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…

Barroso is too pessimistic on EU renegotiation

The prime minster has rejected claims from the EU that Britain will not be able to get reforms concerning aspects of membership. David Cameron asserted that the British people were his ‘boss’, not Brussels.

Cameron claims he ‘will not take no for an answer’ and has vowed to ‘get what Britain needs’ in renegotiating the EU’s membership terms, but on this Barroso made a good point – renegotiation of the EU’s terms will be very difficult if Cameron cannot gain the support of central and eastern European countries, who strongly support their nationals’ free movement rights. Cameron’s comments on Polish workers claiming child benefit for their children abroad infuriated the Polish government, formerly a close ally. Continue reading…

France’s Blairite prime minister holds the EU balance

Without holding an election, France has what amounts to a new government. It retains President François Hollande, his popularity down to 13%, and Prime Minister Manuel Valls, both from the Socialist Party. Valls was only installed in March but has already survived a major crisis and now leads a cabinet that may bring lasting change to France, and so to Europe.

France’s economy is stagnating and unemployment remains at a stubborn 10%. The previous government under Jean-Marc Ayrault advanced progressive measures, cutting ministerial salaries by 30% and subsidising 16-25 employment schemes. However Ayrault also decreased some professions’ pension age from 62 to 60 and offered free health insurance to an additional half million. The centre-right, led by the Union for a Popular Movement, trounced the Socialists in the March municipal elections, while Front National won May’s EU elections with 24.9% of the vote. Continue reading…

Labour has a subtle plan to fix migration’s problems

Even if you listened closely to Ed Miliband’s Labour conference speech, you’d be forgiven for missing his immigration discussion. He missed it too. It was part of the planned script omitted along with Labour’s deficit commitment:

Immigration benefits our country but those who come here have a responsibility to learn English and earn their way. And employers have a responsibility not to exploit migrant workers and undercut wages. Continue reading…

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.

Continue reading…

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…