Friday, August 21, 2020

How the French government is using Brexit for its economic advantage

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Syed Ahmed Uzair

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How the French government is using Brexit for its economic advantage

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Global Views 360

Publication Date

August 21, 2020

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The Eiffel Tower Paris, France

The Eiffel Tower Paris, France | Source: Paul Gaudriault via Unsplash

Brexit is an abbreviation for "British exit," which refers to the decision of the UK to leave European Union (UK). The decision to leave the EU was put to a referendum on June 23, 2016 by the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, which resulted in a 52% to 48% majority for those who called for the UK to leave the EU.

The UK had joined the European Economic Community in 1973, and later became the founding member of European Union in 1992. The entry of the UK had always generated opposition from a section of the political spectrum in the country. It was earlier opposed by the left wing parties followed by the Eurosceptic parties like UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) and later propagated by a section of Conservative party.

After a lot of false starts, the UK Parliament ratified Brexit which specified that the UK will leave  the EU on 31 January 2020. An eleven month long transition period was also specified to enable the UK and EU to negotiate their future relationship. During this transition period the UK will remain subject to EU law, remain part of the EU customs union, and single market, but no longer be part of the EU's political bodies or institutions.

Euro, the currency of European Union | Source: Markus Spiske via Unsplash

The loss of the UK, the largest non-eurozone member of the EU means that the focus shifts towards the eurozone members but more importantly it leaves a 75 billion euro deficit in the EU’s budget and raises questions regarding its future direction. In the absence of the UK, it would be challenging for the EU to continue its commitment towards fiscal responsibility, free trade and enlargement of the block.

A 2019 report from New Financial Aid cited that Britain’s exit from the EU would mean the bloc losing its biggest financial centre, London. It also mentioned that many business hubs and financial organizations had started opening hubs in the EU to cope with Brexit.

As per New Financial Britain accounted for almost one-third of the entire capital market activity of the EU, which is more than France and Germany combined. The report had suggested that France and Germany would have a “duopoly” in most major financial sectors post UK’s exit, with France being the dominant in most of the sectors.

Emmanuel Macron, President of France | Source:  Presidencia de la República Mexicana via Wikimedia

The two biggest economies of post-Brexit EU, France and Germany have taken different public postures on Brexit. The president of France, Emmanuel Macron has termed Brexit as a blessing in disguise for France and an opportunity for “European renaissance.” His German counterpart, Angela Merkel has however, chosen to remain silent on the issue.

France has taken an aggressive stance on attracting business away from the UK ever since the 2016 referendum in the UK was won by the leavers in the UK. France under president Macron has rejigged its tax system and reformed its labour laws to create a more business-friendly environment.

Paris had also initiated a poster campaign with the slogan “Tired of the fog? Try the frogs!” in a bid to drive financial investments from London in the wake of the Brexit developments in late 2016. Officials from Paris had also assured stability to the British businesses citing that Paris would be the only global city left in Europe after the exit of Britain.

Arnaud de Bresson, managing director of Paris Europlace, the organization responsible for promoting the financial sector in France points out that Paris is well ahead of its competitors in the EU-27 bloc with nearly 180,000 employees in the financial sector. The next best figures are from Frankfurt with 70,000 workers from the financial sector as per the report by the organization. Brexit has resulted in nearly 80 to 100 financial businesses from London relocating nearly 4000 jobs to Paris, and as per de Bresson this process is “likely to accelerate”.

The French Economy Minister, Bruno Le maire had said in February 2020 that Paris would become the leading financial centre in Europe in the wake of Brexit. He even went ahead to say that the French economy “must take advantage of Brexit”. However, his statements are not exactly accurate. The UK still remains the undisputed leader in the financial sector with 250,000 employees and 7% contribution to its GDP.

French senator Christian Cambon | Source: Boicaro via Wikimedia

French senator Christian Cambon who serves as the co-chair of the Senate Brexit Committee had warned in 2019 that Brexit could have adverse impacts on a few sectors of France’s economy. "Our farmers, our fishermen, our businesses, and the regions of Normandy and Haute France. It will have consequences for all these areas and for the whole of the EU, it could even give other members some ideas. That’s why we want to follow the process step by step while abiding by the competences of the Senate." French fishing industry members have had concerns over being denied access to British waters post Brexit, considering that 75% of fishing taking place in Haute France is in British territorial waters.

However, President Macron remains as optimistic as ever regarding Brexit’s impact on the nation’s economy and has been actively promoting his nation via a series of reforms to attract businesses and investments. He also launched the 'Choose France' package which provides financial help and English-language support to UK based businesses that want to move to France.

The short-term projections are pointing to be somewhat in favour of France, it remains to be seen if Brexit will have a positive impact on the nation’s economy in the longer run or the UK will have the last laugh.

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April 13, 2021 2:10 PM

Detecting The Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays With Smartphones

Smartphones have become the most commonplace objects in our daily lives. The unimaginable power that we hold in our hands is unrealized by most of us and, more importantly, untapped. Its creativity often gets misused but one can only hope that it’s fascinating abilities would be utilized. For example, did you know that the millions of phones around the globe can be connected to form a particle detector? The following article covers the CRAYFIS (Cosmic RAYs Found in Smartphones) phone-based application developed by the physicists from the University of California—Daniel Whiteson, Michael Mulhearn, and their team. CRAYFIS aims to take advantage of the large network of smartphones around the world and detect the cosmic or gamma rays bursts which enter the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly.

What Are Cosmic Rays?

Cosmic rays are high velocity subatomic particles bombarding the Earth’s upper atmosphere continuously. Cosmic ray bursts have the highest energy compared to all forms of electro-magnetic radiation. When we say ultra-high energy particles (energy more than 1018^eV), we mean two million times more energetic than the ones that can be produced by the particle colliders on Earth.  These rays are thought to be more powerful than typical supernovae and can release trillions of times more energy than the Sun. They are also highly unpredictable as they can enter Earth’s atmosphere from any direction and the bursts can last for any period of time ranging from a few thousand seconds to several minutes.

Despite many theoretical hypotheses, the sources of these ultra-high energy cosmic rays are still a mystery to us even after many decades of their discovery. These rays were initially discovered in the 1960’s by the U.S. military when they were doing background checks for gamma rays after nuclear weapon testing. Cosmologists suggest that these bursts could be the result of super massive stars collapsing - leading to hypernova; or can be retraced to collisions of black holes with other black holes or neutron stars.

How Do We Detect Them?

When the high-energy particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, the air and the gas molecules cause them to break apart and create massive showers of relatively low-energy particles. Aurora borealis i.e., the Northern and the Southern lights are the lights that are emitted when these cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Currently, these particles are hitting the Earth at a rate of about one per square meter per second. The showers get scattered to a radius of one or two kilometers consisting mostly of high-energy photons, electrons, positrons and muons. But the fact that these particles can hit the Earth anytime and anywhere is where the problem arises. Since the Earth has a massive area, it is not possible to place a detector everywhere and catch them at the exact moment.

Energetic charged particles known as cosmic rays hit our atmosphere, where they collide with air molecules to produce a shower of secondary particle | Source: CERN

Detecting such a shower requires a very big telescope, which logically means a network of individual particle detectors distributed over a mile or two-wide radius and connected to each other. The Pierre Auger Observatory in South America is the only such arrangement where 1,600 particle detectors have been scattered on 3,000 square kilometers of land. But the construction cost of the same was about $100 million. Yet, only a few cosmic ray particles could be detected using this arrangement. How do we spread this network around the Earth?

In addition to being cost-effective, such a setup must also be feasible. The Earth’s surface cannot possibly be dotted with particle detectors which cost huge fortunes. This is where smartphones come into the picture.

Detecting The Particles Using Smartphones

Smartphones are the most appropriate devices required to solve the problem. They have planet wide coverage, are affordable by most people and are being actively used by more than 1.5 billion users around the planet. Individually, these devices are low and inefficient; but a considerably dense network of such devices can give us a chance to detect cosmic ray showers belonging to the highest energy range.

Previous research has shown that smartphones have the capability of detecting ionizing radiation. The camera is the most sensitive part of the smartphone and is just the device required to meet our expectations. A CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) device is present in the camera- in which silicon photodiode pixels produce electron-hole pairs when struck by visible photons (when photons are detected by the CMOS device, it leaves traces of weakly activated pixels). The incoming rays are also laced with other noises and interference from the surroundings.  Although these devices are made to detect visible light, they still have the capability of detecting higher-energy photons and also low-ionizing particles such as the muons.

A screenshot from the app which shows the exposure time, the events- the number of particles recorded and other properties

To avoid normal light, the CRAYFIS application is to be run during nighttime with the camera facing down. As the phone processor runs the application it collects data from its surroundings using a camera as its detector element. The megapixel images (i.e., the incoming particles) are scanned at a speed of 5 to 15 frames per second, depending on the frame-processing speed of the device. Scientists expect that signals from the cosmic rays would occur rarely, i.e., around one in 500 frames. Also, there is the job of removing background data. An algorithm was created to tune the incoming particle shower by setting a threshold frequency at around 0.1 frames per second. Frames containing pixels above the threshold are stored and passed to the second stage which examines the stored frames, saving only the pixels above a second, lower threshold.

The CRAYFIS app is designed to run when the phone is not being used and when it is connected to a power source. The actual performance would be widely affected by the geometry of the smartphone’s camera and the conditions in which the data is being collected. Further, once the application is installed and is in the operating mode, no participation is required from the user, which is required to achieve wide-scale participation. When a Wifi connection is available the collected data would be uploaded to the central server so that it could be interpreted.

There is much complicated math used to trace back the information collected from the application. The most important parameters for the app are the local density of incoming particles, the detection area of the phone and the particle identification efficiency. These parameters are used to find the mean number of candidates (photons or muons) being detected. Further, the probability that a phone will detect no candidates or the probability that a phone will detect one or more candidates is given by Poisson distribution. The density of the shower is directly proportional to the incident particle energy with a distribution in x and y sensitive to the direction in which the particle came from. An Unbinned Likelihood (it is the probability of obtaining a certain data- in this case the distribution of the cosmic rays including their energy and direction, the obtained data is arranged into bins which are very, very small) analysis is used to determine the incident particle energy and direction. To eliminate background interference, a benchmark requirement has been set that at least 5 phones must detect and register a hit to be considered as a candidate.

It is impossible to express just how mind-blowing this innovation is. As the days pass, Science and Technology around us keep on surprising us and challenge us to rack our brains for more and more unique ways to deal with complex problems. The CRAYFIS app is simply beautiful and it would be a dream-come-true to the scientists if the project works out and we are able to detect these high energy, super intimidating cosmic rays with smartphones from our backyard.

Further Reading

The paper by Daniel Whiteson and team can be found here.

An exciting book “We Have No Idea” by Daniel Whiteson and cartoonist Jorge Cham can be found here.

The CRAYFIS app can be found here.

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