Swedish fractures in the centre offer lessons to UK parties

Sweden’s Social Democrats won 31.2% of the vote in the September 14th general election, meaning a return to government after eight years. The outgoing prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s centre-right Moderates lost 23 Riksdag seats. Meanwhile the far-right Sweden Democrats grew significantly, collecting 12.9% of the votes, which translates into 49 seats through proportional representation. This is a meaningful gain on the 9.7% won in May’s European elections as it upsets the traditional blocs’ balance.

Reinfeldt’s Moderates are usually compared to the modern Conservatives as both have tried to soften their image and position themselves towards the centre. Sweden’s finance minister Anders Borg helped inspire Chancellor George Osborne’s fiscal caution. Many ideas seen in Britain, including profitmaking’s greater role in healthcare and the spread of free schools, have Swedish counterparts. Continue reading…

A Scottish ‘yes’ vote would bolster the British EU debate

‘The day we wake up after a yes vote the streets would not be paved on gold,’ noted Nicola Sturgeon, deputy first minister, this morning. This expectation management is reasonable. If Scotland votes for independence it will not suddenly become a disaster nor a Norwegian-model triumph. For the next few years Scotland will simply be fine.

Certainly the extremes of ‘project fear’ are overwrought. Scotland might not have an impressive military, but rUK and Ireland could not seriously let their neighbour be threatened or invaded. Alex Salmond is very unlikely to default on his country’s national debt share, so he won’t enter the world stage as a fiscal pariah.

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What chance a mature debate about the EU?

If you’re looking at the potential benefits of exiting the EU, as Civitas has done in a number of publications in recent years, it’s only fair and responsible to look at the potential downsides too. What is needed more than anything in the EU debate is a mature discussion. Judging by some of today’s response to Softening the Blow, which was written and published in the spirit of open and honest debate, it appears that there isn’t as much appetite for that as some of us would hope.

Reasonable people can see that there are risks as well as advantages to leaving Europe. Softening the Blow seeks to demonstrate how the risks might be overcome. It examines the ways they can and should be avoided. These strategies contribute to robust, long-term plans for an independent future.  Continue reading…

Donald Tusk’s appointment as EU president won’t satisfy Cameron’s rebels

The EU states’ leaders have agreed that Donald Tusk, the centre-right Polish Prime Minister since 2007, will become the next President of the European Council. Tusk, who founded the ‘Civic Platform’ party after activism in Solidarity, will succeed Herman Van Rompuy on 1 December.

His appointment was supported by Prime Minister David Cameron. He has kept Poland out of recession and out of the Euro while increasing his standing across the continent. Tusk is a supporter of free markets and joined Britain in opting out of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights in 2007. Respected by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and tough on Putin, the new President might serve as a reformist foil to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, a more traditional integrationist. Continue reading…

Might Cameron reconsider Hill appointment?

The new European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, has indicated that he won’t give Lord Hill of Oareford an important portfolio in the next Commission. The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday that Juncker repeatedly urged all EU member states to nominate women since a repeat of the gender imbalance of the last executive, 9:19, would be ‘neither legitimate nor credible’.

Jonathan Hill, who had been Leader of the House of Lords, was a surprise nomination as Britain’s Commissioner. Many had expected the Prime Minister to propose a candidate who had held a senior ministerial post like Andrew Lansley or Michael Howard. Hill, a former public relations consultant, was chosen as a deal-broker and conciliator for the Conservatives’ EU renegotiation goals. Continue reading…

Big Tobacco’s £11bn UK attack could send EU-US trade deal up in flames

Philip Morris International has threatened to sue Britain for an eye-watering sum over potential losses resulting from our proposed standardised brand-free cigarette packaging laws.

The American multinational has a 15.6% share of the international tobacco market, total assets of $38.2bn, and sued Australia on similar grounds along with Imperial Tobacco, Japan Tobacco and British American Tobacco (the ‘Big Four’). Australia won in 2012 after a painfully expensive legal battle in the Australian High Court, but now more tobacco lobbyists are attacking Australia through the World Trade Organisation. Continue reading…

Boris Johnson’s EU manifesto: a sphinx with only half a riddle

After three days’ hype around London Mayor Boris Johnson’s speech at Bloomberg, in which he endorsed an EU report by his head economist Gerard Lyons, the reality is very disappointing. The EU discussion was an amuse-bouche to the main course: Johnson’s intended return to parliament.

The report itself should offer new analysis and convincing arguments that, although ideally the EU needs reform, a well-managed Brexit would be great for London. Boris is making much of this distinction: he’d rather leave than tolerate with the EU as it is today. He thinks Britain can flourish outside Brussels’ influence.  On the basis of Johnson’s immense stature, it’s likely that his favoured report will influence the EU debate strongly in the general election run-up.  This makes its distinct lack of precision shocking. Continue reading…

Will the Swiss roll over? How their EU dilemma could affect Britain

Swiss monitors have recorded record numbers of Portuguese entering their country this year, adding to the record 66,200 EEA migrants from 2013. This adds urgency to Switzerland’s desire to renegotiate their EU relationship, and the decision they may face to cut all ties.

This February the 8 million Swiss narrowly voted to use quotas to limit EEA (i.e. EU, Norway, Iceland) migration.  Christoph Blocher, Swiss Populist Party leader, argues the ‘road to poverty’ of migration is driving down wages, squeezing native Swiss out of jobs, and stultifying the economy. British readers might draw parallels with Civitas’ recent report by Robert Rowthorn, emeritus Cambridge economics professor, who contends that unlimited migration, plus poor integration and infrastructure investment, could weaken Britain in the long term.

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Will Hungary be expelled from the EU?

I thought I would partake in the proud tradition of using as headlines ‘questions to which the answer is No’. At least, not yet. In amidst the horror of MH17, the sickening news from Gaza and Israel, and David Cameron’s ‘put Britain first’ immigration PR stunt, you would be forgiven for not knowing why Hungary is flirting with an EU reprimand. Continue reading…

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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