Commonwealth investment summit points to EU alternatives

It has been a gentle week to ease Philip Hammond into Britain’s top diplomatic job. He has only had to deal with the MH17 airplane crash in Eastern Ukraine, UN escalation with Russia, and the intensification of hostilities in Israel-Palestine. To add to his relaxation, Theresa May announced a public inquiry into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent poisoned in London. Oh, and Hammond should be reforming the EU.

The Foreign Secretary will not be troubled, then, by the Commonwealth Games starting tomorrow in Glasgow. They are preceded by a two-day business conference run by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) and the Scottish Government, which features heavyweight speakers Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, and Alex Salmond, Scottish First Minister. As I write, Mr Salmond is waxing lyrical about the ‘common weal’, a historic understanding of mankind’s shared goodness.

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Philip Hammond will be Tories’ axeman in the EU

In the reshuffle dubbed the “cull of the middle-aged white men”, the most important new job, Foreign Secretary, went to a middle-aged white man who studied PPE at Oxford and is worth an estimated £7.5 million.

This suggests potential fireworks in Brussels, since Philip Hammond is a known sceptic. Number 10’s aggressive line on Europe is confirmed by the blues’ reshuffle, or perhaps reshuffle blues, which sees Dominic Grieve and Kenneth Clarke sacked. Clarke was the most prominent pro-EU Tory, and has been merrily off-message all year. Grieve was described by The Telegraph as the last “real obstacle to a Tory commitment to withdrawing from the European Court of Human Rights.”

In January I constructed a blunt guesstimate of Conservative Euroscepticism. Hammond was the senior Tory nearest ‘Brexit’. When asked how he would vote if there was a snap EU referendum, Hammond supported Chris Grayling’s comment that Britain “cannot and should not” remain in the EU as it stands. Hammond told Andrew Neil with some force, “The European Union is going to change”.

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Tories to limit EU migration but yield policing powers

The Conservatives are discussing a new model for Europe, demanding a ‘wealth test’ on EU migration.The cap would apply to current and future EU members (i.e. Portugal, Ireland, Romania plus Albania/Kosovo) and would be a pillar of Britain’s renegotiated EU. It could apply to individuals, or to a state’s mean wage compared to Britain’s. It’s rumoured to have Cabinet backing and Tory grandee support, but isn’t yet party policy. The plan describes an ‘outer ring’ including Britain, Sweden and Denmark enjoying exemption from Euro integration, business red tape, human rights law, and state benefits obligations.

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Utterly forgettable – the ECJ’s Google ruling

There has been outrage this week after reports that the controversial EU ‘right to be forgotten’ ruling has made Google remove links to public interest sites such as BBC economics editor Robert Peston’s blog.  The post was on former Merrill Lynch CEO Stanley O’Neal, who played a crucial part in the 2007 financial crisis, presiding over the massive sale of toxic assets.

Peston’s blog yesterday noted that the removal requests actually came from someone who’d commented on his article, not from O’Neal, indicating that a normal internet user was embarrassed by what they’d written years ago. That doesn’t, however, remove the danger that in other cases, the rich and powerful can scrub their own digital records clean to avoid legitimate scrutiny: Google, which processes c.90% of European search results, has received 70,000 whitewashing requests, which would destroy 267,550 search results. (The pages themselves not deleted.) Continue reading…

Cameron must reform EU migration or campaign for ‘Out’

Lord Ashcroft’s latest poll shows the Tories have a 5% boost (to 33%, Lab 31%), which pundits are calling the ‘Juncker Jump’, a response to David Cameron’s brave but doomed last stand against the Commission Presidential candidate. In reality, it is more likely to be an anomaly – last Sunday’s Survation poll (Conservatives 27%, Labour 36%, Liberals 7%, Ukip 22%) is far more representative of 2014’s trend.

Dominic Cummings, famous for savaging most of Downing Street, has stepped into this complex world of political ‘market research’, conducting a study of ‘swing voters’ from the C2/D groups to deliver a clearer picture of real EU attitudes for campaign group Business for Britain. His findings have important implications for the EU debate.

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David Cameron’s EU strategy risks backfiring seriously

Britain is currently fighting blunt tooth and broken nail to block Jean-Claude Juncker’s promotion to European Commission President.

For David Cameron’s substantial EU reform ambitions he needs all the allies, goodwill and bargaining chips he can get his hands on, and he needs them with both member states’ leaders and whoever tops the Brussels machine. Instead, he’s alienating everybody by dragging out the process, forcing the pivotal German Chancellor Merkel to declare against him, losing popular Italian leader Matteo Renzi, and making Juncker a much worse enemy than he needed to be. Cameron’s even repelled the support of Boris Johnson’s university chum, the Polish foreign minister.

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Big Food’s GMO battle could affect Britain

This May Vermont state passed a law requiring labels on foods with genetically modified organism (GMO) ingredients. ‘Big Food’ lobby organisations claim this requirement contradicts the American constitution by forcing speech requirements and restrictions. Producers will be unable to say GMO food is ‘natural’, ‘naturally grown’ or ‘all natural’. Farming associations argue labelling costs will spiral, especially if other states copy Vermont but with different requirements, creating a piecemeal legal framework. Continue reading…

Italian PM is kingmaker in European Commission nomination

This morning Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, reaffirmed her support for Jean-Claude Juncker as EU Commission President. Her announcement came after a ‘mini-summit’ in Sweden, where she had been discussing EU reform with David Cameron, Mark Rutte (the Netherlands’ prime minister) and Fredrik Reinfeldt (Sweden’s prime minister). The four leaders agreed to delay a final decision, instead focusing on specific EU policies.

Germany’s support for pro-federalist Juncker, former prime minister of Luxembourg and candidate of the European People’s Party, might spell the end for Downing Street’s attempts to block him. This may cause domestic trouble for the Conservatives, since they promised a thorough EU renegotiation before a referendum in 2017. Such renegotiation would be limp or non-existent if Juncker is at the head of the executive, which holds responsibility for proposing new laws or changes. This is especially the case if Juncker were to remain as bullish as he currently seems, dismissing the continent-wide cry for a change of direction as he has. Last week Daniel Bentley explored why Juncker was so ill-suited for the job, noting his lack of media awareness or tact. Yesterday even Labour supported David Cameron’s position on Juncker.

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What does the Queen’s Speech have in store on immigration?

With Ukip’s victory drums still ringing in their ears, the coalition has been working on measures to woo temporary Nigel Farage supporters in a thin Queen’s Speech. We don’t know precisely what’s in the State Opening of Parliament programme tomorrow, but the speculation game has begun.

The Daily Telegraph suggests new powers are expected to discourage immigration, including deporting unemployed Europeans after six months and a law to discourage British firms employing cheap labour.

These powers, if passed, would add to Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ and may prompt the European Commission to label Britain ‘nasty’ again. Depending on how the laws are worded, they could actually break EU treaties. On one hand Britain might be fined, on the other, it would be following the spirit of David Green’s suggestion that Parliament should call the EU’s bluff and assert its own sovereignty.

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EU elections: feminists, indignados and communists triumph

Unless you’ve been under a wireless-impermeable rock, you will know the headline European Parliamentary election results. You’ll have heard plenty about Ukip’s rise, and endless speculation over the old parties’ reaction. You probably absorbed some comparisons with France’s Front National, which did similarly well, or Holland’s Partij voor de Vrijheid, which did terribly.

The French and British results (even Scotland elected a Ukip MEP) suggest a narrative of Europe’s people moving towards anti-establishment, anti-immigration, anti-EU parties.  This story is attractively simple, but loses much of the election’s colour. Here, then, are some other points of interest: Continue reading…