Tag Archives: EU Council

I hate to admit it, but @JuliaHB1 and other #brexiteers may have a point, just not the one they think

12 Oct

Here is my Broadsheet article from Sept 28th regarding the calls for a second #Brexit referendum vote. I would love to be able to support the call, but I cannot. Experience of re-runs of Irish EU referendums tells me that this is not an option in the UK given the high voter turnout.

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questiontimeI have to confess that my heart sinks a little whenever I hear English Tories or English nationalists, like Nigel Farage, mention Ireland during their rants about the EU. The reference is usually patronising or condescending or – even worse – is given in the form of advice that would have us join them in their march back to a glorious era that never existed.

This is why my heart sank when Julia Hartley Brewer, a British Talk Radio host, Leave campaigner and former political editor, stated on last Thursday’s BBC Question Time that the EU had forced Ireland, and other countries, to vote again on EU referendums.

Her comments came during the course of a discussion on whether Britain might have another referendum on Brexit – a proposal put forward by the failed Corbyn challenger, Owen Smith MP or that the UK might have a separate vote on the final deal hammered out on the conclusion of the Art 50 negotiations, an idea put forward by Tim Farron’s Liberal Democrats.

Though hearing Hartley-Brewer getting it badly wrong on the notion of the EU ‘forcing’ us to vote again made my heart sink a little, it sank even further when I realised that she and her fellow panellist that night Jacob Rees-Mogg MP (who looks like he is being portrayed by Joyce Grenfell) may actually have a point, just not the one they think.

Though I and other Remainers may wish it to be otherwise, the hard fact is that Ireland’s voting again on the Nice and Lisbon treaties is not relevant to the UK’s situation for one simple reason: turnout.

In the first referendum on the Nice Treaty (Nice I) in 2001 the turnout was just under 35% – the result then was 54% No: 46% Yes. At second referendum on the Nice Treaty (Nice II) in Oct 2002 the turnout shot up to just under 50% with Yes getting 63% and No dropping to 37%.

It was a broadly similar situation in the case of the two Lisbon Treaty referendums. In Lisbon I in June 2008 the turnout was 53%. No won by 53%:47%. At Lisbon II the turnout had again increased, this time to 59% with Yes now winning by 63%:37%

In both cases the turnout in the first referendum was low to start with, in the case of Nice I it was exceptionally low, just in the mid-30s, so there was a convincing argument to be made for a second vote, particularly when you felt that a second referendum would have a higher turnout.

This was not the case in the UK’s Brexit referendum. The turnout there was a whopping 72%. This is a substantial turnout. It is much higher that recent UK General Election turnouts, indeed you have to go back to Tony Blair’s 1997 election victory to find a UK general election turnout of over 70%.

The huge political risk you take by having a re-run second Brexit referendum in these circumstances is that you get a lower turnout. It is politically saleable to try to reverse one mandate with a smaller one?

To be clear, turnout alone was not the reason why there were re-runs of the Nice and Lisbon referendums. In both cases post referendum polling and analysis found that the main reason for voting “No” or abstaining was a lack of knowledge of either treaty. Both “Yes” and “No” voters were highly critical of what they viewed as a dearth of clear, accessible information on the treaty’s merits.

While the Remainers can clearly point to a lot of misinformation from the Leave side, not least the claims that leaving would mean £350 million extra per week for the NHS, they cannot yet point to any substantive research or analysis suggesting any changes in opinion.

Noted UK pollster, Prof John Curtice, reckons that there is little evidence of a “significant rethink” three months on from the result with those who voted Remain still convinced that they were right and likewise for the Leavers. Very few minds have been changed, though let us see if that remains the case as the details of the Brexit deal on offer emerge during the course of the next year or so.

The problem with all this abstract discussion on a second referendum is that it takes the focus away from the very real and tangible issues with the first result: most crucially that the Hartley Brewer, Farage and others do not want to honour the clear Remain majorities in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Instead they want to use the votes of English and Welsh people to forcibly drag Northern Ireland and Scotland out of the EU against their declared will.

This is no small issue, yet it is receiving scant attention in the UK and, sadly, here.

Voters in both Northern Ireland and Scotland voted convincingly to stay in the EU, by much bigger margins that the people across the UK voted to leave. Many of those voters in Northern Ireland hold Irish passports and are thus also EU citizens, even if the UK leaves. Can that citizenship – and the guarantees and privileges it offers – simply be snatched away from them on the say so of 50%+ of voters in the south of England?

As people like Michéal Martin and Colum Eastwood have repeatedly said over the past few weeks and months; trying to drag the North out of the EU against its will ignores the layered complexities of the Irish political process.

It is a refutation of the basic principles of the accommodation achieved in the Good Friday Agreement and that is something that concerns all of us on this island.

We should be debating and discussing this now. We should be looking at the significant consequences of Brexit for our economy, for our trade – both North/South and East/West, our education system, out health service.

We should not allow the foot dragging by the British Government on outlining its terms of exit to stop us from forcefully setting out our concerns and our alternatives. We need the speedy establishment of the all-island political/civic forum I called for here at the end of June. I know the Taoiseach and his team messed up their first attempt to get the idea up and running, but they need to go again and get it right this time.

Pro-EU sentiment across #Ireland should be fostered via all island Forum #brexitresult

1 Jul

puckoonThis is my Broadsheet “Mooney on Monday” from Monday piece from June 27th on how the Irish Government (and politicians) must act in response to the UK’s Brexit vote.  

There is a new (though not uncritical) pro-EU majority across the island that should be encouraged and fostered via a re-establishment of the Forum on Europe. There must not any a return of form of border across the island.

The original online version appears here: www.broadsheet.ie/return-of-the-hard-border/

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For as long as I can recall it has been a central tenet of Unionism that the status of Northern Ireland should not change without the political consent of the majority of the people living there.

Yet, that it precisely what is set to happen over the coming years, with senior members of the DUP cheering it on

Despite the fact that a clear majority – some 56% – of the people of Northern Ireland who voted, including large numbers from both traditions, stated that they wanted to remain in the EU, their wishes are about to be ignored. It seems that a majority in the North is only a majority when the DUP is a part of it.

Thursday’s referendum result has changed things dramatically for the North and for the whole island. There will be the immediate implications, including many of the ones for which the Government has prepared, as set out in its contingency plans published last Friday.

But there are others, two of which I would like to set out briefly here.

eastwoodFirst, is the integration of the economic interests of communities across this whole island. As the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said:

“…there can be no return to a physical border across this island. There must remain freedom of movement for people, goods and services across Ireland… we must ensure that any border is only operational around the island of Ireland, not across it.” 

This last point is vitally important. Though the Brexiteers, including the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Teresa Villiers, dismissed any suggestion of implications for the border during the campaign, it is clear that there will.

If and when the UK eventually leaves the EU that border would potentially become a frontier between an EU State and non-EU State. This is ominous as the EU is already looking at ways of increasing security at its external boundaries, as evidenced last week by the European Parliament’s LIBE committee vote to “systematically check all EU citizens entering or leaving the EU”

There is an overwhelming economic, social and political case against resuscitating the 499km border between the two parts of this island as an international boundary. We have not spent decades of painstaking negotiation to break down barriers for them to be risen higher by a battle for the leadership of the Tory party.

The EU has been an important, though unheralded, part of the peace building process. Between 1995 and 2013 the EU spent €2 billion on promoting reconciliation in Northern Ireland and the border counties. But it has done more than that. It has provided a supra-national cross border framework and support that has avoided any major policy cleavages across this island.

Rather than having the EU border across this island, let it run around the island with the customs and border controls sensibly located at ports and airports.

But we need to go further. We need to recognise that despite differences in identity, that Northern Ireland has and will continue to have a great deal of economic and social common interest with the Republic. To give expression to this common interest the Irish Government to needs to fashion an all-island EU strategy and use its seat at the Council of the European Union to champion the interests of Northern Ireland, particularly the border regions, along with the interests of the 26 counties.

The government should start reaching out now to civic society across the North to become its connection to the EU and should formalise these relationships, perhaps initially through re-establishing the Forum on Europe on an all island basis.

Second, is the loss of the UK as a valuable EU ally. In two or three years’ time we will no longer have the UK to help us act on a brake on EU measures of which we disapprove. Given our similar structure and similar outlooks, in the area of social dialogue for example, our two governments have – regardless of political hue – worked together. During the recent discussions on the introduction of an EU wide system of Data Protection, Ireland and the UK worked together to make significant and sensible changes.

But the UK has opted to go and so we need to look for new allies. We need to look to the smaller EU states who would share our concern at the excessive influence of the larger states, but also to the other like-minded nations on these islands. To this end an Taoiseach should be reaching out to Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in the coming weeks to see how Ireland and Scotland could work together in our mutual benefit as the fate of the UK, Scotland and Northern Ireland in the EU unfolds.

Enda may have no choice but to start talking with Nicola Sturgeon, as she seems to be the only leader on the neighbouring island with anything even approaching a plan for the future.

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My @beerg article on recent #eudatap developments and important comments by @seankellymep

21 Mar

 

This is a piece I wrote for the March 14th issue of the BEERG global labour newsletter. It examines the consequences of the EU Parliament’s overwhelming vote on the General Data Protection Regulation and acknowledges the hard work and valid concerns raised by the Irish MEP Sean Kelly (EPP & Fine Gael)

BEERG Newsletter March 14th 2014

BEERG Newsletter March 14th 2014

Though it is now accepted across the EU that the Data Protection Regulation is not likely to be approved until 2015 at the earliest, the European Parliament has scheduled a debate on the legislation on Tuesday (11 March) with a full First Reading vote on it on Wednesday.

The vote comes just 10 weeks before voters across Europe go to the polls to elect the next European Parliament.

The plenary vote on Wednesday is no mere gesture, however. It is the outgoing Parliament setting out its position so that the incoming one can start negotiations with the Council of Ministers, as soon as they have adopted their position, though the timetable for the Council’s part of the process remains uncertain

It is not the European Parliament’s only debate on Data Protection this week as it is also set to approve the final report of its own inquiry into alleged mass surveillance by the US National Security Agency.

That report not only demands that the US/EU trade talks not lead to a softening of data protection standards, it also calls for the suspension of a programme to share bank transfer data with the US, and calls on member states to strengthen oversight of their intelligence services.

As mentioned earlier, the ball now lies with the member states governments via the EU’s Council of Ministers. The Justice Ministers met last week and held a policy debate on outstanding issues relating to the data protection regulation framework.

ASs the communique issued after the meeting said: “Ministers broadly supported the draft provisions as regards the territorial scope of the regulation and confirmed the understanding that international transfers of personal data to third countries should take place on the basis of key principles contained in chapter V of the draft regulation.”

It then went on to diplomatically express the ongoing delays and problems saying:

“Ministers agreed that more technical work will need to be done on important aspects of this chapter and that the question of alternative models for international data transfer will need to be studied in depth.”

“The Council confirmed that the work will continue at a technical level on the basis of the progress achieved so far on: pseudonymisation as an element of the risk-based approach, portability of personal data for the private sector and obligations of controllers and processors.”

“Whilst a majority of delegations appeared to be of the opinion that the scope of the profiling provision in the future regulation should, like the current Directive 95/46/EC, limit itself to regulating automated decision-making that has legal effects or significantly affects individuals, some other delegations pleaded in favour of specific provisions on profiling. Work at a technical level should therefore continue on that basis.”

Others involved in the process expressed their frustrations with the Council’s difficulties in reaching a consensus less delicately. Ralf Bendrath, the Green Party’s data protection expert and an adviser to the German Green MEP who is the Rapporteur who has steered the Regulation through Parliament thus far said on Twitter: “Germany again – embarrassingly – less supportive than all other member states on progress”. He went on to dismiss Germany’s observations that the issue will “need more debate” and chided them for not specifically stating their objections.

While Ministers are still a long way off reaching agreement on their draft of the Regulation, that is not to say that a great deal of technical work and progress is going on behind the scenes.

The Greek EU Presidency has been working away very assiduously in recent months with a series of DAPIX and other Data Protection officials meerting. The Greeks have also been engaging with the Italian government (it is the the next country to hold the 6 month rotating Presidency of the EU) to work out a road map for agreeing on the data protection reform swiftly.

While their original objective of agreeing on a mandate for negotiation with the European Parliament before the end of the Greek Presidency looks unlikely to be achieved, they are busily dotting all the “i”s and crossing all the “t”s they reasonably can awaiting some direction from the member states.

Meanwhile in the UK, the Liberal Democrat Junior Minister at the Justice Ministry, Simon Hughes MP, has announced a review of the criminal sanctions available for breaches of the UK’s Data Protection Act. He said the review would help the UK government “decide whether to increase the penalties as the law permits”.

Feeding into this process Pinsent Masons’ specialist in data protection law Kathryn Wynn has suggested that the government should go further than reviewing the criminal sanctions and should also consider strengthening the civil monetary penalty regime too, arguing that a previous increase in the maximum level of fine in 2010 had prompted organisations to take the issue of data protection seriously.

Using the draft EU’s General Data Protection Regulation as an example she suggests that the review take the approach envisaged there, where the level of penalty for a data breach is calculated on the basis of a percentage of their annual turnover.

So, even before it is passed, we could see the draft EU’s General Data Protection Regulation is influencing domestic legislation across Europe.

High Stakes and possible troubles Irn-Bru-ing as #ep2014 approach

31 Jan

Here is my article from this week’s BEERG Newsletter looking at mounting tensions in the race to take the EU Commission Presidency

ib_cansYou call tell that there’s an election approaching by how targeted, populist and political the press releases from MEPs become. Take the Scottish Nationalist (SNP) MEP Alyn Smith, who has suggested that Scotland consider banning Canadian-born singers Justin Bieber and Celine Dion in retaliation for Canadian authorities prohibiting several Canadian stores from selling the popular Scottish soft drink Irn-Bru. Smith justified his call, albeit tongue in cheek, by saying that between them, Bieber and Dion have produced “more sugary schmaltz” than Irn-Bru ever has.

While Smith’s demand has the virtue of humour and creativity, the same cannot be said for the political attack made by the centre-right European Peoples’ Party (EPP) on German Socialist MEP, Martin Schulz (photo) on Wednesday as reported by the EurActiv website http://www.euractiv.com.

Schulz is the outgoing President European Parliament and the likely Socialist candidate to be President of the next EU Commission

The attack centres on allegations made by the EPP that a €60,000 European Parliament contract was awarded to the wife of Sergei Stanishev, the president of the PES: Party of European Socialists. The €60,000 contract was for an information project promoting the European elections in Bulgaria.

Leading the attack for the EPP, German MEP Ingeborg Grässle claims the situation has alarm bells ringing over an “obvious” conflict of interest involving some of the most prominent figures in the European socialist family, saying “European Parliament staff under the direction of Socialist President Martin Schulz handing out a contract worth €60,000 to the wife of the European Socialist Party President – this smacks of political favours… Is Mr. Schulz using parliament funds to help his political friends?”

EurActiv reports that its sources say that Schulz is concentrating on his campaign to succeed to José Manuel Barroso as Commission President and shudders at any piece of news which could upset his plan.

The fact that the attack was led by a German MEP is significant as Grässle and Schulz’s own parties the CDU and SPD are now in a grand coalition partnership government in Germany. Expect to see and hear more political skulduggery as the May parliamentary elections approach. The stakes are high with more than just the political balance in the European Parliament to consider. As the BEERG Newsletter has reported reforms made under the EU’s Lisbon Treaty means that heads of government must take the results of the European elections “into account” when selecting the next EU Commission President.

With polls suggesting a swing to the Socialists in the May election, possible sufficient to make it the largest single group in Parliament, Schulz is well placed to become the next Commission President, however the centre right EPP group is not likely to allow this prized post slip from its grasp.

12 of the 28 heads of Government are members of the EPP, including Germany’s Angela Merkel, Spain’s Mariano Rajoy and Poland’s Donald Tusk. British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Tory Party quit the EPP in 2009.

The EPP is planning to select its candidate for the EU Commission Presidency at its Congress in Dublin on March 6th & 7th. There are four possible contenders: the Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, the Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis, the current commissioner for the internal market Michel Barnier and the former Luxembourg Prime Minister and EU veteran Jean-Claude Juncker.

The PES, whose European Parliamentary group is called the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) will hold it pre-election congress in Rome on 1 March.

ENDS

#Merkel & #EU need to learn the lessons of Germany’s own economic renewal

12 Apr
adenauer

1957 Adenauer Election Poster: No Experiments

Yesterday (Thurs April 11th) the Irish Times ran a story saying that the German chancellor Angela Merkel is facing mounting political pressure at home to demand fiscal concessions from Ireland in exchange for granting extra time to repay crisis loans.

It seems that once again Germany is insisting that it not merely have an input into EU talks and discussion, but that it have a veto on the outcome. It is the ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune’ school of political thought.  While the approach is not unfamiliar in politics, it flies totally in the face of democratic process and accountability. But even more than that, in this instance, it contradicts the history of Germany’s own economic revival and the important role played by one of Ms Merkel’s most illustrious predecessors: Konrad Adenauer.

Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder – the economic miracle of the 1950s – was based in large measure on a generous programme of debt forgiveness given to Germany by its 33 debtor countries (including Ireland). The 1953 London Agreement on German External Debts, effectively wrote off half of Germany’s total mountain of debt and gave it additional time to repay the monies it owed. These debts included war reparations from both first and second world wars, plus the massive German 1930’s debt default, which was just as significant as the 2008 European financial crisis.

The West German CDU Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer realised that there would be no growth or revival of the West German economy for as long as it had to make huge annual payment to the Allied and other powers. These hefty payments, many of which Germany was even failing to make, were draining the West German economy of the ability to rebuild itself.  He recognised that the only way to achieve growth was to get some relief from this debt burden, hence the London conference on German external debts.

Adenauer managed to convince the others sitting around the table that the only way that Germany could recover and rebuild was for them to ease the burden on it – he managed to convince them to stop doing to Germany what Germany is now doing to Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Easing the burden of West Germany’s debt did not make the country lazy and profligate, quite the opposite. The Agreement, along with the Marshall Plan very quickly enabled the West German government and industry to use the resources freed up by the easing of the debt burden to generate domestic economic activity and growth.

Not only did the London Agreement write off 50% of Germany’s debt it removed the requirement that interest be paid, though did say that this proviso would be revisited in the event of German reunification. The collapse of the Wall in late 1989 triggered that proviso but it was never implemented due to Chancellor’s Kohl’s protestations that demanding such interest payments would make it almost impossible for Germany to meet the considerable costs of re-unification. So, once again, Germany’s partners allowed it to walk away from its financial commitments in the greater good.

Kenny MerkelAs we know, both Enda Kenny and the Fine Gael party is deeply proud of its strong association with the CDU and Ms Merkel via their shared membership of the centre right European grouping: The European People’s Party EPP. Indeed, they regard the linkage as so important and significant that Mr Kenny manged to include a quick visit to Berlin and photocall with the Chancellor in the first week of the February 2011 general election campaign.

Perhaps the next time An Taoiseach meets up with the Chancellor in either Dublin, Brussels or Berlin he might gently remind her that her countries economic resurgence and dominance is due, in no small part, to the fact that 33 other countries, including Ireland, had allowede Germany to ease its burdens when it mattered and that it may now be time for Germany to allow others the facility they once extended to it.

 

Have today’s eurosceptics actually read #Thatcher’s Bruges speech?

9 Apr
Bruges Belfry

Bruges Belfry

According to some sources; when British PM David Cameron was preparing his recent speech on Europe his researchers looked at Mrs Thatcher’s famous 1988 Bruges speech for inspiration. After reading it they concluded that they could not use it as the tone, language and phrases would not sit well with today’s eurosceptics be they Tory, UKIP or Sinn Féin.

It would appear that many of today’s eurosceptics/anti-europeans who claim Thatcher as a heroine have not read the speech or, if they have, they have failed to grasp its contents. They certainly have conveniently forgot that she signed the Single European Act. While her Bruges Speech is hardly a call for a federal Europe, neither is it a manifesto for euroscepticism.

Doubtless her views changed in her later years, but in this keynote speech, she sets out her vision of the European Community as practical way which Europe can ensure the future prosperity and security of its people – an EC with Britain at its heart.

Not all the contents of this speech sit easy with me – its Defence section for example, but read for yourself and see how you feel about its contents in the current situation.

Margaret Thatcher Speech to the College of Europe (“The Bruges Speech”) 1988 Sept 20

Mr. Chairman, you have invited me to speak on the subject of Britain and Europe. Perhaps I should congratulate you on your courage. If you believe some of the things said and written about my views on Europe, it must seem rather like inviting Genghis Khan to speak on the virtues of peaceful coexistence! I want to start by disposing of some myths about my country, Britain, and its relationship with Europe and to do that, I must say something about the identity of Europe itself.

Europe is not the creation of the Treaty of Rome. Nor is the European idea the property of any group or institution. We British are as much heirs to the legacy of European culture as any other nation. Our links to the rest of Europe, the continent of Europe, have been the dominant factor in our history.

For three hundred years, we were part of the Roman Empire and our maps still trace the straight lines of the roads the Romans built. Our ancestors—Celts, Saxons, Danes—came from the Continent. Our nation was—in that favourite Community word—”restructured” under the Norman and Angevin rule in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This year, we celebrate the three hundredth anniversary of the glorious revolution in which the British crown passed to Prince William of Orange and Queen Mary. Visit the great churches and cathedrals of Britain, read our literature and listen to our language: all bear witness to the cultural riches which we have drawn from Europe and other Europeans from us.

We in Britain are rightly proud of the way in which, since Magna Carta in the year 1215, we have pioneered and developed representative institutions to stand as bastions of freedom. And proud too of the way in which for centuries Britain was a home for people from the rest of Europe who sought sanctuary from tyranny. But we know too that without the European legacy of political ideas we could not have achieved as much as we did. From classical and mediaeval thought we have borrowed that concept of the rule of law which marks out a civilised society from barbarism.

And on that idea of Christendom, to which the Rector referred—Christendom for long synonymous with Europe—with its recognition of the unique and spiritual nature of the individual, on that idea, we still base our belief in personal liberty and other human rights.
Too often, the history of Europe is described as a series of interminable wars and quarrels. Yet from our perspective today surely what strikes us most is our common experience. For instance, the story of how Europeans explored and colonised—and yes, without apology—civilised much of the world is an extraordinary tale of talent, skill and courage. But we British have in a very special way contributed to Europe. Over the centuries we have fought to prevent Europe from falling under the dominance of a single power.

We have fought and we have died for her freedom. Only miles from here, in Belgium, lie the bodies of 120,000 British soldiers who died in the First World War. Had it not been for that willingness to fight and to die, Europe would have been united long before now—but not in liberty, not in justice. It was British support to resistance movements throughout the last War that helped to keep alive the flame of liberty in so many countries until the day of liberation.

Tomorrow, King Baudouin will attend a service in Brussels to commemorate the many brave Belgians who gave their lives in service with the Royal Air Force—a sacrifice which we shall never forget. And it was from our island fortress that the liberation of Europe itself was mounted. And still, today, we stand together. Nearly 70,000 British servicemen are stationed on the mainland of Europe.

All these things alone are proof of our commitment to Europe’s future. The European Community is one manifestation of that European identity, but it is not the only one. We must never forget that east of the Iron Curtain, people who once enjoyed a full share of European culture, freedom and identity have been cut off from their roots.We shall always look on Warsaw, Prague and Budapest as great European cities. Nor should we forget that European values have helped to make the United States of America into the valiant defender of freedom which she has become.

EUROPE’S FUTURE 

This is no arid chronicle of obscure facts from the dust-filled libraries of history. It is the record of nearly two thousand years of British involvement in Europe, cooperation with Europe and contribution to Europe, contribution which today is as valid and as strong as ever [sic].

Yes, we have looked also to wider horizons—as have others—and thank goodness for that, because Europe never would have prospered and never will prosper as a narrow-minded, inward-looking club. The European Community belongs to all its members. It must reflect the traditions and aspirations of all its members. And let me be quite clear. Britain does not dream of some cosy, isolated existence on the fringes of the European Community. Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community.

That is not to say that our future lies only in Europe, but nor does that of France or Spain or, indeed, of any other member. The Community is not an end in itself. Nor is it an institutional device to be constantly modified according to the dictates of some abstract intellectual concept. Nor must it be ossified by endless regulation.

The European Community is a practical means by which Europe can ensure the future prosperity and security of its people in a world in which there are many other powerful nations and groups of nations. We Europeans cannot afford to waste our energies on internal disputes or arcane institutional debates. They are no substitute for effective action. Europe has to be ready both to contribute in full measure to its own security and to compete commercially and industrially in a world in which success goes to the countries which encourage individual initiative and enterprise, rather than those which attempt to diminish them.

This evening I want to set out some guiding principles for the future which I believe will ensure that Europe does succeed, not just in economic and defence terms but also in the quality of life and the influence of its peoples.

WILLING COOPERATION BETWEEN SOVEREIGN STATES 

My first guiding principle is this: willing and active cooperation between independent sovereign states is the best way to build a successful European Community. To try to suppress nationhood and concentrate power at the centre of a European conglomerate would be highly damaging and would jeopardise the objectives we seek to achieve. Europe will be stronger precisely because it has France as France, Spain as Spain, Britain as Britain, each with its own customs, traditions and identity. It would be folly to try to fit them into some sort of identikit European personality. Some of the founding fathers of the Community thought that the United States of America might be its model. But the whole history of America is quite different from Europe.

People went there to get away from the intolerance and constraints of life in Europe. They sought liberty and opportunity; and their strong sense of purpose has, over two centuries, helped to create a new unity and pride in being American, just as our pride lies in being British or Belgian or Dutch or German. I am the first to say that on many great issues the countries of Europe should try to speak with a single voice. I want to see us work more closely on the things we can do better together than alone.

Europe is stronger when we do so, whether it be in trade, in defence or in our relations with the rest of the world.
But working more closely together does not require power to be centralised in Brussels or decisions to be taken by an appointed bureaucracy. Indeed, it is ironic that just when those countries such as the Soviet Union, which have tried to run everything from the centre, are learning that success depends on dispersing power and decisions away from the centre, there are some in the Community who seem to want to move in the opposite direction.

We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels. Certainly we want to see Europe more united and with a greater sense of common purpose. But it must be in a way which preserves the different traditions, parliamentary powers and sense of national pride in one’s own country; for these have been the source of Europe’s vitality through the centuries.

ENCOURAGING CHANGE

My second guiding principle is this: Community policies must tackle present problems in a practical way, however difficult that may be. If we cannot reform those Community policies which are patently wrong or ineffective and which are rightly causing public disquiet, then we shall not get the public support for the Community’s future development. And that is why the achievements of the European Council in Brussels last February are so important. It was not right that half the total Community budget was being spent on storing and disposing of surplus food. Now those stocks are being sharply reduced. It was absolutely right to decide that agriculture’s share of the budget should be cut in order to free resources for other policies, such as helping the less well-off regions and helping training for jobs. It was right too to introduce tighter budgetary discipline to enforce these decisions and to bring the Community spending under better control.

And those who complained that the Community was spending so much time on financial detail missed the point. You cannot build on unsound foundations, financial or otherwise, and it was the fundamental reforms agreed last winter which paved the way for the remarkable progress which we have made since on the Single Market.

But we cannot rest on what we have achieved to date. For example, the task of reforming the Common Agricultural Policy is far from complete. Certainly, Europe needs a stable and efficient farming industry. But the CAP has become unwieldy, inefficient and grossly expensive. Production of unwanted surpluses safeguards neither the income nor the future of farmers themselves. We must continue to pursue policies which relate supply more closely to market requirements, and which will reduce over-production and limit costs.

Of course, we must protect the villages and rural areas which are such an important part of our national life, but not by the instrument of agricultural prices. Tackling these problems requires political courage. The Community will only damage itself in the eyes of its own people and the outside world if that courage is lacking.

EUROPE OPEN TO ENTERPRISE

My third guiding principle is the need for Community policies which encourage enterprise. If Europe is to flourish and create the jobs of the future, enterprise is the key. The basic framework is there: the Treaty of Rome itself was intended as a Charter for Economic Liberty. But that it is not how it has always been read, still less applied.

The lesson of the economic history of Europe in the 70’s and 80’s is that central planning and detailed control do not work and that personal endeavour and initiative do. That a State-controlled economy is a recipe for low growth and that free enterprise within a framework of law brings better results. The aim of a Europe open to enterprise is the moving force behind the creation of the Single European Market in 1992. By getting rid of barriers, by making it possible for companies to operate on a European scale, we can best compete with the United States, Japan and other new economic powers emerging in Asia and elsewhere.

And that means action to free markets, action to widen choice, action to reduce government intervention. Our aim should not be more and more detailed regulation from the centre: it should be to deregulate and to remove the constraints on trade. Britain has been in the lead in opening its markets to others. The City of London has long welcomed financial institutions from all over the world, which is why it is the biggest and most successful financial centre in Europe.

We have opened our market for telecommunications equipment, introduced competition into the market services and even into the network itself—steps which others in Europe are only now beginning to face. In air transport, we have taken the lead in liberalisation and seen the benefits in cheaper fares and wider choice. Our coastal shipping trade is open to the merchant navies of Europe. We wish we could say the same of many other Community members. Regarding monetary matters, let me say this. The key issue is not whether there should be a European Central Bank.

The immediate and practical requirements are:

  • to implement the Community’s commitment to free movement of capital—in Britain, we have it;
  • and to the abolition through the Community of exchange controls—in Britain, we abolished them in 1979;
  • to establish a genuinely free market in financial services in banking, insurance, investment;
  • and to make greater use of the ECU.

This autumn, Britain is issuing ECU-denominated Treasury bills and hopes to see other Community governments increasingly do the same. These are the real requirements because they are what the Community business and industry need if they are to compete effectively in the wider world.

And they are what the European consumer wants, for they will widen his choice and lower his costs.It is to such basic practical steps that the Community’s attention should be devoted. When those have been achieved and sustained over a period of time, we shall be in a better position to judge the next move. It is the same with frontiers between our countries. Of course, we want to make it easier for goods to pass through frontiers. Of course, we must make it easier for people to travel throughout the Community.

But it is a matter of plain common sense that we cannot totally abolish frontier controls if we are also to protect our citizens from crime and stop the movement of drugs, of terrorists and of illegal immigrants. That was underlined graphically only three weeks ago when one brave German customs officer, doing his duty on the frontier between Holland and Germany, struck a major blow against the terrorists of the IRA. And before I leave the subject of a single market, may I say that we certainly do not need new regulations which raise the cost of employment and make Europe’s labour market less flexible and less competitive with overseas suppliers.

If we are to have a European Company Statute, it should contain the minimum regulations. And certainly we in Britain would fight attempts to introduce collectivism and corporatism at the European level—although what people wish to do in their own countries is a matter for them.

EUROPE OPEN TO THE WORLD

My fourth guiding principle is that Europe should not be protectionist. The expansion of the world economy requires us to continue the process of removing barriers to trade, and to do so in the multilateral negotiations in the GATT. It would be a betrayal if, while breaking down constraints on trade within Europe, the Community were to erect greater external protection. We must ensure that our approach to world trade is consistent with the liberalisation we preach at home. We have a responsibility to give a lead on this, a responsibility which is particularly directed towards the less developed countries. They need not only aid; more than anything, they need improved trading opportunities if they are to gain the dignity of growing economic strength and independence.

EUROPE AND DEFENCE 

My last guiding principle concerns the most fundamental issue—the European countries’ role in defence. Europe must continue to maintain a sure defence through NATO. There can be no question of relaxing our efforts, even though it means taking difficult decisions and meeting heavy costs. It is to NATO that we owe the peace that has been maintained over 40 years. The fact is things are going our way: the democratic model of a free enterprise society has proved itself superior; freedom is on the offensive, a peaceful offensive the world over, for the first time in my life-time.

We must strive to maintain the United States’ commitment to Europe’s defence. And that means recognising the burden on their resources of the world role they undertake and their point that their allies should bear the full part of the defence of freedom, particularly as Europe grows wealthier. Increasingly, they will look to Europe to play a part in out-of-area defence, as we have recently done in the Gulf. NATO and the Western European Union have long recognised where the problems of Europe’s defence lie, and have pointed out the solutions. And the time has come when we must give substance to our declarations about a strong defence effort with better value for money.

It is not an institutional problem. It is not a problem of drafting. It is something at once simpler and more profound: it is a question of political will and political courage, of convincing people in all our countries that we cannot rely for ever on others for our defence, but that each member of the Alliance must shoulder a fair share of the burden. We must keep up public support for nuclear deterrence, remembering that obsolete weapons do not deter, hence the need for modernisation.

We must meet the requirements for effective conventional defence in Europe against Soviet forces which are constantly being modernised. We should develop the WEU, not as an alternative to NATO, but as a means of strengthening Europe’s contribution to the common defence of the West. Above all, at a time of change and uncertainly in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, we must preserve Europe’s unity and resolve so that whatever may happen, our defence is sure.

At the same time, we must negotiate on arms control and keep the door wide open to cooperation on all the other issues covered by the Helsinki Accords. But let us never forget that our way of life, our vision and all we hope to achieve, is secured not by the rightness of our cause but by the strength of our defence. On this, we must never falter, never fail.

THE BRITISH APPROACH 

Mr. Chairman, I believe it is not enough just to talk in general terms about a European vision or ideal. If we believe in it, we must chart the way ahead and identify the next steps. And that is what I have tried to do this evening. This approach does not require new documents: they are all there, the North Atlantic Treaty, the Revised Brussels Treaty and the Treaty of Rome, texts written by far-sighted men, a remarkable Belgian— Paul Henri Spaak —among them. However far we may want to go, the truth is that we can only get there one step at a time. And what we need now is to take decisions on the next steps forward, rather than let ourselves be distracted by Utopian goals. Utopia never comes, because we know we should not like it if it did.

Let Europe be a family of nations, understanding each other better, appreciating each other more, doing more together but relishing our national identity no less than our common European endeavour. Let us have a Europe which plays its full part in the wider world, which looks outward not inward, and which preserves that Atlantic community—that Europe on both sides of the Atlantic—which is our noblest inheritance and our greatest strength. May I thank you for the privilege of delivering this lecture in this great hall to this great college (applause).

You can watch a video of the speech:  http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/113688

ENDS

Results of my online poll

3 Jun

Here are the results of my online poll. Over 360 visitors to the webpage in last two days – thanks for the 247 votes cast and for the comments posted.

I am not claiming this as scientific, just indicative…. maybe most indicative of just who follows me on Twitter and Facebook

You can print out the results in a PDF document fromhere: Impressed Most Poll

The question posed: Leaving aside whether you voted Yes or No who impressed you most during the Fiscal Treaty Campaign (Pick 3)

 

Total Votes 247

%

 

 

 

1

Micheál Martin

21.86%

2

Declan Ganley

14.17%

3

Michael McGrath

14.17%

4

Simon Coveney

13.77%

5

Mary Lou McDonald

13.77%

6

Joan Burton

5.67%

7

Gerry Adams

5.26%

8

Enda Kenny

4.45%

9

Shane Ross

2.83%

10

Eamon Gilmore

1.62%

11

Joe Higgins

1.21%

12

Richard Boyd Barrett

1.21%

 

 

Labour could be casualty in Treaty Yes vote

24 May

My Evening Herald column from today’s (Thurs May 24th) edition:

voting

Many different reasons to vote yes or no

With less than a week to go the referendum campaign seems more and more to be about less and less.

On the face of it, if you believe the posters, the choice is to Vote Yes to achieve stability or to Vote No to end austerity.

But do any of us really believe these claims? Regrettably, like previous EU referendums the debate has been conducted at the extremes, not the centre. It was the case in the Nice and Lisbon referendums, remember those “€1.84 Minimum Wage after Lisbon” posters?

Mercifully, we have been spared the malign input of Cóir and Youth Defence this time. The are no loss, especially as most of them wouldn’t know a treaty from a tea-bag (to rob a line I recently overheard)

But this absence of any significant ultra right involvement on the no side does highlight a curious undercurrent to the campaign, one, which I suspect, may be a factor in how some people decide how to vote next week.

While the slogans maybe about the EU and the Euro the referendum has morphed into a proxy battle on the future of left / right politics in Ireland.

From the start the battle front was drawn up along left versus right lines.

On the Yes side you had the right and centre right parties: FG, FF and Lab (more about them later), the employers’ and business organisations, the farmer’s groups and the more established/mainstream trade unions.

On the No side you had the socialist and hard left parties, People Before Profit, Joe Higgin’s Socialists, Sinn Féin, the more radical trade unions.

While the entrance of The Declan Ganley somewhat clouded the the Left/Right delineation, it hasn’t ruptured it.

The sight of him sharing No platforms with irredentist left firebrands is a joy to behold, especially when you consider that they agree on virtually nothing, including Europe. Most on the hard left are euro-sceptic while The Ganley is avowedly Euro-federalist.

While passing the Fiscal Treaty will herald no major day to day changes – mainly because it just restates the centre/centre right economic orthodoxy in place since 2008 – it will cement it into domestic law for the foreseeable future.

It is this that the left fears and opposes most.

Passing the Treaty would recalibrate the centre of the Irish political spectrum a few points to the right. It won’t be a seismic or noticeable shift, but it torpedoes the Left’s ambitions of shifting it the other way.

It doesn’t vanquish them, nor does it make them to tone the rhetoric down. If anything, it will do the opposite, but in their hearts they will know that their ambition to shift Ireland economically to the left has been reversed.

This explains why the campaign from Joe Higgins, Boyd Barrett and Sinn Féin has been so fierce. But not as fierce as when its over and they start to target each other.

I am not predicting that their poll rating drops are set to drop. They won’t. They will probably rise as voters use them to express their disapproval of government parties going pack on pre election pledges.

But the Irish electorate is sophisticated. It is overwhelmingly aspirational. This applies across all social classes and communities. They want their kids to do better than they did. That decides voting intentions more than anything.

In the meantime Sinn Féin will continue to do well at Labour’s expense, after all Gerry and Mary Lou are saying now what Éamon and Joan were saying two years ago.

It is Labour who will be the biggest casualty. Polls showing 40% of Labour supporters voting No could have longer term ramifications for the leadership. But whatever they may be, they can be so where near as damaging as Gilmore’s infamous “Frankfurt’s Way or Labour’s Way” slogan.

It may turn out to be the most devastating political slogan of recent times – devastating to its authors, that is.

Referendum is as much about Left vs Right as it is about the €

21 May

What will we be voting about on May 31st? It is one of the toughest Treaty referendum questions to answer.

European Central Bank

The ECB on Frankfurt’s Way?

If you are to believe the thousands of posters that adorn our street lamps we are either voting yes to stability and jobs or voting no to austerity. A simple enough choice… or so you’d think? Unfortunately, as the campaign progresses, it is becoming clear that neither the Yes nor the No poster claims stands up to much scrutiny.

Do we really think we will suddenly achieve stability and more jobs if we vote yes? I suspect that even the most ardent of yes voters believes that to be case.

On the other hand does the most convinced no voter think that the austerity measures, including household and septic tank charges will disappear if 50% plus one of us votes no? I doubt it.

So what are we voting about?

The best answer I have heard so far has not come from a member of government, the ULA or Sinn Féin. It came, peculiarly enough, from a Euro bureaucrat, a former member of the board of the European Central Bank member. Not the type of person you would expect to speak with simplicity and clarity, yet he did.

Speaking on RTE Radio One’s This Week programme, Lorenzo Bini Smaghi described the decision before us with a cheque book analogy. After years of having separate current accounts, he explained, the Eurozone countries have decided to have one current account and one single chequebook between them for certain purposes.

The risk with this is that any individual country could abuse their access and stick others with the bill, so it is important to agree a set of strict and enforceable rules beforehand. These rules are set out in the Fiscal Treaty. If you want to be able to use the joint account, you need to agree the rules. Refuse to agree the rules and you won’t be allowed near the chequebook.

It is a simple and effective explanation.

What we are voting about is our relationship with the Eurozone countries. Do we want to continue and strengthen that relationship or do we want to weaken it. This does not mean that voting No is the same as being against the Europe, but the choice we are facing has become starker than we would like it to be.

Ok. So now that I have attempted to make the issue a little clearer and get behind the hype and hysteria printed on the posters let me now reverse the process and confuse it again.

While much of the debate has been about the EU and the Euro let me point to another level in the debate. Though it does not get mentioned so much, this referendum has become a proxy battle on the future of left versus right politics in Ireland.

Before The Declan Ganley entered the fray the battle lines had been drawn up along clear Left/Right lines.

On the Yes side you had the right/centre right parties (FG, FF and even Lab), the employers’ and business organisations, the farmer’s groups and the more conservative trade unions.

On the No side you had the radical and left parties, People Before Profit, Joe Higgins Socialists, Sinn Féin, the more radical trade unions.

A Yes result would recalibrate the centre of the Irish political spectrum several degrees to the right. While this would not vanquish the left, it would limit their scope and hem them in.

This could help explain why Sinn Féin has been so fierce in urging a No. A Yes vote would place a definite ceiling on their ambitions and make the centre/centre right economic approach the norm for at least the next decade.

This would leave the hard left /socialist factions with no influence, just sitting on the sideline spouting rhetoric – so, no change there.

The main casualty could be Irish Labour Party, no matter what the result. “Frankfurt’s Way or Labour’s Way” may turn out to be the most devastating political slogan of recent times – devastating to its authors, that is.

Independent Study Shows Ireland had 5th Highest Attendance at EU Council Meetings 2000 – 2010

7 May

The attached research paper Report on EU Attendance was conducted by Markus Johansson and Daniel Naurin of the Dept of Political Science at the University of Gothenburg and presented at the SNES spring conference in Uppsala 22-23 March 2011.

SNES (Swedish Network for European Studies in political science) is Sweden’s leading research network dealing with questions of European politics and governance.

The study examined 808 EU Council meetings between 2000 and 2010 and found that Ireland had one of the highest average Ministerial attendances at Council of Minister’s meetings, 5th out of the 27 member states.

The authors of the study argue that attendance is an integral part of EU engagement and reflects the priorities of the governments involved. Ireland’s position as 5th highest out of the 27 member states from 2000-2010 is a testament to Fianna Fáil’s committeeman to Europe and strong engagement

This exposes the hollowness of claims repeatedly made by Government Ministers and the Taoiseach that Fianna Fáil failed to attend EU meetings.