After blogging about David Cameron’s “EU reform ideas” (and some ideas that would *really* make a difference) I am getting annoyed by this renegotiation debate: Every Sunday the British elite presents another “EU reform” idea but they don’t seem to notice that a) it is not a priority for the British citizens b) it is not a priority for the rest of the EU c) most of it is impossible or to vague to achieve d) most of it shows a profound lack of understanding how the EU works and d) the government fails to see that some things could be achieved by changing procedures how the UK government/parliament works. Anyway, this whole story provided me with the opportunity to develop a series of ‘political analysis in 140 characters’ tweets:
Why does Cameron want EU reform?
So, what is the problem?
Most of @David_Cameron's renegotiation ideas are not on the agenda (EU army, join€) or too vague to negotiate (ever closer EU, interference)
— kosmopolit (@kosmopolit) March 16, 2014
But what does Cameron really want?
So, his ideas are vague and resemble a Daily Mail story about the EU, I’d rather keep the status quo:
#bbcqt A fair referendum would also include the status quo as an option. Cameron’s ‘new EU deal’ could be worse than what we’ve got today.
— kosmopolit (@kosmopolit) March 13, 2014
Well, it finally happened: Today, Brexit has become a real possibility – maybe not in the next couple of years but possibly in the long term. Under a Labour government and in the unlikely event of a new EU treaty Ed Miliband promised an in/out referendum in the UK – if “new powers are transferred to the EU”. There are few problems with this:
1) I don’t think any Labour government can ever win an in/out referendum in the UK. It will be impossible for Labour to win against the Tories in opposition and the anti-EU media in the UK.
2) One can only hope that Miliband will never have to implement his “in/out referendum policy”. It’s a recipe for disaster. What does it mean to ‘transfer new powers to the EU’? Even if it’s a treaty for the eurozone only, public opinion in the UK will perceive it as another “broken promise” if he decides not to go for the referendum.
3) Ed Miliband’s referendum lock is a new level of how to blackmail the rest of the EU. Under a Labour government any new EU treaty negotiation will always be linked to “Brexit” – not the best starting point for any negotiation over a new EU treaty.
4) It is one thing to promise a referendum over a new EU treaty. Indeed, this can be perceived as a good thing (although I disagree with the idea of having referendums on these things) but linking an in/out referendum to a new treaty that transfers ‘new powers’ is utter bollocks. There are bad treaties but the in/out question will always overshadow specific treaty issues. This is neither democratic nor strategically clever. Basically you blackmail your own population: “Accept this treaty or we leave the EU” – hardly a democratic approach! (or are we talking about 2 referendums in the case of a new treaty?)
Of course this policy can pay off in the short term (= until the next general election that is) but is it a viable strategy? Yes, it keeps Britain in the EU as long as there is no new EU treaty (and chances of it happening are minimal, except for a eurozone treaty). Miliband may manage to keep the ‘Europe question’ off the agenda in the years ahead (which is a good thing!) The “EU question” is also not one of the main concerns of the British public so everything that makes Europe a boring topic is a positive development. Plus the British and international media seem to buy the line that “Miliband rejects EU referendum in 2017″. Fair enough, but what will happen in the unlikely event of a new treaty? If this becomes part of the British approach to the EU it is likely that we will never see another EU-wide treaty again. Expect more agreements that legally resemble Schengen, the Euro and the Fiscal compact. It is clear that Miliband does not want to have a in/out referendum – but why did he not say it like this? Opposing an in/out referendum and defending EU membership – this would have been a clear policy. (And, remember: there is still the ‘normal’ referendum lock on power transfers/new treaties that has been passed by the present government a few years ago)
So, what is the lesson here? Politicians always think they can ‘match’ a policy with something that sounds similar to the policy of their main rival . But this race to the bottom never works. You can’t beat the original. On the EU, the Conservatives can’t beat UKIP and Labour can’t beat the Conservatives.
[PS: I thought I’d never say this but I think I prefer the ‘in/out referendum policy’ of the Tories. Hmm…]
In the UK there is too much talk about ill-defined “EU reform” that will not make any difference. Who needs a complex new “red card” procedure when you a) never exhausted the existing “yellow card procedure” and b) could just copy the Danish approach to control your ministers in the Council? Why do we need to talk about “benefit tourism” if it does not even exist? How can we cut down all this red tape without knowing what laws you are actually talking about? Do we really need treaty change just because you want your doctors and nurses to have less rights? Here are a few ideas that would *really* make a difference in how we talk about the EU:
…to be continued…
“Lessons in ruthlessness”, to be precise. I am sure you will enjoy this:
Here are more quotes by Frank”The Whip”Underwood.
John R Spencer is a Professor of Law at Cambridge University. In this video (which even includes a reference to Borgen!) he basically destroys UKIP’s take on EU criminal law/justice. You may remember this debate about “corpus juris” which is quite popular in eurosceptic circles – see for example this article by Nigel Farage in the Independent. Suffice to say: it is factually incorrect but it builds upon a well established body of euromyhts. Cherished by many eurosceptics in the UK and frequently repeated in the British media, or in John Spencer’s words: “Nonsense about the EU does not cease to be nonsense because it is written by an established politician or printed in a reputable newspaper.”
h/t: Hugh Barton-Smith
Yesterday the ECR Group announced that they would not nominate a candidate for EC president because participating in the process is considered to be too “federal”. At the same time they want to take part in one of “leader debates” in the run-up of the elections…
Anyway, in order to back up their point of view they presented the results of a ComRes opinion poll. At the press conference Daniel Hannan said: “There is no evidence of popular demand for having more pan-European elected positions”. Unfortunately, ECR’s own opinion poll tells a different story that contradicts Mr Hannan’s assessment: 39% of the respondents agree with the idea that the European Parliament is choosing the next EC president “as this will make the winning candidate more legitimate” – 27% are against it. (p. 8)
But the opinion poll is also a text book case study in how to lie with statistics. Unfortunately some journalists and tweeps (me included!) fell for it and wrote stuff like “65 % of Europeans who never heard of…” or similar snippets. Here is the methodological note of the survey:
ComRes interviewed 1 , 200 adults from the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland (200 per country) aged 18+ online between 5 th and 14 th February 2014. Data were weighted to be representative of all adults aged 18+.
So what are the problems? First of all, it is a very weak sample and it may not be entirely representative. There are also methodological problems when it comes to online surveys (who fills out online surveys?). But: 200 is a very small sample for each of the countries (other surveys would base their results on 1500 respondents for Germany alone!) And why did they choose 200 respondents for each country despite huge differences in population size? It is also a bit unclear how the weighting has been carried out (ex-ante or ex-post? only regarding age?)
The survey also fails to cover “Europe” and is – by all means – not representative for Europe or the EU. So we should not talk about “Europeans” when citing the survey. The aim of the study was “to understand public’s attitude across Europe to the European Union and the upcoming European elections”. However, the study only covers 6 EU member states: So whatever results you find they only apply to those 6 countries and do not have any statistical validity for the rest of Europe.
ComRes must be aware of these shortcomings as they consistently refer to “respondents” instead of talking about a broader category (for example “voters”, “Europeans” or “Germans”). It is a typical survey made for journalists with short attention spans. The sample design basically triggers certain (seemingly) logical associations such as “that’s what Europe thinks”, “In Europe, this is a problem…”, “A new opinion poll about what Europeans think…” – the problem is simple: All those statements are wrong, the ECR survey cannot be used to back up such claims.
A warm welcome to FactCheckEU – the first crowdsourced fact-checking website for EU topics. It launched a few weeks ago and – so far – it is looking rather promising. It probably has the potential to become one of the most useful EU related websites. Go check it out and – more importantly – help them!
It is crowdsourced so everyone can contribute. And we also should remember that the quality of factchecking websites pretty much depends on the community and its ethics. Obviously both things need time to develop (so critising aspects of the website today would indeed be a bit premature) So, let’s hope FactCheckEU succeed in attracting enough contributors who are also able to do some high quality fact-checking. It is much needed – especially ahead of this year’s European Parliament elections.
That’s a nice story: Paul Dacre, the infamous editor of the Daily Mail, received generous EU subsidies for his estate in Scotland. (hat tip: Zelo Street)
For those of you who don’t know Paul Dacre: Some have described him as ‘the man who hates liberal Britain‘ and called his newspaper, the Daily Mail, ‘the newspaper that rules Britain’. One of his side projects is to run/invent anti-EU stories. Over the years a large number of euromyths and fabricated anti-EU stories originated in the Daily Mail. Unfortunately, the Daily Mail is the most read newspaper in the UK and played an important role in creating the toxic, uninformed eurosceptic discourse in the UK. Especially the campaign-style journalism of the Daily Mail which is based on myths, half-truths and the absence of facts is an example what’s wrong in British journalism. (also interesting in this context: Alastair Campbell’s submission to the Leveson enquiry)
It is a sad week for the “European Public Sphere”. If this concept ever existed, Presseurop was probably a rare example of how it could look like. But earlier this week we learned about the end of presseurop due to a lack of funding. Here is the official announcement. Presseurop is actually quite a remarkable service that translates opinion pieces from newspapers across Europe (which also makes it a rather expensive service to run). It is truly multilingual – and also has quite a sophisticated comment section. If you don’t know presseurop check it out before it disappears.
But let’s get to the core of the problem of the whole service: it is an EU funded project. Now it would be easy to say that the EU should not fund websites or media projects. But it is more complex than that: It basically opens the debate about public funding for media services – think of the BBC or ARD/ZDF that also rely on public funding (often based on a fee license). Now I don’t want to compare the BBC to Presseurop. The real question should always be whether a media service has editorial independence. I always found Presseurop balanced and – especially in the heat of the eurocrisis – a reliable source of opinions that reflected the mood across Eurozone. The problem is that as soon as you get EU funding (and that is even more so for media projects) people seem to think that you are a mouthpiece for the institution that funds you. In the case of Presseurop that is not the case, the case of EuroparlTV shows a different picture (I know both projects rely on different funding models and follow different communication logics – but the external result is similar: publicly available media services funded by the EU).
Two newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch – The Times and the Wall Street Journal - attacked the Commission’s funding stream for projects such as Presseurop (and some would argue that they were instrumental in bringing down the call for proposals!). The European Commission made a tactical mistake here. By publishing a call for proposals that is basically tailor-made for Presseurop – but at the same time using language to suggest that all sorts of media could be supported – it really opened itself to criticism. At the same time, we should not forget that Murdoch’s papers also routinely attack the BBC – for the same reason: public media funding. I happen to think that public broadcasters are a good thing and it may be time to think whether we need a similar structure on the European level.
The case can be made that Presseurop should be a public good – not hidden behind a paywall or run by a private company – as it provides a service that allows us to get a European perspective on political issues (something that private sector does not seem to be able to deliver). And since Presseurop merely translates articles (there is almost no original writing!) we can argue that the material is essential reading for an informed vote at the European Parliament election.
Now you can sign a petition here calling on the EU Commission to renew its funding. But is it really the right approach? Would it not just repeat the mistake to channel EU funding into EU media projects?
So what about private funding?
Newspapers and media organisations across Europe should have an interest in services like Presseurop. It acts as a multiplier and reaches new audiences in different countries. (and to be fair: Presseurop never reached its full potential) Obviously newspapers struggle financially and it is also hard to argue that the original article is behind a paywall or in a paid print copy – and the translation is freely available. But still, there is a case to be made to involve a range of newspapers and other media organisations – and find new funding models in cooperation with them.
Another idea is the paywall/subscription model. Obviously different media outlets have different experiences with these models. The question is also whether there is a large enough customer base that is willing to pay for such a service. Nevertheless, it should not be ruled out – if done cleverly I am sure readers are willing to support the service.
And what about the big European foundations that love investing in European projects (yes I am looking at you – NEF, Bosch, Gulbelkian, Compagnia, Körber, KBS, OSF, Volkswagen, Erste etc.) To fund essay competitions, think tank pamphlets, publications, conferences, scholarships and exchange programmes is a nice and cosy way to spend money – but why not invest in a big project that may actually reach beyond the elites?
One of the most puzzling questions in the referendum/re-negotiation debate in the UK is what the British actually want to “re-negotiate” (it’s questionable whether there will be any opportunity to do it – but this is another story). Anyway, so far we’ve had to do quite a bit of guesswork to answer this question. A couple of weeks ago, openeurope (the think tank/advocacy group that is pretty close to the Conservative EU policy agenda – to say the least) published a survey that found that most people support Cameron’s re-negotiation strategy. It also included a very interesting list of re-negotiation priorities. Or to put it more accurately: 14 policy areas (pre-formulated by openeurope) were ranked by survey respondents. It would have been interesting to see what an “open question” would have produced in this context. Now I am sure Downing Street does this sort of polling as well – or, what is more likely, use some of the results of this survey. Anyway it is quite a safe bet that all these issues are the areas in which the UK will try to do “something” – and William Hague’s “red card” proposal a few weeks ago was already part of it!
Before I discuss the top 4 priorities (or everything over 30% approval) in more detail it is interesting to note two issues that explain the findings: First of all the ranking confirms the low level of EU knowledge among people: policy areas with exclusive EU competence and/or EU policy areas where you could bring back powers (in theory at least) tend to be at the bottom of the list: regional policy, agriculture, fisheries. And secondly: the top priorities for re- negotiation are exactly the topics that correspond with the eurosceptic agenda and the discourse in the media: immigration, EU budget and overall costs. (with some outliers)
A methodological note: Formulating statements in surveys is always a bit tricky. However, it seems to me that the phrase “allowing the UK to have control/own policy x” also assumes that the UK has somehow lost control over the particular policy area – and if you look at the table of issues – this is simply not true for policy areas that do not fall under “exclusive EU competence“. So most of the statements are – at least slightly – misleading. Plus if you have a list like this everyone will tick a couple of boxes which gives you high percentages and long list of “demands” – just imagine an open question in comparison! Of course openeurope chose – and formulated those 15 policy areas which does explain the framing. However, let’s look at the four main issues in more detail:
1. Allowing the UK to have its own immigration policy
Immigration is – not surprisingly – the “top priority” with more than 50% approval. Never mind that the numbers have gone down recently – and that generally immigration has brought some economic benefits to the UK. But there is another problem: The EU has hardly any competence in immigration policy. Now I know most people perceive intra-EU migration as part of the problem – but to change this you need to re-negotiate the EU’s four freedoms which is basically a non-starter. Obviously the problem are not the German or French “ex-pats” in the UK (nor the British pensioners buying property in Spain) – the problem are the Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian “immigrants” and “benefit tourists” (as if the UK had a generous welfare state) And interestingly, EU “immigrants” are less likely to claim benefit than UK citizens.
But even in the policy area of immigration it was the UK’s decision (after being the champion of EU enlargement!) not to impose transitional measures after the 2004 enlargement (as most other EU countries did!) – so at the end it was a national decision that led to increased levels of immigration. So what can the Britain do to “please” the right-wing media/ potential UKIP voters? Introduce some new hurdles for Romanian and Bulgarians to come to the UK next year? Promise automatic transitional measures for all future enlargements? Or make life more burdensome for all EU citizens in the country (and risk a few court cases in Luxembourg – which will conveniently happen after the referendum)? Last year openeurope published a paper on this issue and proposed a reform of the EU’s Free Movement Directive. It is a rather complicated legal issue – but the direction is clear: instead of strengthening EU citizenship the debate will be framed around access to benefits. The recent announcement of the Commission to take the UK to the ECJ over its “right to residue test” is part of this “battle”.
2. Giving UK parliament more powers to block unwanted EU laws
This is a very interesting one – and I wonder where it is coming from (did the government thought of the red card procedure and wanted to have some data to back it up?). But again there are problems: The proposed “red card” procedure would be based on the” yellow card” procedure (apparently this procedure – introduced by the Lisbon Treaty – has been so successful that it was only used once! And the government claims that is because the EP is in charge of it… but again this is another story) – anyway, you need 2/3 of parliaments in Europe to coordinate a joint position, which is a rather difficult exercise – to say the least.
Instead of opening the treaties for a procedure that is complex and not very effective – why not give the parliament the power to hold ministers to account. Maybe the UK government should visit Denmark to see how it can be done, and how the European Scrutiny committee would become the de-facto center of EU policy- making (Maybe David Cameron now regrets the decision to put Bill Cash in charge … ) In addition the “scrap the European Parliament” idea (not part of the current debate at all – so why is it in there?) has to be seen in this context. The idea of openeurope/UK government is that democracy can only work on the national level – only here you can have increased legitimacy. Theoretically, this undermines the European Parliament and gives national governments another veto possibility through their parliaments/chief whips.
3. Reducing Britain’s contribution to the EU
The UK has a permanent “budget rebate” and pays less in GDP % than some of the poorer member states. The fact that significant part of the population thinks that the EU is expensive and the UK should pay less is clearly a success for UKIP. But in this year’s budget negotiations David Cameron claimed a “victory” so the government could make the case that its “renegotiation” was successful . However, people tend to believe UKIP and the Daily Mail when it comes to costs – a problem that can probably not be solved.
4. Allowing the UK to have control over police and criminal justice laws.
Again, not an exclusive EU competence – and a reflection of the hysterical media debate. Most people probably put European Court of Human Rights in Strassbourg into the equation (which is not an EU institution). At the same time this is something the government can deliver. David Cameron can use the nuclear JHA opt-out while hoping to manage some opt-ins at a later stage. Probably the most likely area where the government can really deliver – the problem here is what to do afterwards as the government is eager to opt-in some selective JHA measures…
5. The rest
The top four priorities would not suggest that a full blown treaty renegotiation is required (so do we really need an ICG?): The JHA opt-out will be the most visible action – all other things can be achieved through mixture of some changes in directives and some significant changes in the UK system itself. The real “problematic” policy areas in terms of renegotiation are buried further down the list: allowing the UK to negotiate trade deals with third countries (a surprising fifth place though!), regional policy, fisheries, agriculture – even employment legislation (better known as the WTD are not part of the top priorities.
It is ironic that people apparently want a “significant return of powers” but when given the choice they don’t really choose the options that would also involve a “significant return of power”.
Interesting talk about PRISM, Snowden, digital rights, cryptography, data mining etc.
PS: Jacob Appelbaum’s keynote at the last 29C-3 conference also gives a good overview of what is going on at the moment.