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Posts tagged with: David Cameron

Sorry British Bankers’ Association – British influence in the EU has already fallen off a cliff, and it’s not to do with staff

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Gergely Polner (@eurocrat on Twitter) normally knows his stuff about the EU. Sometime spokesperson for the Hungarian Presidency of the EU (still the best social media outreach by Presidency), then head of public affairs for the European Parliament in the UK, and now head of EU affairs for the British Bankers’ Association, he has written a piece entitled “Is British influence in Brussels about to fall off a cliff?” for Euractiv.

Sorry Gergely, but British influence in Brussels has already fallen off a cliff. And it has nothing to do with staffing. It is all to do with the political context of Britain’s EU relationship, and how that has soured since 2010, and especially since David Cameron promised an in-out referendum on the UK’s EU membership in January 2013, with the referendum to take place by 2017. Further cases, like the 2011 veto that stopped nothing, and threatening that the appointment of Juncker would hasten British exit, have not helped either.

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Reinfeldt, Merkel, Cameron and Rutte in a boat – a roundup

So embattled Swedish PM Reinfeldt invited Merkel, Cameron and Rutte to Harpsund and took them out in a small rowing boat (news summary here), and let photographers take pictures of this. Here’s the original:
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The Junckermonster – my own effort
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Putin, via @GeneralBoles
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Breaking apart, via @Spacexecadet
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Sinking, via @JOR_ID
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Just the two of them, via @BuschEbba
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[UPDATE 10.6.2014, 1220]

Two further contributions…

Beneath the lake, via @Berlaymonster
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Cartoon, via @valentinapop
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(note: I have no idea who posted these images first, and hence what the rights are – if you are a rights holder please contact me)


What does “EU reform” actually mean?

A tweet by Philip Oltermann caught my eye:

David Cameron is doing his best to spin himself, and his opposition to Jean Claude Juncker as Commission President, as being the ‘reformer’ versus a defender of the status quo, or the old EU, Juncker.

The problem is that no-one ever really challenges this narrative of what and how Cameron seems to want to reform the European Union.

There are at least three possible components of what reform could actually mean. It could mean political and institutional reform of the European Union, it could mean economic reform, and it could mean changes to the relationship between the EU and its Member States.

If we look at Cameron’s March piece in the Sunday Telegraph for example, we end up with a muddle of all of the above. When Cameron speaks of EU reform, it is actually his wish list for how he would like the EU to look. It is basically shorthand for the Tory EU line: less Europe.

Take Juncker’s nomination, by contrast. The fact that all major EU party families put forward candidates for Commission President prior to the 2014 EP elections is one of the most major de facto democratic reforms to the way the EU works in recent years (see this blog entry for the case). Connect the EP elections to the choice of Commission President. It is democratic or institutional reform. So the very presence of Juncker could be framed as a reform, yet all we hear is the opposite side.

Or look at what the European Greens were saying before the EP elections – theirs is a completely different notion of change and reform of the European Union. Yet some of the core vocabulary used – words about change and reform are similar.

So the next time you hear a politician trumpeting ‘EU reform’, stop to ask: what reform? Cameron’s EU reform? Juncker’s? The European Greens’? There is no one way to reform the EU, so we better stop talking as if there is, even if it suits Cameron’s aims to talk as if there is.


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.]


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