Letters: European futures

Britain on the road out of Europe

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With the announcement by Angela Merkel that the European Union is working towards setting up a "fiscal union", in a bid to resolve the eurozone's debt crisis, the UK is clearly destined to leave the EU.

Under the fiscal union advocated by Chancellor Merkel, the 17 eurozone members would have to stick to tight controls on taxing and spending or face penalties imposed by the European Court of Justice. A new EU treaty is being proposed to set up such a union and impose budget discipline, and this would involve renegotiating treaties for the eurozone, with non-eurozone countries invited to participate. This will inevitably lead to a two-speed Europe, with the euro countries on the inside and non-euro countries, including the UK, on the margins, having little influence on decisions made, but forced to accept the consequences.

We will then see a referendum on UK withdrawal from the EU, prompted by Tory back-benchers, and given the strong chance that the UK will vote for its exit from the EU, we are witnessing the final stages of UK membership of the EU.

Alex Orr

Edinburgh

Unfortunately we are learning that Europe was a house designed and built by a group of architects with different ideas, each adding a personal touch.

Over the years different architects were brought in and added several more floors to the house. Everyone praised the structure and everything looked perfect until one day they spotted cracks and realised that the foundations had not been designed to take the weight.

This led to panic and concerns by neighbours that should the house topple over it would seriously damage them as well. Today the architects and the neighbours are all running around trying to devise ways to underpin the foundations before the edifice collapses.

Peter Fieldman

Madrid

Changes ahead for universities

Philip Hensher misrepresents the state of our universities ("Universities need cash, but not just anyone's", 2 December).

There are clearly large changes ahead for higher education funding, but universities have shown themselves to be highly adaptable in the past and have become adept at responding to changing political and financial climates. Furthermore, the sector as a whole is entering this period in good financial health.

In terms of Lord Woolf's inquiry into the LSE's links with Libya, we would stress that universities do already consider the ethical and political implications of any financial engagement. This must continue and, in particular, take into account the likelihood of future political and social changes. Clear and transparent processes for making these decisions are essential, and existing arrangements must be reviewed on a regular basis. We all can learn from the outcomes of this inquiry.

Nicola Dandridge

Chief Executive, Universities UK, London, WC1

It seems the only buoyant part of the British university system is international students ("Applications down 15 per cent on last year', 29 November). Might international income subsidise British students?

Unless universities can clearly show that international students get something extra for their extra fee, they could be in conflict with the Human Rights Act, and international law such as the Unesco Convention Against Discrimination in Education. Discrimination on the basis of nationality is precluded.

Of course, this would be irrelevant to decent universities, who would not need to be reminded about law to act ethically.

Dr Chris Williams

Lecturer, International Education, University of Birmingham

Schools for the power elite

Let's take an absurd proposition. Such is the quality of teaching in a handful of education establishments that those who attend them go on to obtain the best positions in government, business, and other positions of influence. Or perhaps there is a process that selects children with special talents and directs them towards these seats of learning.

In fact the selection process is somewhat different. In reality the only common feature they have is the wealth of their parents, which enables them to gain a place, and the bonds these parents form to smooth the path of their offspring into becoming their successors. How else can you explain the composition of the present government with all its public-school old boys?

Unfortunately these old boys, now in power, have the same interests as their fathers in maintaining their dominance, which is why all the pain of the present crisis is not going to be shared equally. How can they keep the status quo in the years ahead if they punish the interests that caused the crisis in the first place, and how will government ministers continue to gain lucrative directorships when they leave office if they bite the hands that feed them?

Why a gullible public elects people from this background, whose interests so clearly deviate from the majority, is another matter. Pensions are being attacked. And still we fail to insist that the wealthy and privileged carry a fair share of this burden.

Pete Parkins

Lancaster

"Public-school educated Guy Savage" is facing extradition over an allegation of arms smuggling (report, 1 December). What possible relevance does his schooling have to this story? Is there a supposition that public school alumni are less likely to deal in arms? The Ministry of Defence is proof enough that this is not the case.

It's a weak habit, prefacing the subject of a news story with an irrelevant tag . How often do you read "grammar-school educated" or "comprehensively schooled"?

(Public-school educated)

Christopher Dawes

London W11

No way to carry on spending

I congratulate Andrew Grice on a superbly sardonic piece on the political consequences of the economic slowdown (3 December). I was particularly impressed by the sly use of the "household economics" label, which highbrows love to pin on to non-Post-Keynesians. Could I ask him however to defend his unequivocal assertion that austerity is bad for Britain?

Though I'm sure he and many others believe that if we and other economies were following a slower deficit reduction plan our growth would be at the healthy level predicted this time last year, I would beg to differ. I do not know of any economy with a modestly high national debt, high government budget deficit, high private-sector debt and a modest but uncertain global economic outlook which has followed the "carry on spending" path.

David Adams

Sheffield

Fair Trade needs to be bigger

Despite what was reported in The Independent, Fair Trade USA is not relaxing the rules for Fair Trade Certified products ("US branch of Fair Trade goes at it alone in move 'to relax standards' ", 25 November). Fair Trade USA has adapted existing standards that already apply to farm workers in tea, bananas and flowers, and is applying them to farm workers in coffee. This creates a more just and consistent fair trade model and eliminates existing inconsistencies which systematically exclude many farmers and workers from the benefits of Fair Trade.

There are many voices in the Fair Trade movement, all united under a common mission to alleviate poverty through trade. FLO, one voice in the global Fair Trade movement, focuses their work primarily on small farmers organised into co-operatives, which covers less than 10 per cent of global agricultural production. Fair Trade USA, another voice in the Fair Trade movement, believes that Fair Trade has to work for all kinds of farmers and workers to make a meaningful dent in global poverty.

According to the World Bank, more than 2 billion people live on less than two dollars a day. Today's Fair Trade model reaches only a small percentage of them. The Fair Trade USA model opens the market to include more farmers and workers, while continuing to make sure co-operatives and small farmers stay competitive in the global mark et.

Paul Rice

President & CEO, Fair Trade USA, Oakland, California

Only there for the beer?

David Day (letter, 28 November) complains about noise at a tennis match at the 02. I was taken to Twickenham to watch the match between the Barbarians and Australia. Whenever points were scored there was an eruption of "dance" music broadcast over the speakers at an astonishing volume.

Also, for me, the match was ruined by people in our row, and behind and in front (and all round the ground as far as I could see) incessantly requiring people to stand up to let them by to buy and bring back beer. What with the ensuing toilet breaks, this made it impossible to follow the ebb and flow of the match .

I despair; why do people pay money to "watch" a match when all they do is disrupt other people's enjoyment?

Bill Hartley

Bromley, Kent

Australian 'superstition'

In your informative article "Dubai Down Under" (3 December) you unfortunately refer to "ancient Aboriginal superstitions". To an atheist like myself the beliefs of these people are no more superstitious, or ludicrous for that matter, than those held by members of the many other religious faiths, so why are they demeaned by this use of language?

Chris Morpeth

Berwick-upon-Tweed

On what authority does your headline refer to the millennia-old spiritual beliefs of Australian Aborigines as "superstitions"? Such patronising ignorance does not belong in the 21st century. The absence of the concept of land ownership in such beliefs and the ability to survive for thousands of years in harmony with the harsh climate of their homeland contains a wisdom we could well contemplate as our grasping and materialistic culture collapses.

Jackie Hawkins

Bedford

Eat your soup

Enough semantics about whether soup is "eaten" or "drunk". I had Thai chicken soup at lunch today. I drank the liquid with a spoon and ate the large chicken pieces, also with a spoon.

David Foster

Whatfield, Suffolk

Surely soup is neither eaten nor drunk, but supped.

Roger Calvert

Ulverston, Cumbria

Sporting chance

Dominic Smith, editor of Nuts, claims that one reason his magazine didn't nominate any women for sports personality of the year 2011 was that football, cricket, golf and boxing were the dominant sports this year. Does he not know that, actually, women are not only allowed to take part in these sports, but they even (shock, horror!) do so well and entertainingly? Clearly, you don't have to be nuts to work there but it helps.

Richard Carter

London SW15

Male sentiment

I agree with Liz Larkin when she says, in her letter on the death of Gary Speed (29 November), that British men are often unable to discuss their personal problems. Contrast this with the emotional conversations one hears on radio phone-ins, where football is passionately discussed as if it were the very meaning of life. This is truly sad.

Stan Labovitch

Windsor

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