Wednesday, 12 December 2012

EU's admin costs to rise in 2013 to €8.4bn

Voting in Strasbourg today, MEPs have approved a €132.8bn (£107.2bn) EU budget for 2013.

The 2013 budget includes a 1.85% increase in the EU's admin costs from €8.3bn (£6.7bn) to €8.43bn (£6.83bn), at a time when member states on the other hand are making cuts to public services and national administration costs.

EU administration costs amounted to 5.6% of the EU budget in 2012, at €8.3bn (£6.7bn). This will rise to 6.35% in the 2013 budget
, showing that the EU's running costs - such as pay and perks for EU staff, plus the cost of buildings and facilities - are growing as a proportion of the overall budget, despite Europe's financial difficulties.

The deal also includes an extra €6bn (£4.86bn) added to the 2012 budget to cover a shortfall in the EU's funding for this year. This is less than the €9bn (£7.29bn) the Commission was demanding, likely resulting in a further request for additional funding being made by the EU as early as September 2013.

The addition of this extra €6bn to the 2012 budget gives the appearance that EU spending in 2013 will fall in comparison. But this does not take into account extra requests for funding predicted by the Commission later next year.

This process of annual and subsequent amending budgets to make up funding shortfalls is making the patterns of the EU's actual spending more and more opaque.

EU Ministers must still formally approve the deal, but difficulties are not foreseen since the EU's annual budgets are agreed by majority vote. Member governments demanding a budget freeze or cuts are likely to be over-ruled by the majority (17) of net beneficiaries.

David Cameron is therefore powerless to stop Britain's payments to the EU rising in 2013 and must now focus on the 2014-2020 budget framework negotiations in a bid to stem our liability to fund the EU's ever-increasing demands for public money.

A new meeting of the European Council - comprising the heads of state and government of EU member countries - is expected in early February to try to hammer out a deal on the EU's spending framework from 2014-2020.

Monday, 10 December 2012

EU's 2013 budget to rise 2.9% amid UK spending cuts

The European Parliament's budget committee this evening approved a deal that will see the EU budget in 2013 rise by 2.9% to €132.8 billion (£107.2bn).

MEPs, meeting this week in Strasbourg, will vote in plenary on Wednesday 12 December on whether to approve the above-inflation increase in the EU's 2013 spending.

The deal was agreed by negotiators for the European Commission, Parliament and Council on Friday 30 November, but the details were withheld until last Tuesday, while UK attention was focussed on the Chancellor's upcoming Autumn Statement.

EU Ministers must also approve the deal but difficulties are not likely, since the EU's annual budget is agreed by majority vote. Member governments demanding a budget freeze or cuts are likely to be over-ruled by the majority (17) of net recipient countries.

The deal is likely to increase Britain's 2013 contribution to the EU budget by several hundred million pounds. This means that some of the money saved through cuts to public spending outlined in George Osborne's own budget statement last week is likely to be spent in 2013 not on reducing our deficit or supporting growth, but on increased UK payments to the EU.

Commission demands

Prior to recent negotiations, the European Commission had been demanding a 2013 budget of just under €138 billion (£111.5bn).

Administration costs amounted to 5.6% of the EU budget in 2012 - €8.3bn (£6.7bn) - and the proportion proposed for 2013 has not yet been revealed. Much of this is very visibly wasted on excessive EU pay, perks, grandiose facilities together with EU self-aggrandisment.

Examples include the EU's £45m tribute to itself, the House of European History, and a £250m refurbished 'RĂ©sidence Palace' building for the EU Council and its president Herman van Rompuy, due to open next year.


Annual budgets are a translation of the current Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) covering 2007-2013. The EU's next MFF, setting funding rules from 2014-2020, is currently being negotiated and requires unanimous approval of EU member governments.

Talks on the new MFF broke down in November, according to the Prime Minister as a result of disatisfaction by several member states over the European Commission's intransigence on cuts to administration costs. EU taxes have also been proposed in the context of the bloc's future funding and it has been suggested that member governments could not agree on whether the EU should be given powers to tax citizens directly. A further summit is expected in January.

On the new MFF, David Cameron has pledged "at best a cut, at worst a freeze" in the seven-year spending limits, although Britain's contribution may rise in any case. On 31 October, rebel Conservatives and Labour MPs teamed up to defeat the government, with a majority voting for a real terms cut in the EU's spending.

If no agreement is reached between governments and EU institutions in time to allow for legal ratification of the new deal by the end of 2013 - under a political, rather than legal, Inter-Institutional Agreement - the 2013 budget will be rolled over year-by-year with a built-in 2% rise to cover inflation.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Leaked budget draft shows EU admin costs to rise 13%

A draft of the EU budget leaked today has revealed no change in a proposed significant rise in the EU's administration costs.

The latest draft, circulated by EU Council president Herman van Rompuy and revealed by
Open Europe, shows the Administration budget at €62.6bn - a 12.8% increase over the 55.5bn in the 2007-13 MFF - rather than falling with other public administration cuts in EU member countries.

The European Commission, supported by the European Parliament, 
originally proposed a 5.8% rise in the overall budget framework to 1.033tr.
This included a 6% share for Administration, taking the cost up to 62bn.

The EU's administration costs have become the focus of today's negotiations in Brussels, with the Prime Minister taking aim in particular at the pay and perks of EU officials. It would be particularly difficult for him politically to return without securing a significant cut in the EU's admin costs.

It is also not clear to what extent discussion over direct EU taxes are forming part of the EU budget negotiations.

Herman van Rompuy last week tried to turn the spotlight on Britain by proposing that proceeds from a new Financial Transactions Tax - in which Britain will not participate - should be contributed to Brussels and the amount offset against a country's contributions to the EU budget.

Last year, the European Commission
also proposed replacing the existing VAT-based contribution to the EU budget with a "modernized VAT" to arise "directly from the citizen to the EU".

The plan is thought to entail VAT levied at a fixed percentage by all member states in addition to national rates - likely to be a 1% uniform rate, rather than the 0.3% share of UK revenues the EU collects currently - and then transferred directly to the EU budget.

If no agreement on the EU budget is reached in time to allow for legal ratification of the new deal by the end of 2013 - under a political, rather than legal, Inter-Institutional Agreement - the 2013 budget will be rolled over year-by-year with a built-in 2% rise to cover inflation.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Commissioner: EU should take control of taxes

EU Commissioner Viviane Reding has said that the EU should take control of taxes from national governments.

Speaking at a debate in Berlin last week, the EU justice commissioner said: "The veto right in the EU council has to be scrapped. Qualified majority voting should be extended to more policy areas, for instance taxation".

Such a move would prevent any single member country, or even minority of countries, blocking Council of Ministers decisions to impose new EU taxes.

Discussion of EU taxes is likely to form part of the EU budget negotiations at a summit of leaders later this week (22-23 November), sold as a way for member states to be 'unburdened' from contributions to the EU budget.

However, the burden of funding the EU would simply be passed to people and businesses directly and, most importantly for many in Brussels, the EU's right to govern and increase those taxes in future would be conceded.

Tax plans

EU taxes have come back on the agenda as a way for the EU to raise more money in "own resources" and bypass the problematic task of requesting ever-increasing amounts of money from national governments.

Member countries currently pay towards the EU budget based on their gross national income, as well as VAT and customs duties.

The EU has already benefited financially from recent rises in VAT, imposed in many of its member countries as part of austerity programmes.

The Commission has also tried to drive through an EU Financial Transactions Tax (FTT) on banks which, due to opposition from a number of governments, is now only set to be adopted by ten member states. Without a veto, the FTT could have been imposed on all EU members by majority voting and particularly threatened the City of London's financial sector if the UK were forced to participate.

Budget Commissioner Janus Lewandowski has also proposed the EU collecting a climate tax on air traffic that would put up the price of holiday flights and expressed interest
in governing other areas of taxation, pressing governments as a first step to agree to co-ordinate the way corporation tax is calculated and to impose minimum rates of fuel taxes on energy bills and road transport, linked to levels of carbon emissions.

Decision time

The right to directly tax businesses and citizens is one of the few powers left exclusively to national governments within the EU. For the EU to gain this power would require a change to the EU treaty, ratified by each member country.

It would be politically impossible for David Cameron to agree to such a change. However, this latest statement by Viviane Reding once again reveals the intentions of those driving the EU to take further fundamental powers from member countries towards becoming a fully-fledged pan-European government.

Advancing EU political integration brings into sharper focus the fundamental decision about Britain's future we must soon make between undiplomatically blocking political union if that is what other EU countries want or letting them go their own way and seeking for ourselves a new, looser, more flexible relationship with our European neighbours that respects democracy.


Read more ...

Summary - Revision of the Energy Taxation Directive

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Our politicians can't stop the EU budget rising

Amid the entertaining political theatre of yesterday's EU budget vote lies a far more fundamental debate than whether the amount Britain's pays into the EU budget should be frozen or cut. 

A debate that will soon come much more to the fore.

Much of the Westminster Village reaction to the government's defeat in Parliament last night by 13 votes is inevitably rotating around whether David Cameron is in control of his party; whether he will wield his veto to block a rise in the EU budget; whether Labour will support that veto and what will happen if the Prime Minister tries to secure MPs' approval for a deal that does not involve a budget cut.

Throw in some simplistic comparisons to John Major's Maastricht woes in the early 1990s and a mixture of the above is what the political commentariat are serving up for today's consumption.

But all that is a side show. Sure, a bit of discomfort for David Cameron and the fate of a few billion pounds rests on one option or another and the Democracy Movement, more than most, wants to see Britain's payments to the EU cut - in fact, far more dramatically than anything currently being considered.

Back in 2005, when the EU's last 2007-2014 Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) was being debated, the DM launched its Stop the Cheques campaign, contrasting the cost of the EU with various cuts being made then to public services (see campaign postcards pictured above). A theme that is today, thanks partly I'm sure to our efforts making the case to MPs over the years since - but no doubt mostly due to the subsequent financial and debt crisis - a very strong aspect of debate on the subject among MPs across the party divide.

Impossible freeze  

No, the real punch to today's events will be delivered when the EU meets to hammer out a deal on the EU budget on 22-23 November.

For David Cameron to deliver his policy he must very likely veto an EU deal, but even then the EU budget will continue to rise with inflation anyway. It is certainly beyond his power to deliver Parliament's view that there should be real-terms cuts, as demonstrated by yesterday's vote. 

Then, or soon after, all the current chatter about EU budget vetoes, freezes and cuts will be shown to have been pointless. The various positions over which our Goverment (freeze or veto), Labour opposition (cut but no veto) and Parliament (real terms cut) have so publicly clashed this week will be revealed as a total waste of time due to the nature of the brave, new, post-democratic EU in which we are currently embroiled.

Pointless veto 

The domestic democratic agony we have just witnessed will have served only make more glaring the reality: It is actually impossible to freeze, and certainly to cut, the EU budget. There is nothing our Government or Parliament can do - even if working in unison - to stop the amount we hand over to the EU rising without completely re-writing our treaty links.

Seventeen of the EU's twenty seven member countries are net recipients from the EU budget, changes to which must be agreed unanimously. If no agreement is reached, the budget reverts to a cut-and-paste, year-by-year agreement with an in-built increase in line with inflation.

It is blatantly in the interest of the vast majority of net recipient countries to block any attempt to freeze the EU budget and certainly to cut it since, if unanimous agreement is not reached, the budget rises anyway.

The system is loaded in favour of the budget recipients and a perpetual increase. Both our Government and Parliament will be shown to be completely impotent, their views on the changes that should be made to the budget over-ruled and self-serving EU treaty clauses enacted to keep public cash flowing to Brussels at an ever-increasing level.

Real question

Our financial exposure to the EU will be demonstrably out of control, regardless of the cuts being suffered by public services. Our democratic institutions powerless to secure change. So what then? What does this say about democracy in today's EU-dominated Europe and is that powerlessness a future we wish to pursue?

Thanks to the brilliant work yesterday by MP Mark Reckless and supporters of his amendment, this is the far more fundamental question that will shortly hit home about Britain's relationship with the EU than would have hit the headlines through any fleeting debate about whether we should hand over a bit more, or a bit less, cash.

The soon-to-be-apparent real achievement of yesterday's events will be to have highlighted to a fuller extent the nature of the increasingly post-democratic state in which EU member countries are currently confined. 

So bring on the EU summit later this month and the start of the real debate - about how to secure a more democratic future for Britain and hopefully Europe too.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Cameron is only talking about an 'in-in' EU referendum

by Marc Glendening

David Cameron might not exactly be in the Derren Brown class when it comes to pulling off extraordinary illusions. But he did pour some cut price, '70s magic act dry-ice over the issue of an EU referendum during the week of the Tory conference. 

He wanted to kick the EU referendum into the long-grass and so he gave the impression that, were he to win the next general election, he would re-negotiate a new relationship with Brussels and then put this to a popular vote at some unspecified point in the lifetime of the next parliament.

The impression the prime minister was trying to create in the minds of the 70% plus of voters who want a referendum was that we would eventually have the chance to either accept the deal he had struck, or, if we rejected it, we would then leave the EU. He tried to sound unequivocal, and therefore sincere, when he said that an EU referendum would be the "cleanest, neatest and simplest way" to decide the issue. 

However, when questioned by Labour MP and People's Pledge supporter, Natascha Engel, at PM's questions (Wednesday October 16) on how Cameron would vote in a referendum on EU membership, he said: "I don't want an in/out referendum because I'm not happy with us leaving the European Union, but I'm not happy with the status quo either. I think what the vast majority of this country wants is a new settlement with Europe and then that settlement being put to fresh consent. That's what will be going in our manifesto." 

Putting to one side the disconcertingly undemocratic implication that referendums should not enable people to vote for outcomes the prime minister does not personally share, his response confirms that in the referendum he is suggesting might one day take place, we will be presented with two options: either we accept the deal that emerges from the re-negotiated deal the government can strike with Brussels, or, if we reject it, whatever the status quo will be at the time will persist. So, this will only constitute, in reality, if it ever happens, an in/in referendum.    

The trouble facing David Cameron is now several fold: First, everyone who cares about the EU referendum issue no longer buys the Cameron act. Remember, in 2007 he gave "a cast iron guarantee" that he would hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. When challenged as to whether this promise would hold if the treaty had already been ratified, Cameron refused to confirm that he couldn't in that context give the British people a retrospective referendum, which a straight-talking politician would have done.

Second, he has just come to an agreement with Alex Salmond on a straight in/out referendum on Scotland's relationship with Westminster. The Scottish vote will not only result in increasing numbers of people asking why the whole of the UK cannot have a similarly existential poll regarding where ultimate political over their lives resides, but it will also inevitably result in speculation north of the border that there might be a need for a second, EU referendum. This is because in the context of a vote for independence, the European Commission has recently confirmed that Scotland would have to apply for membership and sign up for the euro.  

Third, there is the outside possibility that Labour, under the astute policy guidance of Jon Cruddas, might decide to promise us a real in/out referendum. This would cause the Tory leadership the kind of acute problem Harold Wilson's Common Market referendum gambit  posed for Edward Heath in the two 1974 elections.

Fourth, and most importantly, events will probably overtake David Cameron and the re-negotionatist faction. Within the next three years, two new EU treaties establishing banking, fiscal and political union might well have been ratified. These will have major implications for Britain, Denmark, Sweden and the other countries outside the single currency. The eurozone members will be able to caucus and vote as a block and so impose a whole range of measures on the non-euro governments. Ultimately, it will be up to the European Court of Justice to interpret whatever treaty will emerge and what the supposed opt-outs David Cameron has negotiated actually mean.

By being as disingenuous as he has been, the prime minister's various statements on the referendum question have served only to encourage a deconstruction of his magic act. More end of the Westminster pier than Penn and Teller in Las Vegas.  


written by Marc Glendening

This article was first published on the ConservativeHome blog

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Eurozone turmoil latest - excellent summary

Those looking for a quick, straight-talking update on the continuing financial turmoil in the eurozone could do little better than to read Ambrose Evans-Pritchard's pieces for the Daily Telegraph

This extract below in particular from his latest article provides a perfect summary of recent developments and their implications: 

Events in Europe are now moving fast. Portugal has been in havoc for the last week. Spain is in ever greater havoc. Much of southern Europe has become unpredictable.

Is it the fault of the monetary union and the euro? Yes, of course it is. While large parts of the world are in deep economic crisis – including Britain – the damage is concentrated with lethal intensity in the EMU victim states. Spain’s unemployment rates is already 25pc, and the full austerity has yet to bite.

It is made much worse by the unpleasant discovery that elected governments can do nothing to escape the trap. They have lost control over their own destinies.

Spain and Portugal are trapped in chronic slump with over-valued currencies. While they have clawed back some lost labour competitiveness by cutting wages, this has merely – and necessarily – compounded the debt-deflation disaster. It has pushed them closer to bankruptcy.

The Draghi bond plan can certainly put off the day of reckoning. It can lower borrowing costs across the board and cushion the slump. But it cannot in itself stop the slow asphyxiation of these societies.

We are moving from the financial phase of this crisis to the full-blown political phase. It really is playing out like the 1930s.

Final thought from recent media comment on the euro crisis, however, should go to Chris Morris, the BBC's correspondent in Athens, who says of Greece in his latest article:

So after three governments, two bailouts and an economic contraction of Great Depression proportions, this country isn't out of the woods.

Time, then, to stop avoiding the heart of the problem and start planning an orderly restoration of a national currency? At this stage, there's no pain free solution and clearly no viable alternative to a Greek departure from the euro.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Follow us on Twitter

The Democracy Movement is now on Twitter, the
micro-blogging website.

For the latest EU-related news and DM comment, please follow us: @DemocracyMovemt

Monday, 9 July 2012

David Cameron's mood music on an EU referendum

by Marc Glendening

David Cameron's vague statement last week that the government might hold an EU referendum at some unspecified point in the future, but not involving the option of us actually quitting membership, has been roundly ridiculed.

Deservedly so. This was the prime minister doing a traditional political 'taking you for a fool' act, reminiscent of his predecessors Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

With so many mainstream politicians in this post-rational, post-modern era, political declarations are more about making mood music, creating vague impressions, conveying a sense of aesthetic well-being, rather than about actual, hard content.

However, those of us who really do want a in/out referendum should take some heart from the fact that DC felt the need to come out with the disingenuous statement he did.

Given that even a few weeks back the official No 10 line was that very few of us wanted the chance to vote on the EU and that the campaign for a referendum could be airily brushed aside, it is clear that Cameron, being the arch opportunist that he is, now appreciates the degree of momentum behind our democratic movement.

In part this is because of the number of Labour politicians now calling for a referendum or saying that one is inevitable: Peter Mandelson, Peter Hain, Alan Johnson, Natasha Engel, Keith Vaz among many others including, most significantly of all perhaps, Jon Cruddas, the MP now in charge of Labour's policy review and a signed up supporter of the People's Pledge EU referendum campaign.

This issue places the prime minister in a particularly difficult position as someone who says there is no alternative to being in the EU, but simultaneously tries to maintain his EU-sceptical credentials by claiming that he wants to see various powers re-negotiated back to Westminster from Brussels.

The reason he continues to rule out an in/out referendum is that he neither wants to be forced to campaign to stay in an unreformed EU (given that the EU cannot be fundamentally changed through negotiation), so blowing his EU-sceptical credentials for all time - but nor does he want, self-evidently, to associate himself with the out of the EU movement.

Within the next two to three years the EU will move towards a further centralisation of power - fiscal union - in order to save the euro from collapse. This will have huge implications for countries like Britain, Denmark and Sweden that are in the EU but outside the single currency.

Semi-detachment from the Pan-Europeanist project will simply not be an option. We will be confronted with an all or nothing scenario. The 'third way', re-negotiationist position rhetorically championed by Cameron and others will be finally exposed as impossibilist nonsense.

That moment has not yet arrived, but it soon will do.

by Marc Glendening, DM campaign director

Friday, 8 June 2012

DM responds to Lord Owen's 'European Community' plan

The Democracy Movement has a letter in today's Times about Lord (David) Owen's widely-publicised proposal for a referendum on Britain's participation in a restructured "European Community".

The former Labour foreign secretary yesterday set out his vision of Britain's membership of a separate organisation from an increasingly integrated EU, which would
encompass a new, wider single market plus co-operation on foreign, environment and security policies.

Such a Community, he says in a new book Europe Restructured, could also include other non-EU countries like Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and the Balkans.

The Times, Friday 8 June 2012

Dear Sir,

Lord Owen's support for an EU referendum and for fundamentally altering Britain's relationship with the EU is welcome, but his mechanism for achieving his plan is flawed.

A core eurozone appears increasingly likely, but none among the 26 other EU member countries shows any sign of wanting to restructure the EU to establish a wider and looser "European Community", handing wide-ranging powers back to national parliaments.

A referendum on Britain's participation in such a Community would ask voters to endorse a concept that is not on offer and so change nothing.

Lord Owen's plan is an important contribution to a growing debate about Britain's future relationship with the EU. But any prospect of engagement with EU structures on his, or any fundamentally different, terms can only be achieved through first holding an in/out vote and voting for Britain to approach the EU afresh.

Yours etc.


Alongside, a letter from Roland Rudd, chairman of the think tank Business for New Europe (and a former board member of the failed pro-euro campaign Britain in Europe) criticises calls for an EU referendum on the grounds that they increase business uncertainty.

If Mr Rudd favours business certainty above all else, perhaps he could tell us whether he supports Greece, together with other financially unstable countries, leaving the euro as soon as possible?

Rather than the perpetual EU indecision and the uncertainty about whether resources can be found to continue the bailouts that has characterised the euro crisis so far, surely business will at least know where they stand?

In reality, successful companies are always changing and looking for opportunities in change - better deals, expanded markets and lower costs - and they no doubt understand that successful countries must do the same.

Along with his colleague, BNE director Phillip Souta - also a former Britain in Europe campaigner and co-founder of Young Federal Union - it appears that Mr Rudd and Business for New Europe are too ideologically encumbered with support for the EU project to take such a pragmatic and truly outward-looking business view.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Revealed: The reason the pro-EU lobby don't want a referendum

by Marc Glendening

'We can't have a referendum because I can't think of any good arguments for the EU': The true anti-democratic nature of EU-elitism exposed!

Gaby Hinsliff had a very interesting and revealing article in The Guardian ('Ed Miliband, you stoke this anti-Europe fire at your peril', May 21) earlier this week.

She was commenting on the growing number of prominent Labour figures - Peter Mandelson, Ed Balls, Alan Johnson and now new party policy supremo, John Cruddas - who have all recently argued that there will need to be a referendum on EU membership.

The possibility that Ed Miliband might boldly go where Harold Wilson dared to venture during the two 1974 general election campaigns and cause havoc for Cameron and Clegg by making the promise that he would, if prime minister, give the British people the chance to decide who governs them, fills Gaby with fear.

Why? Because, she concedes: "Any future yes-to-Europe campaign is now seriously short of compelling arguments." Yes, the project of building a centralised, top-down, Brussels based system of government has indeed, some of us would argue, been rendered redundant by the liberalisation of world trade, the shift in power from west to east, the new technology and demographic change (among other factors).

Gaby is like a mystic who having seen her belief in supranatural powers demolished by the onward march of science still cannot let go of her pre-modern faith. This would be fine if this was just a personal matter. She could happily wrestle with her inner contradictions till the cows come home.

However, there are sinister implications in relation to her opposition to an EU referendum. She is effectively saying that she wishes the political class will continue to deny us the right to decide who gets to make the key decisions over our lives, because she does not have the arguments to persuade us to share her EU dogma.

There is an implicit, well perhaps not so implicit, authoritarianism with many - but by no means all - on the pro-EU side. While there are honourable pro-EUists, such as former Europe minister Keith Vaz and Ian McKenzie, director of the People's Pledge EU referendum campaign, who do believe the people should be entrusted with a say, the likes of Shirley Williams and Denis McShane are adamant that we should not be given a vote on this question.

The majority of EU-elitists are up-dated versions of nineteenth century Tory elitists who thought the working classes and women were too imbecilic to have the franchise extended to them.

Sadly, Gaby Hinsliff appears to come in this category too. At the conclusion of her article she writes: "It's immoral to refuse a vote on Europe lest the people give the 'wrong' answer': but it's certifiably mad to start this fight without knowing you could win."

This is classic Guardian 1984 double-think/newspeak, professing to believe in democracy whilst simultaneously ruling it out unless the right result can be guaranteed beforehand.

At least the trad Tory opponents of universal franchise had the grace to honestly and proudly proclaim their anti-democratic politics.

by Marc Glendening

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

EU's response to election results risks Europe's stability

The weekend's election results in Greece and France have demonstrated more clearly than ever that the European Union and its austerity policies, designed to preserve its flagship euro currency, are feeding a rise in the popularity of extremist parties.

In Greece, the two centrist parties Pasok and New Democracy together received just 30% of the vote compared with almost 80% three years ago, while a 'radical' left-wing coalition called Syriza secured 17% and the openly fascist Golden Dawn gained 7% giving it seats in the Greek parliament.

France also was not immune to such forces, with Marine Le Pen and her Front National party gaining almost a fifth of votes and coming third in the country's presidential contest - an improvement of more than 2.6 million votes on her father's result in 2007.

Continuing a trend that was already in evidence, voters turned to alternatives to the centrist parties as they refused to budge from the Brussels doctrine and appeared unable to provide people with the responsive government they crave.

As the editorial in today's Guardian puts it, "Democracy matters. When Brussels or Berlin loses sight of that simple fact, voters reach for simpler and uglier solutions."

Stability at risk

For the EU's advocates, who claim the organisation is responsible for preserving peace in Europe since the Second World War, this impetus being given to ultra-nationalist forces by the inability of countries locked within the euro to quickly restore competitiveness and growth to their economies should give pause for thought.

The EU's critics on the other hand have long argued that the only true guarantor of continued peace and stability between European nations is effective democracy, where people feel they have meaningful influence over the rules that affect their lives.

Since the EU's fundamental ethos is political integration, which aims to centralise political decision-making in its largely unaccountable Brussels institutions, it's no surprise that growing numbers of people are coming to realise that the EU system is in reality working against goals of peace and stability by driving Europe away from its post-war democratic revival.

Arrogant elite

Such an idea appears far less shocking when leading EU figures are seen stepping in immediately following a public vote in another country to slap down the result.

Take Peter Altmaier, the chief whip of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrat party, who said that France's president-elect Francois Hollande needed to learn that while his election victory may herald change in France, it would not be allowed to change anything on the EU level.

Almost glorying in how people and their votes no longer matter when it comes to directing their own political future, Herr Altmaier said: "It is very important indeed to send a message to the markets that nothing will fundamentally change."

Germany's chancellor herself has also stressed her opposition to Hollande's key campaign pledge of reopening the euro fiscal pact, telling the Berlin media "that's just not on."

"We in Germany are of the opinion, and so am I personally, that the fiscal pact is not negotiable. It has been negotiated and has been signed by 25 countries," she said.

Turning her fire on Greece, Mrs Merkel insisted that Athens must also comply with the stringent terms of its £100bn bailout even though more than 60% of the Greek electorate had voted for parties rejecting those terms.

The European Commission has also weighed in, telling the new French leader that all previous agreements between France and EU were binding despite the election.

"We expect agreements to be ratified. That is the very basis of the EU," said a Commission spokesman. Yet isn't the ability of a new president or parliament to overturn the decisions of a predecessor in response to a majority of public votes the very basis of democracy? Can there be any further doubt that the EU and democracy are fundamentally incompatible.


The moment of truth now looming is not just an economic one over the future of the fiscal pact and the euro, but also a civil and democratic one that goes to the heart of political power on our continent.

Who truly decides how European countries are governed: voters in elections or the technocrats of the EU?

If the EU elite continue on this course of slapping down events in which people cast their votes and expect things to change, they will be playing increasingly dangerous games with the future of Europe.

When those who govern either cannot, or will not, respond to public votes, the necessity of a radical change in course away from EU centralism and its outdated, 1950s goal of political union becomes even more urgent.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Left is mobilising against the next EU Treaty ... but the BBC won't admit it

by Marc Glendening

In Britain any media story about disquiet and resistance to a new transfer of powers to the EU inevitably focuses obsessively on the Tory Eurosceptics.

The BBC, of course, always attempts to explain away opposition to a prospective Brussels power grab as being almost exclusively a 'right-wing' phenomenon.

This is in part a consequence of journalistic laziness, in part a cyncial campaign to try and culturally marginalise those who question EU power.

For many years the Democracy Movement has drawn attention to the nasty McCarthyite flavour of the campaign many on the New Labour left, people such as Denis MacShane and Peter Hain, have run against their opponents on the European issue.

The propaganda fantasy offensive being waged the Euro-McCarthyites will soon be hard to maintain. The real story now emerging is how many on the left across Europe are mobilising against the latest move being driven by Merkel and Sarkozy to give Brussels control over the Greek and other Eurozone economies.

As Ian Traynor of The Guardian commented on January 26 in his front page story: "The treaty would enshrine the German model of fiscal and monetarist rigour as binding on the eurozone, in a move that would, in effect, outlaw Keynesian economics."

Late last year, writing in the New Statesman magazine, the influential left-wing commentator Owen Jones, author of the excellent Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, wrote similarly: "Left-wing governments of all hues will, in effect, be banned by this treaty. If the French or the German left returns to power in the near will be illegal for them to respond to the global economic catastrophe with anything but austerity. An economic stimulus is forbidden - because the treaty has burried Keynesianism."

It is not only in Britain that the left is waking up to the fact that the top-down EU one-size-fits-all power system means the death of democracy in the member countries.

Francois Hollande, the French socialist candidate for president who is the clear favourite in his race against Sarkozy, has promised to re-negotiate the treaty as it makes it impossible for him to deliver on his promises as things stand.

This is why democrats across Europe, regardless of their broader political differences, should hope that the Gallic left do indeeed triumph over the EU-fanatical centre-right.

If Hollande does indeed become president and does deliver on his promise to challenge the undemocratic nature of the treaty, it will be interesting to see if the BBC harp on about the French being 'marginalised' as a consequence and the whole ensuing row being the product of 'right-wing' Little Gallicism.

written by Marc Glendening

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Parties must wake up to EU policy opportunities, and threats

When will our political leaders realise that the action they take when dealing with the European Union will have a direct and significant effect on their success at the polls?

Looking at lists of the issues people prioritise when it comes to voting in general elections, concern about Britain's relationship with the EU tends to linger some way behind the economy, schools, hospitals and crime.

But politicians make a huge mistake if they believe this means that people don't care about the issue.

The most recent evidence that EU policy can have a critical impact on a party's level of support is the bounce in the polls that the Conservatives appear to have enjoyed since David Cameron last month vetoed EU plans for a 'fiscal union' treaty.

Veto boost

An ICM survey for the Sunday Telegraph has given the Tories their highest rating since last year's general election and a six-point lead over Labour, up from two points before the pre-Christmas summit.

The poll puts the Tories up two points since the start of December on 40%, with Labour support sliding by two points to 34%, opening up the widest margin between the two parties in 18 months.

Other polls have confirmed the trend, with a post-summit BBC report highlighting polls by Ipsos Mori and YouGov that also put the Conservatives ahead of Labour for the first time this year.

Questioning people about the EU summit's outcome exposes the overwhelming public support for the Prime Minister's actions that underpins this poll shift. A Populus survey for The Times showed 57% felt Mr Cameron was right to use the veto while only 14% disagreed and another, for the Mail on Sunday, showed that 62% supported David Cameron's actions, while only 19% said he was wrong to use the veto.

Ed Miliband's response in the immediate aftermath of the summit, accusing the Prime Minister of being "out of touch", couldn't have been more ill-judged.

Poll threats

But this latest shift is far from the first time time polls have reacted sharply to how politicians act on the EU.

When, back in October 2007, Gordon Brown confirmed his support for the Lisbon Treaty and it became clear that he would not extend his party's previous promise of a referendum on the EU Constitution to the revised document, the result was an abrupt end to his honeymoon as the new Labour leader.

Brown actually increased his party's support through the September 2007 eruption of the Northern Rock crisis, when polls showed a three-point Labour lead mid-month widened to nearly eight points by the end of September. Even the events of early October that year, when the Conservatives unveiled a new inheritance tax policy and Brown was accused of having 'bottled' an early general election, resulted in him conceding only a slight lead to the Conservatives.

So far, not so bad for Mr Brown. Until, that is, later in October 2007, when he agreed to the final text of the Lisbon Treaty and made a statement to Parliament on the 22nd of that month. By the end of that week, Conservative support was growing again and Labour's ratings started a precipitous fall, ending the year at a punishing ten point deficit on the Conservatives as Gordon Brown turned up (late) in Brussels to sign the treaty.

The fact that this poll gap then remained broadly the same until late April 2008 shows that Labour's hair-raising fall in public support over a few short weeks between the end of October and mid December must have been due to some very particular event after both the peak of the Northern Rock bank run and the fallout from the party conferences.

It's impossible to dismiss that this was the period during which the deceit of the process of re-naming the EU Constitution as the Lisbon Treaty became crystal clear and Gordon Brown confirmed that he would not grant us the EU referendum we had been promised.

But Brown has been far from alone in suffering at the polls as a result of his EU actions. Later, in November 2009, David Cameron suffered a similar fate when he also dropped his "cast iron guarantee" of a vote on "on any EU treaty" emerging from the negotiations that came up with the Lisbon Treaty.

The Conservative leader also suffered an immediate drop in public support that, as we speculated at the time might turn out to be the case, did indeed re-balance the polls in a way that resulted in Mr Cameron's failure to secure a clear majority at the general election, forcing him to form accede to coalition government.

Arguably, the Liberal Democrats have suffered the worst of all from this trend in public opinion. Languishing in the polls and seemingly looking down the barrel of an electoral gun, the party's leaders still don't seem to realise where they have been going so wrong.

Referendum opportunity

This clear and growing pattern in how EU policy moves public support to an extent that affects electoral fortunes should provide much food for thought for any party aiming to improve its chances of obtaining a clear majority at the next general election.

Obvious focus should be placed on where party policy is at stark odds with public opinion and where better does such an opportunity lie than over whether there should be a referendum on Britain's EU membership?

The Sunday Telegraph's ICM poll also confirms that people do not back Mr Cameron's decision to rule out a public vote on whether Britain should stay in or leave the European Union. A majority of 59% to 25% (pdf, Table 5) say that there should be a proper in-out vote and most (51%) wish to see one in this Parliament.

If one veto, to unknown effect, can deliver a four-point boost in the polls, it's not hard to imagine the electoral rewards awaiting the party that grants that EU referendum.