately, the way we “consume” biking is can also be an ecological issue. Before actually converting to biking, some of us have a “trial phase” where we rent a bike. As this phenomenon became an economic boom in some countries, it ended up being an ecological and economic debacle. To resume, as said Benjamin Haas, “There are too many bikes, and not enough demand.”

  

 

Bike cemeteries

As bike-sharing went viral and trendy, several companies tried to take the lead in the Chinese market. In a short period of time, multiple bicycle start-ups were born and soon would be worth a seven-figure number. As a result, more start-ups were created, seeing a good investment. Also, bicycles appeared like a great alternative to politicians and citizens who want to make a difference when it comes to tackling climate change, especially the polluted air in China. Today, 23 million shared bikes are said to be for use in the streets across big Chinese cities. 

Eventually, most of the start-ups went bankrupt, after ordering lots and lots of bikes while still charging the user little for their rides (around 0,20€/30 min). A couple of years later, the consequences have been disastrous; you can find football pitch sized bike graveyards all over China. Thousands of what once was meant to be shared bikes are aligned or grossly thrown illegally in sport fields, along roads, next to rivers, etc. It has become part of the scenery for many families in China. Playing in the street, going to work, taking a walk on the river’s banks, you can’t miss them – they’re everywhere. Dumping them this way, companies created “bicycle towns”, where “residents are dealing with the mess they left behind”. Municipal authorities try to solve this problem mainly with new laws, while searching for a way to deal with the bikes already disposed of. Whatever they decide to do, it will take years before bike cemeteries vanish due to the extent of the situation.

 

 

Reuse of old bikes

Closer to us, in France, Laurent Durrieu had an idea to easily upgrade your grandma’s old bike and turn it into a brand-new electric bike! Interesting, isn’t it? But how you will ask. Well, Durrieu created “Teebike” an electric wheel that can adapt to any bike. With it, you can have an electric bike and can quickly stop feeling like you are dying when biking on a big slope!

Teebike is at the crossroads between recycling and electric expansion. According to Durrieu, your bike can last forever, as long as you change tyres, brakes and derailleur once in a while. His idea is to make electric bikes accessible for everyone while being sustainable and reusing already manufactured bikes. 

But, even if the concept meets the sustainable requirements, including by collaborating with battery recycling organisations, access to everyone can be debated because of the wheel’s price: 750€. Even though a complete electric bike will cost you more, still, I don’t think that Teebike is affordable for everyone. 

Let’s hope that the price falls over the next number of  years because I believe it’s a really well conceived alternative. In addition to being connected to your phone, the wheel has an anti-theft device that starts screaming and sets the wheel in reverse whenever it detects suspect movement.

 

Photo by Queena Deng

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

 

 

Book Review: Klein Gifts Us With Tools to Unite Climate Action in ‘On Fire’

Naomi Klein is as accessible as ever as she dissects the scientific and economic jargon of climate change, while simultaneously injecting empathy and passion in her fight to hold corporations and fossil fuel companies accountable. On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal, has the possibility to unite the movement once again and inspire action on a scale that humanity has never accomplished before.

Unsustainable Biking?

A lot of us are aware that our carbon footprint is terrible and that we have to change our habits. For some of us, this means leaving the car behind and starting to bike. Unfortunately, the way we “consume” biking is an ecological issue.

When Climate Change Refuses to be Ignored – Venice Floods

On the last 14th of November, the city of Venice suffered the worst flooding in 53 years. Flooding is just one of the many impacts from climate change that is being experienced with more frequency and globally it threatens many vulnerable areas and regions.

An Anti-Waste Bill for France

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What does ‘climate justice’ actually mean?

Over recent years, the noise around ‘climate action’ and ‘climate justice’ has been ramping up, but many people are still confused over what writers, activists and politicians are actually talking about.

The European Investment Bank’s decision to divest from fossil fuels

The European Investment Bank (EIB) recently announced that it would be phasing out investment in fossil fuel companies by 2021. The EIB is the biggest public lender globally and the move was celebrated by those within the banking industry and the environmental movement. It sends a clear message that markets are moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energies.

An Anti-Waste Bill for France

An Anti-Waste Bill for France

In early December, the French Assembly started to debate on a “revolutionary” bill based on “anti-waste and circular economy”. 

The bill covers many topics, including more information on products for consumers, better quality manufactured products, no-more overproduction, no-more built-in obsolescence and plastic reduction. 

 

The key points of the bill are the following:

  • Ending the destruction of unsold products and encouraging products to be donated instead. 
  • Going forward with the “polluter has to pay” rule and introducing a “bonus” to encourage companies to transition their way of producing to a more sustainable model.
  • Creating a mandatory grade sign indicating a product’s longevity, resistance and repairability.
  • Introducing a rule where companies must recycle your old product when selling you a new one upon point of sale or delivery. 

 

A tangible example of what kind of changes the bill could introduce is the possibility to buy one pill at the pharmacist instead of a full box when you don’t need it. Another is the prohibition of supermarkets to destruct unsold food – which would make France the first country to do so. 

Originally, the draft bill was suggested by Brune Poirson, French Ecology State Secretary, in July 2019. In the Senate, the draft bill was approved almost unanimously (342 votes in favor – 1 against) in late September. Following, members of the Sustainable Development and Territory Arrangement Commission made some core amendments and the new draft bill was approved on the 29th November.

One such amendment made by Mrs. Batho, former French Minister for Ecology, would eventually prohibit Black Friday. The idea is to put an end to Black Friday “sales” that are not real sales, in the way that consumers don’t actually benefit from (high) discounts. In the UK, a study has shown that only five 5% of the discounts on Black Friday are actually discounts. In France, it was proven that an average of only 8% of the products sold that day are actually on sale, and that the discounts vary between 2 and 10%, far from the 50%, 75% or 90% signs. With this amendment, Batho added Black Friday’s sales operations to the “aggressive commercial practice” list, which can be punished by a €300.000 fine or two years jail time.

Another member of the Commission, Mr. Pahun also made two interesting amendments. Firstly, mentions of “biodegradable”, “environment friendly” or similar language should be completely prohibited for companies to use. Mr. Pahun states that such  language is subjective and not controlled and therefore should be prohibited to avoid the possibility of “greenwashing”. This means that companies could no longer make you believe that they are doing something to protect the environment when they are actually not, or not as much as they claim they do. Secondly, Pahun added that “if [an item is] said to be a ‘recycled item’, [the] percentage of recycled material used must be mentioned”. Again, he wants to prevent “greenwashing” and ensure that consumers have access to real information concerning the product they might want to buy. 

This bill is a step in the right direction and complies with the country’s goal to have 100% recycled plastics by 2025 and no more plastic food packaging by 2040.

 

 

Photo by Jasmin Sessler

 

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

 

 

Book Review: Klein Gifts Us With Tools to Unite Climate Action in ‘On Fire’

Naomi Klein is as accessible as ever as she dissects the scientific and economic jargon of climate change, while simultaneously injecting empathy and passion in her fight to hold corporations and fossil fuel companies accountable. On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal, has the possibility to unite the movement once again and inspire action on a scale that humanity has never accomplished before.

Unsustainable Biking?

A lot of us are aware that our carbon footprint is terrible and that we have to change our habits. For some of us, this means leaving the car behind and starting to bike. Unfortunately, the way we “consume” biking is an ecological issue.

When Climate Change Refuses to be Ignored – Venice Floods

On the last 14th of November, the city of Venice suffered the worst flooding in 53 years. Flooding is just one of the many impacts from climate change that is being experienced with more frequency and globally it threatens many vulnerable areas and regions.

An Anti-Waste Bill for France

In early December, the French Assembly started to debate on a revolutionary bill based on “anti-waste and circular economy”. The bill covers many topics, including more information on products for consumers, better quality manufactured products, no-more overproduction, no-more built-in obsolescence and plastic reduction.

What does ‘climate justice’ actually mean?

Over recent years, the noise around ‘climate action’ and ‘climate justice’ has been ramping up, but many people are still confused over what writers, activists and politicians are actually talking about.

The European Investment Bank’s decision to divest from fossil fuels

The European Investment Bank (EIB) recently announced that it would be phasing out investment in fossil fuel companies by 2021. The EIB is the biggest public lender globally and the move was celebrated by those within the banking industry and the environmental movement. It sends a clear message that markets are moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energies.

NewB: a bank to inspire others

NewB: a bank to inspire others

NewB is a “new bank” based in Belgium that managed to collect €35 million in 6 weeks, in order to be granted the precious banking license by the European Central Bank (ECB).

 

What is NewB?

NewB is a Belgian cooperative working to build an ethical and sustainable bank caring for human rights and mother earth. NewB intends to add value to the Belgian society as a bank by investing in the local economy and sustainable projects. NewB wants to change the way finance is done and perceived. To do that, it relies on 13 morals: 

  1.     Integration: NewB works with organisations and cooperators – they’re both owner and customers.  
  2.     Simplicity: NewB’s offers are clear and easily understandable. 
  3.     Safety: NewB invests in real economy, doesn’t take risks. Profit is not the ultimate goal. 
  4.     Sustainability: NewB cares for the planet and its people, therefore it shall exclude activities or projects that could harm society as a whole.
  5.     Transparency: everything NewB does is public knowledge and is explained when needed. 
  6.     Innovation: NewB is working to create new products and solutions that would preserve social economy as well as the planet.
  7.     Involvement: cooperators are asked to actively participate in the Bank’s decisions.
  8.     Honesty: profits will be equally divided between deposits and the cooperative capital. Interests have an upper limit, preventing profits on NewB’s shares sale. 
  9.     Inclusion: NewB wants to offer universal financial service, meaning access to relevant credit for everyone.
  10. Seriousness: NewB doesn’t spend crazy amounts. This can be witnessed in the way NewB’s employees are paid: the highest salary can’t exceed five times the lowest salary. 
  11. Diversity: NewB has a deep interest in getting everyone on board and pays attention to social and cultural differences.
  12. Closeness: one of NewB’s goal is to be close to the people. That’s why events with (future) members are held all across the – not so big – country, where people’s voices can be heard. It follows the rule one person-one vote. 
  13. Professionalism: they work with people that know what they’re doing, with the client as the only interest.

That sounds like a dream, doesn’t it? 

 

What did NewB achieve? 

On the 25th October 2019, NewB announced that the Financial Services and Markets Authority (FSMA), approved the cooperative’s prospectus. This meant that NewB could start fundraising to raise the co-op capital. The challenge was the following: NewB needed to collect 30 million euros by the 27th November. You’ve read correctly, 33 days to raise €30 million. And if it failed, the whole project would sink. The €30 million limit was imposed by the European Central Bank (ECB) to grant NewB a banking license. The amount was calculated by the National Bank of Belgium (BNB), to ensure NewB would have a “safe-mattress” to start as a bank in the hostile milieu that is finance. 

Despite national celebrities promoting the co-op, two weeks before the deadline “only” €3,5 million was gathered, thanks to more or less 4,000 new cooperators. NewB’s CEO, Bernard Bayot, explained that, at that point, the co-op was waiting on large contributions from public institutions, hoping this would bring the goal closer. By the 27th November: the aim was reached! The co-op managed to collect €30 million thanks to around 55,000 contributors, whose average age is 29. Universities, regional governments, public and civil companies, individuals – they all played a part in this race. Surfing on the phenomena that was becoming the co-op, NewB decided to extend its fundraising for one week and to try and reach €35 million. On the 4th December, 71,162 investors had taken part in this six weeks fundraising  and the upper limit of €35 million was raised.

 

How did NewB get there? 

The project began in 2011 when 24 civil organisations decided to do something after witnessing the 2009 Belgian banking crisis that led to the disappearance of small and public banks. On the 6th of May, the cooperative NewB was newly born. 

About 43,000 citizens had joined the project by 2013. One year later, NewB wondered: what kind of investments do I want to do in the future? The question was posed to the members and thanks to a high rate of participation, discussion led to a decision on what path to follow. By June, cooperators – mainly people like you and me – agreed on a series of products that would keep the project growing. While Belgians started to be more and more familiar with the concept, NewB launched its first bank card in 2016. The prepaid “GoodPay” card is the first sustainable bank card in the country – not to say in the world. At that point, about 100 other civil organisations decided to come on board. 

Then came 2017, which was a pivotal year on several levels for NewB. New CEO, new GoodPay card, new insurance projects, new website and new design (in short, a New Bank?). From there, NewB became the largest social movement in Belgium and worked hard to get the precious banking license. 

 

What’s next for NewB?

The BNB has to read the 3,000-page folder submitted by NewB to explain the project and its viability. Afterwards, it will write to the ECB to develop its assessment of NewB’s situation and its recommendations. Eventually, the ECB will make a decision before the 15th of March. Even though NewB’s CEO seems confident, he is aware that nothing is finalised yet. 

Therefore, this incredible and powerful story is to be continued… 

 

 

Photo by NewB

 

Browse more stories below or sign up to our newsletter to receive our top news straight to your inbox!

 

New Year, Same Brexit Headache

Brexit day is fast approaching, with the UK on track to officially leave the European Union in less than two weeks. In this article in our Brexit series, Rachel gives us an update on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill and the future of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Is Political Reform on the Horizon for Kazakhstan?

Kazakhstan has been under autocracy since it first began to be taken over by the Russian Empire in the 18th century, throughout its years as part of the Soviet Union, and since its independence in 1991. After all that time, could it be possible that the country is heading towards future democracy?

The Leaderless Protest Series – Lebanon

Every day we are witnessing the kindled spirit of youth with their involvement in political protests throughout the world. With so much noise, sometimes it is difficult to understand what the issues are. In this particular article, Editor Deepthi Suresh helps us to understand recent developments in Lebanon.

Aung San Suu Kyi Denies Genocide at the International Criminal Court

In the realm of international politics, few world leaders have incited such hope and then despair as Myanmar’s president Aung San Suu Kyi. Amidst allegations of genocide against the treatment of Myanmar’s Rohingya population, Suu Kyi has been summoned to the International Court of Justice to answer for her nation’s transgressions.

NewB: a bank to inspire others

NewB is a “new bank” based in Belgium that managed to collect €35 million in 6 weeks, in order to be granted a banking license by the European Central Bank. NewB wants to change the way finance is done and perceived by working to build an ethical and sustainable bank caring for human rights and mother earth.

The European Investment Bank’s decision to divest from fossil fuels

The European Investment Bank (EIB) recently announced that it would be phasing out investment in fossil fuel companies by 2021. The EIB is the biggest public lender globally and the move was celebrated by those within the banking industry and the environmental movement. It sends a clear message that markets are moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energies.