The Conservative rejection of Europe will only backfire in their faces


9:16 am - October 15th 2012

by Owen Tudor    


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Conservative voices calling for UK membership of the EU to be reviewed, with Michael Gove and Philip Hammond joining the chorus, is almost certainly very bad politics for the Conservatives – it will keep the party split over Europe open and festering.

But it’s also very bad news for British workers, too, if those who want to restructure the relationship between Britain and the EU get their allegedly middle way.

The party politics is clear. Labour needs to steer well clear of this spat, although the Liberal Democrats could use the issue to rebuild some of their deservedly lost political capital by being the grown up part of the coalition.

But for Tories able to think just two or three moves ahead, this is a slow motion car crash in action. The Conservative debate is being played out between outright and ‘moderate’ scepticsm, with the Prime Minister dragged along behind them, which is not really what ‘leadership’ traditionally means.

Conservatives are justifiably worried that UKIP, whilst unlikely to secure any MPs, could easily unseat Conservatives in key marginals.

The problems with such strategies for Conservatives are legion. There’s a zero-sum game element to Europe: to move rightwards to shoot UKIP’s fox, the Conservatives have to ditch many things that appeal to centrist voters who thing euro-scepticism is extremism, back the idea of the EU despite its faults, consider the benefits outweigh the costs, or welcome the elements Conservative euro-sceptics dislike such as paid holidays, equal pay, safety at work etc (I’m generalising here about categories that are, of course, not homogenous).

Worse still, Conservative arguments over Europe revive memories about the toxic atmosphere of John Major’s government, paint the Prime Minister as a prisoner of his party, and widen the fault-lines in a coalition that needs to survive until 2015.

But this debate is also bad for workers. Although this year’s TUC Congress voted overwhelmingly against a referendum and withdrawal, it would be a mistake to see this as a knockout blow by europhiliacs or federalists.

Unions are deeply hostile to the austerity being forced on countries like Greece and Ireland, and to the EU fiscal pact that prohibits Keynesian economic policies regardless of whether they get an electoral mandate.

And our concern that the EU is being used to force through reductions in wages, social protection and collective bargaining remain strong. It really might not take much to make unions eurosceptics themselves, although that hasn’t happened in the countries worst affected.


A longer version of this post is here

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About the author
Owen Tudor is an occasional contributor to LC. He is head of the TUC’s European Union and International Relations Department and blogs more regularly at the Touchstone blog.
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Reader comments


It might well be bad electoral politics for 2015, but I’m not sure Gove minds about that. I suspect there’s a group now forming around Gove which knows that the Tories are unlikely to win in 2015, and even welcome that because it opens the door for a radical-populist Gove leadership (or possibly an acolyte-leader like Truss, in the Joseph/Thatcher mode.

I’m quite pleased that my “Tory decision to oppose AV will lead to a Tory wipeout in 2015” prediction is coming true. Just think, if only the Tories had backed the LD plans, they’d now have the pro-Tory seat allocation, nothing at all to worry about from the UKIP side, and not too much to worry about from the still-moribund LDs.

“Unions are deeply hostile to the austerity being forced on countries like Greece and Ireland, and to the EU fiscal pact that prohibits Keynesian economic policies regardless of whether they get an electoral mandate.”

And yet you still want to be a part of it?
How does that work?

“the Conservatives have to ditch many things that appeal to centrist voters who thing euro-scepticism is extremism”

Only problem with this argument is that europhilia is now not the mainstream view. Eurosceptics have on the whole been proved correct, and polls will show that support for the Euro is very low, and support for leaving it is running high.

The party politics is clear. Labour needs to steer well clear of this spat.

Because it would draw attention to their own incoherence?

the Conservatives have to ditch many things that appeal to centrist voters who thing euro-scepticism is extremism, back the idea of the EU despite its faults, consider the benefits outweigh the costs, or welcome the elements Conservative euro-sceptics dislike such as paid holidays, equal pay, safety at work etc.

Is it not possible to have these things without the EU?

@4 – exactly.

There will be a referendum on europe within the next decade, and I’ve been predicting this for a couple of years now (by 2020 and I win some money on this).

I think the result of such of a referendum is very much up for grabs at the moment though. However if pro-europeans continue to act as if euro-secptism is an extreme viewpoint rather than a broad spectrum that contains many different political perspectives, and that the public can’t be trusted, then it is unlikely they can win. Instead they should be preparing for a referendum now, and being brave enough to call for one.

8. Chaise Guevara

@ 6 vimothy

“Is it not possible to have these things without the EU?”

Of course it is, but our current government is hardly a staunch defender of workers’ rights, is it?

OP:

“welcome the elements Conservative euro-sceptics dislike such as paid holidays, equal pay, safety at work etc”

Eurosceptics, like me, are not against any of those things – and certainly not the first two – though perhaps some UKIP nutters are. As for H & S, we’d prefer it to be country-specific and to be under the control of a democraticly elected government rather than an unaccountable committee.

“Unions are deeply hostile to the austerity being forced on countries like Greece and Ireland, and to the EU fiscal pact that prohibits Keynesian economic policies regardless of whether they get an electoral mandate.”

Thank God, Gordon the Moron kept us out of the euro! It is one of his two achievements – the other being making the BoE independent. Pity he wrecked the public finances. The TUC should be very grateful that the UK is not in the euro – and that the UK can devalue in order to mitigate the effects of reduced public expenditure on the economy.

“And our concern that the EU is being used to force through reductions in wages, social protection and collective bargaining remain strong.”

The EU has a very authoritarian structure: legislation being initiated only by an appointed Commission and the Parliament being only consultative. Given that, and given the euro-elite’s commitment to the flawed Euro, then inevitably people must suffer for the noble cause of the “European ideal”.

“It really might not take much to make unions eurosceptics themselves, although that hasn’t happened in the countries worst affected.”

You are trying to have it both ways…Unions in Greece and Spain are infected with the euro-ideology – Greece, for example, sees the EU (and NATO) as a bulwark against Turkish resurgence and Balkan insignificance – but how long can they tolerate German-imposed “internal devaluation”?

I guess the position of a lot of lefties is a bit like mine: I like the idea of the EU but I don’t like the EU as it is.

There’s much to be said that we benefit from, such as the Schengen Agreement and the Deckaration of Human Rights. However there are problems with the broad centre-right political position, foolish expansion plans and inability to make decisions quickly. This last is clearest in the slow car-crash that is the Euro.

Nothing I’ve seen from righties suggests any sentiment more complex than Wogs Begin At Calais behind their position.

Try Sam Brittan: A liberal case for scepticism of the EU
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/3ab63528-0730-11e2-92b5-00144feabdc0.html#axzz28cGj8ekT

“But of one thing I am sure. I know the language of intolerance and authoritarianism when I hear it. Words such as unthinkable, unmentionable and undiscussable are hurled at anyone who dares question EU orthodoxy, not only on the euro. Even if everything else in this article is wrong, EU intolerance of criticism is enough to turn me off the project.”

Sam Brittan is the elder brother of Leon Brittan, who was at one time one of Britain’s commissioners at the EU Commission, appointed by Mrs Thatcher.

Remember what happened to Bernard Connolly, a staffer in the EU Commission, in 1995 when he raised technical issues about proposals for European monetary union following professional discussions he had had with Rudi Dornbusch and Olivier Blanchard. Connolly lost his job at the Commission. Try his book: The Rotten Heart of Europe (Faber).

As as a veteran of online debates c.2000 about the Europe, I’m very familiar with the ways used then to silence any critics of monetary union, which is one of the reasons for Eurozone problems now. Part of the problem was and is sheer fanaticism on the part of Europhiles committed to “ever closer union” in Europe.

“Nothing I’ve seen from righties suggests any sentiment more complex than Wogs Begin At Calais behind their position.”

Seriously? You’ve never heard any economic arguments against EU regulations?

Are you referring to right-wing arguments against the EU overruling the British Parliament? Because that argument has been made by lefties e.g. Tony Benn as well.

There are lots of reasons for people on the left to be sceptical about the EU. The main reason, as Tony Benn pointed out years ago, is its lack of true democratic accountability. However, putting that to one side, the key point to remember is that there will be a new treaty (possibly before the next election) to create the inner core ‘Federation of Nations’. This will also create an outer core membership of the EU. The UK, and probably the at least one other, will be part of the outer core, and the powers and relationships of outer core members will be up for negotiation. This will be Cameron’s chance to get his renegotiation at the instigation of the EU itself. Furthermore, ratification of this treaty will trigger the referendum requirement in the European Act 2011. If this falls after 2015, and if Labour is in power, how will they deal with the matter?

@12 Richard

The right argues against regulations of all sorts, so you’ll have to excuse my missing the EU-specific argument.

The only difference I see between the righty attitude to EU regulation is that it comes from bloody foreigners rather than jumped up working class johnnies.

Try this about the sacking in 2004 of Marta Andreasan, who had been appointed chief accountant at the EU Commission:

The European Commission’s former chief accountant, who claimed there were holes in the EU budget system, says she will fight against her sacking.

Marta Andreasen was fired on Wednesday, two years after she was suspended for disloyalty and breach of trust.

The Spanish official went public in 2002 with claims that the EU’s 100bn euro (£69bn) budget was open to fraud and abuse.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3742148.stm

Her boss at the Commission was Commissioner Kinnock.

When did the EU Court of Auditors last certify the Commission’s annual accounts?

16. Karl Hungus

This article is correct in representing the question of EU membership as a straight left/right issue.

In a global economy, we need international policy structures like the EU to prevent a race to the bottom on wages and workers rights. Beyond its borders, the EU has also led the way in combatting Climate Change and undermining US imperialism.

Tories want a race to the bottom. They don’t want to protect the environment at the expense of short-term profits or stop the likes of George W Bush throwing their weight about.

And if we leave the EU, they are going to get their way. I where Owen Tudor is wrong, if not downright complacent, is in assuming that the gross media mis-representation of our relationship with Europe has left no lasting impression on the electorate.

The ‘story’ of this prospective referendum is not the Tories short-term electoral prospects, but a massive potential gamble with progressive policymaking at risk, in the UK, and to a lesser extent internationally.

“Owen Tudor is Head of the European Union and International Relations Department at the Trades Union Congress (TUC). He’s secretary of the TUC’s development charity arm TUCAid, and a member of the Wilton Park Advisory Council and the Robin Hood Tax campaign steering committee”.

Oh look, don’t you have a nice little earner from the EU? Of course you’re pro-EU, your wages and solid gold pension are at stake.

Sorry, can’t take you seriously AT ALL!

Chaise,

In other words, we like the EU because it allows us to short-circuit the democratic political process and enact the laws we want to see enacted, without having to convince the people of Britain to vote for them–or indeed, giving them any sort of say in the matter.

But this is surely an argument against membership of the EU. Note that you’re only happy with this arrangement because the prejudices of the EU bureaucratic class in this matter match exactly your own. As soon as some issue puts daylight between them–austerity measures for the periphery, say–I expect you’ll be singing from a rather different hymn sheet. Democracy when it suits us, and aristocracy the rest of the time, eh?

19. Chaise Guevara

@ 18 vimothy

Wow, you leapt to a lot of conclusions from a non-sequitur there, didn’t you? Must have been exhilarating.

My point was simply that, while you can obviously have things like workers’ rights without the EU, some people like EU membership in part because it helps to ensure that those rights exist.

The acceptability of the EU as a form of government (in effect) is a totally different matter. I agree that it could work a lot better, especially in terms of democracy. But while the EU is not democratic, our decision to be part of it and follow its strictures is democratic – it was entered into by the decision of a democratically elected government and could be abandoned in the same way.

Courts are vaguely similar. Criminal trials aren’t decided by the prime minister or by referendum, thank god, but the system is built on democratic foundations.

Furthermore, you could argue that the current attacks on workers’ rights are undemocratic – I don’t recall seeing them in the Tory or Lib Dem manifestos. I wouldn’t go down that route myself, but it all depends on what precise ideal you mean when you talk about democracy.

For the record (because you’ll do better if you base your claims on the truth rather than making them up out of thin air), I believe we should stay in the EU for now, but I disagree with it on many counts, and I think reform is badly needed.

And some people like the fact that those rights can be taken out of the political process, which the EU facilitates. But the problem with outsourcing decision making to Brussels is that there is no guarantee that they will come up with decisions that are conducive to the common good–a fact that can be easily seen just by looking at the fires raging all over Europe right now. Human rights legislation and rule by the ECB come as a pair. You buy one, the other is thrown in gratis.

And by the way, no one is offering the British a say in the matter. It is impossible (certainly at present and almost as certainly for the foreseeable future) to elect a government who will take Britain out of the EU, precisely because there is some danger that people will do so. The option is not placed on the table, lest someone make use of it. So the idea that EU rule has some kind of distant, derived, second or third order democratic legitimacy won’t wash, I’m afraid.

Cherub @ 10:

“I like the idea of the EU but I don’t like the EU as it is.”

How nice, how sweet! ‘I like my idea of the world but I don’t like the world as it is!’

And, by the way, the ECHR has nothing to do with the EU! Please, do wake up!

Cherub @ 14:

“The right argues against regulations of all sorts, so you’ll have to excuse my missing the EU-specific argument. The only difference I see between the righty attitude to EU regulation is that it comes from bloody foreigners rather than jumped up working class johnnies.”

So the democratic deficit in the EU – legislation initiated by an appointed elite and rubber-stamped by a merely consultative parliament – counts for nothing, because the results broadly meet with your approval!

You should be ashamed of yourself!

Parliamentary democracy, which has evolved slowly and gradually in these islands, should not be overriden by an authoritarian and centralist euro-ideology. We are (or should be) all euro-sceptics now, given the havoc the Euro has created and the problems it has exacerbated!

23. Northern Worker

Planeshift @ 7

“There will be a referendum on europe within the next decade, and I’ve been predicting this for a couple of years now (by 2020 and I win some money on this).”

I’ll go one further on that. By 2020 there will be no EU. It will have collapsed.

Labour should offer a simple in/out referendum. Okay, the EU is, surprisingly, not top of most UK citizens’ agenda, but it could be. AThere will be a referendum on europe within the next decade, and I’ve been predicting this for a couple of years now (by 2020 and I win some money on this).And Labour can steal a lead over the Tories.

24. Northern Worker

Plneshift @ 7

“There will be a referendum on europe within the next decade, and I’ve been predicting this for a couple of years now (by 2020 and I win some money on this).”

The EU will collapse before then and I’ve got money on it!

CG @ 19:

“while you can obviously have things like workers’ rights without the EU, some people like EU membership in part because it helps to ensure that those rights exist.”

I like workers’ rights (as I’m a worker and a Conservative voter); but I’d prefer to be able to influence them through my own MP. Why should an unelected Commission and its bureaucracy decide my – or your – employment rights? Why?

“The acceptability of the EU as a form of government (in effect) is a totally different matter.”

No, it is not. Because the euro-idelogists seek to impose their totalitarian vision on the peoples of Europe without their consent – and by degree.

“while the EU is not democratic, our decision to be part of it and follow its strictures [sic] is democratic ”

Opening lines of a manifesto to withdraw or renegotiate? Or, in an alternative history, our Parliament’s decision to submit to the Third Reich was justified by “our decision to be part of it and follow its strictures [sic]”.

When politicians from Enoch Powell to Tony Benn have warned us about the EEC/EU, we should be waking up!

“I believe we should stay in the EU for now, but I disagree with it on many counts, and I think reform is badly needed.”

Whereby you (almost) have it any way you like!

As I see it, the options are fourfold:

1. Totally in – government by Berlin
2. Partly in – the status quo
3. Out but with EEA membership (eg Norway or Switzerland)
4. Completely out – with free trade agreements with N America etc, etc.

On purely pragmatic grounds, I favour (3) because I want my country to cooperate with its neighbours, yet I do not want it to be absorbed into a European super-state – where decisions are taken by unaccountable bureaucrats…

Since the mid 1990s, the regular EU practice has been to paint critics as either raving xenophobes or raving lefties so as to block out rational discussion about the EU and the potential pitfalls of a single currency.

The end result of this strategy was – as Delors put it in an interview in December 2011:

Euro would still be strong if it had been built to my plan – Former president of the European Commission Jacques Delors talks to Charles Moore about the fate of the euro.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financialcrisis/8932640/Jacques-Delors-interview-Euro-would-still-be-strong-if-it-had-been-built-to-my-plan.html

As a result, we are where we are. The fact is that the Conservatives led Britain into joining the EU.

Macmillan as PM made the first application to join in 1961 – which was vetoed by De Gaulle. Ted Heath as PM negotiated Britain’s accession in January 1973 – after the demise of De Gaulle. Mrs Thatcher pushed for the Single Market Treaty in 1985.

It’s patently untrue to claim the Conservatives are anti the EU.

27. Chaise Guevara

@ 20/21 vimothy

“And some people like the fact that those rights can be taken out of the political process, which the EU facilitates. But the problem with outsourcing decision making to Brussels is that there is no guarantee that they will come up with decisions that are conducive to the common good–a fact that can be easily seen just by looking at the fires raging all over Europe right now. Human rights legislation and rule by the ECB come as a pair. You buy one, the other is thrown in gratis.”

Agreed.

“And by the way, no one is offering the British a say in the matter. It is impossible (certainly at present and almost as certainly for the foreseeable future) to elect a government who will take Britain out of the EU, precisely because there is some danger that people will do so. The option is not placed on the table, lest someone make use of it. So the idea that EU rule has some kind of distant, derived, second or third order democratic legitimacy won’t wash, I’m afraid.”

You may have heard of UKIP, and before that the referendum party?

Yes, these are/were minor parties, and minor parties get shafted by FPTP. I agree that FPTP is not very democratic, but we need to consider that from a general perspective rather than act as if it applies solely to our EU membership. Our membership of the EU is as democratic as anything else in Britain.

Your words above read as if the Powers That Be have outlawed anti-EU parties from standing, which is evidently not the case. Quitting the EU is placed on the table, it’s just that hardly anyone goes for it. Every 4/5 years, we have the opportunity to vote for a party that will take us out of Europe, and we don’t.

If your point is that we need to move to a PR system that better reflects public opinion, then I’m with you, but don’t pretend that the issue is exclusive to Europe. If you’re not talking about FPTP vs PR, then you’re just complaining about democracy because you don’t like the results.

28. Chaise Guevara

@ 25 TONE

“I like workers’ rights (as I’m a worker and a Conservative voter); but I’d prefer to be able to influence them through my own MP. Why should an unelected Commission and its bureaucracy decide my – or your – employment rights? Why?”

On paper, because the EU represents agreements between countries – an attempt to defeat the international tragedy of the commons – and those can’t be resolved with direct democratic input because we lack a global democratic system.

“No, it is not. Because the euro-idelogists seek to impose their totalitarian vision on the peoples of Europe without their consent – and by degree.”

Yes it is. Because you’re taking my words out of context. I said that people like the EU because it does things their country won’t. Vimothy had a rush of blood to the head and decided to pretend that I’d added the words “…and that’s brilliant” at the end.

“while the EU is not democratic, our decision to be part of it and follow its strictures [sic] is democratic ”

While your patronising habit of writing “sic” every time you spot a minor error in someone else’s writing is very charming indeed and no doubt wins you many friends, I fail to see what’s wrong with the above.

“Opening lines of a manifesto to withdraw or renegotiate? Or, in an alternative history, our Parliament’s decision to submit to the Third Reich was justified by “our decision to be part of it and follow its strictures [sic]“.”

And then perhaps the dinosaurs come out of the spaceship and fight with the cowboys!!!!

Can we stay on topic?

“When politicians from Enoch Powell to Tony Benn have warned us about the EEC/EU, we should be waking up!”

You’d do better appealing to their actual arguments.

“Whereby you (almost) have it any way you like!”

In that I’ve set out the specific way in which I “have it”. So: no.

As I see it, the options are fourfold:

“On purely pragmatic grounds, I favour [out but with EEA membership] because I want my country to cooperate with its neighbours, yet I do not want it to be absorbed into a European super-state – where decisions are taken by unaccountable bureaucrats…”

Dinosaurs, spaceship, cowboys! Again, can we stick with reality instead of whatever dystopian novel you’re working on?

It’s true that no one has outlawed anti-EU parties. But they do not need to and such a thing might very well be counter-productive, since it would drive home the lack of true choice in the matter. If there exists anti-EU parties who are nevertheless unelectable in practice, then the system maintains plausible deniability. “Waddya complaining for? If you were so concerned about membership of the EU, why didn’t you vote the 15 cross-eyed, village idiots in UKIP into government?” Of course, to ask is to answer.

In election, as far as selecting the government goes, your options are basically: Conservatives or Labour. UKIP is not on the menu.

Since both of these parties are so coordinated, as far as membership of the EU goes, as to be almost indistinguishable, there is simply no opportunity to tick the box that says, “no thanks, I’d rather Britain retained its sovereignty.” Frankly, if anyone wanted to double check with “the people,” it wouldn’t be that hard hold a referendum on the matter and ask ’em. The unfortunate truth is that, to politicians, the very idea is anathema, because the people can’t be trusted to make the right choice.

And if the people make the wrong choice, it would be rather embarrassing for all concerned. What would become of the Grand European Project then? Obviously it couldn’t simply be abandoned. Bureaucrats would be cast into poverty—or at least, the job market. Unemployment in Brussels would rise to perilous levels. The Nazis would return to power in an instant.

No, we’d simply have to carry on regardless. Only now, to paraphrase Burroughs, the lunch would be naked, and we’d all have the uncomfortable experience of having to continue to shovel it into our mouths with full knowledge of what’s on the end of the fork.

So it won’t ever happen.

30. Chaise Guevara

@ vimothy

Keeping this short as far as democracy goes, you mean your objection is that we use a FPTP system?

I personally don’t like democracy by referendum, which you also seem to be supporting, for various reasons: we can go into detail on that if you’re a fan of the concept.

My objection is that the political class is doing something harmful and wrong, which the majority of people in the country do not support. The fact that political parties are elected does not mean that this process of ignoring the obvious desires of the electorate somehow acquires legitimacy.

Imagine that Britain has trouble financing its deficit. It’s a national disaster. Going into a general election, the Conservatives propose some punitive package of spending cuts and tax increases. Fine, so you vote Labour. Only Labour are proposing the exact same thing. Ditto the Lib Dems. Only the grinning idiots in the fringe parties offer any dissent from the uber-party line.

Then, when either the Conservatives or Labour has been elected, you cannot say that, “well, the people have spoken and it’s clear that the government’s austerity measures have a popular mandate.” Well, you could say that–but it’s obviously self-serving nonsense.

32. Richard Carey

Before the next GE, there will be Euro elections, in which I expect UKIP will do very well. The tory leadership seem to be trying to align themselves with their own voters, to boost their threadbare eurosceptic credentials. Also, the ruse from the political class is to split up the growing support for leaving with the illusion of renegotiation as a third option.

Given the straight choice, I think most people would vote to leave, but of these people the preferred solution would be something like EFTA, so the sneaky game being played by those favouring the ‘third option’ is to offer something which sounds like EFTA but is still within the EU.

33. James from Durham

Vimothy – do you think it is a coincidence that the ones who want to take us out of the EU are, in your own words, “cross-eyed, village idiots”?

34. Chaise Guevara

@ 31 vimothy

How do you propose fixing this as a general issue?

Whatever justification there was in the past, complaints now that the EU is “undemocratic” seem to me to be overdone and subject to rebuttal.

There is now an elected European Parliament, which has to vote on proposed EU directives. New EU treaties have to be agreed by elected member state governments. Some put proposed new treaties to referendums.

Apart from the sheer incompetence of much EU administration and the poorly considered EU Directives, my complaints are about the powerful EU lobby blocking out rational debate by painting critics as raving xenophobes or lefties.

It seem not to have occurred to many that the problems with all the Parental Leave directives is the costs these directives impose on smaller businesses in present times of recession and the foreseeable response that smaller businesses will tend to avoid hiring for full-time jobs those likely to become parents – hence the differentially high youth unemployment rates in EU countries. In Britain’s business sector, more than half of all the jobs are in SMEs employing fewer than 250 employees. For the newer and smaller EU member states, the proportion is much higher.

Another example of EU incompetence:

The EU’s main audit body says agricultural subsidies – the biggest item in the EU budget – often go to people who do little or no farming.

A new report by the European Court of Auditors complains of deficiencies in the Single Payment Scheme (SPS), which distributed about 29bn euros (£26bn) of subsidies in 2009.

It says payments “have become divorced from current farming conditions”. [June 2011]
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13957290

One argument in favour of having bureaucrats make all the decisions is: decisions are hard and normal people don’t have the time to learn enough about property laws or fishing quotas (or whatever) to make informed judgements. Consequently we need a class of specialists to do the tedious work of policy making for us.

That’s fine as far as it goes. How far it goes is: (1), nothing ensures that this class of specialists has my best interests at heart; and (2), even if they do have my best interests at heart, nothing ensures that these interests are discernible by them.

Take the latter first. Some questions have a right and a wrong answer. They admit rational argument, investigation, testing, empiricism, science and reasoning. If I say, for example, “Suppose A, B and C are sets; if A is in B\C, then A and C are disjoint,” this is a simple proposition that is either true or false. If it is true, it can be proved. (In fact it is true). The answer is Boolean. It does not exist on a continuum. It is not ambiguous. It is not a matter of opinion.

On the other hand, if I were to say, “I think Britain should not be a part of the EU,” then we have a different sort of statement entirely. It doesn’t matter how many rational, Oxbridge trained policy monkeys you have working at typewriters, you will never prove it right or wrong. There is no “right” answer in the sense that there is a right answer to a maths problem. It is a matter of judgement.

So there is an epistemological problem here. But there is also the problem of political economy. Let’s imagine for a second that human society and its government really is a kind of technical problem that can be solved by running some fancy regressions or computer simulations. Nothing that we’ve discussed so far ensures that the operators of said simulations will in fact act on them. Perhaps, deep in the bowels of Whitehall, amidst the sea of worker-drones, actual humans are lurking, looking to enrich themselves at the expense of others.

I know—shocking! But for some reason, when I see the people who are supposed to make these decisions for me, I don’t think, “I trust this person as I would my own mother or father.” What I generally think is, “this person is a cynical hack who cares mostly about his career.” Another matter of judgement, I fear.

Democracy is supposed to provide a means whereby you can select between factions of the specialist class, so that rascals are weeded out and people get some small say in the character of their government. If all of the factions coordinate themselves on some or many issues, then the choice is false and the mechanism frustrated, and there is no check on the power or decisions of the bureaucrats.

James,

Since leaving the EU is a losing proposition, it does not surprise me to see losers espousing it. The smart money, knowing the game is rigged, bets on the house.

vimothy

The European Parliament can call Eurocrats to account and does so – for all the good that does. The trouble is the general consensus in the Parliament – with only a minority actively dissenting – is that not only is ever closer union in Europe an indisputedly “good thing” but also that only extremists and loonies would disagree. The inevitable consequence is that all sorts of nonsense, incompetence and wasteful spending goes unchallenged.

The potential pitfalls of monetary union were and are extensively discussed in a large professional literature. It was widely recognised that countries joining a single currency would loose the option to set interest rates to suit their national conditions and they would also lose the option to devalue the exchange rate of their national currencies to restore competitiveness. At the launch of the Euro, it was also known that only one prospective member – Luxemboug – met the eligibility criteria set out in the Maastricht Treaty of 1993. Greece was admitted a bit later because, as the French delegate said, the country of Plato couldn’t be left out.

The reasons for the the troubles of Ireland and Spain in the Eurozone are not because of fiscal indiscipline by their respective governments but because their respective banking systems went bust through property-price bubbles which developed because those countries couldn’t set interest rates to suit national conditions and thereby rein in bank credit. The warnings about this possibility were all there but were just ignored.

Bob B,

The European Parliament and the Eurocrats are like this [crosses fingers]. Asking European MPs to hold the bureaucrats to account is like asking your young child to mind the cookie jar. You love him, but don’t be naïve: cookies are going to get eaten. If there’s no way to prevent your child from getting his hands on the damn thing, then so be it, but let’s not pretend this is a well designed solution with desirable properties.

Which, I note, you do pretend—ever closer union with Europe is indisputably a good thing and only loonies would disagree. Well, no one could possibly accuse you of not speaking power to truth. Someone needs to speak up on behalf of the Official Truth and good for you. But why stop with Europe? It’s all just an arbitrary collection of territories at the end of the day. If One Government is good for Europe, then it’s just as good for Europe and Turkey, Europe and Russia, Europe and Morocco… the logical, stable solution towards which this is converging: One World Government. Only extremists and loonies would disagree!

vimothy

As mentioned, I used to work as an economist in the civil service. In retirement, the last time I spoke very informally on the phone just to chat with two previous branch colleagues was in 2002, before GB announced the results of his “five tests” on joining the Euro in June 2003 and told Parliament that weren’t joing to join but would keep the decision under review.

When something I said must have indicated a certain aversion to joining the Euro, one colleague said, “You’re not one of those against joining the Euro, are you?” and hung up. The views of the other colleague and mine clearly converged. The very next day, Patricia Hewitt, the minister was reported on the BBC as warning civil servants about freelancing. One interpretation was that the phone conversations had been monitored, which is not unreasonable with the civil service and I had gone public in internet debates about criticising the single currency project largely – I fully acknowledge – on the strength of the acute persuasive analysis of Rudi Dornbusch’s critical article in Foreign Affairs for September 1996 on: Euro Fantasies – which is on the web but with a costly subscription barrier – and in the then latest edition of his standard textbook on Macroeconomics (McGraw Hill). The single currency project was not part of my job.

Rudi Dornbusch was born a German national and was professor of international economics at the MIT. There were other academic papers which focused on the conditions which needed to be met for the currency union to succeed and the consequences that could follow if the conditions were not met. But all that was ignored because the politics of, and the enthusiasm for, monetary union in the EU were allowed to trump the economics.

Around the launch of the Euro in 2000, John Monks, then gen sec of the TUC, and John Edmonds, then gen sec of the GMB Union, were touring the country telling any who would listen that Britain must join the Euro. A key selling point for them was that the lower interest rates in the Eurozone at that time would benefit all buying a house on a mortgage. Of course, that would have made Britain’s house-price bubble even bigger than it became because the FSA fell down on its statutory task of regulating the banks – as Turner, appointed chairman of the FSA in autumn 2008, reported in his review of the FSA in 2009. Light touch and failing regulation of financial services simply were not good enough – but that wasn’t recognised by either the Labour government or the Conservatives in opposition. The Conservatives kept calling for: more deregulation.

For me, this has been an alarming experience about about deeply flawed the EU has become – and I had campaigned for a “Yes” vote in Britain’s national referendum on EU membership in 1975.

Bob, That’s a neat anecdote–thanks. I think it illustrates quite well some of the limitations of rule by the bureaucrats. Here we see that, even if a question of government admits a technical solution, there is no guarantee that the bureaucrats will pick it. As economists know, bureaucrats face a particular set of incentives, which are not necessarily aligned with the best interests of the people.

Vimothy, a few months back there was a BBC prog on Europe by Alan Little – I listened to part of it:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01b8xvy

One of the insights he gave was that it was the elected politicians in the EU who drove the pace on adopting the single currency – against the cautionary advice of the EU commission. That converges with what Delors said in his interview with the Telegraph last December – see the link @26 – when he said that the Euro was doomed from the start because it hadn’t followed his plan. That was one of the reasons I suggested that the complaint that the EU is “undemocratic” is overdone.

Blaming bureaucrats in London or Brussels is easily done and they are seldom placed to answer back. The boss of my first line manager when I joined the civil service very late in a career had been sacked as an under secretary in the Treasury by Nigel Lawson, who didn’t like his advice. In fact, he was academically very distinguished and very sharp. I know of another case where another under secretary, in my own department, who was pushed out by a minister. The image presented of politicians being the timid victims of bad advice from incompetent civil servants needs taking with much salt.

For various historic reasons, my first close acquaintance with civil servants was in the late 1970s with transport economists – who incidentally had advised the then Labour government not to back a Channel Tunnel project because it wouldn’t pay. The Labour government backed off. It was Mrs Thatcher, in a deal with President Mitterrand, who agreed to approve the project – providing no public money was at stake. The tunnel project duly went ahead but backed by private finance and it duly went bust. The civil service economists had been absolutely correct in their assessment.

Heseltine is an enthusiast for the Euro but his personal economic adviser when he was DTI minister – Walter Eltis – set out a detailed economic analysis of why joining the Euro was not in Britain’s interest – see Walter Eltis: Britain, Europe and EMU (Palgrave 2000). Heseltine simply ignored it. Frankly, I doubt that Heseltine understood it.

“There is now an elected European Parliament, which has to vote on proposed EU directives. New EU treaties have to be agreed by elected member state governments. Some put proposed new treaties to referendums”.

Regarding this, and similar posts: yes, but only in theory.

As an example, the democratic mandate for the Euro did not extend to implementation. The framework agreed via the democratic process imposed conditions which were later ignored.

@35. Bob B

“Some put proposed new treaties to referendums.”

And virtually every time a country has had a referendum and got the “wrong” answer, they’ve been told to go away and get it right next time.

On the rare occasions when they havn’t done this, the EU has implemented the policy anyway, e.g the Lisbon Treaty, which majically became a treaty ammendment when it was rejected.

The EU is not uindemocrativ: it is profoundly anti-democratic.

46. Chaise Guevara

@ 45 Mark Austin

“And virtually every time a country has had a referendum and got the “wrong” answer, they’ve been told to go away and get it right next time.”

Hopefully you agree that a referendum held once should not stand for all time (eventually that leads to the dead dictating to the living). So what specific conditions of the later referendums did you find unreasonable?

@46. Chaise Guevara

@ 45 Mark Austin

““And virtually every time a country has had a referendum and got the “wrong” answer, they’ve been told to go away and get it right next time.”

Hopefully you agree that a referendum held once should not stand for all time (eventually that leads to the dead dictating to the living). So what specific conditions of the later referendums did you find unreasonable?”

Yes, it is not unreasonable to revisit an issue after a reasonable space of time. However, in the EU cases, the results of the referenda were rejected immediately as being intolerable acts of anti-europeanism, and the countries, were, in effect told to have another one, but ghet the result right this time. In the case of the Lisbon treaty, the EUI and the supporting governments simply ignored the referenda and imposed the treaty by the back door.

Rightly or wrongly, I still regard the frequent charge that the EU is “undemocratic” as a distraction from the charges of incompetent EU administration, ill-considered policy initiatives, wasteful spending and the blocking out of rational debate by claiming critics are raving xenophobes or lefties.

“Undemocratic” sounds all very colourful and the charge is easy to make whereas it is more challenging to put and substantiate the other charges. The dumbing down of the EU debate is a great help to the EU lobby, which has difficulty dealing with the other charges when those are argued out and substantiated. From the lobby’s perspective, it is far better that electorates remain uninformed about the charges of incompetence and the rest.

The single currency issues were and are quite technical and the repercussions have been punishing in their consequences for millions in Eurozone countries so those issues tend to get skated over while the more facile accusation of “undemocratic” is debated. The result is that Eurozone issues are tardily resolved, if at all, and many have been conned into believing that the Eurozone problems are all due to fiscal indiscipline on the part of some governments.

Bob B,
I agree with your overall point, but I’m not sure I agree that the single currency issues are overly “technical”.

The fact is, it shouldn’t have gone ahead at the time it did because only Luxembourg qualified. Implementation was actually illegal as well as “un-democratic”.

Jack C

Technically, the Euro eligibility criteria in the Maastricht Treaty were advisory, not mandatory.

I was much embroiled in online debates c.2000 about joining the Euro. Some self-avowed Conservatives at the time kept repeating that their opposition to joining was “political”, not about the economics. Like hell it was.

Judge for yourself. For one early analysis of why a single currency in Euro could bring trouble, try this by Martin Feldstein, professor of economics at Harvard: “EMU and international conflict” (Foreign Affairs, 1997)

“To most Americans, European economic and monetary union seems like an obscure financial undertaking of no relevance to the United States. That perception is far from correct. If EMU does come into existence, as now seems increasingly likely, it will change the political character of Europe in ways that could lead to conflicts in Europe and confrontations with the United States.”
http://www.nber.org/feldstein/fa1197.html

FWIW my impression is that the case for arguing that currency unions fail unless part of fiscal unions is rather technical even if it is rather obvious to most of us that the currency unions of the US and the UK are each part of national fiscal unions in which chronic trade surplus regions, like London, subsidise chronic trade deficit regions, like the North East, via fiscal transfers.

Be that as it may, the essential association between currency and fiscal unions doesn’t seem to have been fully understood in the EU despite the professional literature. The case is perhaps most transparently made in Rudi Dornbusch’s standard text: Macroeconomics (McGraw Hill). Btw the late Rudi Dornbusch was Paul Krugman’s supervisor for the latter’s PhD thesis at the MIT.

The sacking of Bernard Connolly from his job at the EU Commission in 1995, effectively for raising potential issues about the proposed single currency, shows the unwillingness to tolerate open discussion. In a forward to the last edition of his book: The Rotten Heart of Europe, Connolly explicitly acknowledges discussions with Rudi Dornbusch and Olivier Blanchard. The latter is now chief economist at the IMF.

There is ample evidence that at least some economists did understand why the European currency union was headed for trouble without an integrated fiscal union as member states lost the option to set central bank interest rates to suit national conditions and the option to devalue the national currency to restore competitiveness. Btw the exports of a country can lose competitiveness in international markets for reasons other than prices differentials – buyer preferences can change, for example, or because new competitive sources of supply come on the world market.

Here is a graphic micro example of how a successful business can crumble within a few years as a competing technology comes unto the market.

For various historic reasons, in the early 1980s, I came to know a businessman in Japan who had started and run a successful business there making high-quality slide rules intended for professional and academic users in Japan and America.

Come the development of increasingly sophisticated electronic calculators with multiple functions during the 1970s and the slide rule business lost its customers.

Countries dependent on selling agricultural products to international customers and tourism – like Greece – were vulnerable to African countries coming onto the international market with farm produce – try the packaged vegetables in local supermarkets – and to attract tourists for new safari tours.

The electorate in Germany is reported to be incandescent over proposals to pay aid to Greece. But Germany has a large and diversified national economy far better able to flex and adapt to changes in international markets.

German products have become increasingly price competitive on international markets because ailing countries like Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain in the Eurozone depress the value of the Euro in foreign exchange markets. As a result, Germany has a huge current account trade surplus worth 5.6pc of national GDP this year:
http://www.economist.com/node/21564578

@51, Bob B:
The criteria only became (unofficially} “advisory” rather than “mandatory” when it became clear that only one of the member states could qualify in time. Implementation could have been delayed, allowing a small number to qualify after a few more years, but instead the rules were bent and broken.

Some wiggle-room was included in the Maastricht Treaty, but not nearly enough to cover what actually happened.

Chaise @46:
The story of past results is actually pretty scary.

There have been 14* referendums held by existing EU nations, of which 7 were passed (by which I mean the result was pro-EU, for want of a better expression). The recent trend is for referendums to fail, including 7 of the last 9*.

In cases where the vote was lost, action taken was as follows:

In 3 cases the referendum was re-run after a few months, with the “right” result being achieved (following some re-negotiation, sweeteners, threats etc).

2 were held and lost over Euro entry: Denmark had an opt-out, Sweden didn’t. Neither vote prevented the Euro from happening so re-runs weren’t required.

2 (out of 4) were lost over the Constitution: this was particularly troublesome as other votes were pending, including the UK, and parts of the Constitution were already being implemented. It was decided to change the name, and present the Constitution as a mere treaty amendment.

It remains to be seen whether this sort of thing strengthens or weakens the EU in the long-run. My hunch is the latter, and we have some proof of that from the Euro debacle.

* 14 and 9 are the number of first-run referendums held, so excluding re-runs.

54. Chaise Guevara

@ Mark Austin

“Yes, it is not unreasonable to revisit an issue after a reasonable space of time.”

So what’s reasonable? A year, five years, ten?

“However, in the EU cases, the results of the referenda were rejected immediately as being intolerable acts of anti-europeanism, and the countries, were, in effect told to have another one, but ghet the result right this time.”

Which countries are we talking about? I know Ireland had two referendums, but on different versions of the treaty, which seems reasonable.

@54. Chaise Guevara

Refer to @53. Jack C’s answer. Ireland was one of the examples. They had the temerity to reject the treaty. Some very minor changes were made, and the Irrish were effectively bullied into accepting it.

In the case of Lisbon, there were two referendum rejections, and there would have been more (The UK for one) if the process hadn’t been cancelled. They simply renamed the traty as an ammendment and carried on as if nothing had happened.

As to timing, certainly years, not months, and with a major, not minor revision to the rejected proposals.

56. Chaise Guevara

@ 55 MarkAustin

“Refer to @53. Jack C’s answer. Ireland was one of the examples. They had the temerity to reject the treaty. Some very minor changes were made, and the Irrish were effectively bullied into accepting it.”

Thing is, you’re obviously motivated to declare the changes “minor”, and accuse the EU of “bullying” (which I guess means that they were told they wouldn’t benefit under the new system if they refused to be part of it). But you’ve been talking about the EU repeatedly asking the question until it gets the right answer, whereas it sounds like the reality is more like this:

EU: Would you like A?
Ireland: No thanks.
EU: OK, what about B?
Ireland: Yeah, we’ll have that.

You’re using the logic I fully expect to see if/when we eventually have a referendum on PR: people will use the AV referendum to claim that the people have “already spoken on electoral reform”, and no doubt employ the exact same line you’re using now.

“In the case of Lisbon, there were two referendum rejections, and there would have been more (The UK for one) if the process hadn’t been cancelled. They simply renamed the traty as an ammendment and carried on as if nothing had happened.”

Now that is dodgy, if true.

“As to timing, certainly years, not months, and with a major, not minor revision to the rejected proposals.”

Wait, so if we reject a proposal in 2015, the UK citizens of 2065 have no right to accept the same proposal, because the decision’s “already been made”?

And how do we define “minor” in a legally enforceable way?

“Now that is dodgy, if true”

Absolutely true. I forget the level of similarity between the treaty and the constitution, but it was approaching 100%.

“EU: Would you like A?
Ireland: No thanks.
EU: OK, what about B?
Ireland: Yeah, we’ll have that”

Fair point, but re-runs ONLY occur when the result is “incorrect”. Also, it’s not about “B” instead, it’s “A” plus maybe a little tickle, and some strong-arming, predictions of impending doom etc.

These frequent rejections should be telling EU policy-makers something, but it doesn’t appear so.

Jack C: “These frequent rejections should be telling EU policy-makers something, but it doesn’t appear so.”

There is usually some, vaguely credible explanation for the rejection in other member states. In the case of Ireland it’s often along the lines: Oh it’s just the Irish again, and that is accepted.

The upshot is that the EU Commission may be a bit irritated by a rejection of a negotiated EU treaty but the Commission is not really put out and feels little pressure or inclination to change course. The truth is that nothing, but nothing, causes EU zealots to pause to question the ultimate vision of a federated Europe served by the Commission.

I think that this is why any critics of the EU are routinely dismissed as raving xenophobes or raving lefties, which naturally means that critics can be disregarded as irrelevant to the vision.

56. Chaise Guevara

On Lisbon.

See this. there’s another list of quotations on the Bruges Group website. None are difficult to find using google. Note particularly that most come from EU supporters:

http://www.democracymovement.org.uk/main/EUconstitution_quotes_revival.html

On the other issue (repeat referenda, see @53. Jack C, and the point that a repeat referendum is never allowed if the answer if Yes, but near-mandatory if no; and that the changes tend to be minor and/or cosmetic.

On timing, it is constitutionally offensive to keep asking what is effectively the same question unless some other factor e.g. the passage of time or events has changed the circumstances.

@58. Bob B

The basic problem is that the eurofanatics are so convinced by the rightness of their position that they cannot attribute opposition as being caused by other than malice or madness.

Under these circumstances democracy becomes irrelevant to them.

@MarkAustin,
Isn’t it actually deeper than “rightness”? The doctrine is “Ever Closer Union”, and this is narrowly adhered to. In this context, a vote in the opposite direction can be seen as “incorrect” by definition, and that having signed up to the doctrine in the first place, electorates cannot go back.

Unfortunately this is making for bad policy (such as the Euro), and increasing tensions across the EU.

My reason for quoting Sam Brittan with link @11 was in the – perhaps misguided – hope that it will gradually dawn on EU zealots that not all critics of the EU are motivated by malice or loonacy.

EU Commission staffers are required to leave national loyalties at the door. Past colleagues who put in stints at the Commission that I met seemed to be pretty disillusioned by their experiences. One offered an interesting insight into how strange policy proposals get adopted.

As with all large organisations there is a HR issue about promotion stakes, amplified in this context by national rivalries and each EU member state expecting to get its “rightful” share of Commission promotions. Like other large bureaucracies, the EU Commission has adopted an elaborate point scoring system.

Brownie points are earned for getting a Directive agreed, which means building a consensus between EU member states by amendments, concessions and, possibly quite unrelated promised side agreements or pay-offs to a reluctant member state until there is unanimous support or sufficient majority support for policies subject to Qualified Majority Voting.

With the variety of national interests and the different political flavours in EU governments, the end results can be akin to scrambled egg or an omelette – recall Lenin’s adage: You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.

This problem gets more challenging as more members join and with the ambitions of EU zealots and the EU Commission to extend the EU ambit to more and more areas of government.

The original substantive objectives of the Treaty of Rome were to end the means for war in western Europe (by incorpoarting the Coal and Steel Community created by the Treaty of Paris in 1951), to get rid of the legacy ragbag of trade restrictions on intra-European trade that emerged from WW2 and the inter-war years and to create a system of farming support to allow for the gradual reductions in huge post-WW2 farming sectors in many EU countries.

Britain emerged from WW2 with about 4pc of the national working population engaged in agriculture. In the cases of France and Germany, it was around 25pc and that was unsustainable so the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was devised to shrink the farming sectors in EU countries.

63. Chaise Guevara

@ Mark Austin

“See this. there’s another list of quotations on the Bruges Group website. None are difficult to find using google. Note particularly that most come from EU supporters”

Fair enough.

“On the other issue (repeat referenda, see @53. Jack C, and the point that a repeat referendum is never allowed if the answer if Yes, but near-mandatory if no; and that the changes tend to be minor and/or cosmetic.”

I certainly agree about referendums only being called again if there’s a No vote.

“On timing, it is constitutionally offensive to keep asking what is effectively the same question unless some other factor e.g. the passage of time or events has changed the circumstances.”

Agreed, but can you come up with a codified way of avoiding this? This is one of my many problems with politics by referendum: too much power in the hands of the person who decides what to ask and when. And codifying it is probably impossible.

“Agreed, but can you come up with a codified way of avoiding this? This is one of my many problems with politics by referendum: too much power in the hands of the person who decides what to ask and when.”

The Nazis in Germany won huge endorsements in national plebiscites in November 1933 and August 1934. The first approved a one party state and the second approved merging the functions and powers of the Reich President and the Reich Chanceller in the person of the Fuhrer.

As the Fuhrer had presciently noted in his book, Mein Kampf, the broad mass of the people are more likely to fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.

Representative Parliamentary government, with regular elections, is one of the best protections we can have against the prospect of authoritarian, totalitarian government.

65. Chaise Guevara

@ 64 Bob B

Agreed. If we accept that a “true” democracy must allow referendums, and want to be a “true” democracy, then we’re handing the country over to the first supervillian who can trick/scare 51% of voters into supporting him for at least one day.

“Give Lex Luthor complete authority over the country and the public sector including the police and military, y/n”

66. Robin Levett

@Mark Austin #47:

However, in the EU cases, the results of the referenda were rejected immediately as being intolerable acts of anti-europeanism

Hardly; the result of the Irish Lisbon referendum was “rejected” for precisely the opposite reason. The first referendum ended in a relatively narrow “No” vote for domestic political reasons.

The second referendum, held after guarantees had been given over Irish areas of concern, was won on a significantly higher turnout with a massive majority.

Robin,
So you’re saying that the result was rejected because it was an “intolerable act of pro-Europeanism”?
That don’t seem right.


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  1. Jason Brickley

    The Conservative rejection of Europe will only backfire in their faces http://t.co/4WZCzLPF

  2. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – The Conservative rejection of Europe will only backfire in their faces http://t.co/JTicIqTT





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