Tag Archives: Eurosceptics

Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

At the start of this week results came out from Switzerland’s referendum on migration, revealing narrow backing for plans to impose a cap on migrants. The ‘Federal Popular Initiative Against Mass Immigration’, which was passed by 50.3% to 49.7%, represents the effective rejection of freedom of movement pacts negotiated between Switzerland and the EU. The initiative, which was put forward by the anti-immigrant, anti-Europe Swiss People’s Party, was not just opposed by those on the left but by figures across the Swiss the business community. In the aftermath of the vote economists at Credit Suisse wrote that Switzerland would pay “a high price” for its decision, and the Swiss Bankers Association sought to distance itself from the move. One financier told the Financial Times, “The Swiss are delusional to think they can just cherry pick what they want from the EU”.

The wider implications of Switzerland’s decision look to be severe. Despite being a non-EU country Switzerland has historically benefited from many of the trade perks enjoyed by EU member states. Indeed, UKIP and Eurosceptic Tories have pointed at Switzerland as a model of the type of country Britain could supposedly become if we left the EU. However, the result of Monday’s plebiscite has led the European Commission to re-examine Switzerland’s access to the European single market, with all treaties now up for negotiation. EC vice-president Viviane Reding pointed out on Monday that free trade and free movement were inextricable: “You take them all or you leave them all.”

Switzerland’s neighbours voiced similar warnings, with Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, calling the move “worrying” for a small country which “lives off the EU.” His German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said the country had “harmed itself,” and the Luxembourg government were also concerned for Switzerland’s economic prospects, with their foreign minister warning “there will be consequences”.

The response to the Swiss referendum shows the absurdity of the ‘pick ‘n’ choose’ approach to the EU advocated by many on Britain’s political right – especially those, including David Cameron, who plan to limit freedom of movement for migrants. Even Switzerland, a country which has over several hundred years been very successful at negotiating its relationship with the EU, will ultimately struggle to decide things entirely on its own terms.

Being part of Europe is ultimately about maturity. It requires certain sacrifices, but in return we get tremendous rewards. As the Swiss referendum looks set to demonstrate, you cannot shirk your responsibilities without jeopardising your privileges. The present UK government would do well to take note.

On Thursday, meanwhile, it was good to see Labour fend off UKIP at the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election. The run-up to the vote was dominated by headlines about Nigel Farage’s attempts to woo “patriotic, working-class Labour voters”, and Labour frontbenchers including Douglas Alexander – who last week set up Labour’s “anti-Ukip” unit – worked with party members to expose the ‘purple peril’ in the constituency. In the end, despite an aggressive UKIP campaign, Labour extended their share of the vote, and it was the two coalition parties who suffered from UKIP’s poll bounce.

Although the outcome sent a strong signal that Labour can withstand UKIP pressure in Northern communities, the extremely low turnout was a source of concern. It is vital that politicians of all parties reconnect with the electorate, otherwise apathy will translate into votes for UKIP and other parties even further to the right.

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David Cameron’s attempt to have it all ways on the EU is doomed to fail

As David Cameron makes yet more noise about Britain’s membership of the EU, you may wonder why he chose to use the word “consent”, a somewhat woolly concept, rather than going all guns blazing for a referendum.

One answer is that Cameron is increasingly finding himself between a rock and a hard place. As the FT’s Janan Ganesh puts it: “By hinting at a repatriation of powers, he (Cameron) raises eurosceptic hopes that are almost impossible to meet. Few diplomats expect to achieve more than cosmetic changes to the terms of British membership, and even those tweaks will take place largely in non-economic areas such as justice.”

One of the few British commentators to even begin to understand the EU, Ganesh is spot on with this analysis. Continuing in the same vein, he rightly says: “If such negotiations (on repatriating powers) ever transpire, the EU is likely to want to give Mr Cameron enough to have a fighting chance of winning a referendum to stay in the club. But the immemorial desire of most eurosceptics is nothing less than to belong to the single market while being excused much of the burden of European regulation. It is no more in the interests of the rest of the EU to grant this privilege now than it was in the past.”

An opt out on some justice and home affairs matters is all Cameron is ever going to get out of the EU, and even that is very uncertain. I, for one, have never understood why the majority of UK political commentators give house room to the concept of repatriation of powers from the EU to the UK. As the excellent Mr Ganesh has confirmed, except in a few specific, non-economic areas, it is impossibility.

Cameron is promising smoke and mirrors to appease the Tory right-wing and try and see off the threat to the Tories from UKIP. He is, however, deceiving the British people. This is, of course, dishonest. It’s also very stupid.

Janan Ganesh makes another strong point: “If the content of any new settlement will upset the right, the process of winning consent for it is also tricky. The Tory manifesto for the next election is increasingly likely to include a promise to hold a referendum on the new arrangements once they are secured. This should pacify eurosceptics for a while and prevent UKIP from encroaching too far into the Tory vote in 2015. But it will also ensure that the first couple of years of the next parliament will be dominated by Europe. The Conservatives could easily split as MPs decide that the deal struck by Mr Cameron is not worth campaigning for. Then, if the referendum is lost, it is hard to imagine the government surviving.”

Even supposing David Cameron is Prime Minister after 2015, and I most definitely do not believe that will be the case, it’s very difficult to see how his chosen policy on the European Union can be even modestly successful. The Tory eurosceptics are stridently demanding more than is even remotely realistic. Moreover, they scent blood and will not go away. Meanwhile David Cameron, one individual Prime Minister in a European Union of 27 member states, quite simply cannot give the sceptics what they want. To cap it all the British people are being promised a referendum on something which will probably never happen.

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The world economy needs growth not austerity

Throughout sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone, British commentators and, unfortunately, politicians as well, have failed to understand the nature of the beast. Unless and until the British accept that the Euro is a political as much as an economic project we will continue to talk in terms of Euro failure and eventual break-up.

Much though the feral Tory Eurosceptics who sit on the right-wing of their already right-wing party would love to see the Euro collapse, the more sensible among us should get real, knowing that this will quite simply not happen. The Euro is here to stay. David Cameron, hectoring the Eurozone countries to put their house in order while the UK flounders in a double-dip recession, admits as much.

Both the political nature of the Euro as a unifying force and its ultimate durability were demonstrated in the result of Sunday’s election in Greece. The Greek people voted, albeit narrowly, for stability, choosing in New Democracy a party that, while demanding some let-up, will broadly follow the Eurozone’s demands. The Euro, despite the crippling demands for austerity, is popular in Greece. In fact, the idea of a single currency is generally hailed across the EU as the way forward and a force for good. It is Britain, Sweden and Denmark who are out on a limb, not the other way round.

The new Greek Leader, Antonis Samaras, meanwhile, does not want to go down the harsh austerity route outlined again by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Samaras is right to seek some slack for Greece. While there is much Greece needs to do to put its own house in order by way of fighting corruption and making the population pay their taxes, further austerity will only make things worse.

In a welcome development, the French people have well and truly understood the ant-austerity message. Francois Hollande now has a clear majority in the National Assembly, ensuring that his growth plans will be approved. It is not only the French socialists who believe in action to stimulate economic growth and employment. President Obama is saying the very same things. At the start of the crucial G20 summit in Mexico there are two clear blocs – the right-wing pedlars of austerity and those who are more enlightened demanding an agenda for growth.

Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls argued in yesterday’s London Evening Standard that we need a global growth plan and that every national leader should support Presidents Obama and Hollande as they seek to get the world economy moving. Given that the India’s massive economy is slowing down, such action is more urgent than ever.

If there is one overriding conclusion to come out of the Los Cabos G20 summit it is surely that “we are all in it together” as separate nation states linked by an ever more global economy. This is exactly the reason why the Euro will survive. We are increasingly living in a world where large power blocs hold sway – the United States of America, India, China. The European Union is on its way to achieving power bloc status.

Where, you may ask, is Britain? My answer is that the United Kingdom is at present moored precariously in no man’s land. I would also contend that although no-man’s land is not an ideal place to be, going it alone outside a power bloc would be disastrous. In today’s world, nation states are always stronger together than apart.

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The House of Lords with 792 members is in urgent need of reform

It has always been a mystery to me how Britain can claim to be a modern, twentieth-century democracy and have its parliament’s second chamber chosen by prime ministerial patronage. The only other country with an appointed second chamber is Canada, based on the British tradition.

 Every other democracy with a second chamber elects its members. As a parliamentarian, I find it difficult to accept that Britain is so behind in this matter. Other European countries either have no second chamber or one that is either directly or, as in the case of the French senate, indirectly elected.

Even those countries which, like Britain, have undergone minimal disruption by war or revolution throughout their history have managed to come to a democratic conclusion. Sweden has a unicameral system as does Denmark; both countries evolved peacefully towards this state.

 Yet Britain is unable to get anywhere with this thorny problem. Members of the upper house who gained their place by heredity lasted far too long. Now we have a truly messy mish-mash of appointees who got there by virtue of their relationship with the prime minister. Just to add to the mix, there are also 26 Church of England bishops whose status is a historical remnant of the landed wealth of the medieval church.

There is no way the current state of affairs can be viewed as an edifying way to run a country. Indeed, I am reminded of those robber barons who came to England with William the Conqueror and were rewarded with tracts of the English countryside, not to mention royaly dispensed titles. The current situation whereby the 21st century equivalent of William the First’s cohorts gain advantage is the same in principle, if not in practice. A second chamber appointed by the prime minister is positively feudal, its antecedents brought into sharp relief by the strange costume peers wear for formal events and the Lords’ quaint customs.

The powers of the House of Lords are almost as murky as its composition. While it can certainly influence government, its real role is to scrutinise legislation. Yet this is constantly under threat as successive prime ministers seek to pack the Lords with their own place men and women. Tony Blair created 162 Labour peers while David Cameron has already appointed 47  Conservatives. The result of prime ministerial attempts to neuter the Lords is that the upper house now has 792 members, compared to 650 for the House of Commons (probably to be reduced to 600) and a mere 754 for the European Parliament.

The case for reform of the second chamber is, I believe, irrefutable. As ever, the current debate is being dragged down by various vested interests, namely the Lords themselves, those in government who find the present set-up to their advantage, Tory right-wing Eurosceptics who bizarrely think a referendum on Lords reform can also be a referendum on EU membership together with woolly well-wishers who respect the peers who are experts in their field. There are, of course, also those who think the current economic malaise makes this a bad time to introduce constitutional change.

The debate about the powers of the second chamber strikes me as a rather clever red herring. The argument that an elected second chamber would challenge the supremacy of the House of Commons is both arcane and obstructive. Of the 13 countries in the EU which have second chambers, four of these are directly elected. Interestingly three of the four are in former Communist countries. These three and the other, Spain, all seem to manage quite well, as does the United States, home to the world’s most high-profile dual camera system.

The United Kingdom, or at least its constituent parts, are old and proud nations. Our distinctive customs and ways of doing things should, of course, be preserved when they are beneficial.  However, we must learn when to let go of the past. Reforming the House of Lords to make it a modern, elected second chamber is well overdue. Achieving this would be a credit to our country both now and for a long time into the future.

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Nucleus is a welcome step forward for the Tory Party on Europe

Congratulations to Nucleus, the Tory-led group recently formed to maximise Britain’s influence in Europe. Dubbed “euro-realists” by Mathew Barnett on Tim Montgomerie’s Conservative Home website, Nucleus will undoubtedly play an important role in the Conservative Party’s future views and policy on Europe.

Headed by former Conservative candidates Peter Wilding and Rob Marr, the Nucleus mission statement sets out its beliefs:

“By seeking to maximise its influence in Europe, Britain can better defend Europe’s single market from protectionism and protect British influence”

“By promoting areas where Britain’s interests coincide with those of France and Germany, Britain can work effectively to achieve these aims within Europe”

“That the future must be a globally-focused Britain which leads in the places where global policy is made. Without this, Britain will be sidelined by the USA, in the EU and within international institutions. Moreover our US allies and others want Britain to play a full part creating an outward-looking European Union shaping the developing global world order.”

Nucleus will, apparently, have offices in London and Brussels and provide daily bulletins to MPs, and from April will prepare briefings for journalists, think-tanks and business figures. From next month they will host quarterly visits to Brussels. Interestingly the daily bulletins are being written by David Gow and David Seymour, formerly of the Guardian and Mirror respectively.

The Nucleus website also features a blog offering “opinion pieces following in the footsteps of this country’s greatest Euro-realist; no less than Sir Winston Churchill himself.” At last there are people in the Tory Party willing to face up to their hero’s legacy.

Nucleus sounds to me like a very good thing. The Tory Eurosceptics have had it all their own way for far too long. Politics and democracy require debate, discussion and healthy disagreement. It is very heartening indeed to see members of the Conservative Party standing up for these cherished principles.   

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The Coalition will not sign the new EU Rules to combat Human Trafficking

Earlier today the European Parliament approved new EU rules to crack down on human trafficking.

On 31 August I blogged that the coalition was refusing to opt into these proposals.  This is still their position and it is to the utter discredit of the Con-Dem government that the new rules will not apply in Britain.  

David Cameron has obviously decided he would rather appease his eurosceptic backbenchers by sitting on the sidelines while other governments act. This is nothing short of disgraceful.

Human trafficking involves the illegal exploitation of highly vulnerable people, mostly women and children. I simply can’t understand why the government has chosen to opt out of these proposals.

Trafficking is a crime that shows no respect for international borders. Acting together with other EU countries is the obvious way to protect these vulnerable people and to stop this form of modern day slavery.

I again urge the government to show that it is serious about human rights and that, despite the Eurosceptic backbenchers, it wants to protect vulnerable women by agreeing to sign up to these plans and to work with European partners to stop this evil trade.

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European Parliament Journalism Prize 2010

You will remember how yesterday I talked about this time of year being the prize giving season.

Well, I had the pleasure of being one of the judges of this year’s European Parliament Journalism Prize, which awards prizes for radio, television, print and internet journalism.  It was fascinating to read, watch and listen to examples of journalism from across the EU, all of which were on European issues.  We had to look for entries that not only displayed journalistic excellence, but also helped increase understanding of the European Union. 

The entries were all of a very high standard as they were all winners in their own countries, but my fellow judges and I were given the very pleasant task of going through them and picking our favourites.

Held yesterday morning, the award ceremony was fun with a serious side as well.  European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek opening the proceedings and presented the awards. Here are the winners:

Written:

Witold Szabłowski from Poland wrote a deeply moving article entitled “Today Two Bodies Will Wash Ashore” which looked at the very difficult problem of illegal immigration in the European Union.  The article stood out as one of the best written, with a prose style that was simple yet very evocative.  One of the judges said it was more like a ‘work of literature’ than a piece of journalism, and I would have to agree.  It was obvious that the journalist was very moved by the subject matter and the article went some way to showing the European Unions failings in regards to illegal immigration.

Internet:

I was very happy to see that the UKs own James Clive -Mathews, better know to some as Nosemonkey, was given the award for best internet journalism for his article on What percentage of laws Come from the EU?”  The article was up to his usual very high standard; well researched, well written, and actually very entertaining.  The scourge of the unthinking Eurosceptic, Mr. Clive-Mathews debunked and proved unfounded a lot of what people in the UK hear about the amount of laws that get handed down from the EU.  One of the other judges said that his articles can be read with ‘a lot of pleasure’, a testament to Nosemonkey’s witty and enthusiastic writing style.

Television:

Németh Zsolt, from Hungary, was the winner of the television category with “Euforia”, which attempted to break down the history of the EU in to easily understood chunks for the younger generation.  The piece was imaginative and fun, touching on some of the more emotive elements of life within the EU.  So much of what is made for television about the EU is very dull, so it was refreshing to see something so lively and engaging.

Radio:

Kajsa Norell and Nuri Kino, from Sweden, were the winners the radio category, with their piece on “EU’s financial support to Turkey”.  It was a thoroughly researched and engaging piece of journalism that really gave you a sense of the difficulties facing rural Turkey and the city of Ankara.  It was a well paced and excellently put together piece of radio journalism.

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