Posts tagged ‘UK politics’
I have to admit to being a little bit of a pro-European (no? never! you say), so it is with some fidgeting discomfort that I read overnight the happenings in my native land on the EU. Our London office have done a quick round up of the rebellion on their blog (sounds like something Darth Vadar would want to crush).
I think it’s worthwhile reading the Prime Minister’s full statement to the House of Commons from last night in case you missed it. As Jon Worth notes (hat tip for making the front of the Guardian’s online edition yesterday) being in office has driven probably the most Eurosceptic of Prime Ministers closer rather than farther from Europe. As I read through his speech I noted many of the arguments that pro-Europeans make for why the EU is a good thing and in our national interest. Pity it’s taken a financial crisis and frightful backbench rebellion to get Mr. Cameron to say these things out loud and in public. I do have to laugh however that he’s only just noticed that the Commission are actually for completing the internal market and a friend of the UK’s agenda generally…One has to wonder where’s he’s been since the Single European Act, oh, the UK (well that explains it).
As for the future, I’m of the opinion this debate is not going away, especially in light of the further integration needed as a result of what’s happening in the Euro-zone and the PM’s desire to fundamentally renegotiate our relationship with the EU as expressed in the same speech. As the Americans would say, “Good luck with that”. Well, so be it. It’s time the UK had this discussion and that those who are generally have an aversion to “Europe” acknowledge the good things that the EU does deliver for UK business and citizens. As someone who takes delight in seeking to convert London cabbies to the European cause I’m up for it.
(note – see top right, all views expressed on this blog are personal)
People may have questioned Chancellor Angela Merkel’s commitment to the European Union over recent years, but there is no denying the pivotal role which she is playing in defence of the euro. What a desperate battle she has to fight! The trouble is that her own battalions are deeply sceptical of her campaign.
The misgivings in Germany over any bail-out of Greece, Portugal or Italy already run deep (Ireland is making tangible progress in tackling the crisis), but Friday’s resignation of German ECB board member Juergen Stark has given them greater force. Everyone is saying that his departure stems directly from his objection to the ECB purchase of bonds from the weaker economies in order to safeguard their banks.
Stark couldn’t possibly comment, but his decision has much the same flavour as the resignation of Axel Weber as president of the Bundesbank earlier this year and the subsequent appointment of Italy’s Mario Draghi as head of the ECB from November. What’s more, Stark is a member of Merkel’s own party, the CDU.
The German constitutional court gave Mrs Merkel some comfort early last week, when it pronounced as legal the measures which have so far been taken to support the euro.
More threatening was the Court’s insistence that further measures must be subject to a formal vote in the Bundestag. That could potentially scupper the introduction of yet further measures to support the weaker eurozone member states, in particular the expansion of the European Financial Stability Facility to €440 billion, of which €211 billion would be committed by Germany. It almost certainly rules out the idea of eurozone bonds, a widely canvassed option for resolving the crisis, but one which would imply even greater German burden-sharing.
The future of Germany’s coalition government is now at risk of collapse if Merkel’s own party has too many defections over support for the euro, maybe even in advance of the 2013 elections.
Merkel’s approach is to stress the need for long-term measures, and she is adamant that treaty changes are needed to make the stability and growth pact legally binding and defensible in the European Court of Justice – yet another reminder that it was Germany and France which drove coach and horses through the pact in 2003. The Chancellor blames that failure on the Socialists, as she does the decision to allow Greece to join the euro in 2001before the country was ready. There is no way to avoid modifications to the treaty, she says, if the euro is to survive.
Negotiating proposals for treaty change will be a major preoccupation for eurozone ministers in the coming months, but it will be a difficult process, coming to fruition in 2013 or later, which is hardly the short-term solution that the markets are seeking.
British euro-sceptics, especially Conservative members of parliament, see any treaty revision as the perfect opportunity to argue for a watering-down of the UK’s commitments to Europe. It would be sad irony if the creation of the euro, such a powerful force for integration, should evolve into a weapon of disintegration.
It’s almost exactly 12 months since Britain saw the formation of the first coalition government for 70 years, as David Cameron and Nick Clegg brought together the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in a joint administration committed to tackling the massive economic crisis facing the country in the wake of the credit crisis.
Coalition politics underwent their first electoral test on May 5 with local elections, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland parliamentary elections, and the referendum on the Alternative Vote.
There was a strange mixture of outcomes. The Liberal Democrats had a disastrous day, losing 700 local government seats and failing to achieve the fundamental switch to the voting system which they have long craved; the Labour Party had a good day in local government elections, but a rotten day in Scotland as the Scottish National Party swept all before them to take an overall majority in the Scottish parliament – and this despite a proportional voting system which had been specifically designed to limit their grasp on power; the Welsh nationalists lost seats to the Labour Party, which ended the day one short of an overall majority in the Welsh assembly. The balance in Northern Ireland is little changed, but with turnout down and much less evidence of sectarian sentiment than in the past.
Scotland is now bound to push its interests more vigorously in Brussels, while a strengthened coalition between unionists and nationalists in Northern Ireland may well seek greater co-operation with the Irish government in European affairs.
May 5 gave a terrible bashing to the Liberal Democrats, and particularly for Nick Clegg, who had taken his seat in Westminster and become party leader after years as an MEP– and who could take much of the credit for the party’s election success one year ago.
It was a painful experience for the Lib Dems, as the junior coalition partner lost those former supporters on the “progressive” (anti-Conservative) wing of the party and others who perceived the Lib Dems as betraying commitments made before the general election, in particular on university fees. Clegg’s party lost control of a swathe of local government authorities as 700 local councillors lost their seats, mainly to the Labour Party but also to Conservative candidates.
Perhaps the bitterest blow for Lib Dems was the comprehensive defeat of a vote for AV, the alternative vote (AV) proportional representation system, by 69 per cent to 31 per cent. Thus ends for the foreseeable future the long-standing Liberal Democrat ambition of introducing proportional representation for Westminster elections.
Although Labour leader Ed Milliband did support the change to AV, most Labour politicians campaigned against it, so the Lib Dems have no hope of achieving it through a coalition with the Labour Party in some future hung parliament – at least until Labour itself undergoes a conversion (perhaps following boundary changes which are likely to hit them badly).
“No more Mr Nice Guy” is the Liberal Democrat response to its coalition role following the elections. Ministers such as Chris Huhne can be expected to take a tough line on sensitive issues, but they will also wish to avoid breaking the coalition and facing an early general election. That would indeed be turkeys voting for Christmas.
One issue difficult for Lib Dem ministers may be the EU budget for 2012, where Cameron will certainly maintain an aggressively tough line. His domestic position has been strengthened by last week’s votes and he will see no reason to restrain his rhetoric as the budget negotiations proceed.
Against the backdrop of a European economic crisis of monumental proportions, the creation of the UK’s coalition government must seem like “noises off” to other European theatre-goers. But at least the deal reached between Conservative leader David Cameron and Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats could provide political stability in Britain for several years and remove a potentially destabilising element in the councils of Europe.
Having said that, I don’t recall a time when Britain seemed so much apart from European affairs, so preoccupied with its own problems, terrified that the troubles of the eurozone will scupper recovery and growth in the British economy, yet unable to do anything much to help.
David Cameron’s decision to visit Paris and Berlin within ten days of becoming prime minister was a significant gesture. There are certainly bridges to build, especially following the break with the EPP in the European Parliament. Last week’s meeting between David Cameron and President Sarkozy was only the second time since June 2008 that the two had met, and any substantive discussion was put off until the French president’s state visit to London on June 18.
In Berlin Chancellor Angela Merkel provided a guard of honour and addressed her guest as Du rather than Sie. Cameron reminded her of British opposition to any new treaties, but avoided criticism of the German ban on naked short selling. It was a friendly meeting, but had none of the signs of the Anglo-German rapprochement which could be possible.
It does seem that Cameron is not yet at ease dealing with other European leaders. Indeed, reports that deputy prime minister (multi-lingual) Nick Clegg has been asked by the prime minister to strengthen the government’s personal relations with top EU politicians does make sense.
The inauguration of Britain’s Con-LibDem coalition will certainly have come as a matter of great relief to both Sarkozy and Merkel. The “programme for government” launched on May 20 confirms that any further “transfer of power” to the EU would be resisted and that a referendum would be held to ratify any new treaty, but stresses the government’s wish to be a “positive participant” in EU affairs “with the goal of ensuring that all the nations of Europe are equipped to face the challenges of the 21st century: global competitiveness, global warming and global poverty”.
Joining the euro in the life of the current parliament is, of course, specifically excluded.
The European Commission will find a definite ally on climate change, where the British coalition programme presses the EU to “demonstrate leadership” and supports a 30 per cent CO2 reduction target by 2020.
In some policy chapters the EU is notably absent. No mention of trade, for instance, nothing on EU security and defence policy, and not a single mention of the EU under the foreign policy heading, despite unilateral commitments on the Balkans, Iran, India and China. The coalition has clearly decided to treat these issues as routine business and not to stress their EU context.
The coalition programme emphasises that cutting the budget deficit is the absolute priority of this government. Britain’s role in the world will be reassessed, which will in turn raise questions in relation to defence spending (closer co-operation with France, cancellation of orders like the A400M?), foreign policy (cut diplomatic spending and rely on a stronger EU overseas service?) and the contribution to the EU budget, which will soon become a big political issue.
I do wonder how Baroness Ashdown feels about the whole thing as she wrestles with conflicting national demands in relation to the European External Action Service. After all, a slimmed down British diplomatic network might well demand an enhanced European capability.