After blogging about David Cameron’s “EU reform ideas” (and some ideas that would *really* make a difference) I am getting annoyed by this renegotiation debate: Every Sunday the British elite presents another “EU reform” idea but they don’t seem to notice that a) it is not a priority for the British citizens b) it is not a priority for the rest of the EU c) most of it is impossible or to vague to achieve d) most of it shows a profound lack of understanding how the EU works and d) the government fails to see that some things could be achieved by changing procedures how the UK government/parliament works. Anyway, this whole story provided me with the opportunity to develop a series of ‘political analysis in 140 characters’ tweets:
Why does Cameron want EU reform?
So, what is the problem?
But what does Cameron really want?
So, his ideas are vague and resemble a Daily Mail story about the EU, I’d rather keep the status quo:
Well, it finally happened: Today, Brexit has become a real possibility – maybe not in the next couple of years but possibly in the long term. Under a Labour government and in the unlikely event of a new EU treaty Ed Miliband promised an in/out referendum in the UK – if “new powers are transferred to the EU”. There are few problems with this:
1) I don’t think any Labour government can ever win an in/out referendum in the UK. It will be impossible for Labour to win against the Tories in opposition and the anti-EU media in the UK.
2) One can only hope that Miliband will never have to implement his “in/out referendum policy”. It’s a recipe for disaster. What does it mean to ‘transfer new powers to the EU’? Even if it’s a treaty for the eurozone only, public opinion in the UK will perceive it as another “broken promise” if he decides not to go for the referendum.
3) Ed Miliband’s referendum lock is a new level of how to blackmail the rest of the EU. Under a Labour government any new EU treaty negotiation will always be linked to “Brexit” – not the best starting point for any negotiation over a new EU treaty.
4) It is one thing to promise a referendum over a new EU treaty. Indeed, this can be perceived as a good thing (although I disagree with the idea of having referendums on these things) but linking an in/out referendum to a new treaty that transfers ‘new powers’ is utter bollocks. There are bad treaties but the in/out question will always overshadow specific treaty issues. This is neither democratic nor strategically clever. Basically you blackmail your own population: “Accept this treaty or we leave the EU” – hardly a democratic approach! (or are we talking about 2 referendums in the case of a new treaty?)
Of course this policy can pay off in the short term (= until the next general election that is) but is it a viable strategy? Yes, it keeps Britain in the EU as long as there is no new EU treaty (and chances of it happening are minimal, except for a eurozone treaty). Miliband may manage to keep the ‘Europe question’ off the agenda in the years ahead (which is a good thing!) The “EU question” is also not one of the main concerns of the British public so everything that makes Europe a boring topic is a positive development. Plus the British and international media seem to buy the line that “Miliband rejects EU referendum in 2017″. Fair enough, but what will happen in the unlikely event of a new treaty? If this becomes part of the British approach to the EU it is likely that we will never see another EU-wide treaty again. Expect more agreements that legally resemble Schengen, the Euro and the Fiscal compact. It is clear that Miliband does not want to have a in/out referendum – but why did he not say it like this? Opposing an in/out referendum and defending EU membership – this would have been a clear policy. (And, remember: there is still the ‘normal’ referendum lock on power transfers/new treaties that has been passed by the present government a few years ago)
So, what is the lesson here? Politicians always think they can ‘match’ a policy with something that sounds similar to the policy of their main rival . But this race to the bottom never works. You can’t beat the original. On the EU, the Conservatives can’t beat UKIP and Labour can’t beat the Conservatives.
[PS: I thought I'd never say this but I think I prefer the 'in/out referendum policy' of the Tories. Hmm...]
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:
…to be continued…
“Lessons in ruthlessness”, to be precise. I am sure you will enjoy this:
Here are more quotes by Frank”The Whip”Underwood.
John R Spencer is a Professor of Law at Cambridge University. In this video (which even includes a reference to Borgen!) he basically destroys UKIP’s take on EU criminal law/justice. You may remember this debate about “corpus juris” which is quite popular in eurosceptic circles - see for example this article by Nigel Farage in the Independent. Suffice to say: it is factually incorrect but it builds upon a well established body of euromyhts. Cherished by many eurosceptics in the UK and frequently repeated in the British media, or in John Spencer’s words: “Nonsense about the EU does not cease to be nonsense because it is written by an established politician or printed in a reputable newspaper.”
h/t: Hugh Barton-Smith
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.
A warm welcome to FactCheckEU – the first crowdsourced fact-checking website for EU topics. It launched a few weeks ago and – so far – it is looking rather promising. It probably has the potential to become one of the most useful EU related websites. Go check it out and – more importantly – help them!
It is crowdsourced so everyone can contribute. And we also should remember that the quality of factchecking websites pretty much depends on the community and its ethics. Obviously both things need time to develop (so critising aspects of the website today would indeed be a bit premature) So, let’s hope FactCheckEU succeed in attracting enough contributors who are also able to do some high quality fact-checking. It is much needed – especially ahead of this year’s European Parliament elections.
That’s a nice story: Paul Dacre, the infamous editor of the Daily Mail, received generous EU subsidies for his estate in Scotland. (hat tip: Zelo Street)
For those of you who don’t know Paul Dacre: Some have described him as ‘the man who hates liberal Britain‘ and called his newspaper, the Daily Mail, the ‘the newspaper that rules Britain’. One of his side projects is to run/invent anti-EU stories. Over the years a large number of euromyths and fabricated anti-EU stories originated in the Daily Mail. Unfortunately the Daily Mail is the most read newspaper in the UK and played an important role in creating the toxic, uninformed eurosceptic discourse in the UK. Especially the campaign-style journalism of the Daily Mail which is based on myths, half-truths and the absence of facts is an example what’s wrong in British journalism. (also interesting in this context: Alastair Campbell’s submission to the Leveson enquiry)