Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Oil, banks and democracy - a potent blend

Oil carries with it so many connotations.
The social, moral and geo-political implications create a quagmire as opague and viscous as the crude substance itself.
When Ghana discovered oil off its coast line a few years ago there was a sharp intake of breath. Everyone saw what had happened in Nigeria. The Government were not prepared to fall into the same trap, creating a feral landscape where natives and multi-nationals go head to head over the black stuff, where misery is wrought across borders such as in Sudan, and where corrupt governmental allegiances and illegal wars exacerbate religious and ethnic divides. Where there is misery and oppression, there is often oil.

In the case of Spain, Italy and Greece however the interconnection between oil and misery is different.

Oil in Spain?

Yes. The Golden Stuff.

Olive oil.

For in Spain the price of oil olive has slid so drastically, caused by a sharp decline in domestic demand, a failure of potential foreign export markets to embrace the oil - such as the Far East, and a supply overload flooding the market. As a result, the EU has been forced to intervene. [Sigh]

Taxpayers' money is now being driven in to shore up the prices in order to maintain employment in rural areas that rely almost exclusively upon olive plantations.

We all know what happens when the EU intervenes, fixing prices and stockpiling resources.
Should we expect olive oil producers over the next few years to become completely dependent upon single payments?

The future of the Mediterranean economies in the Eurozone is bleaker than is being made out. In Spain, the Government are beginning to realise there is little they can do to avoid becoming the next Greece. The likelihood of the country needing an EU bail out is almost certain. Spanish banks have been propping up state finances to the tune of €316 billion borrowed from the European Central Bank. Those banks now emergency finance, to the tune of €23.5 billion, which the Spanish Government has been determined to find itself - creating an ironic cycle of debt that cannot be broken without outside stimulus.

Yet the people of Spain have already shown vehement opposition to the Government's own austerity measures, and with a quarter of the adult population now unemployed, who could blame them? Yet any EU bail out comes with a multitude of conditions that must be met - however unsympathetic to the plight of the normal person. This is the situation we are now seeing in Greece, where the democratic choice is an end to austerity, yet the EU refuses to climb down on the demands stipulated in return for propping up the single currency. One can be assured that if Spain ends up in a similar position, the opinion of the public would be known the world over.

In Ireland,  the public have gone to the polls to vote in a referendum on Irish approval of the "EU fiscal pact" set out last December. Prime Minister Enda Kenny has urged the nation in a televised address to back the proposals, in order to ensure the rug isn't pulled from under their feet, and for the time being, the propaganda appears to have worked with early results indicating voters would back the fiscal pact. Of course in Ireland they also have the added security of sterling propping up some Government debt after George Osborne signed off a £7 billion bilateral loan, but this also means our loan, which is due to be repaid with interest in the future, is at risk of falling into a fiscal blackhole if the single currency collapses.

The coping mechanism that has been rolled out during the course of the last four years has been for deeper integration and mutualised responsibility, yet this flies in the face of the will of the majority of voters in the EU,  be they Germans who do not accept their share of any burden or Greeks forced out of work, unable to access medicines and even food. The public conception is that closer EU integration has weakened national economies, rather than providing the reinforcement that it was purported to achieve.

Economics is more of an art than a science, it is often argued. It involves theorising, when nobody can understand or predict what any outcome may be, however well read they may be in the field or practised and proven in managing national debts. While one side of the argument would state that breaking the single currency up would cause a lot of short term pain but enable each country to forge an idiomatic platform upon which to compete and rebuild, others would argue that disintegrating the Euro would leave huge unaccounted for wounds of debt that would plunge the global markets back into disarray, creating shockwaves more severe than those witnessed in 2008 and the first global credit crunch.

One thing is for sure. The break up of the single currency would not be good for the EU. It would undermine the entire European project and pit disenchanted countries against one another, further enhancing the risk of member states applying to leave the EU, potentially resulting in the domino affect of the entire dissolution of the entireUnion. It is argued that nowhere in any treaty is exiting the single currency accounted for, further enhancing the risk of the break up of the Euro resulting in ejection from the EU itself - by law.

June is set to be an interesing month. If Greece runs out of money before the elections, and if Brussels are resolute in their stance that a bail out would not be provided without obeisance to their conditions, we could have a humanitarian crisis on our hands.

I hope, for the sake of the people of Greece, this is not the case.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

FFS the FTT is not FFP

What a difference a day makes.

In the rapidly unfurling madness that hs gripped the Eurozone, the summer may prove to be a cataclysmic season. Yesterday European finance ministers gathered to thrash out plans for growth and investment ahead of an EU summit at the end of June. It was an opportunity for new French President to bring the the table the concept of Eurobonds - a policy idea on the back of which he competently rode to election victory. Yet the concept of drawing up co-liability between Eurozone member states for debt, as such becoming eachothers' guarantors, has never sat easily with the Germans. This is despite the fact that simply sharing in a currency is enough to allow economic contagion to rip through the continent like an Australian bush fire.

Last year, 25 of the 27 member states of the EU signed a fiscal treaty. Only the Czech Republic and the UK refused to be signatories. The treaty essentially outlined austerity measures that all member states agreed to in order to try to protect the fragile economic situation in Europe from further sharp blows. Yet also in this treaty was a proposition to add the Tobin Tax, or Robin Hood, tax, on financial transactions. The concept that the tax robs the rich (bankers) to give to the poor (Brussels) is a twisted distortion of what would likely be the outcome. As we all know, incurred costs are more often than not passed down to the consumer. In this instance, all members of the general public with bank accounts. The other potential repercussion is the mass exodus of the banking sector from the European Union to more liberalised financial sectors in other countries, such as Zurich or Hong Kong, This of course would result in a disproportionate blow to the UK, who houses more than three quarters of the banking sector of Europe in The City of London, as well as many corporations around the world. Were these institutions and multi-national conglomerates to up and leave, the impact on the UK economy would be substantial. The contribution to GDP of the financial sector in the UK is hugely significant, as well as the jobs it provides and the capital that flows to the country.
And so for this reason, in December last year, the UK vetoed the treaty. As a result of not being able to achieve unanimity, such a schismatic legal change could not be made under EU terms. In effect, the withdrawal of the UK ace should have brought the house of cards down

And yet it hasn't. For yesterday the European Parliament voted 487 votes in favour, 152 against, with 46 abstentions for the Podimata report which paves the way for the Financial Transactions Tax to be levied.

An amendment to shoot down the report brought forward by the ECR group, to which the Conservative Party belong, was strongly defeated, leaving the UK Government with little room for manoeuvre. The question now is whether the UK Government can do anything at all to prevent the FTT from coming into affect. 

The proposal is for both sides of the transaction to be taxed. Those who signed up to the treaty vetoed by the UK Government on the basis of this tax would benefit from a reduction in EU contributions. The UK veto has as such been rendered useless, placing the onus on the UK taxpayer to pay the tax on all transactions for member states who had signed the treaty, yet without receiving the benefit of a reduction in EU contributions. 

The tax essentially allows the EU to finance itself directly from taxpayers’ pockets  - and yet without any recourse to a public vote. Giving the EU tax raising payers without any democratic scrutiny is utterly unacceptable and is also the final step in making the European Union a federalised super-state.

In theory the tax cannot be approved without the unanimous backing of the European Council. Surely the British vote would most steadfastly be against the introduction of the FTT. However the Parliamentary report calls for the implementation of the tax by the beginning of 2015 "even if only some member states opt for it".

Nine countries have come out in favour of the tax including Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, with it being labelled as the main route of exit from crisis. Yet rapporteur Anni Poadimata's view that it would brung a "fairer distribution of the weight of the crisis" is utterly skewed. The majority of the weight of such a tax would be carried by the UK, and it would appear the intentions are to use the extra finances to shore up the single currency.

The FTT is not FFP

The Financial Transactions Tax is not Fit For Purpose

A report by the Institute of Economic Affairs warns agains the dangers of a Financial Transactions Tax. In it, it is suggested that

  • An FTT can be imposed with varying effects depending upon how many other governments do so at the same time. A purely EU FTT would see much trading leaving the EU, as happened to Sweden when it unilaterally imposed such a tax in the 1980s and 90s. A global tax would not have the problem of trading moving but would still have all of the other associated problems
  • There would be no net revenue. While there would be revenue from the tax itself there would also be falls in revenue from other taxes. The net effect of this is that there will be less revenue in total as a result of an FTT
  • The FTT simply means it would be the EU's own money to spend as they wish. The revenues from the FTT would be designated as the EU’s ‘own resources’, that is, money which comes to the centre to be spent as of right; not, as with the current system, money begrudgingly handed over by national governments. The EU bureaucracy therefore has a strong interest in promoting such a change. What’s in it for the rest of society is harder to spot.
  • It will be the taxpayer who carries the burdern. All taxes and any tax, means less money in the wallet of some live human being. The first and great lesson of tax incidence is that taxes on companies are not paid by companies. They are not, despite legal personality, live human beings and therefore cannot carry the ultimate burden of any tax. With the FTT the one place we know the tax cannot fall is on the banks. Banks are corporations and corporations cannot bear the burden of a tax; it has to be some human being. Some part falls upon capital, making raising capital more expensive. This, in turn will affectworkers’ wages: more expensive capital leads to less of it being employed. Yet this does not mean bankers earning less: it is the workers who earn less as a result of less capital being employed. The second part is the incidence upon the users of the financial markets: a fairly obvious result of a transactions tax. Pensions would yield lower returns, partly as a result of lower share values as a result of the tax and partly as a result of paying the tax itself. The FTT would thereforeimpact upon all users of any financial instrument.
  • The loss in GDP as a result of the tax is larger than the revenues raised from the tax. The total incidence, the total lost from all pockets, is higher than revenues and thus the incidence of the tax is over 100%.
  • A transaction tax would increase, not decrease volatility. Since an FTT would decrease the size of the financial markets, prices would jump around rather more than they do at present - completely the opposite of what certain supporters of the FTT suggest.
  • The markets that do high volume, low margin trades  would be affected by an FTT such as the foreign exchange (FX), futures, options and stock markets. None of these markets failed in any manner in the recent or current troubles. So the FTT doesn’t even work as a way of avoiding the recent financial crash: for it taxes the things that did not cause problems and would not make much difference to those things which did.
 The situtation in Greece is appalling, with drugs at an all time low as a result of deep austerity measures cutting healthcare budgets and forcing families onto the streets. The country is on the brink of a healthcare crisis, with panic spreading among high risk patients who fear they will have no access to life saving drugs. One healthcare profssional predicts that within two weeks, if the European Union does not grant Greece the loans it needs, chaos will erupt on the streets. Another healthcare worker, a cardiologist, has told the press of his horror at treating mean, women and children for sickness due to eating out of bins. A member state of the European Union is quickly degrading into scenes of a third world dictatorship.

Yet the money currently being dangled in front of Greece would not restock pharmacies.Instead it would be placed into a separate account, inacccessible by public service financiers, to simply pay off interest of Greek debt. In return for the loan, further cutrs would have to be implemented by the Greek Government - itself non-existent after dramatic election results left no one party with a big enough majority and 70% of Greek people voting for manifestos that promised an end to the crippling austerity measures.

It is without doubt a crisis situation in Greece, and the country desperately needs money. The causes of the problem, the finger pointing, the accusations of profligate waste during boom years, have been rendered vacuous. These are real people's lives. But what people must understand is taxing the banking sector is not going to directly resuce Greece. Far from it. It will line the pockets of Brussels and enable them to continue with their single currency project while using their new found security as a mallet with which to strike the Greeks into submission.Where they stand now, a Grexit could seriously harm the single currency, removing some of the might from Germany's arguments. Yet if the FTT is pushed through, Europe would be once again armed with power. And this time, not just the war-tanks of legilsation that have ridden roughshod over national interests. They would also have a constant and controlling source of income.An FTT will not reduce volatility, it will increase it. It would shrink those parts of the financial markets which did not in any manner contribute to these problems. It would increase revenue collected directly by the EU - as the Union's first tax raising power, while reducing total national revenues by shrinking the overall economy. Meanwhile those who would carry the economic burden of the FTT would be workers and consumers iplacing dependency straight back into the hands of the federalised superstate.

Over the next few days decisions made by financial and political leaders in all member states could have a profound impact on the future shape of Europe for all. With picture changing so rapidly on a daily basis, who knows what the autumn will bring.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

By Zeus!

In an ironic twist of events, Francois Hollande's much anticipated meeting with Angela Merkel to forge a new cooperative dominion over the Eurozone was halted after his plane was struck by a bolt out of the blue.

Could that be an act of Zeus?


Climate Change in the Political Sense

For more than four years now I have been writing articles on the problems in the Eurozone. It is becoming a rather wearisome subject, despite the twists and turns in the plot line. That’s because we all know how the book ends.
But what we don’t know is what story follow up books will tell. For this first time European Central Bankers have explicitly discussed a Greek exit. Over the course of the last two years I have challenged the Commission President over the possibility of Greece being booted out of the single currency. He repeatedly denied that this was even a possibility. I wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister for Business in the Welsh Government to enquire whether an impact assessment had been drawn up and how we would deal with the implications of overnight chaos in the Eurozone. The response was one of silence.
It would seem though that the day for serious scrutiny has come. Markets have plunged in response to the new fears that Greece will run out of money to pay its creditors as early as next month, with reports from The City that some companies have already asked for drachma to be included on their systems. Economists fear that a Greek exit would result in runs of Spanish debt, forcing them to seek bail outs when the reserves for such a crisis would not even begin to meet the needs of contagion spreading to the EU’s fourth largest economy. Yet any crisis in the Eurozone jeopardises our own economy. Fragile Ireland just across the water would suffer under a collapse of the single currency. Remember that it was UK sterling that underwrote Irish debt, while Ireland remains tightly bound to Wales in terms of trade. Meanwhile the Eurozone remains the UK’s largest single export market.
The other consequence of economic misery however is more worrying. As demonstrations in Spain are revealing an increasing appetite for protest, Southern Europe is preparing for a summer of discontent from across the political spectrum. Fifty thousand “Indignants” gathered in Madrid’s Puerto de Sol at the weekend. Suggestions that the Greek Parliament, having been unable to form a government after recent elections, may continue with a technocratic government that would be obsequious to Brussels would be met with bloody protest. What was witnessed in the Arab Spring could soon be taking place on the continent. The last time capitalism and democracy went into retreat in Europe the results were terrible. Barely eight years after the last time European banks collapsed, the continent was plunged into a series of civil wars and nationalist struggles that erupted into World War II.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Patently obvious

New EU laws are looking to broaden the scope of patenting what are called “essentially biological processes”

What is meant by this is selective breeding and crossing for example, to create new strains of plant or genetically selected animals.

However the process used is rather more natural than simply a laboratory based exercise - so how does one copyright it?

Currently multi-national companies are able to use patenting laws to monopolise new breeds, often for the purposes of agriculture. There have been some recent high profile cases concerning some of the biggest agricultural giants patenting breeds of tomato and broccoli, preventing competitors from growing similar strains. 

But should Europe have the competence to decide what gets patented and by whom?

Currently it is up to nation states to make such calls, and with so many social and moral implications of breeding new animals and plants, be it for consumer purposes or scientific experimentation, it is not right that the EU should have the power to decide. We must equip national patenting offices with the powers to discriminate in the UK who owns the intellectual property of what.

Greek Enlightening?

There is something so poignant yet with an irresistibly aesthetic in the fact that the seat of ancient Western philosophy is currently the seat of political and economic disruption in Europe.

So much of what we have today - the structure of society and politics and the words we use to discuss it - found origins in Greek philosophical scripture.

From Plato's Republic to Aristotle's Politics, Greek thinkers conceptualised and theorised the ideal structure of society and role of law more than two and a half thousand years ago. What would they have to say about what has happened in Greece, and what would their opinion be on the European Union?

Looking at Aristotle's Politics, it is important to highlight that the philosopher believed human kind by nature to be a social and thus political animal. He did not mean that everyone wished to be out canvassing for this party or that, or even sit on councils or governing panels. As a biologist Aristotle was keenly interested in categorising species and observing how they lived. He observed that mankind had a heightened moral code rarely seen in other species, which lended itself to the creation of a complex social context. As such, he determined that the Polis, or city structure, was engineered by man to enable the species to flourish or achieve Eudaimonia.

In order to make the Polis work, everyone, he believed, should be educated with an eye to the constitution. For Aristotle, being co-citizens was not merely about mutual cohabitation under the same set of laws, for this was a matter of justice alone. Instead being a citizen was about participartion in rule and political deliberation.

However this did not necessarily constitute what we term democracy today. For Aristotle, extreme democracy would lead ultimately to anarchy, a theory borrowed from Plato's Socratic works. Instead, Aristotle felt that the rule of law was structured upon socio-geographic properties. Different societies, depending upon topographic features and thus industry and agriculture, and cultural relativisms, prospered under different systems, from extreme democracy to oligarchy to monarchy. Being the philosopher who defined value in his Nicomachean Ethics under the system of the Golden Mean (where a balance must be sought between opposing factors, such as an equilibrium between cowardice and foolhardiness) he saw perfect governance as a balance between monarchism, oligarchy, democracy and other social structures.

However what was vital in this Pragmatic Utopianism is the underlying belief that political rule must be in the interest of the ruled, and as such, abide by a teleological sense of aiming ultimately for what can be deemed 'good'. In order to achieve this, Aristotle envisaged an upper limit to a macro-governance of around one hundred thousand people. Within this subframe resided other micro-governed units, all the way down to the family home where he saw the relationship between man and wife as somewhat political in its ideal operation.

So what would he make of the European Union, and what would he say about the current situation in Greece?

“Polity” for Aristotle is the word to indicate rule by the many in what he defines as the correct system of government. By contrast, he refers to rule by the many in a diverging and thus “erroneous” system as “democracy.” Polity is therefore midway between democracy and oligarchy. Critics would argue that what we are currently witnessing in Greece is bordering on oligarchical rule, or quasi-democratic governance, where stringent measures laid down by ruling factions such as the EU, IMF and European Central Bank or the Troika are not taking into consideration the will of the people.

Aristotle argued that mistreating the people would lead to the overthrow of the oligarchy and thus the establishment of democracy. Perhaps what we are seeing at the Greek ballot box is an increasing mistrust of the authorities that have governed Greece since the outbreak of financial crisis and will lead to a European Spring, where psephological rebellion will overturn the powers held by Brussels.

Interestingly however, Aristotle also argues that erroneous systems of government are necessarily subsequent and not prior to good systems of government. Using this model perhaps Aristotle would argue that as an original concept, the European Economic Community established more than 50 years ago was just in its aims and provided a valuable function. But the system of governance that has developed, as derived from a proper and sensible model, has become distorted by influential factors that disallow the right form of government to prosper. Aristotle might perhaps perceive the biggest influence and thus corruption of EU level politics to be the size of the multitude it governs.

In Aristotle's writings, a city-state must be populous enough to be self-sufficient, but too large a state cannot have an easy system of governance as it cannot be effectively managed, with inadequate representation of or communication with its subjects. However Aristotle does not distinguish between foreign born and original residents. What is important, he believes, is having an appropriate number to be able to forge participation across society.

As such Aristotle also sets great store by education, debate and social inclusion in discussions and inquiry on a governmental level. One would imagine he would perceive the EU as not only too far-reaching in its geographical expanse and ambition, but too opaque, and as a product of its vastness, incomprehensible to its population.

What might be suggest in order to divert crisis from Greek shores?

It is highly likely that he would be an advocate for Greece leaving the EU. He might even go as far as to purport restructuring the governance of Greece into smaller, devolved democratic provinces within which nuclear self-sufficiency could be achieved in order to restore the competitiveness of the economy.

Despite unwittingly scribing a number of concepts and political theories that have been embraced by Brussels, it is hard to imagine that Aristotle would support the structure of the EU as it is today. His belief that different systems of governance are appropriate for different topographical regions, each with their own set of idiomatic concerns, would likely make him a supporter of the nation state over and above supra national entities. He would almost certainly disapprove of Common Agricultural Policy!

Under Aristotelian predictions, the EU would be setting itself up for a fall.
Indeed, recent elections in both Greece and France have witnessed the public making it clear that they no longer have faith in their ruling parties. The question that has been raised as a result of the recent polls is whether or not the EU will heed the warning. The people have spoken - but will they be heard?

According to Aristotle, the greater number of people living in poverty creates a sizeable enough catalyst to act as a stimulus for change. Levied against the inertia of a ruling class who do not allow for the participation of the greatest possible number of citizens, the result is a clash out of which democracy (or perhaps using a different term, anarchy) will come to the fore.

We have witnessed this in the Arab Spring, despite the development in that particular context yet to draw to a final conclusion.

Perhaps we will witness it in southern European states?

One thing however would be interesting if The Republic and Politics became the text books for a European constitution. Under an Aristotelean or Platonic model of governance, Barosso and Van Rompuy may well be exiled abroad and likely replaced by the likes of Roger Scruton,  A.C. Grayling or even Stephen Hawking.  We could call this new system of rule EUdaemonia.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The European Spring

It's not often I read an article in The Guardian with such zeal, especially not an opinion piece.

But today's column by Costa Douzinas, a professor at Birkbeck University in London who has authored and co-authored texts examining the philosophical underpinnings of law making such as human rights, was interesting indeed.

He talks about the possibility of a European Spring of revolution with forthcoming elections in France and Greece. We also have the English local elections tomorrow while Germany will see whether Merkel's leadership amidst ongoing crisis in the Eurozone retains kudos among the voterate. There is also the matter of a collapsed government in the Netherlands and forthcoming local elections in Italy.

The juxtaposition of polls in France, Greece, Germany and the UK alongside ongoing battles to save the single currency couldn't be sweeter for a political theoretician. It would appear in France that Nicholas Sarkozy may become a one-term president and yet another victim of the financial crisis as the public turns towards socialist Hollande's rhetoric against austerity rather than keeping faith in the Merkozy strategem that has so far dominated Eurozone fiscal policy.

Meanwhile, the general election in Greece will be the public's first opportunity to show through the ballot their verdict on their country's financial collapse, and it is likely we will see a surprising result that will prevent either of the two main parties from the past four decades gain an outright majority.

In Italy, local elections will act as litmus for the parachuted-in technocrat Mario Monti who replaced the disgraced Berlusconi last year, while a key regional election in northern Germany in Schleswif-Holstein will determine whether Merkel's popularity and reputation are finally beginning to falter despite relatively secure German faith in her competence to date.

Regarding the run offs for Presidency in France, many newspapers have reported Merkel's open opposition to her old ally's contender. The German Premier has criticised Hollande's posturing against the ongoing austerity programme that has largely been coordinated by Merkel and Sarkozy, threatening to rip up the deal and demand a re-write, a move that many believe could topple the powerful axis of Franco-German driven leadership of the Eurozone and potentially lead to a free-for-all across single currency members at a time when the leadership for a number of countries is set to change. Euroscepticism has crept into manifestos from left to right. What, or more to the point, who, results from elections in Greece is therefore potentially the first dramatic change of power and sentiment that will have been observed in a European country since the outbreak of the Euro crisis.

This is essentially what Mr Douzinas is warning, although unlike a number of other commentators, leaping to the defence of current ruling centre-right governments, he suggests it is the far left, and not the far right, who would become the decision makers in this keystone member state. However he does betray his concern that

"Part of this picture – its most worrying aspect – is the rush to the right by mainstream politicians who, imitating Sarkozy, compete to display their nationalist credentials. Coalition ministers Michalis Chrysochoidis and Andreas Loverdos have spread panic about immigrants as criminals and carriers of infectious diseases, and have set up detention camps in order to contain this "threat"...Meanwhile Athens' Mayor Kaminis has, with Chrysochoidis, organised campaigns to "cleanse" the city of migrants, while the coalition plans an anti-immigration wall on the Greco-Turkish border."

It's a highly interesting observation and one that we have seen mainstream media across Europe discuss with regards to elections in all of the member states.

What we need to address is the unspoken reality of both the creation of fiscal crisis and the subsequent way through the mess.

The majority of countries struggling under alarming debt have reached this stage due to high structural deficits; that is, essentially, the mathematical problem that the cost of running public services afforded by government borrowing far outweighs the income potential of the country in question.

Many theorists have come up with simple studies that support various ideas relating to financial crisis, many of which newspapers are not shy to publish.

I have read articles that muse over the fall in birthrate during depression times, the increase of marriage and reduction in divorce, and many other variations relating to consumer trends, from holidays to hoummous, to abandoned pets and soaring university entrance in countries with high youth unemployment.

Over all, a general picture being painted is that humans, on a collective subconscious level, realise the need to club together resources and reduce financial burden in periods of economic decline.

It surely makes sense. Animals living in the most extreme environments containing minimal resources often betray similar characteristics. Penguins for instance have only one mate, forge a large community and give birth to just one baby each. In boom times, certain species will see propogation exponentially increase as both survival rates soar and reduced competiton factors in its influence, thus the converse is likely to be true when the situation is reversed.

Something else that is true however, is that in times of scarcity, a natural social collective in the animal kingdom is ever more likely to fight off the threat from co-existing groups of the same species. When everyone is competing for the same resources, the tendency to share is greatly reduced and competition over what is available intensifies.

It is hardly surprising then, that in the midst of a financial crisis, anti-immigrant rhetoric also intensifies, yet rather than acknowledging the evident reasoning for this and working to satiate public concern before it topples over into xenophobia, governments continue to fail to address the problem.

It is not "racist" to determine that your nation's services and resources can only stretch so far, particularly during a time of struggle. This attitude does not betray latent opposition to other cultures or nationalities, nor should it suggest xenophobia. What it does do however is reinforce the concept of nationhood, but what is one to expect when the perceived borders of democratic control are divvied up along national frontiers? If those lines were  instead drawn macro-regionally, between counties for instance, loyalty would be emboldened on a smaller socio-geographic scale.

Perhaps the commentators, and Mr Douzinas, is right, and what is happening is a creeping empassioned attack based upon ethnicity and ethnography rather than on more level handed demography.

If the rhetoric from the two Greek coaltion ministers is true and is not based upon any conceivable proven fact, then the problem is severe when competing parties are reduced to conflating race with liability for being a vector of disease. Indeed such a supposition is the thin end of a wedge, and something I oppose from the bottom of my heart. However, and I would tentatively observe rather than ordain here, the notion that it is not uncommon for anybody coming from outside of a community, be it a returning native or a newly arrived foreigner, to bring with them the threat of an infection that is perhaps uncommon in a particular society, and thus potentially poses a greater threat.

I find myself torturously re-reading this to ensure that what I have written comes across as evidently objective and reasonable, lest to avoid any sort of ill intentioned criticism. But the point is, I shouldn't. This is afterall why we have jabs before holidaying in foreign countries, or have to present a yellow fever certificate for entry into others.Nobody would call such policy making racist or xenophobic. It is common sense. Yet the very fact that it has become so difficult to even word certain topics, being careful of references and examples one uses, so as to avoid any possible misinterpretation of offense, has become the root of a very real social and political problem.

Because it has become politically incorrect to talk candidly  about issues such as population size, limited resources, birthrates, immigration, migration and citizenship, voters who are not finding moderate concerns accommodated by the government or the main opposition party are seeking solace in marginal organisations who opportunisticly address such taboos and converet them  into valence issues.

I want to point out here however that the present climate is not just fertile ground for distasteful extremists.

More importantly smaller viable parties who have not had the opportunity to rise due to media control or hereditary voting habits are now finding an arena in which such issues often avoided by ruling parties but addressed on the sidelines are coming to a fore, and it is allowing the public to finally, democratically represent their misgivings in the political fora.

It is not always just a protest vote, but a genuine realisation that there are other political groups out their with sound policy making, fair judgement and very good ideas.

Voting is not like supporting a football team. Certainly when your sports team have a bad season you don't suddenly ditch them and start cheering for the premiership victors. But politics should not be like that. You do not have to vote Conservative or Labour simply because you have done so all your life. You have the opportunity, and dare I say it, the responsibility as an adult with a right to vote, to read through all the available manifestos and make a decision based upon honest and considered calculation.

UKIP are one such party who are on the rise. In all recent polls we are level pegging with the Liberal Democrats if not ahead, but still we won't get the same amount of coverage.

That is because the partisan press in the UK are backing one of the three main parties, and UKIP is a threat to them all. For that reason we are easy to throw stones at. But it is the very misguided critics out there who are quick to raise unsubstantiated and alarmist claims in order to defend the major parties that are actually creating a far right movement by not giving decent and responsible smaller parties like UKIP the platform for debate.

In my view, UKIP are not even on the right hand side of an assumed political spectrum, yet so often we are labelled as "far right" as an excuse to defend the parties that we threaten because they are failing to address voter sympathies. It has therefore become all too easy for issues such as immigration to be conflated with xenophobia, and yet nobody out there knows why.

Why can't we talk about this frankly without feeling worried that we are going to be judged?

Well a political scientist might just flag up similar reasoning to what I have just described. The combination of the mistakes of history and a public sense of guilt becomes easy fodder for political communicators to use to drum up a culture of fear over smaller parties in order to marginalise any party that is a threat to a ruling group. As a result, key electoral issues become matters of dangerous taboo.

If collectively across Europe, smaller, responsible and well-intentioned parties, whether they reside on a fictitious left or a fictitious right, grow in prominence and enable the formation of a European Spring, then I will be happy if it topples the hegemonic might of Brussels - with minimal fall-out.

However if they are not allowed to do this, what we will see is the creation of a blackmarket of political thought where less than savoury ideologies are allowed to prosper.

And so I implore voters across the European Union. Vote wisely, vote sensibly, but vote with your heart and mind. If that means breaking with convention, then have the conviction to do so. For that is the real measure of democracy.