Tsipras’ compromise shows he’s part-radical, part-pragmatist

Alexis Tsipras has been sworn in as prime minister in Athens. His Syriza party won 149 seats in Sunday’s election, forcing him to form a majority in coalition with the small Independent Greeks party (ANEL).

At first this seems odd. ANEL, led by Panos Kammenos, have just 13 seats. They are firmly on the right– they aim to bolster the Orthodox church, restrict immigration, and increase support for the police. Such policies are at odds with Syriza’s radical leftist promises. When Tsipras took his oath of office, he outright refused a blessing. Continue reading…

Delors and EU veterans float reform concessions

The past few weeks have seen a number of offers to Britain and other EU states that appear uncomfortable with the current state of the union.

Greece is holding an election on 25 January, and polls suggest the far-left SYRIZA party under Alexis Tsipras will be able to form a government. SYRIZA’s centrepiece policy is rejection of the austerity being forced by the troika (Commission, European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund). Tsipras insists that Greece must be allowed a partial debt ‘haircut’ and an additional moratorium on interest payments, partly in a long-term quid pro quo for cancelling German war debt.  Continue reading…

A 2016 EU referendum is not realistic

On Sunday began five months of committed general election campaigning. The prime minister floated a counterfactual to Andrew Marr, predicated on a Conservative majority:

‘The referendum must take place before the end of 2017. If we could do that earlier, I’d be delighted. The sooner I can deliver on that, the better.’ Continue reading…

What are Ukip’s plans for the 2.3m migrants already here?

As well as restricting benefits access, yesterday Ed Miliband announced new plans for EU migrants already here, already in work. He wants to stop Europeans being exploited so their work doesn’t undermine British pay and conditions. David Cameron recently presented comparable plans, looking not just at limiting ‘pull factors’, but dealing with the stresses of immigration on society and public services. Labour is being castigated for avoiding the migration debate, but it isn’t the only party with a blind spot.

Cameron hopes to renegotiate the detail of free movement and restrict benefits for four years, but says he will also establish a fund for local areas where services are overburdened by unexpectedly high population influxes. This is only fair – both main parties argue EU migration is net positive for the Treasury, so it is important that these fiscal benefits translate into better services on the ground, not stretched ones. Continue reading…

The familiar hole in Cameron’s migration plans: money

On Friday the Prime Minister presented his EU renegotiation goals in detail. He could never please everyone – rebellious backbenchers, wavering Ukip voters, pro-Europeans and continental leaders – but made a concerted effort to construct a reform plan fair and palatable to most parties. His major compromise was explicit support for the ‘free movement of workers principle’, retreating from possible migration cap proposals.

David Cameron’s central proposal is to stop EU migrants claiming tax credits, child benefits or social housing until they’ve worked in Britain for four years, and to deport jobseekers who haven’t found work six months after arrival. Even assuming – and it’s far from a foregone conclusion – that Cameron can get Brussels’ approval and democratic mandate for these reforms, there remains the question of enforcement. Continue reading…

Paterson’s EU strategy – leave first, ask questions later

Yesterday former environment secretary Owen Paterson told Business for Britain his EU views. On the premise that the Eurozone will inevitably require greater integration until it becomes one effective country, Paterson argues the status quo is not an option: we will either be strong-armed into the Euro, or ‘they will leave us’.

Bearing this in mind, Paterson claimed bolder tactics should be taken in pursuing the Conservatives’ strategy of renegotiation and referendum. He contended that, if David Cameron wins a majority in 2015, he should immediately activate the Lisbon Treaty’s Article 50, notifying the EU of intention to leave. This article then allows a two-year window for hammering out ‘an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.’ Continue reading…

French ministers clash with Cameron over TTIP

At the G20 meeting this weekend, David Cameron promised to reinvigorate European commitment to completing the Transatlantic Trade and investment Partnership (TTIP), a free trade deal with the USA. Specifically, Cameron pledged to put ‘rocket boosters’ on the deal.

This blog, and many others, have voiced criticisms of TTIP, noting that it raises serious questions over democratic legitimacy, bureaucratic accountability, food safety standards, environmental protection, the privatisation of the NHS, undermining labour laws, and all for intangible benefits that look to accrue unequally. Continue reading…

The supermarket sandwich furore shows multinationals’ EU interests

Yesterday it emerged that Greencore is to recruit 300 Hungarians to work in its Northampton sandwich factory. The company makes fresh lunches for M&S, Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury’s and is opening a £35m new facility in 2016. They advertised jobs in the UK first, but quickly turned to central Europeans for labour after it became clear not enough Midlanders were interested.

This embarrassing story came to light at a bad time for Prime Minister David Cameron, who is already under pressure for failing to give MPs a vote on controversial EU policing and criminal justice measures like the European Arrest Warrant. He has also promised to reform the EU’s free movement principle, but was told by Nordic heads of state last week that he would be blocked. Cameron spoke to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) on Monday morning and was told that employers supported high immigration.   Continue reading…

Merkel’s bluff shows she knows EU exit wouldn’t be a disaster

The German Chancellor said that she’d be happier to see Britain leave the EU than renegotiate the fundamental freedom of movement. If Der Spiegel’s information is correct, Angela Merkel has pre-emptively vetoed renegotiation of immigration within the EU. She called such a change a ‘point of no return’. Without German support, David Cameron would achieve little: with German opposition, even less.

But Merkel makes her threat only because she knows that the basics of free trade, cross-Channel commerce without quotas or extra regulatory requirements, will continue if Britain calls her bluff and continues to push for immigration curbs to the detriment of EU membership. Continue reading…

Downing Street could have stopped the £1.7bn EU surcharge

Britain has been asked to pay an extra £1.7bn (€2.1bn) into the European Union’s budget because the economy has outperformed projections in the last four years. Greece and the Netherlands are also being asked to pay more, while large economies like Germany and France will see billions in rebates. This seems grossly unfair, as all this morning’s headlines reflect. The Treasury cannot claim this was a surprise.

A government source told the BBC: “It’s not acceptable to just change the fees for previous years and demand them back at a moment’s notice. The European Commission was not expecting this money and does not need this money and we will work with other countries similarly affected to do all we can to challenge this.” Continue reading…