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Posts tagged with: David Cameron

How is David Cameron not going to be marginalised this summer in the EU’s political games?

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 12.05.18I’ve previously written about how the UK is absent from the EU’s Presidential Election (otherwise known as the top candidate, or Spitzenkandidat process), and while the essential content of that earlier post remains valid, I have reflected further about the implications for UK-EU relations from this process, and cannot see how the whole game this summer can play out in David Cameron’s favour and, if played badly, could result in a major UK-EU spat.

The starting point is the process (summarised here) – the Commission President needs a Qualified Majority Vote in favour of his/her nomination in the European Council. This means that no country has a veto over who the Commission President should be. This seems to have been (wilfully?) ignored by people like Daniel Hamilton from the Tories – this debate on Twitter is illustrative. Hence as I see it the UK has to make a positive case for the candidate it wants, rather than try to throw around its weight to stop a candidate it does not like.

Tie this to the Spitzenkandidat process and Cameron has a problem on his hands.

This problem is most acute if the S&D group emerges as the largest after the EP elections and tries to force through Martin Schulz as Commission President. Countries like France and Germany, already invested in the process to a certain extent, could live with this (even Merkel I think, who apparently gets on quite well with Schulz). Yet even the Labour Party in the UK has problems with Schulz and refused to back him – I hence cannot see how Cameron could be anything other than against his nomination as Commission President. “We will have to work with him” is going to be about the best Cameron would be able to muster in such a situation, and the words his backbenchers will use will be more fragrant than that I think.

The situation if the centre right wins the EP elections would be only slightly easier. As the Conservatives have left the European People’s Party they have very little leverage there, and the EPP’s candidate – old style, quasi-federalist, Euro-integrationalist Jean Claude Juncker is not the sort of Lagarde or Katainen style candidate that Cameron would more easily be able to live with. Indeed EUObserver reports that Juncker is a no-go for Cameron. Here too Merkel’s position could be at odds with the UK’s position – her CDU were Juncker’s most prominent backers.

Now I personally have my doubts about the extent to which the EPP will back Juncker when push comes to shove, and indeed on the left rumours that Schulz could be replaced by Helle Thorning-Schmidt continue to abound. But having said that the two most likely candidates for Commission President – Schulz and Juncker – remain unpalatable to the UK, yet the process grants Cameron very little power to do anything.

Could this be the next UK-EU crisis to happen?


Merkel in London – a case study in political tweeting

Angela Merkel spoke in London earlier today, and – as could have been predicted in advance – it was one of the most interesting political stories of the day in UK and indeed EU and German politics. A BBC story with all the background can be found here.

Such events of course are now accompanied by live commentary on Twitter, today mostly on the hashtag #Merkel. Here are some of the key tweets, and explaining what they each show.

The “the speech in a tweet” tweet
Congratulations to @olafcramme here. This, sent within seconds of Merkel having spoken the words, summed up the whole speech. Nailing it so clearly and so quickly takes skill, and 47 Retweets is the least it deserved.

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The amusing but nevertheless political tweet
Some amusement never goes amiss when you’re trying to maintain your concentration through minutes of impenetrable prose. Here @lukereuters managed the tweet of the day (210 RTs), likening the Cameron and Merkel on the sofa to an IKEA catalogue. Guido Fawkes followed up with analysis of the DVDs behind them.

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The “what does all this mean” tweet
Not all summed up in the tweet itself admittedly, but the title of the piece is neat – this tweet by @kosmopolit drew my attention to this piece from @jeremycliffe at The Economist that, in its short and succinct way, summarised many of the issues at stake in today’s speech.

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The person who’s actually there, providing context
While the speech was live-streamed, the later press conference was not (or at least I was not aware of it). But @DavidCharter was there or somehow watching, providing context on Twitter, and was ready to follow up if you asked him questions.

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Those were my highlights of following the Merkel speech on Twitter. Anything interesting I missed? If so do comment below, or tweet me – @jonworth.

[UPDATE 28.2.2014]
Some of this is also featured in Tweets of the Week from viEUws.


So what did we learn from Merkel in London. Rather little.

openeurope-amended

I suppose Angela Merkel’s speech today to the members of the House of Commons and House of Lords was what was to be expected. High on vague sounding phrases, and low on commitment. Open Europe put out a table at the start of the week laying out where they saw scope for Anglo-German agreement (original table here) and I have amended the table according to what Merkel actually said.

“Those who hoped my speech will pave the way for fundamental EU reform based on British wishes will be disappointed,” she said, ruling out major changes to the EU Treaties – and probably the only really significant line of her speech. She had a further line on how free movement is vital, but that it must not be abused, and a whole load of pleasant sounding phrases about the competitiveness of Europe’s economy. But if you compare her speech to Open Europe’s table, it does not shape up at all well.

Video excerpts of the speech, and some background, can be found here.


Two levels of compromise, and the current dysfunction of British party politics

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 20.11.51I’ve lost track of the number of times people have defended the British First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system with the argument that because the system generally produces a clear winner (a majority for one party), the system hence avoids the need for the complicated coalition negotiations and trade-offs necessary in systems where coalition governments are the norm.

This is correct as far as it goes, but it is only half the picture. A consequence of FPTP is that the major parties of centre left (Labour) and centre right (Conservative) are themselves coalitions of more points of view than their equivalent parties in other European countries. The compromise to make the UK governable is hence within the political parties, rather than in coalition negotiations after an election.

This in turn makes parties in systems where coalitions are the norm (Germany for example) narrower from an ideological point of view, and inclined to look both ways – towards the left and the right (unless of course your party is of the extreme left or extreme right), rather than the UK tendency that is always to look for the electoral middle ground. This in turn, in non-FPTP countries, contributes to the feeling that membership of a political party might actually mean something to the party members, and may help to explain Britain’s extraordinarily low party political membership (when compared to other EU countries).

Add onto this the additional complication of British politics, namely a coalition government for the first time since 1945, and British politics currently has a double whammy – a grubby compromise within each of the parties, and a grubby compromise between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

So much for FPTP being a good thing for British politics, eh?


The danger of over-hyping TTIP (the possible US-EU trade deal)

Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 10.53.54Yesterday is was David Cameron at the G8 summit, claiming that a US-EU trade deal (known as TTIP) could create 2 million jobs. The European Commission meanwhile has been using the figure of €545 per person benefit of a deal (quoted by TUC here, and mentioned by @SkaKeller at an event in Brussels yesterday).

Both figures are absurd. We are at the start of an immensely complicated process to conclude a trade deal between the EU and the US. While there might be plenty of political will to conclude a deal overall, the devil will be in the detail. What will, and will not, be part of any such deal? Many European countries, led by France, want audio-visual to not be included (the so-called exception culturelle), while politicians of various colours argue for the exclusion of anything touching on GMOs, animal hormones, data protection, and financial services.

If all of these exceptions actually happen then TTIP is not going to be worth 2 million jobs (even if that figure stands up to scrutiny – which I doubt).

Also the danger is that the more pro-TTIP politicians like Cameron over-hype the need for a deal, so opponents will become suspicious, and will try to torpedo the whole thing. This is exactly what happened with ACTA – both benefits and dangers were over-sold, positions became entrenched, and the whole thing fell apart. No deal was the outcome, rather than a more minimal, more pragmatic deal.

It would be only sensible to hope that a few people would have learnt from ACTA, but looking at the TTIP debate so far it looks like they have not.

[Note: my thinking for this blog post was started thanks to an event run by VoteWatchEurope in Brussels yesterday, looking at EP voting behaviour on trade. The slides from that event, as a PDF, are here.]


So Cameron starts a charm offensive across the EU

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 10.33.51Realising his speech in January did not go down too well in EU capitals, David Cameron is this week embarking on a charm offensive across Europe. He’s visiting Madrid, Paris and Berlin, among others, basically trying to sell to others his call for repatriation of powers, oops, no, sorry, that word can only be used in the UK. When delivering that message elsewhere there “should be a discussion across Europe about how we make the EU more flexible, and how we make clear that powers can flow back to nation states as well as flow forward to the EU”.

But this very phrase – whether to use the term repatriation or not – precisely shows Cameron’s problem. He is trying to play to an EU-sceptic public and particularly his backbenchers at home, while trying to sound conciliatory when in other EU capitals. It is a balancing act that does not work.

Prior to his departure, Cameron has been giving interviews to Le Monde and Süddeutsche, among others. The Le Monde interview is here, Süddeutsche (short version) here. ”Wir sind immens positiv für Europa” he says in SZ, translated as “We are immensely positive about Europe”. Could you imagine him saying that to a UK audience?

Of course all this comes after France and Germany refused to participate in the UK’s competence review, so it is going to be a rocky road for him. The Times and The Telegraph, together with the centre-right commentariat in the UK will follow his every move, trying to determine if the body language between him and Merkel at a press conference is positive or not, or whether Germany seems to be open to Cameron’s calls for reforms or not. And at the end of the week we will probably all be none the wiser.

But there remains an essential problem. Cameron seems to see the European Union as an amalgam of national interests, an intergovernmental union, a zero-sum game. Leaders in other EU Member States do not only see it that way. There remains the notion (false some might argue, but a notion nevertheless) that the European Union can itself achieve some degree of democratic legitimacy, something that Cameron implicitly rules out.

It is going to be an underwhelming week.


The UK-EU argument is a proxy for the vital debate about the UK’s economic, geopolitical and democratic future

Screen Shot 2013-01-24 at 14.48.05There are two common, and incorrect, justifications for not acting in politics.

The first is that now is not the right time, because at the moment everything else is more important. That is the justification most often used by opponents of an In-Out EU referendum in the UK, and is the same reasoning that has prevented the House of Lords from being reformed for the last few decades.

The second reason is that ‘people’ do not care about some issue or other, and as a result politicians should not focus on the issue. That is the argument that, rather predictably, was wheeled out by Andy Burnham as a critique of David Cameron’s speech.

The problem is that, as I see it, is that the UK-EU debate is a sort of proxy for three larger issues that, due to the structure of UK politics and government, and the relationship between the media and politics, we never actually get to properly talk about. Perhaps some of these issue could be opened up now.

The first major issue is that the UK lacks a proper and nuanced debate about the economic future of the country. The very essence of New Labour was to emphasise the value of the private sector (and to bring the private sector into provision of public services), and this process has been continued by the current government. The whole repatriation-from-the-EU debate pushed by David Cameron, and rumblings about loosening EU social policy from him and the Fresh Start campaign, are proxies for the push for a further free market, deregulated vision for the UK. Labour would sooner seek solace in the Burnham ‘people do not care’ line, or continue to defend the line that Cameron’s approach is bad for British business (the Emma Reynolds line), than defend the fundamentals of the Single Market – that freedom to trade within the EU has to be accompanied by high social standards. Thankfully the TUC seems to have understood this debate, but we are still a long way away from debating the economic future of the UK sensibly, and drawing every party with an interest into this discussion.

The second issue is the geopolitical future of the UK. As Mark Mardell rightly points out, US politicians “simply don’t see Britain – especially with a declining defence budget – as anything more than a medium-sized power in its own right”. How should the UK react to this? To try to carve out a new role as a medium sized power, with the ability to pick and choose its interventions? Or to collaborate in the EU first and foremost, and with close EU allies seek to forge a European vision for how peace and prosperity worldwide can be fostered? The former would seem to be the Cameron line, the latter is more the Timothy Garton Ash approach. But here too the fixation must not be with the EU as such, but to discuss the EU and its foreign policy, and what role the UK should have within that.

The third issue is that the shape of the UK’s democratic future is rather unclear. The issue of whether to hold a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU once again raises the issue of what role direct democracy should play in a country that, until the late 1990s, had held only one referendum of note. If the people are to decide about the EU, why not about membership of the UN or NATO? Or reform of the House of Lords or, if it is so important to people like Andy Burnham, the ‘important’ issues like schools and hospitals? The UK is suffering from plunging trust in its political institutions and has low and declining party political membership, and with the rise of the anti-party party UKIP, anti-EU feeling is somehow part of anti-establishment feeling. These questions are valid at EU level too – what is the best way to achieve democratic accountability at EU level? Or is it, as Cameron seems to imply, impossible and should not really be attempted? Whichever way, the integrity of UK democracy is not altogether assured, and how the future of democracy will look is worthy of serious consideration and debate.

So, in conclusion, the correct response to David Cameron’s call for a referendum is not to say ‘not now’, and not to say ‘this doesn’t matter to people’. For while the EU in and of itself may not seem to matter much, the deeper questions – about Britain’s economic, geopolitical and democratic future – are vital to each and every UK citizen, and the debate about each of them must not be ducked.


Following #TheSpeech – Cameron in Amsterdam

NOTE: Speech has now been postponed. Will not be 18th January. New date tbc.

David Cameron’s long awaited speech will take place Friday 18th January at Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam. Here are some ideas to allow you to follow the speech.

1) Watch it live
The speech starts at 1000 CET / 0900 GMT. As far as I know Euronews will be showing the speech live, and they also have a live web stream. BBC News Channel will be showing it in the UK (live web stream here – but you need a UK IP address). I am awaiting confirmation of other channels showing it.

2) Tweet about it
Use the hashtag #TheSpeech. A public archive of the tweets on the hashtag can be found at The Archivist here. This map on TrendsMap can help give an overview of where people are tweeting about it.

3) Help with the analysis of the buildup, and post-speech
I’ve been compiling a Storify with all the details of the speech build-up. This will be updated up until the start of the speech, and also afterwards. Notify me of additions either by e-mail, or on Twitter (I’m @jonworth)

4) Play Bullshit Bingo
List your top 10 words or phrases that you think Cameron will use, and put them in the comments of this post before Cameron steps up to the podium. There’s a prize to win too…

And while you’re waiting for the speech, have a listen to Coldplay’s Amsterdam. The lyrics are quite amusing in the context of the speech.


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