Tag Archives: Brussels

What Britain wants from #Brexit: a new EU of just 2 – it and the #EU27

6 Sep

This is my Broadsheet.ie column from August 28th, 2017 – the original appears online here

Britain's SoS for Exiting the EU Davis and EU's chief Brexit negotiator Barnier talk to the media ahead of Brexit talks in BrusselsAt around 4pm (Irish time) today (Mon Aug 28), British and EU negotiators will meet again in Brussels for the latest round of Brexit talks. The first item on this week’s agenda, we are told, will be Britain’s exit bill, with the Brits expected to set out their thinking behind how they will for calculating how much is owed to the EU when Britain leaves. The teams with then go on, over the following days, to discuss the two other key issues which need to be resolved during this first phase of talks: citizens’ rights and ensuring the Northern Ireland peace process is not jeopardised.

While the EU (by which I mean “we”) set out its position on the British financial settlement back in May, British ministers have been extremely reluctant to attempt to put a figure on it. While some, like Boris Johnson have huffed and puffed about making the EU go whistle for it, the UK’s Brexit Minister, David Davis, has sufficient political nous to see that putting a realistic figure on the divorce settlement will just throw raw meat to the Tory right, who imagine they can use their debt as a bargaining chip for better terms for the future relationship.

How the British government manoeuvres its way through this round of crucial talks will be an important indicator of its future plans. The hope is that the British with arrive with a specific set of proposals for calculating the bill. The expectation is that they won’t – it is an expectation informed by past performance.

Up to now the British have attempted to keep things as vague, even confused, as possible. Their recent position papers have been aspirational at best, and contradictory at worst: a matter I addressed in last week’s Broadsheet column when I opined that Britain’s road to Brexit was: “paved with bad intentions”.

That is not to say, however, that the British negotiators strategy is merely disruptive. While their strategy may be confused and their tactics appear erratic, it would be foolish to imagine that the British, at least at a political level, do not have a game-plan – even if it is not a realistic one.

Look back at the recent series of position papers and it is just possible to discern the shape and outline of the post Brexit arrangement that the British – though it may be more correct to say, the Tories – desire.

While they obviously see the UK as being outside the Single market and the Customs Union, it is not just that they will be ‘outside’ EU institutions such as the European Court of Justice and the EU Commission, the EU Council and Parliament, they believe that they will be out from being ‘underneath’ them.

They see themselves post Brexit as not merely leaving a partnership with others, but rather as breaking free from being under an EU bureaucracy which they monstrously and wrongly caricature as entirely undemocratic.

But, as you read their position papers you see that while they see themselves as being out from underneath these institutions, they still see the need to have workable post Brexit relationships with them.

They want out from the Customs Union, but they still want a customs and border free relationship with the EU. They want to be out from under EU Data rules, but want to have a British seat at the EU data protection committee table even after they leave. The list goes on.

Add all these contradictions, aspirations and demands together and you reach a simple conclusion: the Tories want a new arrangement where the UK is the equal of the rest of EU 27-member states put together.

The Tories ideal post Brexit outcome is an open marriage between the UK groom, presumably in Edwardian frock coat and top hat, and a not so virginal EU27 bride, dressed in a blue and gold. They want it to be an open marriage so the groom can have a few external relationships with former conquests such as India and Malaysia.

This generation of post Major Tories have never been happy with the UK as just a part of the EU, they see the UK, at the very least, as being the equal of it.

Moving from an EU with 28-member states working in partnership into an umbrella union, of their own design, which comprises two partners: the UK on one side and the entire EU27 on the other, suits the public school, the sun never sets on the British empire mindset of those now running the Tory party.

It is their answer to the question, what is Great Britain’s role in the modern globalised world. This is a question that the British have struggled to answer since the end of WWII, one witheringly posed by the former US Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, who observed in 1962 that: “Great Britain has lost an empire and has not yet found a role”.

The problem for the Tories is that this answer is unacceptable to the rest of us.

Churchill, Heath, Major Blair, and even Thatcher had seen Britain’s role as an important leader in the EU. Thatcher had initially sought to bend the shape and composition of the EU to suit this role insisting that it expansion should be wider, including form eastern bloc countries, rather than deeper, but the legacy of the Tory party post Major has been a failure to grasp that the EU was the platform from which the UK continued to be an important player, not the obstacle to it.

If my analysis is correct, then this can only end badly for the Tories and, sadly, the UK. The one slight point of consolation as Micheál Martin pointed out overnight is the British Labour Party’s decision to commit itself to continued UK membership of the EU single market and customs union during a transition period from March 2019 onwards.

A hard Brexit that will hurt us economically, socially and politically may still be most likely outcome, but it is not yet inevitable. The next few weeks will be telling.

ENDS

#ep2014 will bring new @Europarl_EN and new @EU_Commission

11 Jan

This is a piece on the 2014 EU Parliament elections and the appointment of a new EU Commission I wrote for the Jan 10th issue of BEERG‘s Global Labor Relations Newsletter

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BEERGEuropean Union: 2014 to bring a new Parliament and new Commission

Derek Mooney writes: Next May citizens across the 28 EU states will go to the polls to elect the 751 members of the next European Parliament.

Voters across the EU have tended to treat these contests as what political scientists call: “second order” elections. This usually means that voter turnout is lower than in national elections and the campaigns are often fought more on national issues rather than pan European ones. In many cases the results in each country reflect the current standing of the national government more than they do the manifestos of the European groupings.

While voting will take place during a 3 to 4 day period across the 28 member states, we can get a sense of the possible outcomes by looking at opinion polls in the eight largest EU countries (France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain and the United Kingdom) as these account for around 77% of all the EU citizens entitled to vote and will elect around 64% of the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

A policy paper presented to the Notre Europe: Jacques Delors’s Institute focussing on what the political balance of power in the next European Parliament might be suggests the possibility of some major changes.

The paper features an analysis of recent opinion polls in these eight countries. It suggests a swing to the Left and Centre Left as well as major gains for protest and fringe parties on both the far left and far right.

In the outgoing parliament the EPP (Centre Right group) holds 265 seats against 184 for the Social & Democrats (Centre Left). The analysis of the polls suggests a swing to the centre left that not just closes this gap, but even reverses it. Some analysts predict that the EPP group might win 209 seats in May, four less than the S&D’s predicted 213.

The predicted changes on the margins are no less dramatic. The domestic opinion polls in France suggest that the far right Front National, led by Marine Le Pen, could become the largest French party in the elections, possibly taking 21% of the vote and increasing its number of MEPs from 3 to 17. While on the other end of the spectrum far left parties such as the Spanish Izquierda Unida (United Left) may increase its number of MEPs from 1 to 8.

Political commentators are suggesting that these advances by parties on the far left and far right, plus gains by populist protest parties like Italy’s Five Star Movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo could see them holding up to 40% of the seats in the incoming parliament.

The political zero sum gain dictates that the increased influence of these groups comes at the expense of the traditional dominance of big blocs: the EPP, the S&D and the Liberal ALDE group, leading to greater political uncertainty in the next Parliament.

This uncertainty comes at a time when the Lisbon Treaty has given an increased role and say to the European Parliament, not least in the appointment of the next European Commission especially the Commission President, which will follow the European Elections.

The Lisbon Treaty has changed the rules on the appointment of Commission President and these come into effect for the first time in 2014. Article 17 of the Treaty and the Declaration 11 annexed to it set out that the choice of the candidate for the Commission presidency will be made “taking into account the elections to the European Parliament”.

This was supposed to mean that the various pan-European EU groupings declare who their candidates for the Commission presidency will be in advance of the May parliamentary elections and set out their commission presidency manifestos. In each country candidates looking to become an MEP would indicate to which European political grouping they would affiliate indicate the Commission presidency candidate that grouping will back.

Names are being bandied about as to who might nominated by each of the main groups. The current EU Parliament President, Martin Shultz looks like being the likely nominee of the centre left S&D grouping, having already secured the backing of 20 or so centre left parties across Europe, most importantly his own German SPD and Francoise Hollande’s Socialist Party.

The EPP may opt to propose Jean Claude-Juncker, the recently defeated long serving Luxembourg Premier. Juncker’s gain maybe at the expense of his party colleague, Viviane Reding, who had previously harboured ambitions to become Commission President having served as a Vice President. Realising that that path is now closed there is some suggestion that she may step down as a Commissioner before her term expires to seek re-election as an MEP (she was previously an MEP) and seek the post of President of the Parliament. The same suggestion is being made about her French Commission colleague Michel Barnier.

But, being Europe, the practice looks like it will be very different. While MEPs want to see the power reside with them and the Commission Presidency go to the largest group (or coalition of groups) in the incoming European Parliament, national governments and leaders, most notably Angela Merkel and David Cameron, are deeply reluctant to surrender the final say to the parliament and are taking a very broad view of the phrase “taking into account the elections to the European Parliament”

While no one should be heading to the bookies to put bets on the results just yet, it is reasonable to assume that the incoming European Parliament and Commission with have a more leftish and presumably interventionist hue than the outgoing one. Given the difficulties posed to business by the outgoing centrist parliament, this cannot come as good news to business and employers across the EU.

The prospect of a more leftist Commission and parliament, coupled with the political uncertainty heralded by a phalanx of extremist parties of both left and right, could lead to some interesting and difficult times ahead.

ENDS