Saturday, 25 June 2016

Final Post

This final post for my blog, whose existence was based on the UK's membership of the EU, will quite simply list how the UK unfolds politically and economically following this Leave vote.

24th June
Sterling slumps against dollar.
Nigel Farage disavows Vote Leave's promise for our EU contributions to be spent on the NHS.
Nicola Sturgeon declares the need for a new referendum on Scottish independence.
David Cameron resigns.
Standard&Poor's warn that a credit rating downgrade is likely and imminent.
Moody's downgrade UK credit rating from stable to negative.

25th June
Meeting of EU founding members concluded that UK needed to initiate Article 50 by next week.
Sturgeon announced Scottish government would immediately seek discussions with EU to preserve Scotland's membership.
Guy Verhofstadt, European Parliament President, says that he is happy to meet with Sturgeon any time.
Liberal Democrats make it official policy to stand on platform of rejecting referendum result.
David Lammy MP calls on colleagues to reject result.
Leak from German government suggests giving UK status similar to Turkey.
Daniel Hannan MEP, Leave campaigner, suggests allowing freedom of movement for labour.
Nigel Evans MP, Leave campaigner, denies that there was any promise to reduce migration to UK.
Leadership challenge launched against Jeremy Corbyn, leader of UK Labour Party, who called for result to be respected while rumours circulate that other Labour MPs want it rejected.

26th June
Conservative Party leadership contest starts to gather steam following David Cameron's resignation. Home Secretary Theresa May (Remain) and Boris Johnson MP (Leave) are frontrunners.
Lots of news reports about an increase in xenophobia and racist incidents following Leave vote - migrants or those who look foreign told to go home.
Petition for a second referendum gathers 3 million signatures, by far the largest official petition to the government. Accusations of fraud led to investigation and 77,000 signatures being removed.
Series of resignations from Labour shadow cabinet as calls grow for Jeremy Corbyn to resign.
Boris Johnson sends out mixed messages about whether he's willing to accept freedom of movement in post-Brexit UK.

27th June
Barclays and RBS had to briefly suspend trading due to sudden drop in share price.
Sterling drops to new 31-year low.
Shock for England after 2-1 loss to Iceland in Euro 2016 championship - out of Europe twice in one week.
First polls indicate Theresa May has the lead in Conservative leadership contest.
Left-wing paper The Daily Mirror echoes calls for Corbyn to resign.

28th June
Informal talks prior to activation of Article 50 are explicitly ruled out by EU officials and member state leaders.
Boris Johnson apparently commits to ending freedom of movement to appease right of this party, though no real public confirmation of position.
Protests and gatherings in favour of the EU occur across the country; Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron attends meeting in London and speaks to the crowds.
Emphasised by various EU member states that there cannot be access to the single market without freedom of movement.

29th June
Stephen Crabb MP launches first official bid for new Conservative Party leader (and by default, Prime Minister) - pledges to respect referendum result, end of freedom of movement and gain as much of the same economic access as possible.
Second poll following Leave vote showing majority support for Scottish independence.
Confirmed that Nicola Sturgeon will meet President of European Commission but not of European Council.
Rumours that France is positioning to punish UK on financial services, denying free access (even if rest of single market access is given) while ending the option of clearing euros in London.
Value of sterling and FTSE100 bounce back.
Green Party write to Labour and Liberal Democrats offering a 'Progressive Alliance'

30th June
Theresa May announces her bid to become new leader of Conservative Party. Michael Gove (campaigned for Leave) and Andrea Leadsom (Leave) also join in.
Boris Johnson rules himself out of contest at the last minute, many point the finger at Michael Gove who attacked Johnson in his own declaration - this is a shock to most observers as it had been widely believed that Johnson's reason for joining the Leave camp was to become PM.
Widely criticised column written for Daily Telegraph by Johnson was apparently sub-edited by Michael Gove.

1st July
Pound down against dollar and euro. Brexiteers blame Mark Carney after he said that a cut in interest rates was likely. Some minor public voices call for him to step down.
Speeches from Gove and May concentrate more on cutting immigration than Single Market access.
Polls show Corbyn would win leadership contest though also that members think he should step down.

2nd July
'March for Europe' through London. Few tens of thousands attend to protest against EU referendum outcome.
Andrea Leadsom (campaigned for leave) looks to overtake Gove as the 'Brexit' choice for Conservative Party leader.

4th July
Still close contest between Leadsom and Gove, though Theresa May looks to be strongly ahead of either.
Liam Fox MP, contender for Conservative Party leadership, sets 1st January 2019 as official EU leave date.
Theresa May being heavily critised all around as one of few candidates not willing to guarantee status of EU migrants currently in UK.
Leadsom caught out as having described Brexit as a potential 'disaster' as recently as 2013/14.
UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, steps down from head of party; UKIP leadership contest likely to start soon, though UKIP's only MP, Douglas Carswell, rules himself out.
Official legal challenge announced to ensure that Article 50 notification is subject to vote in Parliament and not government's prerogative powers.
Green Party leadership contest also starts, though previous leader stepping down had long been planned.

5th July
EU Council president, Donald Tusk, reiterates the principle that access to the Single Market will require accepting freedom of movement.
Sterling again drops to 31-year low.
FTSE100 above pre-referendum levels, though FTSE250, seen as more representative of UK economy, remains lower.
First round of voting among Conservative Party MPs for new leader - May receives over 50% of votes, Liam Fox automatically eleminated, Stephen Crabb drops out, both endorce May.
Both Theresa May and Michael Gove release tax returns as Andrea Leadsom is pressured to do the same amid allegations that she had engaged in tax avoidance.

6th July
Release of inquiry into Iraq War overshadows all other news.

7th July
Gove knocked out of Tory leadership contest, leaving members to vote between May and Leadsom, deciding next PM.
Key industries like banking and financial services remain heavily down in the stock market.
Small march of few dozen people in Westminster in favour of Leadsom as Prime Minister.

9th July
Andrea Leadsom accused of attacking leadership rival Theresa May for not having children. She and her supporters claim her statement was distorted.
It is made clear that Angela Eagle, Labour MP, will launch a leadership challenge against leader Jeremy Corbyn.

11th July
Chancellor George Osborne flies to Wall Street to reassure investors that Britain is still a good place for business post-Brexit, having warned during the campaign that it would do massive damage to the economy. Trade missions to India, China and Singapore have also been prepared.
Angela Eagle officially launches leadership challenge.
Andrea Leadsom pulls out of Tory party leadership contest, citing need for immediate appointment of new Prime Minister and lack of personal support. Theresa May, who campaigned for Remain, will take over as the next Prime Minister in the coming days.

13th July
New Prime Minister Theresa May starts appointing her cabinet and forming the new government. Shock appointment of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. David Davis MP being made minister for Brexit seen as a serious show of intent. Many prominent Leave politicians appointed to new government.
Owen Smith, who has called for second referendum on terms of Brexit, announces he will also stand for Labour leadership.

14th July
David Davis says he wants Article 50 triggered by the end of the year.

15th July
May says she won't trigger  Article 50 until a UK-wide approach can be agreed. Keeping union together made into a constraint on actually starting Brexit process.
IFOP survey shows jumps in support for EU membership in other countries:  Germany +18, Spain + 9, Belgium + 11, France + 19, Italy +4

17th July
David Davis criticised for saying he believes UK could form trading area 10x size of EU; equivalent to 150% of Earth's GDP.

18th July
Boris Johnson begins talks with counterparts in other EU states.

19th July
Angela Eagle drops out of contest after vote among Labour MPs, leaving Owen Smith as only candidate challenging Corbyn.
Suggestion of new plans for integrating defence policy of EU states, which Boris Johnson says the UK would support.
Government drops suggestion that Article 50 could be triggered in 2016.

21st July
British farmers (who largely voted in favour of Brexit) start to lobby government to ensure they can keep on importing labour from the EU, concern that many of these businesses will no longer be viable otherwise.

22nd July
UK PMI shows fastest drop since financial crash.

24th July
Suggestion that EU could offer UK 7-year migration emergency break, vocally opposed by some members of the European Parliament.
Tory Party chaiman says Article 50 will definitely be triggered by 2020.

25th July
Theresa May says she does not want to see a return of hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Unclear how this could work if UK either ceases to be in EU customs union or ends freedom of movement from EU.

26th July
Liam Fox says that early 2017 could be the best time to activate Article 50.

2nd August
Polling in other EU countries show publics favour free trade with the UK only on condition that UK accepts freedom of movement.

3rd August
Crisis in UKIP leadership contest as NEC excludes favourite Stephen Woolfe for failing to submit application on time.

4th August
Bank of England cuts interest rate to 0.25%, the lowest ever level.

12th August
Liam Fox's trade department accidentally puts out release on government website suggesting the UK would trade with the EU under WTO terms until a new deal is reached. This was taken down shortly afterwards.

13th August
'Turf war' breaks out as Liam Fox writes letter to Theresa May and Boris Johnson suggesting his department should take on some of the functions of the Foreign Office. May and Johnson both swiftly reject this.
Government officials are reported as saying that Article 50 may have to be delayed until late 2017 in order to come after elections in France and Germany.

14th August
Sources near Theresa May rebuke any suggestion of delay; plan remains to start process in early 2017.
Nigel Farage remains active in Brexit debates and states that anything less than ending freedom of movement, leaving the single market and regaining territorial waters would be a 'betrayal'.

16th August
Inflation rises to 0.6%

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

'It would be unthinkable'


When people talk about war in Europe, that is the word they immediately reach for. It's an argument that has resurfaced during this Brexit debate, as the EU's opponents argue that we don't need the EU's peace-enhancing qualities because war between European states would be 'unthinkable'.

The Great War is what people briefly called WW1. They called it so because they believed that it would be a war to end all wars, to start another war after experiencing such a tragedy would be, it was commonly thought, 'unthinkable'. The name did not last.

There was a time when killing for the sake of someone's religion had become 'unthinkable' in Europe. The greatness of the Enlightenment meant that we, as a society and group of nations, had moved beyond such notions; we had progressed out of that level of discrimination and were happy to live in societies that overtly accepted religious plurality. The senseless violence of the Wars of Religion was behind us. It is estimated that around 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust.

The Soviet Union lasted for 70 years as one of the most repressive regimes in the world. That it would collapse by an essentially peaceful mass uprising of ordinary people would have been, for much of its existence, 'unthinkable'.

The problem with all things that are 'unthinkable' to us is that there is no great law of the universe that has changed to make these things so. Just as they were capable of happening before, they are capable of happening again. The lesson of history is that the unthinkable happens. I cannot even bring myself to say 'there will be war in Europe', and many would not believe it, because the European peace project has been so successful. Too often human progress has been the victim of its own success as we all take these achievements for granted and become relaxed in their defence. We do not believe such things need defending anymore because the alternative has become 'unthinkable'.

It's almost impossible to talk about the potential for war in Europe without being laughed at, this should only worry, not reassure.


Sunday, 5 June 2016

Why I'm for Remain

First things first, I'm not a statist. It's an accusation that commonly gets thrown at those on the left and those who are pro-EU, so I find it particularly amusing given that my anarchist sympathies are far higher than most. I'm never going to support government just for the sake of it, I'm strongly opposed to various forms of state surveillance and social control, I don't believe in just handing power upwards as an ideal process. But, of course, I'm not actually an anarchist either. There are areas where we need a governmental approach and this applies at all levels of society; local, national, European, and global. I do not buy into this idea that government is important and necessary only at some arbitrarily decided levels, that somehow we reach the national level and then cap out.

We need forms of governance at every level for the same reasons we need them at any level.

Depending on the challenge being faced, we'll need a different standard of resource coordination, of common rules and regulations, to effectively create solutions. It's a myth that the national level can deal with every European and global issue that comes up. We need governance at higher echelons to deal with bigger problems, we need highly coordinated and integrated decision-making procedures among groups of countries that form binding rules. At the global level these systems are weak and prone to failure, the UN system of governance is often criticised due to its enforcement problems. At the European level, we need the European Union.

Could the EU be improved? Of course it could. I want to see less power for the Commission and more for the Parliament. I want to see greater emphasis given to European Parliament decisions, with less national block voting and more political voting. I want to see the EU have a control over its external borders but without turning away those in need with gun boats. I want to see more improvements for workers' rights and less influence for corporations. But just because I think it could be improved, does not mean we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I could give a similar list of things that I think should be changed to make the UK more democratic. Get rid of the House of Lords. Abolish the monarchy. Change the voting system to one that's actually representative. Have more Parliamentary limits to the power of the executive (which is exceptionally strong for a democracy). The reality is that the EU fails when compared to an abstract ideal of a democratic state, but bears striking similarities in terms of its successes and flaws when compared to real-world states. I'm tired of hearing the same people both rile against the unelected Commission, whilst also staunchly defending the unelected House of Lords and monarchy, apparently without experiencing cognitive dissonance. The EU is not perfect and will never be, but neither can any form of government. It is a product of what we, and our governments, make of it, if it is not up to standard then that is our responsibility, not something that can be blamed on some abstract foreign entity.

The issue of peace and security has been much discussed and is of course of great importance. Those who laugh off the idea that conflict could ever break out in Europe, and that we have transcended a need for an institution like the EU have utterly failed to learn the lessons of WW1 and its aftermath and there is little to be said for that group. Those who say that the EU has done nothing to help with stability and peace in Europe are simply denying history. To claim that NATO alone has helped maintain peace would be to say that US military dominance is all it takes for an area to be peaceful. Other areas of the world where the US has tried a similar approach testify to the fact that there must be something more at work in Europe. That something is the EU and the way that it brings countries together in repeated interactions, joining them into collective action on issues of serious importance; this is what gives rise to the whole premise that war between these states is unthinkable. It would be supremely arrogant to believe that we had merely grown out of war, the fact that our governments are willing to engage in wars elsewhere time and again making the claim laughable.

Some have even tried to claim that the EU has a negative effect on peace and stability, that eastwards expansion has angered Russia and threatened peace in that area. Quite aside from the fact that this is transparent apologism for Russia's aggression towards its neighbours as part of Putin's dream of restoring the Soviet Union, it frames the narrative in completely the opposite way to reality. It is not the EU seeking to expand eastwards, it is countries in Eastern Europe who wish to join the EU, in part to seek greater security against that Russian threat that they know to be there. Even if it did irritate Russia, it would be irresponsible to leave these countries to their fate, rather than to stand in solidarity with them, as a sop to the dictator Putin. As a side note, it is amusing that the people making this argument are often the same people who believe that NATO has been solely responsible for keeping the peace, seeing no contradiction given NATO's own increase in members of Eastern Europe, right up to Russia's borders.

Contrary to popular belief among many eurosceptics and europhobes, the EU was never just a trade agreement. When the original 6 countries founded the European Coal and Steel Community, the purpose was not to increase GDP or employment, it was to bring together the people of Europe, to find a lasting solution for a continent racked by war, to at last acknowledge our common history and to forge a common future. We know there is such a thing as 'European'. It's distinct from the American hyper-consumerist, pseudo- religious fundamentalist model to our West, and it's clearly different from the various dictatorships and developing economies to our East. That something sets us apart from the rest of the world is instinctual; even if we may struggle to define what that it is, it still exists. It would be reason enough for me to vote Remain simply as an acceptance of the reality that we are part of Europe and that we are all, to some degree, European.

An online test I took recently on where you find yourself on the EU question determined that I rated the issue of identity more highly than the economy. I feel that is a true reflection of how I feel when I talk about EU membership; yes, it helps our economy through removing trade barriers and opens up employment opportunities, but at a much more essential level the EU as it is and as an idea speaks to me because I believe in a European identity, one that encompasses our common roots whether in the wars of religion or the Enlightenment. I want us to Remain in order for us to be part of a common future for Europe that will progress with or without us. Either we can be part of a strong, united Europe, or we can be left behind, wasting decades trying to reclaim what we've thrown away.

We are stronger together, I believe in that principle whether it's among local communities, regions of states, or states themselves. It would sadden me if we voted to leave merely because another economic crash has stoked anti-immigration fears and because people had been misled into believing we could go back to a 19th century conception of sovereignty that no longer exists in a globalised world. There is something wonderful and special in that European identity that we all share - a series of traits that mean that to the rest of the world we look like quirky bickering siblings, but siblings all the same.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Brexit: Project Anger

Lately both the Remain and Leave campaigns have been enjoying trying to throw out the label 'Project Fear', a hangover from the Scottish Independence referendum where the Independence camp successfully made that label stick to the Better Together group. The idea is that the other side is running an overly negative campaign, being so unconvinced of any positive case that it attempts to scare people into voting for their cause. I have no intention of debating either way whether one campaign or the other fits this label, rather I'd like to propose that the Leave camp have demonstrated something else entirely than fear: anger.

To see where the inspiration for this came from, go to Google and search 'brexit fury'. Time and time again, if the Remain campaign does or says something, it's a safe bet that Leave campaigners will be 'furious' about it. Whether it's the Chancellor's warning of people being made worse off, the government sending out a pro-EU leaflet, the French finance minister saying that Britain would not succeed outside the EU or the pro-EU intervention from US President Obama. Through the weeks and the events the theme of 'anger' stays constant.

Unsurprisingly, searching 'remain fury' generates nothing similar.

So if Leave are 'Project Anger' then what does this mean? Firstly it's indicative of the highly emotional reasoning for a lot of Leave campaigners and voters. Things are less likely to met with patience so much as they are to be met with rage. This is worth remembering when seeking to engage with these voters and to offer counter-arguments. When someone is acting on emotion, statistics are less meaningful than ever. I've said before that one of the main problems of the pro-EU side is its focus on economics and trade, a desire to 'out-fact' the opposition. Not only is this dull, it's likely to be highly ineffective in convincing people who are showing that their primary feeling on this issue is not a critical analysis of economic impact but an emotional backlash against the impression that they have had their identity and country stolen from them. Even if it could be proven that Brexit would leave the country worse off, for people driven by anger at the status quo this could be little more than a price worth paying.

Secondly, it has to be kept in mind that when making a political argument there is a strength to passion, but that it is a double-edged sword. Brexit can be helped by their emotional baseline as people will be more quickly convinced by someone who demonstrates real anger, particularly if this hostility is directed at an already unpopular establishment. It is hard for Remain to replicate this sort of passion given the inherently more moderate position of asking people to stick with the status quo. On the other hand, there is the risk for Leave that passion slips into hysteria in the public perception, that the person goes from impassioned orator to raving loony. At this point the quieter demeanour of Remain goes from a lack of conviction to just being the only sensible and rational option.

Finally, there is a further quality to this anger that could be impactful on voters, that is the way that it can create conflict in the debate. The result of such an action is never clear and could be good or bad. The positive way it could demonstrate itself is through a shift from debates among academics and politicians in studios to a popular movement on the streets. Contexts matter immensely for debates and votes and it is likely that such a shift of context for the debate would affect the result, in favour of Brexit if they could mobilise the conflict in that way. In the UK, however, it is hard to see how this would happen. The clear majority of protest and street actions are organised and mobilised from the political left. While the UK left is certainly divided over Europe, it is more in favour of EU membership than against. Even if the split were perfectly even, this would prevent access to the organisations and resources necessary for mass mobilisation of the like that shows itself in anti-austerity demonstrations. The right meanwhile is not known for its capacity to mobilise in large numbers at all.

These ideas of course rest on the initial 'Project Anger' premise, but as the debate goes on it's a premise that seems to become easier and easier to stand by.


Tuesday, 2 February 2016

UK-EU draft deal explained

After suspicions that no deal would be reached and that the referendum may have to be delayed, seemingly out of nowhere a draft of the proposal for the UK's renegotiated membership of the EU was published today. With David Cameron quickly stepping up to proclaim that he had delivered on his promises with this deal, it is worth looking at whether that holds up. Having read the draft, here is a quick summary and explanation of what it contains.

Like many international agreements the document starts with a preamble, this one setting out the context of both the EU's essential objectives and the UK's particular relationship with the EU. It notes the UK's existing opt-outs (such as for the euro and areas of justice cooperation) and the fact that integration is currently spread at different levels between member states, with some having chosen to advance more quickly, some going in the same direction but slower, and others having simply declined from certain aspects of integration. It also explains that parts of this agreement will be implemented into EU treaties when the next time for treaty review comes up.

Section A
This looks at 'Economic Governance' and addresses one of Cameron's main claims - that he would secure protection for non-euro members. This also brings us to the main issue of assessing the validity of these claims: they were never overly specific. To the extent that some may have believed non-euro members were in need of protection from EU rules (evidence of this need is lacking), getting a legal commitment that rules governing the eurozone would not discriminate or impose on non-euro members would not have been a challenge. Essentially the agreement means that the eurozone members (who have a majority among EU member states) will not be able to adopt rules for the eurozone that would directly or indirectly disadvantage non-euro members. The trade-off to this is then that non-euro members cannot attempt to stop or delay eurozone integration. In this regard Cameron has achieved what he stated, though the original aim was never ambitious or meaningful.

Section B
Here there are a few paragraphs on 'Competitiveness'. What is apparent is that the main point of this section is to pander to Cameron's rhetoric and give some in-text basis to his arguments. It does not agree to anything new so much as reaffirm that the EU will do what it intended to anyway - seek to improve competitiveness, cut red tape and repeal unnecessary legislation.

Section C
The following section though is rather more important as it addresses two of Cameron's main objectives: explicit exemption from the 'ever closer union' clause of the Treaty of Rome and a 'red card' system for national parliaments to stop EU legislation.
On the first measure the job is basically done. Following an explanation of why that clause does not in fact bind any member state to further political integration and is merely representative of a broad goal not of a specific method, the text states that 'it is recognized that the United Kingdom, in the light of the specific situation it has under the Treaties, is not committed to further political integration into the European Union'. In practical terms this means little; the 'ever closer union' was never used as a legal argument to compel integration anyway, when countries chose to join in with political integration it was not because they were part of the original treaty that contained those words. The symbolic value, however, is much higher and could spur the development of a conception of EU membership more palatable to the British public, more pragmatic and more modern.
For the second part, it's fairly arbitrary as to whether it can be judged that Cameron has succeeded or not. The issue again is that he was never specific about what the 'red card' system would look like (likely intentionally so in order to claim victory however it appeared, but also to allow flexibility during negotiations). In any case, some sort of system has been agreed whereby if enough member states ('enough' meaning that they represent at least 55% of the vote) put forward that a draft law would be better implemented  in whole or in part at the national or local, rather than European, level, then the discussion on the proposal must be discontinued until amendments have been made to take that into account.

Section D
Finally the draft comes to the issue of immigration, probably the biggest political debate in the UK currently. To cover the main objective of restricting access to UK benefits for those coming from other EU states the section is split into two main parts. Firstly, the proposal explains the capacity for member states to already restrict benefits access under existing EU law. Secondly, it suggests two main law changes. One would be the formalising of a transition period for any new member state before fully entering the system of EU-wide freedom of movement (a system already effectively in use with recent new members), and the second is the much more radical idea of a potential 4 year ban on immigrants being able to access benefits. This would partially achieve Cameron's previously stated goal, though the requirement for prior approval from the Council and the Commission, for the move to be justified as a response to an excessive burden on the member state as a result of high levels of migration and the inherently limited nature of the ban, with an assumption of a later return to normal, has already drawn criticism from more ardent eurosceptics.

Some parting thoughts are, firstly, that while critics were right in saying that treaty change would not be possible (either due to the short time-scale or the lack of political will), an interesting compromise was reached through a legally binding agreement that could be converted into treaty change at the next available opportunity. Secondly, it cannot be forgotten that this is only a draft; David Cameron has made it apparent that this is not the end of the road for him and other member states will undoubtedly have their own views too. Importantly though this is the most holistic and detailed plan we've had yet of what a new UK-EU deal would look like, with the final agreement being based off this. To see what has (and has not) been achieved so far, with time running short for a referendum to be held this summer, is undoubtedly instructive.


Monday, 12 October 2015

Cameron's EU demands are mostly symbolic

News has now surfaced of the 4 key demands that David Cameron will be pushing as part of his renegotiation of the UK's EU membership.

1. The UK being explicitly removed from the EU's founding commitment to 'ever closer union'.

Straightaway, this demand serves no practical purpose other than changing the framing of certain debates around the UK's obligations to the EU. It could be significant though. It would represent a major official rupturing from the driving force of the EU since its inception; that of a political and economic project designed to unify the countries of Europe.

2. Explicit statement that the EU is a multi-currency union, the euro is not the 'official' currency.

An appeasement of the pro-pound group in the UK. It means little in reality though. The EU can give away this demand easily and it should. The threats to the pound and hence the UK's status as a trading finance centre have been greatly overstated and the City is comfortably protected by the UK government - even to the point that the UK left resents the protection it receives from potential regulation. This demand would sound good but would not change the fact that the UK already has a euro exemption written in treaty (and the EU is always reluctant to change those), most EU states have the euro or are signed up to join and that any future members also must join the euro.

3. A 'red card' system allowing national parliaments to block certain pieces of EU legislation from applying to them

This is a much more practical demand and could be quite hard to get agreement on. Part of the reason exemptions are so rare in EU legislation is because of a belief in harmonisation. Firstly as a tool to promote unity and a single 'EU' way of doing things (mainly regulation). Secondly as a way of promoting cross-border economic efficiency as with the same rules applying to everyone a business need not experience the costs of changing its manufacturing process to fit with different standards in different member states - one size fits all, reducing costs. That is the principle and whether it is significant in practice is less important than the fact EU leaders believe it is. With this attachment to harmonisation, a 'red card' system that would open up to many more instances of exemption seems hard to reconcile. Likely this could be implemented in a watered-down fashion where the use of such a 'red card' would exist but be highly limited and unusual in practice.

4. Restructuring of the EU to give protection to the 9 non-euro states and particular protection for the City of London

A restructuring of the EU could make a lot of sense but it would have to be radical to be effective and worthwhile and unfortunately the EU does not have a strong record in radical action or change. It's hard to judge how realistic or desirable this change would be without much more detail of what the current ideas and proposals are. At any rate renegotiation of the UK's membership may be an awkward vehicle for this systemic EU-wide change and so may be dropped quite early in favour of simply protections for the UK and the reinforcement of its exemptions.

It's important to point out that freedom of movement is not in this list and no word has been heard of any particular effort by Cameron to change the way these rules apply to the UK. Such a move would be well-considered as a matter of picking the fights you can win - restriction on freedom of movement being an absolute no-go for many EU member states, from Germany to traditional UK allies such as Poland.

Ultimately if these 4 demands are Cameron's focus then this does not bode well for two reasons. One, these demands are mostly fairly UK-centric and while this may seem like something that should be expected it won't help in actually getting the EU to agree to these demands - allying to common grievances and pushing for EU-wide changes would be a much more effective strategy than campaigning for yet more UK exceptionalism (which even our allies are getting sick of). Secondly these demands are mostly symbolic and will be quickly torn down by people looking for deep, meaningful change - the fact these symbols will be very visible and very important may help sell the renegotiation package but it's a risk to rely on that over something more concrete.

Overall these demands are indicative of the fact that Cameron is no diplomat and there is a severe lack of effective knowledge and strategy at the top levels of government when it comes to dealing with the EU.


Saturday, 10 October 2015

Why UN approval for EU plan in Mediterranean is a bad development

Recently the UN gave the EU approval for its operation in the Mediterranean to take action against smugglers in a bid to slow the flow of people coming through Lybia and into Europe. This measure is disappointingly reactive and shows little foresight.

Firstly it must be understood that this UN resolution does not allow the EU to violate Lybian waters. This means that ships from EU states must stay in international waters; the UN approval giving little more in terms of real operational change compared to the situation as it already was. Concerns from countries like Russia meant that the original, far more aggressive, plans set out by the EU had to be watered down in order to gain UN approval. The idea of EU ships moving into Lybian waters, seeking and destroying smuggler ships, has been replaced by a policy of staying in international waters while having authority to board suspected ships and remove those on board, as well as seizing the vessel. In essence, months have been spent costing time, political capital and people's lives to achieve very little that was not been done anyway.

To compound the problem, this time has been wasted on a policy that was flawed anyway. Focussing on stopping smuggling shows a very backwards approach to the refugee crisis in Europe. It is true that there are exploitative criminals that must be stopped but what is the real endgame for Europe?

It's clearly not feasible or desirable for Europe to try to catch and permanently stop all these smuggler gangs.

Seizing or even destroying these ships is not a long-term solution, they are only flimsy vessels anyway, replacements would easily be found. One European commander commented that to get rid of all the vessels that could be used for smuggling would require destroying every ship in all Lybian ports. Today's fishing boat could be tomorrow's people smuggling ship.

The EU has only planned to commit a relatively small number of ships to this operation (unsurprising given that their militaries are all stretched), it is therefore hard to say what real difference they could have made to the number of journeys being made across the Mediterranean.

Finally, even if all the ships were stopped, the smuggling ended, such an achievement would be a hollow victory.

Europe is not focussing on solving the refugee crisis, it is putting enormous time and energy into pushing the crisis away, into trying to stop it being Europe's problem. The anti-refugee and anti-immigrant sentiments in many countries, minority though they are, are holding sway and pushing the EU into its Fortress Europe mode, locking out rather than helping refugees. People in desperate need will still be just across the water from us whether we allow them a route to get to safety or not.

UN approval is now only going to reinforce this attitude and the refugee crisis will grind on and our politicians will wring their hands, attend the conferences and summits and make speeches and policy statements. They will approve of the need to help refugees, will affirm how committed they are to helping those in need and emphasise the tough stance on criminals exploiting the vulnerable. They will talk of their schemes for cooperation amongst one another and with countries on the borders of the EU. They will make shady deals for governments to detain asylum seekers and stop them reaching the EU. They will cut assistance given to those who do make it here. They will build camps, use trickery and herd these people around like cattle, shifting them around, reluctant to give them an official status for the responsibility that this will entail. On the current track, in this refugee crisis, our governments will fail tragically.