Archive for janvier, 2013

EU Referendum: A Lesson from History.

Samedi, janvier 19th, 2013

The article reviewing two books on Britain and Europe in The Economist January 19th 2013, p. 74, Forty years on, provides a lesson from history for Eurosceptics as well as Prime Minister David Cameron, as he wrestles with the issue of a referendum on continuing British membership of the European Union (EU).
Eurosceptics should be aware that forty years ago Britain joined what was then the European Economic Community (EEC), because the other options of a free-trade area, the Commonwealth, links to the US or going it alone, were all judged even less attractive. Gaining global influence through EEC membership was also considered to outweigh the rather weak even negative economic case for entry.
In the successful 1975 EU referendum voters were two-to-one in favour of continued membership, public opinion having rapidly swung towards a yes vote following renegotiation of the terms of membership by Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson. The parallel case today for Mr Cameron and his team cannot be considered within the same historical context. In the 1970s there was more European goodwill towards Britain partly as a result of the rather undiplomatic actions of French President Charles de Gaulle in twice vetoing British membership applications. The terms of entry were also generally recognised as being too heavily weighted against the British on budget, agriculture, fisheries etc. Significantly at the time, most of the press and politicians campaigned for a yes vote.
The review article concludes by suggesting that Mr Cameron would be well-advised to read both books and to ponder their lessons:
• Britain’s Quest for a Role: A Diplomatic Memoir from Europe to the UN. By David Hannay. I.B. Tauris.
• The Official History of Britain and the European Community, 1963-1975. By Stephan Wall. Routledge.
Is EU membership crucial to Britain’s (perhaps continuing) search for a post-imperial role, as seen by Lord Hannay in his above book? A long-serving British diplomat he argues from first-hand experience that British influence in Washington DC, and in the wider world, now flows through Brussels, and it would be weakened if the country ended up outside the EU. This view is echoed by the Americans who have recently made it clear that they would prefer an outwards-looking Britain within the EU, rather than an inwards-looking Britain outside the EU.

A Referendum on Britain remaining in the European Union - by Michael Webster

Vendredi, janvier 11th, 2013

I consider the idea of Britain holding a popular referendum on whether to remain in the European Union an unwise and even disconcerting one. This is a matter of primordial importance , probably the most vital one facing the country for decades to come and to have it decided by a referendum has no justification in my mind.

I will cite three reasons for this.

First of all, referenda are highly vulnerable to demagoguery, resulting in emotions and passions taking the place of serious reflection. In Britain the most likely culprits will be our popular press. I find it only too easy to imagine their making hay of some lapse of judgement or a minor scandal in the Brussels Commission and thus influencing perhaps some vital number of votes.

Secondly, how is the question of the phrasing of the question to be put to the vote to be decided and by whom. This could, of course, be simply put. “Do you want Britain to remain in or to quit the Union?” And on these dozen simple words would depend one of the most fateful decisions to be made by this country. Prime Minister Cameron has just published an article pointing out that there is a third choice: to negotiate a compromise position on the periphery of the Union. The question could thus be further embellished but every additional word would be greatly controversial in its significance.

Lastly and most importantly, this is a travesty of the principle of representative government and of the accepted conventions by which our country has historically been governed. Representative government means that we elect, at least theoretically, the most competent people to represent us in Parliament.

There the issues can be the subject of mature debate by members with more intimate knowledge and experience, with Commissions able to consult authorities on the question. The issues will then be re-considered by the House of Lords, whose members are usually people of wide experience and competence.

This is the correct procedure for this vital matter and the idea of submitting it, with all its profound political and economic implications, to a popular referendum fills me with great concern and even trepidation.

Michael Webster

Francois Hollande & British Family Allowances

Vendredi, janvier 4th, 2013

Most of those of us who are towards the right of the political spectrum have been chuckling happily at the latest embarrassment of François Hollande. For those reading this from outside France, a flagship part of the President’s election manifesto was to tax annual incomes above a million euros at 75%. But his proposal to enact this has been struck down by the Constitutional Council. In France, unlike England, income taxes are levied on households not on individuals. But this “super tax” was to be levied on individuals. So a couple who both had incomes of 900,000€ would not pay this extra tax but a couple, with only one earner of over a million but with a significantly lower joint income than the other couple, would pay it. The Constitutional Council would not accept this because it was unfair.

For those of us who follow British politics, doesn’t that ring a bell? It does for me, in part because of a conversation I had with a member of my family recently in England. There the Government has, very reasonably in my view, decided to claw back all or part of the family allowances paid to the better off. But the amount the family will lose will depend on the income of the parent who is the higher earner, regardless of the income of the other. So, just as under the Government’s proposal in France, a couple with two earners each on £40,000 a year will not be penalised, whereas a couple where one of them earns £60,000 p.a. while the other stays at home caring for their children, will be.

We do not have a Constitutional Council in the UK; we rely on the good sense of ministers and parliamentarians under our system of parliamentary sovereignty. In general I believe that this system serves us well but, this time, it has let us down, badly. So has the Government. Of course, we are told, it is all very difficult, because we have separate taxation for husbands and wives. But the information, i.e. the income of both husband and wife, to make a system work fairly is known to the Government. If ministers had the power, when a senior civil servant tells them that something cannot be done, to find a more junior civil servant who can find a way in which it can be done and then make the two swap places, I believe that the problem would have been solved. As it would have been had David Cameron told Iain Duncan Smith that if he could not find a fair system, then he could not have his legislation and would have to raise the money elsewhere. All politicians know that there is no such thing as a tax that everybody considers fair. But that is no reason for adopting a system that everybody considers unfair.

The Government have done themselves electoral harm in two ways. Firstly the system is so daft that it has made them seem economically incompetent. And the battle for voters’ perception of economic competence is going to be a key element of the next election. Secondly they have stirred up considerable resentment among parents affected, many of who would otherwise have voted Conservative but who will certainly not do so now.

As the song has it: “Ain’t it all a blooming shame”.

Robin Baker