Tag: euroscepticism

BBC news, UKIP-style

Today, the Migration Advisory Committee published a 358-page report titled: “Migrants in low-skilled work: the growth of EU and non-EU labour in low-skilled jobs and its impact on the UK” Well, it’s a huge report,  difficult to summarise with – potentially – a lot of interesting findings, here is quick summary of what the report covers (p.279):

The first part (Chapters 2 to 4) is a review of the evidence around migrants in low-skilled work and the evolution of the wider labour market for low – skilled employment over the previous 15 years;

The second part (Chapters 5 and 6) looks at how employers recruit migrant workers and whether there are any issues with the compliance and enforcement of relevant rules and regulations;

The third part (Chapters 7 to 9) focuses on, respectively, the impact of migrants in low-skilled work on the labour market, the wider economy and the social environment.

A second quote to clarify the scope of the ‘recommendations’ at the end of the report (p. 279-292):

We do not make specific policy recommendations as the evidence was not sufficiently developed to enable us to do this. Rather, we make suggestions as to where the focus of policy on the area of migrant low – skilled employment should be

I don’t want to look into the content of the report (as I have not finished reading it) but for now let’s remember some simple facts: The report is about the impact of EU and non-EU immigration  on the  lUK abour market – in particular relating to low skilled workers –  over the past 15 years or so. And there are no recommendations as such. And the first part is pretty much a literature review.

Although there are no recommendations as such it is interesting to  skim through the conclusions (Chapter 10, “Areas for policy focus”) to get an idea what sort of issues are part of the ‘conclusions’ of the report:

  • Recruitment, and compliance and enforcement
  • Labour market outcomes for the native population, especially for younger groups
  • Greater recognition of, and support for, the local impacts of migration
  • The role of institutions and other public policies
  • Flows of migrants into low-skilled work in the future
  • The role of evidence in the wider migration debate

So how does the media report such a complex report?  Well, let’s listen to a snippet from the BBC:



So why did the BBC decide that the main (!) conclusion of the report is  linked to future (!) EU enlargement (it is mentioned in one paragraph)?  Why use the the phrase “combined population of  84 Million”?  The number includes  75 Million Turkish citizens; and we all know that  there are only minimal chances that Turkey will become a EU member state anytime soon. And most importantly, why copy UKIP’s implicit claim that all people who live in those countries would eventually look for jobs in the UK? This is pretty poor journalism for the BBC as it simply does not reflect the depth of the report.

Another problem is the nature of those news items. The recording above is taken from one of those very short (1.30m) news programmes on BBC 6 music that is repeated every hour or so. It is arguably not the most important radio station in the UK but other music channels have exactly the same kind of approach  to news formats. And it is probably  one of the main news sources for many casual listeners. It’s a perfect example how the news can shape the public discourse – and how bad journalism can fuel euroscepticism. People listen to music stations for much longer than they listen to news programmes – and they have to listen to the same 1m 30 news format for a whole afternoon. So not only is this 40 seconds piece above one of the main news items it is also repeated  several times a day – and what do you remember at the end of the day?

Migration = bad, EU enlargement = bad, 84 Million people will come to the UK…

As with many of those complex reports you could also come to the opposite conclusion – and find other interesting angles, here are just a few examples: Migrants had a modest impact impact on the labour market, but there was a positive net contribution of EAA migrants. There is not much evidence to suggest that benefit tourism actually exists.  Most low skilled migrants are not from the EU. It was also noted that different areas in the UK are more affected than others – and that some local councils/government departments were not helpful in preparing the report.  Contrary to some gossip there was also no indication of discrimination against UK workers – but a worrying trend of general non-compliance and non-enforcement of rules in the low-wage labour market in the UK. In fact the lax rules of the UK labour market are mentioned  several times. The report also laments the gap between public perceptions of migration and the reality…

The BBC is one of the few news outlet that explicitly focuses on the future (!) enlargement angle. Not even the Telegraph or the Daily Mail do this as this (rather unrepresentative) overview of UK media coverage shows (also a good illustration of how various papers report migration issues):

Guardian: EU migrants ‘not hitting UK school-leavers’ job prospects’

Telegraph: Britain ‘struggling to cope’ with immigration, says official report

The Independent:  Sustained immigration has not harmed Britons’ employment, say government advisers

Daily Mail: Mass immigration to parts of Britain HAS driven down wages of the poor and put pressure on services, official report finds

Evening Standard:  Schools ‘fuel migration by failing less able children’

Reuters: Parts of Britain struggling with immigration, say government advisers

Bloomberg: U.K. Local Authorities Need More Help With Migrants, Panel Says

Debating EU politics beyond the ‘Eurosceptic’ – ‘Europhile’ divide

I know it’s an old debate – but since I have returned to Brussels I keep stumbling into conversations that end up in arguing about what it means to be “pro EU”. Well,  I happen to think that being labelled “pro-EU”, “europhile” or “eurosceptic” is rather silly. Here is why:

  • I think  MEPs did a good job amending the #connectedcontinent directive last week by specifying the questionable “specialized services” – but I am not sure I can support the ITRE Committee and the Commission in this process. So just because I think the policy outcome is positive I am considered a “europhile”?
  • I don’t think Angela Merkel’s policy on ‘saving the euro’ has been very clever but I also realise the treaty limitations in these areas and the difficult political environment she had to operate in.  I can distinguish between the “troika” mechanism, the role of the European Commission and German and Greek politics.  So I may oppose the troika, understand the risks of eurobonds but think the fiscal compact could be counterproductive,  at the same time I may think it is a good idea to impose stricter financial regulations on banks.   Does that make me automatically a “anti-EU” for being anti-austerity or a “europhile” for supporting more regulation in a certain policy areas?
  • I think the German car industry had an unhealthy influence on the German position in the Council when it decided on CO2 emissions. So would that make me “anti-German”?  Or “anti-EU” because I think the EU’s climate policy is a failure?
  • I believe the EU – and especially Catherine Ashton – did a good job during the Iran negotiations. But I know that member states still rule in foreign policy and that it is a policy field that often relies on external factors beyond our control. So yes, EU foreign policy can be effective over time but it lacks instruments to deliver short terms success stories. Does that make me a “europhile” for believing that member states  can punch above their weight by using the EU?
  • I  don’t know what to think about TTIP. It sounds like a good idea but I also think people are overselling it and there is a real danger that consumer standards are being watered down. The process is not transparent so I criticize it – does it make me a “eurosceptic” or “anti- American”?
  • Some EU projects are useful but some projects are clearly not thought through. At the same time  EU institutions often lack the appropriate control mechanisms – and member states don’t want to invest in additional personnel. Am I now a “eurosceptic” for suggesting that the EU is not working because of the failure of a certain project?
  • The Dublin 2 regulation is not working and is creating a “Fortress Europe”,  tragedies happening in the Mediterranean on a daily basis. Of course we should change it – but member states are happy the way it is.  Nobody wants poor refugees from Sub-Saharan Africa or Syria and nobody wants to spend more money on issues like that. Plus, the immigration “debate” in most member states ruined the possibility of a policy discourse. So, is critizising the Dublin 2 regulation “eurosceptic” for suggesting that “Europe” is partly responsible for the tragedies in the Mediterranean?
  • Generally I think that a lot lot of  problems are transnational and can only be dealt with by working on the EU level – from climate change to tax evasion and  a range of cross border linkages. I think it should be easier (and cheaper) to travel by train trough Europe or vote in national elections where I pay my taxes. I think it should be easier to access health care and pension systems in countries I live in. I like to defend fundamental rights across Europe – of course  I realise that we lack instruments to ‘punish’  Hungary or Italy.  I naively believe that countries should not violate the fundamental rights of citizens it other EU countries (Hello GCHQ!). This sounds like common sense but it also  make me a “europhile” for suggesting that the EU should play a greater role in these sort of issues.
  • Many EU institutions are relatively transparent and easy to approach – except the Council. This is a problem – but it cannot be changed without the consent of the member states that don’t have an interest in changing it. Am I now a “eurosceptic” because I criticise a EU institution?

This list could go on. The question remains the same:  What am I? A europhile or a europsceptic? Well, I think it is too easy to focus on these two labels – the reality is more complex. In fact we should stop using both labels! The problem is that we perceive the EU as some sort of non-political entity unable to change. But the opposite is true. As any national political system there are different political forces at play. On the EU level we are simply bad in identifying the actor that can be made responsible for a certain policy choice. (the  irony here is that Brussels based lobbyists have a much better grasp of what is going on – so is it really that complex to find out? Questions about the quality of EU journalism spring to mind… )

Another problem is linked to competences – do we really know what EU competences are  – or do we just believe what we hear from journalists or local politicians?  We seem to mix up national and EU competences – as well the difference between a decision on the EU level, the involvement of national actors and the implementation on the national or regional level. It is Brussels, it’s all the same, isn’t it?

Just compare it with talking about national politics – criticising your government does not mean you want to overthrow the government. You simply want another government. In a federal state it is pretty normal to argue about the mechanisms how to distribute money between entities  – but again, that doesn’t mean you want to abolish the system. If you  don’t like a law you can protest against it and vote a different party next time  – it doesn’t mean you want to get rid of the political system.

The same should happen on the EU level – citizens should be able to evaluate EU policy outcomes and vote in national and European elections accordingly. (I  know this is a bit more complex – but in principle this is how it *should* be ) – and this is also how EU reform should look like. (link slightly unrelated)

The EU needs debates about different policy options. Basically the EU is here to stay – so if we want good policy outcomes we should argue about issues, proposals and counter-proposals.

PS: Yes,  I know, the line on ” the EU is here to stay” will put me firmly in the “europhile” camp…

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…

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.

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 British


via @alphadesigner

The British ‘nuclear’ JHA opt-out

Very interesting CER policy brief  by Hugo Brady – and a shorter EUROPP piece on the JHA block opt-out option; here a couple of paragraphs:

Lisbon has shifted the emphasis of EU criminal justice policy away from ‘co-operation’ towards more ‘integration’. Over time – the thinking in Whitehall goes – EU judges might undermine Britain’s common law in favour of the continental civil model by handing down harmonising rulings. This, along a domestic political backlash against the influence of European courts, makes it likely that Britain’s prime minister, David Cameron, will use the block opt-out.

That would be a mistake. First, UK officials think that Britain’s size and importance mean that it can automatically opt back in to around 50 EU anti-crime measures, including the arrest warrant, once the block opt-out is triggered. That way the government could secure access to co-operation and data valued by Britain’s police while limiting the country’s exposure to future ECJ rulings. This is wrongheaded. The European Commission is likely to attach tough conditions to allow this and Britain’s negotiating stock in Brussels is low due to its perceived unhelpfulness during the eurozone crisis.

Furthermore, countries in the EU’s Schengen area of passport-free travel have previously blocked Britain from joining Frontex, the EU’s border agency, and the so-called VIS, a common database of visa records. (The UK maintains its own separate border regime.) Why should they now acquiesce to British cherry-picking in policing and justice?

Britain has shaped much of the EU’s internal security agenda to date. The current head of Europol (the EU’s police office) Rob Wainwright, is British; as have been the last two presidents of Eurojust (its prosecution office), and the last two director-generals of the Commission’s justice and home affairs directorate. For a country that is not in Schengen, possesses a minority legal system and selectively opts-out of common rules, this is a remarkable diplomatic success.

Read the policy brief.


The UK and the European Union: A difficult relationship

There has been a lot of talk about the UK’s role in the EU lately. First the backbenchers’ rebellion in the House of Commons, then Cameron’s attempts to define EU policy (aiming at a “repatriation of powers”) and now a Labour debate on how to deal with Europe.  Moreover, EU member states are increasingly critical towards the UK (Sarkozy’s remarks are just one example). But what exactly are the problems of the UK’s approach to the EU?

The following text is a collection of unorganised and incoherent thoughts. Probably I should have written two proper essays or 5 blog posts. But I was too lazy and put everthing in one long blog post. It is also the result of living in the UK for the last several years and includes a mix of commentary about recent events but also more general points that I find interesting in the UK’s approach to the EU. Everything, as usual, unfinished and exaggerated and ‘thought’ in progress.  Sorry for the lack of links – might include some in the coming days.

What are the underlying problems of the UK-EU relationship?

First of all, there are several underlying problems worth mentioning.

It seems to me that generally there is limited  trust among UK decision makers in the politics and implementation efforts of other EU member states as well as EU institutions.  Take for example the Schengen opt-out which basically tells the rest of the EU: We don’t trust you to secure the external border efficiently.  Another example is the recent obsession with supranational court decisions (albeit mainly the Council of Europe) but it follows the same line of thought. Foreign judges can’t possibly be as good as our judges. Another example is the European Parliament: The idea that  foreign MEPs (that are also elected!) are involved in shaping legislation is seen as a strange concept. Everything should be done in Westminster. Other democratically elected bodies are not good enough – because they are not British (an implicit assumption behind a lot of arguments). It is the focus on theses issues instead of looking at how the UK is involved in certain international bodies which makes public debates so hideous.

Furthermore the political culture of the UK seems to have a problem with the concept of ‘compromise’ and ‘negotiations’ which is vital for European institutions. The media also loves zero sum games – which does not help to frame the issue.  This may have to do with the two party system and the missing tradition to form coalitions but it may well be laziness to understand complex issues. And even the governing coalition does not seem be able to communicate the nature and the necessity of ‘compromises’ in a convincing way.

The UK suffers from a political superiority complex. Especially politicians and commentators do not seem to understand that (1) the empire is gone – and will not come back, that (2) you can learn something from other countries (3) the war is over. All those tendencies create the impression of the “little Englanders” with a funny “island mentality”. Interestingly, the life in the UK is more cosmopolitan than in other parts of the EU and the majority of the population is very liberal and open-mindend. I think this is the real disconnect between the elite and the citizens in the UK.

At the same time, UK citizens are disconnected from the EU not only because Brussels is 2 hours away from London.  No – the UK government secured opt-outs in virtually all areas which could  benefit citizens directly and make the EU  more visible in everyday life: no Euro, no Schengen, no social rights, no fundamental rights…  It is not a surprise that citizens will not be interested, let alone develop trust in EU cooperation. The EU is reduced to a theoretical concept of a trade bloc. This mixed with a hostile media and attention seeking politicians will give you what is commonly described as “‘euroscepticism’.

There is obviously a huge problem with the way how UK media report about the EU. One the one hand side there is the tradition of  tabloid campaign journalism which actively lobbies against anything European.  The Murdoch press has bee opposed to the EU as soon as it realised that competition policy might also have an impact on the Murdochs. However, I don’t think the Murdoch press is the problem. The main problem in the UK  is actually the Daily Mail – and this goes beyond the  EU stories, it has an impact on democratic culture. The Daily Mail is read by a large middle class who tends to think of it as a ‘normal’ newspaper – which I think is an essential problem in the UK. (but this is a topic for another blogpost) One the other hand you can find  inaccuate EU reporting also in broadsheets. However, tabloid ‘EU stories’ have created an atmosphere which can be characterised by suspicion and fear of the ‘other’ and a general feeling that foreigners and immigrats are bad and everything foreign (especially ”Brussels’) cannot be trusted. Let’s not forget that the  media concsiously misreports EU issues and actively develops  euromyths. I don’t believe that this is because of lazy journalists  – it is far too frequent, it only happens in the UK so this must be actively pursued by certain interests! However, the power of the hostile media landscape defined to a large extent what is acceptable for politicians to say ‘on Europe’.

The public debate “on Europe” is stuck in a frame that only knows “europhiles” and “eurosceptics”. As long as both words are seen as insults there is not much hope to move the debate forward. It is not helpful to address the real problems of the EU or the UK-EU relationship.  Especially political parties need to develop new discoursive frames to create a useful debate “on Europe”.  New frames are desperately needed. Examples could be a “social Europe”, a “liberal Europe” or a “stable Europe”. However, in order to do that you need to accept that the EU is here to stay and that different policies should be decided on the different levels with the appropriate democratic control.

We need better EU politicians. The UK as well as most other Menber states must start sending better politicians to Brussels and Strassbourg. The European Parliament can only work better if citizens send their best and brightest MEPs to Strassbourg and Brussels. The European Commission can only work with Commissiners that are multilingual and  competent in their respective policy area.  Parties and the media must stop seeing ‘Brussels’ as the end of a career but rather as a political choice that is as important as being an MP in Westminster.

Languages are a huge problem in the UK. There will be problems as long as the value of language teaching is contested. One benefit of the EU is to look for jobs and opportunities in other EU countries. However, this only works if pupils learn as many languages as possible. Learning a language needs to become compulsary again in UK education – from the first year to the last year!

There is an  obsession of the current UK government to frame everything in the ‘national interests’ using an outdated concept of ‘power’ and ‘sovereinty’. This may well be a problem of the Conservative party but the real problem is the narrow definition of ‘national interests’.  If everything is framed within zero sum games it is very difficult to win anything. At the moment, the government seems to have a very simplisitic view on power and influence which is also at the heart of its problems with the EU.

And one final thing: The UK is a European country. So, please Brits, stop saying “If you go to Europe…” or “In Europe things are different…” As long as you define everything according to a “them and us” pattern, nothing will change.

What is the way forward for the UK?

A general point which needs to be addressed is that compromise is often painful but necessary. This may not be an integral part of the UK’s political culture but it is important in an interdependent world and even more so in the EU.  Knowledge about the value of cooperation is another broader concept that is often forgotten in the UK debate. The focus on “national interests”, “souvereignty” etc will not help the UK in long term.

The UK needs to realise that you can only change the EU if it is an integral part of it. If you decide to leave the EU you will end up implementing EU policy without the ability to change EU policy (as outlined by David Cameron). A more complex point however is the following.  You can only change a certain EU policy  if you are an equal part of this specific EU policy. If you have an opt-out nobody will consult you, nobody will listen to you and you will not be able to change anything.<
If a two-speed Europe  is not in the interest of the UK there is only one way forward for the UK:  The UK needs to increase its EU bargaining power!

For example: If the UK is serious about changing the budget in the future it will  need to  give up the budget rebate.  The budget is important as it provides strategic opportunities to reform the EU. But if one country pays less because of some dodgy deal 30 years ago it will not be taken seriously. The world has changed since Thatcher. At the same time the UK could win some friends in Eastern Europe by doing this.  This however can only be addressed if the UK government is ready to accept that it could indeed be in the “national interest” to pay more in exchange of ‘influence’. But this is a difficult sell especially if your ‘red lines’ are rigid and your ‘national interest’ is static.

Another example:  Despite the current crisis, the eurozone is the most important market for the UK. Recently, David  Cameron and George Osborne called for more fiscal coordination within the eurozone because the UK wants a stable currency zone to trade with. Now, the problem is that the UK is not a eurozone member, so one can understand Nicolas Sarkozy’s ager regarding the UK’s attempt to lecture how the eurozone should be run. Using the current eurozone crisis to start a debate on repatriating some mysterious powers (which are never properly defined!) is exactly the wrong way to secure a stable eurozone. It will not give you more leverage but only make you sound ridiculous in the ears of French or German politicians. And remember: In the worst case scenario the eurozone will establish parallel institutions and negotiating new treaties outside the present EU framework – and the UK would have no say whatsoever. The bargaining chip is unfortunately (at least for the political elite) full eurozone membership. The UK government should announce to join  (important is the word ‘announce’!) in a reformed eurozone at some undefined point in the future. This may give the prime minister a seat at the table of the eurozone summits and in every other future political/fiscal cooperation mechanism. The bargaining power is quite sophisticated. No direct obligation to join the euro but an influence in shaping the governance of the eurozone based on a vague promise to join one day if reforms have been implemented successfully.

Just two points that are often neglected by UK politicians and commentators: (1) Germany will do everything to save the Euro. And I mean everything.  It may be hard to believe for some UK commentators, but a break- up of the Euro is not on the agenda. Only British newspapers speculate about it. (2) All Eastern European EU member states are legally obliged to join the Euro in the future including states such as Poland. Denmark has an opt-out but its currency is linked to the eurzone which makes the opt out purely symbolical. That leaves the UK and Sweden – the latter is thinking about holding a new referendum after the crisis. The danger is not a two-speed Europe –  but a core-EU of up to 26 member states.

Another example. You can’t advocate for a better EU foreign policy and saying at the same time that nothing needs to change. It is a failure of the British diplomacy not to use the EU in more strategic way. After all, British diplomats are among the best out there and are highly respected within the international system. But why is Britain opposed to making the EEAS work, why not develop joint consular services or coordinate foreign policy on the ground, why not save money and increase efficiency with a military coordination unit in Brussels? It is pure hypocrisy to criticise on the EU’s lack of power without trying to change things. Again, this has to do with an outdated concept of sovereignty which places more importance on symbols and traditions than addressing the real problems.

I think the UK elite consistently failed to build strong EU alliances. Especially a strong British-German alliance within the EU would be desirable.  There is a lot of common ground between the two countries – provided you are prepared to learn from another country. There is a substantial part within the German elite which can identify with the  UK’s philosophy on trade and markets.  In contrast, the French state centric economic model does not really correspond to German realities.  However, the German-French axis mainly exists because of historical reasons – and the lack of alternatives. I think the Germans would rather run the EU with the Brits than with the French if the Brits were a bit more involved in everything and would not always look for the opt-out. The truth is that Germany and Britain are both large countries that are obviously linked through history (and the British obsession with the wars might not have helped in the past), languages are not that different and even the Queen has German ancestors. People in Germany are fond of the English language and British culture. So wouldn’t it make sense for British politicians to develop closer links to Germany?

You want to change the CAP,  liberalise services in the EU, reform the EU budget, clearly define what policy is decided on which level, creating a better EU foreign policy? Well,  I think Berlin might be interested. But from a Berlin perspective, the UK is already seen as semi-detached from the EU – if not fully detached. Basically nobody in Berlin cares what British politicians say on ‘Europe’ or what they want during the next round of treaty negotiations.

Well, this is something David Cameron should change. But he can only change it if he offers something in return.

Libertas: The one-man show comes to Europe

So, just in time for next years European Parliament elections Declan Ganley launched his Libertas party, or “pan-European movement” as he would label it. However, so far the ‘party’ neither has programme nor candidates which I think is major shortcoming when launching a party. You would at least expect some basic policy goals in order to attract ‘members’ for the movement as well as funding. The conclusion could be that Libertas neither needs members nor funding. 426 fans on facebook and 29 followers on Twitter also don’t make the impression of a huge grass root pan-European movement. So is it only a small fringe party of a millionaire that got carried away by his successful Irish  No-campaign?

Declan Ganley is clearly a one man show. He wants to turn the EP elections in a Europe wide referendum about … yes about what exactly? He is against the “undemocratic” Lisbon treaty and against the “unaccountable elite in Brussels” but what does he really want to achieve?

Somehow Ganley reminds me of a classic modern populist (Ronald Schill, Jörg Haider, maybe even Oskar Lafontaine) although in quite another context.  (and also without the usual racist and law and order attitudes) Furthermore, Ganley only focuses on one single issue (anti-Lisbon basically) which is quite typical for any populist movements.

The only content worth reading on the new Libertas website is the “Facts” section that addresses “Libertas myths” which is weird because it gives the impression that Libertas is on the defensive and at the same time a kind of martyr as it seems to communicate one thing:  “We are not the establishment!”

Mark Mardell interviewed Ganley a few days ago about Libertas, you can listen to a short clip here. Actually the piece is quite interesting as it reveals the lack of any positive political vision. Ganley talks a lot about “turning the elections in a referendum against the Brussels elites” and “bringing back Europe to the people”.

His rhethoric is not very pan-European either. He hardly mentions anything that is relevant for people outside Ireland and the UK (ok, maybe because it was a BBC interview..). And even for Ireland and the UK he links everything with the distinctive British (and Irish) referendum debates. Ganley also does not seem to understand the difference between an election and a referendum which he shows by comparing the elections in the US with the Lisbon treaty referendum in Ireland.

What he also fails to deliver is any positive vision, being against something is just not enough (well, maybe it is enough for some voters?). He only talks about this one election as a ‘one-off’ opportunity for voters to show their discontent to the “unaccountable elites in Brussels”. But what about the future of the European Parliament elections and the future of the European Parliament itself? What does Libertas want to achieve in the day to day business of the Parliament? What Ganley’s vision for the insitutional setup of the EU? It seems he only wants so send a “strong message” to the leaders of Europe without any substance or as Ganley puts it “a clear no vote”.The only firm aim is a “25 page” document that would replace the Lisbon Treaty.

The claim of having a 25 page document is very interesting as it can mean different things for different target groups:

One option is a EU with very limited powers and hardly any competences as a 25 page document is not long enough to specify any political and institutional compromises. Very attractive to the Anti-EU camp and the supporters of a withdrawal policy.

The second option is a EU with state attributes similar to the US with clear federal divisions. Very attractive for federalists and very optimistic EU supporters.

Ganley seems to think that he can get supporters from both “camps” which I doubt he can achieve. I think by meeting up with known “EU-sceptics” and the lack of having an actual draft of the 25 page document he will only get votes from the Anti-EU camp.

So what can we expect from Libertas? Not much, unfortunately. Probably EP candidates will not be very prolific with the exception of the top candidates that probably will come from other fringe movements plus a few known EU sceptics. I am sure there will be some scandals with candidates that are lower ranked and not screened properly.

The campaign itself is likely to focus on traditional media strategies, lots of TV spots and big poster campaigns. (similar to the campaign in Ireland)

At the moment it is very hard to say anything about the content of the campaign. However, I suspect it will be a negative campaign. We will see a lot of false information and a lot of populist statements that include phrases with a mixture of “democracy now” “Europe for the people ” “Vote against Brussels bureaucrats”. Lots of attacks against the “elites in Brussels” that are “not in touch with us, the people” etc. of course anti-Lisbon but without any clear alternative besides a very nebulous concept of a “new deal for Europe”.

© 2016 Kosmopolito

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑