Tag: Britain and the EU (page 1 of 2)

British politics in a nutshell

British politics – be it about “Europe”, immigration, the NHS, whatever really – is a predictable affair. The Conservative Party tries to appease UKIP – a strategy destined to fail. The LibDems went into a coalition with the Tories – but failed to deliver anything beyond rhetoric . The opposition? Well, Labour try to win the next election – they could still fail. The Greens failed to get noticed  while UKIP basically get away with everything they do…

So British politics is based on a few eternal ‘truths’. This is an ongoing tweet series. I am sure I will add some more tweets to this blog post in the coming weeks/months/years…

Do we really need EU reform? Or just different policies?

The most annoying feature of the EU debate these days is the claim that we need “EU reform” – and this widespread belief that a well developed reform agenda actually exists is some hidden drawer. (This post is not about the question whether there is a need for reform but it deals with the rhetorical phenomenon called ‘reform’ which is becoming a useless catch-all phrase)

Unfortunately very few ask the right questions  (journalists in particular don’t seem to be interested in the fine print) and wonder what “EU reform” actually means. Does it mean we need a new ‘reform treaty’ or do we simply want to change existing policies? Is it about the Eurozone or the EU? It is also telling that most commentators and politicians who enjoy talking about “EU reform” or the EU’s “identity crisis” fail to say what exactly needs to be changed. The underlying “analysis” often boils down to something like “everyone knows it is not working at the moment so I don’t need to explain it”. And instead of giving concrete examples of what is not working and how it can be fixed, all we hear – at least in the UK – is a series of superficial statements (something about national power, immigration and repatriation).

The reform debate is also a rhetorical trap. It is impossible to say “I am against reform” as this would imply that everything is just fine, so many just go along  hoping that they can support one aspect of “EU reform”. Even if you agree with one specific reform idea, it is almost impossible to argue “I am against EU reform but I would like to change X”.

David Cameron’s ‘reform’ rhetoric is exactly designed to have this effect. We don’t really know what he means, nobody challenges him, his analysis is guided by the referendum pledge and based on what his backbenchers want to hear:  ‘strengthening  national parliaments’, ‘stop immigration’ and remove ‘ever closer union‘.  He cleverly mixes policy and structural issues and does not make a difference between Europe, the EU and the national level. Simply put, Cameron’s EU reform is not about the EU. However, the danger is that slowly but surely the British version of ”EU reform” is becoming a self fulfilling prophecy.

But let’s have a look at three core claims that are often used to make the case for “EU reform”:

1. “We need to reform the EU because the EU is not working”

Usually this statement never includes any details about what *exactly* is not working – but nobody seems to care.  Rhetorically, the claim is often linked to declining trust in EU institutions, the missing European demos and an apparent malfunction in the system. I don’t want to argue that these things don’t exist, but I think we can only approach those rather complex issues by talking about concrete ideas – and not by using a term that is neither defined nor filled with any content.

Another dimension of the claim (especially in the UK) is the idea that the EU is a ‘one size fits all’ organisation that somehow bullies member states into projects they neither support nor want. But looking at institutional realities this is simply not true. We have enhanced cooperation and a series of agreements and treaties that do not include all EU member states. The Fiscal Compact, the ESM and the EFSF, the Schengen zone and the Euro. Of course one could argue that these constructions are not perfect and a lot of things can be improved – but it is simply not correct to argue that the EU should be more flexible to accommodate the wishes of certain member states. We effectively  already have a two – or even three – speed Europe!

Last but not least, there is  an issue of policy and policy competence when we talk about the “EU that is not working”. We often hear arguments about “growth” and the missing “competitiveness” of Europe. But what exactly would be the role of the EU in this?  Do we need to change policy? Would that mean better rules to make the single market work better?  If yes, in which sector? And does this change actually concern the European level – or can we achieve improvements by changing how we deal with EU issues on the national level? These are important questions – but if we continue  to hide those issues behind “EU reform” we lose the ability to discuss different policy ideas.

2. “We need a bigger say for national parliaments/governments”

I would like to see evidence why the current system is not sufficiently developed. National governments can effectively veto every EU law.  The Lisbon Treaty strengthened the European Council by making it a fully fledged institution with  a full time president. During the euro crisis there was a clear power shift towards the member states.  So what exactly was it that you want to “reform” – and would it help to change anything?

Another debate is the role of national Parliaments.  (and there is an important debate whether strengthening national parliaments would automatically improve EU legitimacy) But also in this case it is worth looking at what we already have. Yes, it’s the yellow card procedure – but it is hardly been used. So instead of talking about introducing a new ‘red card’ procedure maybe we should think of how to fix the current system first. If hundreds of yellow cards had been issued (with minimal effect on EU institutions) it might be easier to argue for a new system. Interestingly, the only successful yellow card procedure in 2012 (latest report available) actually resulted in the withdrawal of the EC proposal. I am also intrigued by the absence of national parliamentarians in this debate: What do they think about the potential additional workload? Do they think they need to replicate the work of MEPs? Are we talking about  the role of national Parliaments in EMU issues or the role of national Parliaments in scrutinising EU policy? And above all, why do we, the citizens, vote for MEPs that are supposed to work on EU legislation – if this is now an issue for national parliaments?  The logic is simple: Many who  advocate a “strengthening of national parliaments” are effectively arguing against the idea of having a European Parliament. (and again, this essentially boils down the argument of low turnout, missing  EU demos, etc). Prime ministers and heads of governments also seem to enjoy talking about this issue (probably because they think they can use their parliamentary EU committee as an additional veto mechanism).  Funnily enough they never talk about  the Danish model where MPs give ministers a clear mandate for negotiations in the Council..

The point I am trying to make is this: By simply talking about “EU reform” we miss some of the essential questions about the future of EU democracy. And don’t be fooled, it is a framing issue:  A debate on “EU democracy” will be different  to a debate  that focuses on “EU reform” as it allows us to discuss different ideas – instead of having to argue about whether we need reform.

3. “The European Parliament Elections showed that people want reform”

This is also an interesting claim. The European Parliament elections are (unfortunately) second order elections. It is an opportunity for people to  vote against their government. It is often used as an opportunity to cast a protest vote. Most analysts would agree with that statement – but when it comes to this abstract “EU reform” the same people would argue that “the people” wanted this or that to be changed on the EU level. This is disingenuous and simply inconsistent.

In most countries the majority of people voted on national issues – so how can you claim that they want “reform”? Most parties that campaigned did not  propose any wide-ranging reforms of the EU (and if they did the ideas were very different and can’t be summarised with one word) – so how can you claim that people want your kind of “reform”? The claims that the European Parliament elections should be analysed as a “political earthquake” are also grossly exaggerated. The radical/eurosceptic vote is only marginally larger than in previous elections (and most eurosceptics basically want out of the EU – not to “reform” it) – so how can you claim that those people want “reform”? 60 %  of European did not got to vote – do they really want “reform”?

If there is anything people want it is  better – or different  – policies (although many are confused what is EU and what is national policy). Arguments about institutional reform  don’t usually feature very high on the public agenda. Of course there might be a case for a “more democratic EU” or a “more competitive EU” –  but it is far from obvious what actually should be done. And yes, a clear division between the Eurozone and the rest of the EU would be desirable. But is it politically possible?  There might be a case for institutional reform but we should also be clear about what exactly needs to be reformed and – more importantly – we need to distinguish between institutional changes (that could even be implemented under current rules) and policy changes (that require political will to change existing directives and policies).  We should not forget that the last “Reform Treaty” (the provisional name of the Lisbon Treaty!) has not been around that long and it seems to me that there is still potential to use current rules to change things.

PS: The ‘reform’ crowd often underestimates treaty ratification dynamics. Any new treaty would need to be ratified (also via referendums!) by all 28 Member States. It is very difficult to win referendums on institutional questions (as some might remember from Lisbon and Nice) and if a new treaty is simply seen as a vehicle to give  concessions to one member state (ie UK) it is destined to fail.

tl;dr

A rambling blog post on why we can’t continue talking about “reform” without saying what *exactly* needs to be reformed.

Worried about “ever closer union”?

The argument about “ever closer union” is one of the most irrational ones in the British EU discourse. The phrase conjures up the image that  European integration is unstoppable and it somehow happens without anyone noticing, a creeping development of a European super state. Most commentators blissfully ignore the missing legal foundation of the phrase (or the ratification processes of new treaties that actually change the nature of the EU)  ‘Ever closer union’ doesn’t really matter in every day EU politics. The phrase was first included in the Treaty of Rome in 1957 (well  before the UK joined!) and it reads like this:

Determined to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe,…

Yes, it does matter for some member states as a political symbol for European integration, but it is also a lofty political goal, the sort of stuff you would put into a preamble of a boring treaty. One should be relaxed about it,  it is also a phrase of its time. Funnily enough, the phrase has mostly been discussed in the UK where it developed into some sort of rhetorical weapon against the EU. As part of his ‘renegotiation‘ David Cameron is now keen to remove this sentence from the treaties to ‘stop’ the alleged automatic integration of the EU.  It is another fight he will not be able to win. There is absolutely no willingness among the other 27 EU member states to open the treaties to change symbolic language – and, more importantly, the problem has been solved.

During last week’s European Council, David Cameron ‘raised concerns’ and the following sentence was included in the Council conclusions:

The European Council noted that the concept of ever closer union allows for different paths of integration for different countries, allowing those that want to deepen integration to move ahead, while respecting the wish of those who do not want to deepen any further.

But this is not a bold move by the British Prime Minister it simply confirms existing EU rules. And any commentator who praises this as a breakthrough or a change in direction is seriously misguided. This has been the de-facto policy of the EU for quite a while, it is included in the Lisbon Treaty, it is called “enhanced cooperation” – and you can read about it here.

From a British perspective, the concept of”enhanced cooperation” is effectively giving the UK a permanent opt-out from  ‘ever closer union’.

Why Cameron’s case for ‘EU reform’ is a PR stunt

Cameron’s “EU reform” is a PR stunt designed to please the media and his backbenchers. He basically follows the advice of his pollsters that told him that he could win an EU referendum if he convincingly  changes the “UK’s terms of membership”. But it follows a simplistic idea: The man on the street does not know the current membership terms (thanks to a media that is not always helpful in reporting the facts…)  so using this general ignorance Cameron’s pollsters are convinced  that the Prime Minister can deliver “a more favourable deal” simply by getting a few concessions and by constantly emphasising how favourable these new terms would be…

There are several  problems with this approach – not least  the smugness of taking the electorate as fools:

First of all this “renegotiation” of membership terms has already happened. The UK is not part of the eurozone, it did not sign the fiscal compact, it is not part of the Schengen area. Over the years British politicians have negotiated a series of policy opt-outs (the latest being the JHA opt-out). And last but not least the UK still enjoys a “budget rebate”. The UK is effectively a semi-detached EU member state. So the question is: What else can you realistically “renegotiate”? There is also little political will elsewhere in the EU to grant yet another opt-out to the UK.

The second problem is a misunderstanding of what is an institutional – and what is a policy change.  Most things that Cameron usually labels as ‘reform’ are policies which can be implemented without banging on about how this would constitute a ‘new EU deal’ (especially when you think about ‘completing the single market’, trade agreements such as TTIP or establishing a ‘digital single market’)

The third problem is the general lack of ideas. The only evidence so far is an article by David Cameron in the Sunday Times  – not quite the  detailed policy agenda one expects from a new “EU deal”. The government also set up a process, the so-called  Review of the Balance of competences , “an audit of what the EU does and how it affects the UK”. The idea behind it was that it would generate enough ideas for this ambitious ‘new deal with the EU’. Unfortunately (for Cameron) this audit (so far) has found not much that needs to be renegotiated – the balance is broadly acceptable.

It seems to me that it would have been better to wait for the results of this review before announcing the referendum/renegotiation package. The latest idea to remove a largely symbolic (and not legally binding!) reference to  “ever closer union” in a  EU treaty looks like a desperate attempt to appease – once again – the eurosceptic backbenchers. Suffice to say the treaty will not be changed – any political declaration that Cameron could get out of the European Council will just be a piece of paper.

So basically “EU reform” is an empty shell. Cameron uses it all the time without being specific about it with the aim of giving the impression that all is going according to plan. But unfortunately (for him) nothing goes according to plan. There will be no new treaty  (another miscalculation by Cameron’s advisers) and by not framing the issue in a broader context he is set to lose all remaining allies.

Any proper EU reform is usually negotiated by all EU member states – not by one member states making demands and threatening to leave. It is about compromise – but for Cameron everything is a “battle” and it is unlikely that he will change his negotiation tactics in the coming months… If you want treaty change (and this is the only thing Cameron should fight for – forget about Juncker) you basically have to convince all other member states that it is in their interest to change the treaty – and once they want a new treaty you reluctantly also agree to call for an IGC. But this more diplomatic approach is not David Cameron’s cup of tea…

In hindsight, Cameron’s referendum pledge was a mistake

Cameron’s initial strategic mistake was the referendum pledge. It did not appease the Tory right (as originally envisaged). The rise of UKIP did not stop –  on the contrary UKIP  is alive and kicking (the plan of Cameron was to develop a credible response that attacks the raison d’être of UKIP) The rest of the EU increasingly perceives Cameron’s actions as a simple act of blackmailing. And if Cameron continues to negotiate like he did during the Spitzenkandidaten row –  I am afraid that he will not get any concession in the coming months.  And  anyway Cameron’s idea of EU reform is simply non-existent (and only because one prominent UK based think tank writes about it doesn’t make it true)

And now another scenario appears increasingly likely: The in-out EU referendum may become a referendum on immigration. It must be Cameron’s nightmare scenario. There will be no new treaty, renegotiation will be a PR exercise and the issue of immigration could dominate the referendum campaign:

If there were to be a renegotiation, the two things they most want are “control of immigration” and “send less money”. If the EU remains in control of immigration, renegotiation would be seen as a failure and, having raised false hopes, would make people more likely to vote “out”. While the status quo in a referendum usually has a structural advantage, in an EU referendum this advantage could be lost as the “out” campaign could say “this is your chance to change immigration policy”.

After the Conservatives attacked UKIP by promising an EU referendum UKIP simply changed tactics and  discovered the topic of “immigration”.  It worked well over the past couple of months, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that issue would also be used in a referendum campaign.

And if that happens, all bets are off – and the UK could indeed sleepwalk out of the EU.

David Cameron’s “EU reform” explained in 4 tweets

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?


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:

Why Miliband’s ‘EU referendum policy’ is dangerous for Britain and the EU

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…]

Some ideas for EU reform that would *really* make a difference

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:

  • EU member states: Stop blaming the EU for your own ideas. Ministers in the Council often suggest stuff but once they are back in their countries they seem surprised that anyone took them seriously. And one more thing:  if it is an idea that was previously rejected in your country – well, you know, maybe it is a bad idea?
  • European Commission: Start blaming others by putting colourful banners on the front page of all Commission proposals that reveal the origin of the proposal: “This regulation was requested by a joint initiative of the British and German governments” / “This is follow-up from the Environment Council” / “This Commission directive is the result of an intense lobbying campaign by French energy companies” / “This Commission directive was inspired by the Tobacco industry”. Call it a new “transparency initiative” – trust me, it would fundamentally transform the EU discourse.
  • European Commission: Hire a couple of journalists and create a “Bullshit Detection Unit (BTU)”: Each Commission proposal needs to pass the BTU test. This will reduce the amount of formulations that could be misinterpreted by other journalists.
  • European Parliament: Stop talking about things you can’t change.  Nobody needs your own initiative reports. They only get picked up by the tabloids as proof for some new “EU law”. Similar point about the upcoming European Parliament elections – focus on policies that you can actually influence and be frank about things you will not be able to change under the current treaties.
  • Journalists: Just stop following this guide. It was not supposed to be a manual.
  • Everybody: Every time you criticise the EU for being not bold enough/ too soft/not speaking with one voice/ too business friendly / not business friendly enough  – try and suggest an actual policy. But first try and think for one moment whether it is an EU competence and if you could get all 28 countries to agree on it.

…to be continued…

Is EU criminal law a threat to British justice?

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 

Lying with statistics – feat. ECR and Daniel Hannan

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.

Paul Dacre received EU farm subsidies

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)

The Renegotiation

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)

renegotiation

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”.

How to become a British eurosceptic

1. Don’t pretend to be sceptic in the strict sense of the word. You hate the EU, hence your are a sceptic. Don’t question this logic. The word “sceptic” sounds good because it shows that you can think things through.

2. Don’t waste your time to check the facts, they often ruin the argument. Nobody ever asks follow-up questions. The EU is boring – use it to your advantage. And there is no need to know anything about the EU.

3. Demand an EU referendum at every possible moment – because you know that this will annoy the establishment, your party leader, prime minster, twitter followers, etc. If you are a politician you know this will easily translate into press coverage. You don’t really need to know why you want a referendum (Basically you want one because you know this is the only possibility to get Britain out of the EU). It is enough to demand one – after all it is democratic.

3. The Daily Mail has excellent coverage of EU affairs – everything you need to know can be found in this quality newspaper.  If you are a hardcore eurosceptic you may also find pleasing articles in the Daily Express. Tabloids can be used to back up your “common sense” approach to politics – if it is in a popular paper it must be common sense! But also other British media outlets can be used. And remember: If you can’t find a certain article just give them a call and tell them an outrageous story – it might appear in the paper in a few days. Don’t forget: the media is your friend.

4. Useful phrase: “I love Europe – but I hate the EU”

5. Complain about “red tape”. Don’t bother checking what sort of “red tape” you are talking about or why it actually exists. Any regulation is bad. Use the word “regulation” instead of “rule”. And  “Brussels imposed regulations” are always a bad thing.

6. It is essential that you have a contempt for compromise.

7. Immigration is a problem and that is the truth and nothing but the truth.

8. You may want to check with your own political party what is acceptable behaviour. UKIP seems to have a liberal approach to it – you can get away with all sorts of statements.  If you are a Conservative or a Labour member you may want to hide your anti-EU feelings in  some incoherent claims about the need to have a referendum – or some mysterious new membership deal. Say that Britain needs a “new deal” without specifying why the current deal is bad – and what needs to be included in the “new deal”. Don’t worry, nobody will ask this question.

9. If you are not a politician you can still become a eurosceptic comment troll. All major newspapers have a place for reader comments. Use it! Don’t make the mistake to actually read the article. Prepare a selection of eurosceptic phrases and post your comment below any article. (Be creative: use the war and Churchill, evil Germans, something about the common market in 1970, mention undemocratic judges, red tape and the Brussels super-state, or the Strassbourg human rights courts. The possibilities are endless)

10. You can broaden your political appeal by being anti-climate change, anti-gay, pro-life, anti-politics, anti-trade union, anti- whatever. Takes a bit of practice though.

11. Pretend to be a libertarian. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

12. Complain about how the EU is holding Britain back. Don’t make the beginner’s mistake to look at other countries in Europe and how they are doing – again, this may ruin the argument. If under pressure you can always refer to Greece to make the case that Europe is not working.

13. You are the savior of the “City”. You are protecting Britain’s financial interests. There was no financial crisis. Repeat it a few times. You will be surprised how easy it is to convince people that the EU is more evil than – let’s say – bankers and politicians…

14. Numbers are important in the public discourse – but you have to be consistent. Come up with a few easy numbers: % of laws dictated by Brussels – and something that summarises the costs, preferably by day. Fellow eurosceptics need to be able to refer to your number so make sure it is easy to remember. Or check your favorite newspaper/think tank, they may have done the research for you  – just don’t look into the methodology. This often ruins the argument.

15. 19th century sovereignty is your religion. Shared sovereignty does not exist. But remember: only the EU threatens Britain’s sovereignty.

16. You have to adapt your language. “European super state” or “Brussels” instead of EU, try to use “unelected bureaucrats/judges” as often as possible. A few basic arguments include: The British pound is good, the Euro is bad. The EU cannot be reformed. Brussels is a corrupt bureaucratic gravy train. Use those “arguments” as often as possible.

17. Say that “the people” demand a referendum. Never mind that the biggest concern of “the people” is the economy and jobs.

18. You need to develop a superiority complex. You are British so you understand the world just a bit better than other Europeans. Most EU rules are unnecessary/bad so without those EU rules everything would be better. Referring to the “good old times” is also important. It’s the perception, stupid!

19. You need to learn the skill to use the phrase “It is Europe’s fault”: The economy, bad-tasting sausages, car accidents, trains – the topic does not really matter. People just need to remember that everything is Europe’s fault.

20. The fear is with you. Fear of immigrants, fear of foreigners, fear of loosing sovereignty, fear of Europe, fear of the coming super-state.

Europe according to the Tories

europe-according-to-uk-tories

Thanks @alphadesigner!

Europe according to the British

europe-according-to-britain

via @alphadesigner

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