Archive for the ‘Euro Debate’ Category

No Effective Debate on Europe in Parliament - by Gregor Dallas

Dimanche, juillet 14th, 2013

Last week, 5 July, I watched on BBC Parliament TV the second reading in the House of Commons of James Wharton’s private bill on the European referendum. James Wharton is the youngest Member of Parliament and he argues that he is ‘speaking for millions of people’ who want a vote on British membership of the European Union that is ‘long overdue’. He has the support of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, but this cannot be a government bill because the Liberal Democrat half of the Coalition is dead set against it.
When I switched on the channel I discovered a Chamber that was very empty. Over half of the House was apparently boycotting the proceedings — surely the most significant fact of the debate. But I must admit that the debate was lively and the speakers were wonderfully articulate, which is one of the pleasures of our little parliamentary house. They were, like their leader, mostly young; they are the Eurosceptics brought in on the wake of the Great Expense Scandal Purge of 2009. If ever proof is demanded of the political motive behind that parliamentary upheaval, it is in the opinions expressed by the members here present: the purpose of the purge was to clear the waters of the flotsam caused by all those pro-Europeans floating about. Since the takeover of Conservative Party by the Eurosceptics after John Major fell from power, those pro-Europeans have been a source of considerable annoyance to the party. The purge was largely successful. We now have in Parliament a party that is young and Eurosceptic.
They demand a referendum because they want Britain out of Europe. In their view Britain never wanted anything other than a free trade area — an extension not of the EU but of EFTA, that essentially British institution which you have probably forgotten about; but, yes, this British alternative to the Common Market created in 1960 still exists on the frontiers of the current EU, with all four of its members, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The EU is still growing, despite its economic problems. The lesson of the EFTA debacle was surely that you can’t have a free-trade zone of separate nations without a good dose of politics.
Fifty years later a young generation of Brits — the supporters of this private bill — still hanker after this kind of ‘free-trade area’. They are in revolt against an EU that aims at an ‘ever closer union’, which was in the preamble of the Treaty of Rome of 1957 that created the Common Market. It was still there at the time of Britain’s referendum of 1975. Did the British people misunderstand it? That may be the problem with referendums. At any rate, that hated phrase ‘ever closer union’ was quoted several times in the debate last week. These young members do not want to be ever closer to Europe. They don’t want the flag, the anthem, the parliament, the commission, the ‘politics’ of the EU. Just free trade. But then they don’t want the Euro either. In fact they don’t really want the ‘economics’ of the EU; they are convinced — if you listened to their speeches last week — of British economic superiority.
But the pound is once more in decline, a trend that it has followed since 1947, Britain is still in recession and European productivity has continually outperformed Britain’s for all but the last two years. Furthermore, the British state is facing what could be two imminent simultaneous catastrophes, not only the exit from the European Union but also the break-up of the United Kingdom. Will it only be a rump UK that votes to pull out of the Union?
The tendency not only in Europe but in the world as a whole is towards a greater union of peoples, what we call ‘globalization’. It is likely that South East Asia and Latin America will, in time, move towards greater union. There is no doubt that the EU is setting a trend here, and that includes her currency union which, despite the current troubles, is holding up pretty well ¬— there is no more talk, for example, of the Greek disease spreading elsewhere. That currency union is going to hold, notwithstanding British jibes at a currency system that go back to the 1970s. Eurosceptics have proven to be, over the last half century, very poor prophets.
Central to last week’s Eurosceptic arguments is the issue of sovereignty. Britain, say these MPs, must ‘claw back’ legislation that is now going through Brussels rather than through Parliament. Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, who wasn’t there because UKIP has no MPs in Parliament, claims 70 per cent of Britain’s legislation is now made in Europe. In the last few days he has upped that figure to 75 per cent.
Sovereignty should be the concern of all of us. Now in France sovereignty, since the time of the Revolution, ‘resides in the nation’ (according to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen). This is why the country has periodically held national referendums. These referendums have a terrible history. Under the two Napoleons the referendums were used to enfeeble parliamentary regimes. They are essentially a Bonapartist tool. That is why the distinguished political historian, René Rémond, considered the Gaullists to be part of the French Bonapartist tradition. The Third and Fourth Republics were parliamentary regimes and they never had referendums. The Fifth Republic is a presidential regime with something of a Bonapartist allure to it. Charles de Gaulle, its inventor, deliberately included the national referendum in its constitution. Ironically, de Gaulle was destroyed by the referendum; one could even say it killed him. Since the disappearance of Mitterrand the Fifth Republic has increasingly taken on the airs of a parliamentary regime owing to the appearance of ‘cohabitation’ where the President belongs to one political family whilst the Prime Minister and Government belongs to another. Under de Gaulle this was not supposed to happen. But now it is almost a regular feature. Parliamentary regimes don’t live well under referendums, so in France one can expect them to be gradually abandoned. This is especially true since the catastrophic 2005 referendum under Jacques Chirac when the extreme left combined with the extreme right to get a ‘No’ vote on the European constitution. Governments and Parliaments do not have to accept the verdict of a popular referendum. The ‘No’ vote was overturned by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007. So here the European political factor was used by Nicholas Sarkozy to keep the European project on track. The Eurosceptics in Britain of course screamed foul. But if Lisbon had not have been agreed, there would have been chaos, which could only have delighted the nationalists. The 2005 referendum, which had the same negative result in the Netherlands, but not in Spain, contains some important lessons for those approaching a referendum in Britain. Yes, it is a democracy of sorts, a Bonapartist democracy which enfeebles parliamentary regimes.
Germany has a parliamentary regime. Because of her Nazi past, when the country was overrun by nationalist forces, referendums are forbidden by the country’s wise constitution.
Britain is said to have an unwritten constitution although, as a matter of fact, if one were to staple together Westminster’s statutory laws, dating from the Bill of Rights of 1688 and through the Acts of Union, one would effectively have Britain’s written constitution. A number of constitutional textbooks have done just that.
Nowhere in this ‘written constitution’ is any mention made to national referendums. Local referendums have occurred, such as on the opening hours of pubs. The only national British referendum to occur in history was Harold Wilson’s referendum of 1975, called because the Labour Party could not make up its mind about Europe. Now it is the Conservative Party which is divided.
Britain has a parliamentary regime. Since Bagehot and Dicey British constitutionalists have emphasized that sovereignty lies not in the nation, like in revolutionary France, but in Parliament. A distinct distrust has traditionally been felt by the British for referendums, expressed sscinctly in Clement Atlee’s line, since picked up by Margaret Thatcher, that ‘referendums are the tool of dictators and demagogues.’ Referendums weaken the sovereignty of Parliament.
Margaret Thatcher’s ghost haunted the Chamber last week. In particular, Preti Patel for Witham cited her as a model for Eurosceptics to follow. Now Patel is somebody to watch; she has great poise and speaks with considerable gusto and conviction — rather like Margaret Thatcher. She could well become a major leader. The trouble is, she is wrong. She began politics campaigning for Jimmy Goldsmith’s Referendum Party — and this passion for referendums could throw her of the rails. Her father, a Ugandan Asian immigrant, stood last April — in a very muddled campaign — for UKIP in a Hertfordshire by-election. Unfortunately, Thatcher is the model behind this; it cannot be denied. Margaret Thatcher, though she signed the Single Act of 1986, the most radical of all European treaties, did not have a good legacy on Europe. When UKIP claims to be the only true Thatcherite party in Britain they are, on the European issue, telling the sorry truth. On Europe, Thatcher in the end relied on private consultation (that of Professor Alan Walters). She went behind Parliament’s back, and that is why she had to go.
The new breed of English nationalist, with Thatcherism as its source, preaches ‘direct democracy’ based on referendums. They are not scrupulous parliamentarians. That is, they are not fully convinced that Parliament is sovereign. They would probably say the nation is sovereign, like French revolutionaries. They have a distinct distrust of parliamentarians, as they showed during the Expense Scandal. This distrust was evident in last week’s speeches ¬— as in the repeated phrase, ‘of course, Parliament may well overthrow this democratic bill.’ And they will not stop with this one referendum, if they get it. If they had their way they would destroy the Euro and the European Union. They would ally, as they already have, with other nationalist, extra-parliamentary parties in Europe. Their policies are identical to Marine Le Pen’s Front National.
Both the FN and the British Eurosceptics believe in ‘direct democracy’ as opposed to parliamentary democracy. Eurosceptics, like all European nationalist parties, are against most international institutions. It has been pointed out that Britain, if she were to quit the European Union, would in all likelihood lose her permanent seat in the Security Council of the United Nations. These English nationalists couldn’t give a hoot: they don’t like the United Nations.
It is English nationalism that has brought Scotland to the brink of independence. As the Conservative Party lurched towards English nationalism, so support for the Party dwindled in Scotland. Significantly, the Scottish Conservative Party merged in 1960 with the Unionist Party which stood for a united UK — now it only has one MP in Westminster! Scottish Conservatives, once the strength of Scotland, have been replaced by Scot Nats. So there is a direct correlation between the rise of Euroscepticism in England, the demise of the Scottish Conservative Party and the rise of the independence movement in Scotland. So it should be no surprise that Scottish independence and the threatened British exit from the European Union are simultaneous. They are different aspects of the same nationalist phenomenon. The nuclear question we are now facing is: would an independent Scotland, like independent Ireland, adopt the Euro. If Scotland seeks genuine financial independence from England the answer is an inescapable ‘Yes’.
I think this is a catastrophic scenario. Scottish independence could come next year, in 2014. Then a rump Britain could exit from the EU. That combination would cause havoc with our parliamentary system, which has done us so well for 500 years. Contrary to what the Eurosceptics argue, the EU strengthens British sovereignty and the union of the UK because it strengthens the country. Go down the road of UK breakup and rump British exit and you face fragmentation, poverty and chaos. That is not what we want.
Nationalism works like a steamroller: it flattens all before it; it flattens out all wrinkle crevices and variants and leaves us with the flat plain of the orthodox national ideology. That has happened in the past in Germany, in Italy and, indeed, large swathes of Europe where the nationalist enthusiasms spread their poison. That is why the European Union was created. It is the danger that all Europe still faces. Its promise is one that always ends up in violence (witness the Balkans). It is the European Union which prevents it and offers continental wide stablility.
Nationalism works against Parliaments, it is extra-parliamentary and it creates terrible silences; it stifles debate. And I am afraid that is just what we were witnessing last week in Parliament, but with more than half of Parliament absent.
About thirty or forty years ago I remember writing an article arguing that the traditional political divide in Britain between left and right was gradually giving way to a divide between Nationalists and Europeans, Little Englanders and Federalists. The Guardian, I think that was the paper, did not publish it. But I still think that this is what is happening. At the time — I was still a student ¬— I was rather pleased at the prospect. Today it worries me. I see it as a sign of parliamentary decline, and that should please no one.
Consider what really happened last week. The debate took place and then the division was taken and the members retired to the lobbies. On television all you could see was an empty House for about fifteen minutes. Finally the two tellers came before the Speaker and announced the vote: 304 votes to zero. So a unanimous vote for the referendum! But there are 650 seats in Parliament. So this unanimous vote was made up of well under half of Parliament because the majority boycotted the session.
One half of the House was not talking to the other half. Debate is what parliamentary democracy is all about. On the question of the European referendum there has been no decent parliamentary debate. Instead, there is silence. Historically, we know that that is what nationalism does to the political body: it creates a flaccid inertness.
In the past decade or so I thought this was a Conservative Party disease. Conservatives have been silent on Europe because it divides the party. European Conservatives have been so silent and thus ineffective because of a fear of dividing the party. That concern to maintain silence has even crossed frontiers. In 2006 Nicholas Sarkozy was invited to the Conservative Party Conference ‘provided,’ stipulated David Cameron, ‘he did not speak about Europe’; Sarkozy didn’t come.
But now one sees that this disease of silence has spread across the parties. It could become a national disease ¬— as occurred in Germany and in Italy in the interwar years. The pro-Europeans chose boycott rather than debate, that is, they chose silence. The European issue and the referendum has paralysed Parliament in the same way that the European Conservatives were paralysed by the emergence of nationalist Eurosceptics.
Is it possible that the United Kingdom will break up and what is left of the UK will leave the EU ¬— under a pall of parliamentary silence? The nationalist Eurosceptic arguments for a pure free trade area, British economic superiority, the need to ‘claw back’ legislation to protect national sovereignty and their apparent misunderstanding of Britain’s constitution never receive an answer or a retort in Parliament. Never a word of opposition is spoken. Debate has been silenced. The prospect is sinister.

GD
Le Vieil Estrée
12 July 2013

2,604 words

“TO BE OR NOT TO BE” IN by Michael Webster

Samedi, février 9th, 2013

Although a life-long supporter of the Conservative Party, I am dismayed by the party’s conduct on the issue of EU membership. The promise to hold a referendum five years from now will depend on its being re-elected in 2015, which is at best uncertain, since parties do not get re-elected when economies are sour. And the opposition does not want to hold one if they win that election.
We are, therefore, committed to a long period of uncertainty, which can only have harmful effects. Probably, the most serious ones will be to diminish our influence with our EU partners and to discourage foreign investment in Britain. It will be bad for business generally, because it is well-known that it does not like uncertainty.
PM Cameron’s chief concern has been his Parliamentary members, it being reported that some 250 out of 304 Party MPs are delighted. It may be of less interest to the public. The Economist magazine reports that ” the voters are less neuralgic about Europe than their representatives at Westminster. When asked which topics most concern them, voters mention Europe much less than they used to. What they worry about is the economy, health care and crime.”
So, by promising a referendum, we may be provoking unnecessary attention to the question, with the risk of a negative vote based on dissatisfaction with Brussels mandates on doctors’ hours of service, convicts’ rights to vote and similar comparatively minor matters, while doing serious harm to our economic interests, a cause of great concern to our business leaders.
And all this to achieve a result to which the leaders of all the political parties,except UKIP, are opposed.

Euro Debate: That Britain should join the Eurozone

Jeudi, juin 23rd, 2011

As previously advised (refer to Categories/Chairmans Blog/ Federal EU/ EU & Euro Survey in the right-hand index column) on 20th June, the British Conservatives in Paris (BCiP) held a lively and stimulating debate chaired by Paul Thomson on the motion that Britain should join the Euro.
Given the current financial crisis facing the Eurozone, the dice seemed already loaded against the opening speaker Gregor Dallas who, however, proposed the motion in feisty style. He spoke of the Euro and the UK as being an enormously emotive issue steeped in politics that lots of people preferred to avoid talking about, including some members of the Conservative party. Yet some 60% of our exports go to the European Union of which two-thirds are to Eurozone countries. The political aspects can be traced back to the aftermath of the Second World War and the ambitious ideal to maintain the peace through the stabilizing influence of trading links developed within a single European market. Today this presents Britain with a market of around half a billion people, a major part using a single currency, and to compare this with the US our largest, single trading partner, the latter represents only 16% of our exports.
He elaborated that the single European market acts to stamp out the extremes of nationalism on the far right and socialism on the far left, with terms such as economic sovereignty or national sovereignty essentially blown out of the water by the collapse of the Bretton Woods system in 1971. Prior to that in November 1967 we had The Pound (£) in your pocket of PM Harold Wilson when the Pound was devalued by 14.3% and which seemed to change nothing for anybody living within Britain. However, Britain lost the trust of its important trading partners not only in 1967 but also in 1949 and after flotation in 1971. Now we have floating exchange rates and so-called hot money speculating on the highest return currencies and there is still no major improvement in exports for the UK.
Of course given the current financial crisis in the Eurozone, Germany is concerned about the so-called Club Med-countries but the Euro is a German invention and it tracks the former Deutschmark. It would be a disaster if Greece was forced to quit the Eurozone but in fact no such exit plan exists. There is no way back for national currencies, all members of the Eurozone want it to work and it is significant that China has already adopted it as a reserve currency. The UK must, therefore, join the Eurozone because it brings a strong, stable currency for a 21st century economy.
Michael Webster who opposed the motion saw the current economic situation as making it impossible for the UK to join the Eurozone. The Eurozone is also too dominated by Germany with e.g. the French economy suffering as a result. The market economy of the UK is completely the opposite of the dirigisme found on the Continent of Europe. In referring to the effect of interest rates and exchanges rates, he saw the need of the German economy for low interest rates as leading to cheap money and the resulting economic ruin of Eurozone countries such as Ireland, Portugal and Greece. At least the UK can only blame itself for the results of its own economic policies. Now Germany wants higher interest rates with its economy booming and this leads to the euro being overvalued in the money markets. As far as exchange rates are concerned, the UK has essentially devalued the Pound (£) in order to improve export trade, whereas its imports from Portugal have been reduced by some 50% due to the strength of the Euro.
A Swedish government minister has been quoted as saying that a reason for its successful economy is that it is not a member of the Eurozone. Indeed, the financial situation in the Eurozone is so bad that Greece will never be able to pay its debts, with e.g. €45 billion owed to German banks and €65 billion to French banks all under threat of default. Britain has already taken steps to withdraw some €12 billion in bonds from the Eurozone as one step in trying to avoid the Greek debacle. Sterling is, therefore, still rated AAA in the financial markets by the rating agencies while the current credit rating of France is under threat, and French manufacturers are trying to relocate their production sites to lower cost countries. There is no possibility of the UK joining the Eurozone.
Seconding the proposer of the motion, Robin Baker quoted two traditional views of the Conservative party as 1) a belief in sound money and 2) a natural distrust of governments which manipulate the affairs of the country for their own, short-term electoral advantage. Sound money acts to counter the cancerous effects of inflation on the economy, with governments as major borrowers taking benefit from the effects of inflation, by being able to pay back their debts to lenders in devalued currency. The current UK inflation rate of 4.5 % would double prices in 16 years if left unchecked, whereas within the Eurozone France has inflation of only 2.0 %, Germany 2.3 % and even Italy only 2.6 %. The Eurozone, therefore, shows the benefit of taking the power to devalue away from national governments and also being able to dampen the effects of inflation through sound money.
Being able to devalue has also not helped the UK to grow relative to the 27 states in the European Union (EU). In 2002, the UK economy represented 17.2 % of the EU but by 2009 this had fallen to 13.3 %, while the share of the 16 Eurozone countries had increased by more than 2 %. During 2010, growth in Eurozone GDP was 30 % greater than that of the UK, and currently France is growing at twice our rate and Germany three times. Devaluation also does not seem to have helped our exports. In 2010, the Eurozone had a balance of payments deficit of €30 billion but the deficit of the UK was 30 % worse for an economy only one sixth of the total Eurozone. From 2002 – 2009 our share of total EU exports fell from 12.8 % to 10.4 % while total Eurozone world market share increased, our intra – EU share also having fallen from 9.6 % to 6.4 %.
Our exporters suffer the commercial disadvantage of not sharing the same currency as 40 % of their customers and are forced to price higher to offset adverse currency movements or ask the customer to take the risk. In short, without the security of sound money and no benefits to growth in our economy or trade in being able to devalue compared with our European partners, Britain should join the Eurozone.
To close the formal part of the debate and confessing to being no economist, Evelyn Joslain the seconder of the opposition to the motion, chose to speak more passionately on behalf of the people of Europe in asking why the Brits would want to drop the Pound (£) for the Euro. The Euro is dying; you need to look more at defending what is left of your sovereignty and the problem of your soaring deficit is more pressing. She asked the audience to consider the success of countries outside the Eurozone such as Switzerland and Sweden which are doing much better. Germany is also very unhappy with what has become of its Deutschmark in the guise of the Euro and is faced instead with a Greek tragedy. Behind the Eurozone lies more European integration – before it was to avoid war but now it has gone too far. We must avoid the excuses of the former Soviet Union that it only failed because the correct ideological measures were not sufficiently applied.
The Euro is a favourite of the currency speculators to short and coupled with excessive welfare payments and bail-outs is a recipe for disaster. It is easy to get into the Eurozone but hard to get out and there could also be a two-tier system between the north and the south. The Euro was forced on the population of Europe in an undemocratic way and the people are being ignored in a march towards a centralized super state. On the 100th anniversary of the Titanic, it is appropriate that the UK should reject the disaster of the euro.
The comments from the floor which followed the formal part of the debate touched on the emotional (all we have left is the Pound and our Royal family), lack of proper financial rigour (Germany & France were the first to press for relaxation of the 3 % limit on budget deficits), lack of transparency (surely they must have known what was happening in Greece?), a disaster for Europe if the Eurozone collapses, it is more a question of political will to hold Europe together than a financial problem, the euro is now one of the most important currencies but failure of the political cycle matched by failure of the financial cycle has changed the Euro, the Eurozone has steadily abdicated its responsibilities since its launch, as Conservatives we must balance ideology against pragmatism and now is not the right time to join and if the UK had been allowed into the EU earlier, it could have had more influence but it is too late now.
A vote was taken and the motion was defeated with 5 votes for but 15 votes against.