Cam’s euro-vision deserves a fair hearing


David Cameron’s EU speech attracted vitriol from the usual suspects last week. Guy Verhofstadt accused him of “playing with fire”, the Socialist group’s Hannes Swoboda said it was “tragicomic” – and those were some of the kinder, printable comments.

 

And, yes, there is something particularly tiresome about the self-satisfied smugness of many British eurosceptics whenever they launch into yet another tirade on the innumerable evils and iniquities of “Brussels” and then, within minutes, reveal an impressive level of ignorance of the EU decision making process.

 

But, in truth, it’s hard to disagree with much of what Cameron actually said. The Working Time directive – which Britain (and other countries) have opposed for years – was the only piece of EU law singled out. Even then, the Prime Minister didn’t give an idea of what opt-outs or exemptions he wanted from renegotiation. With his remarks about the EU’s democratic deficit, the need for the institutions to be closer to Europeans, for national parliaments to take a greater role in EU law-making, and for the bloc to become more competitive and outward-looking,

 

Whether officials in the EU institutions like it or not, it is a plain fact that – and I say this as someone who spent several very happy years working in the Parliament – the institutions feel remote from most Bruxelloise, let alone the rest of Europe. And the same officials are kidding themselves by suggesting that this gap, or the democratic deficit, has not grown wider as a result of the eurozone crisis.

 

Pro and anti-Europeans can surely agree that the crisis has seen a huge transfer of economic powers from national governments to the Commission and the European Central Bank. Lest we forget, neither of these institutions is directly elected. Without rigorous checks and balances and clear lines of accountability this cannot be sustained, and the evidence from the first two years of the European Semester indicates that national parliaments are doing a far from effective job in scrutinising the EU’s revamped economic governance rules. Closing this accountability gap should be a top priority for the EU as well as national institutions.

 

CameronAs far as the wider implications for Britain are concerned, my sense is that Cameron played a bad hand about as well as he could have done last week and managed – albeit only briefly – to unite his party. But he has still started the clock ticking on a time-bomb that will detonate at some unspecified and unknown point in the next five years. There are far too many “known unknowns” that could derail his plans to renegotiate. There may well not be an inter-governmental conference in the next five years if the eurozone crisis abates and, in any case, there’s no guarantee that Conservative eurosceptics will be prepared to wait that long. The Tories might also lose the next election.

 

But regardless of whether Britain’s terms of membership within the EU change or not, those who want the EU to survive and prosper should listen to the latest leader of la perfide albion. Just because he’s a British eurosceptic doesn’t mean he’s always wrong.

  1. #1 by Victor on January 30, 2013 - 9:11 pm

    Cameron speech has a premise, that free trade is good for everyone because everyone benefits equally.

    But all the way back to the Coal and Steel Community, Europe has never been about only free trade. It has been about fair trade and solidarity. That´s why the ECSC was not about free trade in coal and steel, but about putting those resources under supranational supervision.

    Free trade doesn´t always favor the weaker. The EEC, the EC, now EU needs to be about more the trade, or else some members won´t be able to participate.

    The Eurozone is moving to a model of solidarity via the mutualization of banking risks (given the political impalatability of mutualizing bonds, at least for now).

    In the meanwhile, Cameron want the EU to become the EFTA. He wants financial markets to be regulated at the national level.

    Those are completely opposed visions.

    All the other rambling about the EU is mere distraction. The EU could never push for reform as fast, yet, it contributes more to reform than any other force in the better part of the member countries.

    The EU is already working on FTA´s with the rest of the world. The working time directive isn´t being applied. And the budget is being cut.

    In some ways, the UK has been a force for good, for example pushing for CAP reform.

    But on the crucial issues, the UK has been suffering an ideological transformation. It has been turning into a sort of EU Dixie. The fact that Murdoch controls the press on both sides of the Atlantic has much to do with this.

    The other EU countries (specially the newer ones) see their place in the world through the Union, the UK still thinks it has imperial influence.

    The English seem to want to prove De Gaulle right.

    Why does Cameron deserve a fair hearing, when most of what he says are half-truths? When he refuses to specify what he actually wants?

    Cameron´s stance is very similar to that of that politician who followed these same misleading tactics in the US. Romney disparaged the existing and failed to say what he would change. Only voters in the Republican bubble believed him. The same will happen to Cameron, but the cost will be making the UK EU membership barely possible.

  2. #2 by Patrick on January 30, 2013 - 9:45 pm

    It deserves a fair hearing followed by a thorough rejection.

    What Cameron said is essentially no different to what UK politicians were saying back in the 1950s when EFTA was created as a rival to the EEC. All the talk about democratic deficit etc is essentially fluff. What Cameron’s aim is to turn back the clock 70 years to make the EU into NAFTA. A very basic no strings attached and no commitment-based free trade agreement.

    This reflects the British vision of the EU as simply another outlet for trade rather than as a motor for increased cooperation between states. Why bother investing in other Member States to raise their levels of prosperity when you can exploit them for low-paid manual work and social dumping?

    And yet again this old canard about governance. Is the Bank of England or the British Civil Service elected? At least the Commission and ECB have to appear before the Parliament: the Commission needs its approval to take office and the ECB’s Board Members have public hearings. In many ways the EU is more democratic than Britain where 30% of the vote (or less than 10% in the case of Scotland) is sufficient to run the country. And do you think that the UK Parliament with its MPs and their duckhouses and mortgage flipping feel close to the people?

    The picture which Cameron paints of his ideal EU is a nightmare for the average citizen. A race to the bottom in the search of Chinese-style sweatshop competitivity.

  3. #3 by jon livesey on January 30, 2013 - 10:12 pm

    When europhiles trot out their usual fear-mongering about the UK and EU, they always say the same thing, that if the UK leaves the EU it will lose on trade.

    In other words, without noticing, they concede the same point skeptics make, which is that the EU usefulness to the UK lies in trade, and not much else.

    And in truth, if you divide the aspects of the EU into trade and “everything else”, the everything else solves problems the UK doesn’t have.

    The UK doesn’t ask the EU to pay its debts. It doesn’t ask the EU to defend it. It doesn’t need the EU to subsidize its industry or agriculture. It doesn’t need EU guidance to create a justice system, a police system, or a functioning democracy. It doesn’t need the EU to help it found universities or build schools. It doesn’t need EU expertise to help it create a national a Health Service. It doesn’t need EU supervision of its budget. It doesn’t need to be locked into EU structures in case it launches a war of aggression against its neighbours.

    This is why, in addition to being a net contributor to EU funds to the tune of hundreds of billions over the years, it is actually a unique contributor, since among EU members, the UK has received the least benefit from the EU, and expects to receive minimal benefits in the future. Except for trade.

    The British taxpayer is well aware that EU pressure for the UK to remain a member is about nothing but money. The EU isn’t thinking about the interests of the UK, but about the tax money they can get out of the UK. Without the UK the redundant extra level of Government the EU represents becomes much more expensive for France, Germany and the others.

    All the well-worn cliches about “obligations”, “cooperation”, “solidarity” and so on are just code words for one thing. British money.

  4. #4 by jon livesey on January 30, 2013 - 10:16 pm

    “And, yes, there is something particularly tiresome about the self-satisfied smugness of many British eurosceptics whenever they launch into yet another tirade on the innumerable evils and iniquities of “Brussels” and then, within minutes, reveal an impressive level of ignorance of the EU decision making process.”

    That’s like saying that you can’t be an atheist unless you demonstrate you have memorized the Bible first.

    People don’t have to be “qualified” in deciding how their money is spent. It is quite enough that it is their money.

  5. #5 by Pedro on February 1, 2013 - 2:47 am

    The u.k. (useless kingdumb) is well on its way to isolation and irrelevance. Scotland will leave little england in the dust next year, making the useless kingdumb evermore useless. As a European my only question is: Why 2017? Leave now!! GOOD RIDDANCE!!!

  6. #6 by Marc on February 2, 2013 - 4:17 pm

    Verhofstadt is a sworn opponent of democracy and fully in favor of the Eurosoviet project so he should not be listend to anyway.

    Britain holds all the cards. Who is the Eurosoviet gonna get to cover for the loss of Britain’s net contribution? Exactly.

    And how will they make trade more difficult when the WTO won’t let Brussels do so. The effect on trade will be zero. Nada. Nothing. Its just greedy corporations who fear losing a bit of access to a larger pool of cheaper labor in the race to the bottom to ensure fatter corporate profits.

    Besides, there is plenty of popular support on the continent for what Cameron has done. Let’s have some referendums.

    The French and their post-empire syndrome, who see the EU as an extention of French influence and are historically the greatest obstructors will get their come-uppance. Their country is bankrupt like their social affairs minister said it was.

    They want others to bail out their bankrupt welfare state. France never implements EU directives that it doesn’t like, always ignores EU rulings it disagrees with.

    I don’t know how long it will take, let’s hope the Eurosoviet won’t linger as long as the old Soviet Union did. But when it does disappear, we will declare it a day of freedom.

    And of course the for EU-philes and other assorted anti-democrats, the facts remain. The EU is delibetately undemocratic, the European Commission is a Soviet style Politburo, there is no EU-demos so by definition EU-democracy doesn’t exist and the EU sides with the rich and bankers against everyone else.

  7. #7 by Pedro on February 3, 2013 - 3:35 am

    Little englandres and their patronising commentary regarding democracy…always good for a laugh! This is little england’s definition of democracy…LoL!!:
    *A Head of State not elected by the people (in the u.k.-useless kingdumb, the Head of State is a hereditary monarch).

    *Head of Government is also not elected by the people (the british Prime Minister is chosen by ruling party elites, à la former Soviet Union).

    *House of Lords…LoL!! In 2013, a house of lords.

    *Britain’s other chamber of Parliament (House of Commons) elects deputies via a system of “Party Representation” and not “Proportional Representation” (such an electoral system completely distorts the will of the people).

    *No “Right of Recall” legislation for elected officials (except for the odd mayor).

    *No written Constitution enshrining the “Rights of Citizens” (as a matter of law, britons are not citizens, but are in fact “subjects” of the regent).

    WHERE IS THE “KRATIA” OF THE “DEMOS?”

    The u.k. (useless kingdumb) is a joke…..

    No “Right of Recall” legislation

    • #8 by RCS on February 7, 2013 - 1:54 pm

      I see Pedro has arisen from his torpor to release another anti-British rant.

      The UK has been one of the most stable and successful governments in the World. It has evolved over time and, until we joined the EEC-EU, it basically worked.

      If Pedro wants to see the back of us, we will be equally glad to see the back of him.

  8. #9 by Derek on February 3, 2013 - 6:42 pm

    Jon Livesey makes perfectly coherent comments above whilst Pedro true to his latin nature merely hurls insults. Think of the lovely Cristina in the South Atlantic. You would not expect to get these spiteful, deranged comments from a Northern European.

  9. #10 by Evan Price on February 4, 2013 - 10:03 am

    The problem with Pedro’s critique of British legal and democratic systems is that they are fantastically simplistic and superbly mistaken.

    Yes, we have a Head of State whose position is inherited – but Pedro forgets that the system that came into being as a result of the Glorious Revolution led to the Head of State effectively allowing his (and her) powers to be used by the Government … so the role is titular in law, rather than executive.

    As to Parliament and the selection of the Prime Minister, our system elects constituency representatives who (650) attend the Commons and the person of those 650 who ‘commands the majority’ of them, is asked by the Queen to form a Government – the elections have taken place and the constituents have voted for them – this is not perfect, but neither are other systems of ‘democracy’ – indeed, as Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of Government except all others that have been tried.

    The House of Lords has always been indefensible as a democratic institution; but its power and effectiveness and the manner in which it defended the rights of individuals was recognised by jurists such as Montesquieu and Dicey …

    We don’t have a right of recall – but as soon as our Government loses a vote of confidence, an election is called – so recalling the whole house and starting afresh, rather than merely recalling a single representative.

    No written constitution – true, but we have a constitution, merely no Constitution. Our laws and traditions are very old – some are thought to date back to before the Romon invasion, such as the right to be tried by your peers and the right not have a judge who is interested in the outcome of the trial. It is interesting that it was here that the abolition of slavery, the right not to be subject to arbitrary arrest, the right not that have you home subject to arbitrary search and other such rights became entrenched, often decades and sometimes many decades before they become the norm in other jurisdictions. Remember that the rights enshrined in the ECHR are rights than have been recognised in the laws of England for, in some cases, many centuries.

    Now I explain these things, not because I am a “little Englander”, I am Welsh, after all; nor because I denigrate the consitutional or legal traditions of other nations, which in many ways are admirable; but because it is in recognising the strengths and weaknesses of our disparate traditions that we learn. And regardless of Pedro’s apparent ignorance, I suspect that many in Europe (particularly legal and constitutional scholars) will recognise that systems may be different but they are not ‘wrong’ because they are different.

  10. #11 by Pedro on February 5, 2013 - 7:33 am

    Evan Price wrote:
    “Pedro forgets that the system that came into being as a result of…”

    Regardless of how it came into being, it is an undemocratic institution. That is the point…get it?

    Evan Price wrote:
    “As to Parliament and the selection of the Prime Minister, our system elects constituency representatives who (650) attend the Commons and the person of those 650 who ‘commands the majority’ of them, is asked by the Queen to form a Government – the elections have taken place and the constituents have voted for them”

    The current british prime minister was elected in Witney with 33,973 votes, that is not a democratic mandate to govern a country of over 60 million. The deputies in the house of commons do not reflect the will of the people (i.e. if 30% of britons vote for the conservative party in parliamentary elections, the odds of 30% of parliament being comprised of conservative MPs is slim to none).