UK/EU Debate – PPUK: “We will not benefit from antagonising neighbours”

UK/EU Debate – PPUK: “We will not benefit from antagonising neighbours”

In the debate on the future of UK and EU, PPUK Leader Loz Kaye outlined a pirates’ vision of a citizens’ Europe in an interview with PirateTimes. In his opinion, Cameron’s initiative sounded threatful to some EU members. The vision of the PPUK for Europe could push the reforms into a complete other direction than Cameron would probably wish. However, PPUK has withdrawn from PPEU founding process, Kaye said in the interview.

Loz Kaye has been Leader of Pirate Party UK since september 2010. He has stood for election several times, and got 5% in the Bradford Ward area of Manchester, the best local result for PPUK and beating government coalition party the Liberal Democrats. He appears widely talking about digital rights, civil liberties and whistle blowing, on the BBC, Russia Today and CNN amongst other media. He talked with us about the current debate on relations between UK and EU.

PirateTimes: First, a bit about history. The British have always have had difficulties to feeling  part of a greater european community, although they were founding members in 1992 and considered as one key state to success of the EU. They are not part of the Euro zone, they are not part of the Financial Stabilisation Alliance, and they are not part of Schengen Contract Zone. Why do the British seem to resist european integration?

Loz Kaye: Britain has always been independent minded, it’s partly our island geography and partly our particular cultural history. I think our healthy scepticism of power is a good thing, and something I recognise in the Pirate movement. Whether it’s the fact that we drive in miles on the left, or drink pints in the pub, we tend to do things differently. It was interesting that David Cameron thought it was important to give quite a lot of historical background to his speech. Our past can often trap us, but it certainly defines us.

Europe has been a difficult subject for British politicians for decades. It was a key part of the splits in the Conservative party under Prime Minister John Major, which ended up with the Tories in opposition for years. Other countries have had referendums on the  Maastricht and Lisbon treaties and the Danes have won a democratic mandate for their opt outs. In the meantime our politicians have tried to keep a lid on things by resisting calls for a further vote. Putting off allowing UK citizens to have a voice in the fundamental change the EU has undergone has lead to a deep and growing sense of alienation from the entire project. This is the case not just for politicians, but the country at large.

PirateTimes: What is the PPUK’s position on the European Union? 

LozI think it’s fair to say many of our members have quite an internationalist outlook. Like any UK party (perhaps apart from UKIP!) there are a range of views, and of course we encourage debate. Even so, our crowd sourced manifesto which was overwhelmingly adpoted by our members is clear. Our vision for the EU is based on our fundamental principles.

It’s important that the EU increase its level of transparency and openness, and this should inform the EU’s politics, organisation and administration. The union should be accountable to its members and citizens, the Council should be properly open to scrutiny by national parliaments, and there should be a fundamental rebalance to elected representatives.

Our manifesto also rules out adopting the Euro as our currency, and that no state should be required to join in the future as a requirement of membership.

PirateTimes: And what is the current public opinion in UK of the government’s course?

Kaye: A lot of people think this has been overdue. The latest opinion polls have shown a majority 59% support a referendum, with only 21% opposed. It is much closer on voting intentions- 42% leave and 36% stay, but the number saying they will vote to leave has fallen from 51% in November.

My chief worry is because ”mainstream” politicians have found it easier tactically to ignore this lack of involvement, the territory has been given to the new populist right. The chief criticism of the EU we have seen has been joined to an explicitly xenophobic agenda. UKIP’s latest attack on Bulgarians and Romanians has actually left me profoundly ashamed of my country. The real threat to the UK economy is if we shut ourselves away, as we are starting to do.

PirateTimes: Is PPUK taking part in the preparations for a PPEU and how much it is engaged in that project? Would a separation of UK away from the EU influence this engagement?

LozWe value our links with our international friends in the movement. I’m also very happy that we were able to welcome people here to Manchester to host one of the PPEU conferences.

However, we have chosen to withdraw from the preparations for PPEU for now, mainly so we can focus our resources better. Speaking personally, it seems to share some of the problems of the EU itself, too much love of structure and not enough real political action.

We must never forget that the movement is not PPEU, PPI or any of the parties – it is our ideals. It is our desire for digital rights. It is our willingness to protect civil liberties. It is our wish to make a politics truly fit for the 21st century.

PirateTimes: What the PPUK recommends to the UK government? Does the party agree with a public vote, as Cameron suggested?

LozGiven that self determination is one of the main principles we believe in, our manifesto commits to a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU being offered to voters in the UK. Any referendum should include the option for the UK to pull out and negotiate its own agreements with the EU as a whole or with individual member states.

I think we have nothing to fear from a referendum or the debate. But equally it would be naive not to recognise the road ahead will not be easy. It has been characterised as a forlorn hope to negotiate a new deal. But it should be abundantly clear to all 27 (soon to be 28) that business as usual is not an option. Our Prime Minister needs to realise we will not achieve what we want, if we go down the current path of antagonising our neighbours. We will only get what we want if it is of benefit to others too. It’s how we frame what comes next that will determine the future of the EU and what part the UK plays in it.

PirateTimes: Reactions have been different. Politicians from very different EU countries have been concerned about the latest statements from London. Also, many pirates demonstrated disappointment, while a public survey on German news service “tagesschau” has shown a majority of their visitors for an opt-out of UK. 

Loz: It’s my hope that this can be an opportunity for all of us to make a Europe that is truly a citizens’ Europe. It’s unfortunate that Cameron managed to sound like he was making a threat rather than offering the chance to ask the deeper questions about what it is we all really want from the EU.

As far as the Pirate movement goes I think this is also a great opportunity for us to show we are broader than just being “the Internet party”. We can show a real commitment to transparency and accountable democracy. Despite the recent victory, surely ACTA, IPRED and data retention laws show how far the EU is from being truly accountable and the dangers if we do not reform. Surely we can – and should expect to do better, and think differently.

PirateTimes: If the referendum is successful, what from your point of view would need to change in UK or in the EU to enable a reunification?

Loz: It is up to us to put the case for an EU based on openness- with the UK in it. And others can play their part by asking their governments for an EU politics that is done with the people, not just cooked up by elites in closed rooms.

But I imagine if there were to be a British exit that would be the start of a major reshaping of the EU anyway. It is not as if concerns about the European community are just confined to the UK.

Many of our politicians have said the problem with Cameron calling for a referendum in 2017 is that it will cause uncertainty in the future. But the truth is that in the 21st century uncertainty is the one principle we can rely on. And if any party is equipped to deal with that, it is the Pirate Party.

PirateTimes: Loz, thank you for your time and good luck!

The interview has been conducted by Dominic Guhl for PirateTimes.
Featured Image Courtesy of Loz Kaye