Brexit: Cameron Again Hints He May Quit EU but Never Says What Reforms or Repatriation of Powers He Wants

EU Reporter 27 August 2014


Cameron hints at ‘Brexit’ but what powers does he want returned from Brussels ?

Denis MacShane | August 27, 2014 | 0 Comments


As the political season resumes in Britain, Prime Minister David Cameron has let it be known that he is ready to back Britain leaving the EU unless he gets reform in Europe that satisfies his party and of course himself. It is the closest he has come to endorsing ‘Brexit’ as a possible option for any government he might lead after the election in May 2015.   

The threat is not spelt out on the record but very heavy briefing of the London press leaves little doubt that this is part of the British leader’s policy of putting pressure on Jean-Claude Juncker, and EU national leaders.

But once again, David Cameron does not list the reforms he wants or the specific changes in Britain’s relationship with the EU he believes are necessary for him to go out and campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote in his proposed 2017 referendum.

With just three years  to go – a blink of an eyelid in the terms of the slow rhythm of EU parleys – it really is very odd for the British prime minister to stake his country’s future without telling his partners or his people what exactly he wants.

Britain and the EU are not any wiser than in January 2013 when Cameron announced there would be an ‘In-Out’ plebiscite after a renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU beginning upon his re-election as prime minister next May.

No one knows the outcome of that election. Opinion polls tend to put the Labour Party ahead but its leader, Ed Miliband, is not as popular as David Cameron and the improved economic performance in the UK with 3% growth and 6% unemployment is in contrast to the poor eurozone figures and the lamentable economic story in France, the country Britain tends to measure itself against.

Cameron and the UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, are pledged to hold a referendum while the other political formations – Labour, Liberal Democratic, Nationalists in Scotland Wales and Greens – oppose a referendum in 2017 which they say is not needed or useful.

Many see this Brexit plebiscite as a dangerous moment in a Britain where anti-EU sentiment is strong and backed by most off-shore media proprietors, many in business, as well as the vast majority of the ruling Conservative MPs.

But while Cameron says at regular intervals he is pledged to hold the In-Out referendum in 2017 he has  never listed the reforms or repatriated powers he wants from Brussels.

His Europe minister, David Liddington, told the Financial Times there must be ‘treaty change’ but again he will not stipulate what that Treaty change is. Moreover, few even in Britain can imagine a new EU Treaty just to suit Britain in place by 2017, the year of a French presidential election, and one that in more and more countries would require a referendum to be ratified.

Others such as former UK foreign secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, says that EU social rules should be applied to Britain. In a sense his generation want to roll the clock back to the late 1980s, prior to Maatricht.  But the venom against Europe has deepened and widened since then.

Another demand is that Britain can unilaterally decide which citizens from other EU member states are allowed into the UK to live and work. This of course means the end of the four freedoms – of movement of goods, capital, services and people – which are at the core of European construction since the Treaty of Rome.

Poland has made clear it will never accept any such change, which is seen as directed at Polish workers in the UK. Relations now between Warsaw and London are at their worst in decades.

But while these demands figures in remarks by Conservative MPs and the EU-hostile press they have never been put forward as the official British government position by Cameron or his ministers.

A further complication is that some ministers and many Conservative MPs are demanding that Britain pulls out of the European Court of Human Right because its rulings – notably on the rights of detained or convicted terrorists – upset those who believe that British judges alone should decide what happens to prisoners.  Tory and Labour MPs united to criticize an ECHR ruling that some categories of prisoners should be allowed to vote which is permitted in Switzerland and EU member states even if not much used.

So Euroscepticism in Britain is not just about Brussels but about having to live with ECHR rulings and other Europeans living and working in the United Kingdom.

But Britain still awaits from its prime minister a specific list of changes that the EU must concede in order for him to lead a Yes campaign in his 2017 plebiscite.

Cameron of course needs to remind voters that he has promised them a referendum but his refusal to state the concession he want to obtain is becoming an embarrassment.  But in a calibrated change of tone he is now saying that Brexit is possible. It is not yet his official position.  But he is creating the very atmosphere which makes Britain leaving the EU if not a certainty, a strong possibility that policymakers in other government and businesses need to take seriously.

Denis MacShane is a former UK Europe minister. His book, Brexit, will be published later this year.

Israel Public Diplomacy

Haaretz  24 August 2014

Israel must rethink its public diplomacy before it’s too late

Feeling good under the comfort blanket of American support for Israel is not enough. Israel must find ways of taking its arguments into European politics.

By Denis MacShane | Aug. 23, 2014 | 10:06 PM |  2

The Financial Times was blunt in a recent editorial entitled ‘Anti-Semitism is a menace to us all: Criticism of Israel should not extend to Jews worldwide.’ “Israel, a mature democracy, is frequently subjected to a double standard that is not applied to other states. In London this month, thousands marched in protest at Israel’s actions in Gaza. Why have there been few such demonstrations against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, now responsible for 150,000 deaths?” Actually the UN figure for Syria is 193,000 – but the point about double standards is well made.

However, this is of little help to Israel as it reaches the tipping point when the nation slides imperceptibly across the line into being seen a state that too much of the world simply does not like – or even accept as valid.

A country’s image and status matter. China can imprison a Nobel Peace Laureate, Liu Xiabo, but, unlike a Sakharov or Archbishop Romero, no one mentions Mr Liu’s name. Hamas can execute 18 Palestinians in cold blood and ensure – like the British IS member who killed U.S. journalist James Foley – that the pictures of their slaughter are posted on social media to discourage others, as Voltaire might have said.

But, unlike the wall-to-wall coverage of the Foley killing, the Hamas murders get relatively little coverage in the British or European media, and it is years since China was condemned for throwing its Nobel Peace Laureate into its chopstick gulag.

Double-standards again? To be sure, but moaning about double standards will do little to help Israel.

So what can be done?

The first thing is to “de-Jew” the defense of Israel and Jewish identity. The British media, for example, is awash with defenders of Hamas and Palestinian resistance. Hardly any are Muslims. In contrast, the prominent journalists – Jonathan Freedland, Daniel Finkelstein, Melanie Philips, David Aaronovich – who support Israel are, well, Jews.

They write eloquently and, other than the obsessive right-wing anti-immigrant defenders of Israel and xenophobic haters of Islam, they do so with sensitivity.

But most who read their columns shrug their shoulders and think privately: “They would say that, wouldn’t they.”

Israel has to find and encourage non-Jewish writers and opinion-formers able and willing to make the case for Israel’s right to exist in security.

The second tactic is to focus as much on Europe, maybe more than on the United States. Israel’s lean to America is understandable, but a stool with one leg cannot stand.

Israeli politicians, intellectuals, NGO and business leaders seem permanently on El Al flights to America. They look down with condescension, if not contempt, on Europe with its growing Muslim population and the anti-Semitism from both the pro-Islamist left but increasingly also on the xenophobic anti-EU populist right.

But feeling good under the comfort blanket of American support for Israel is not enough.

Israel must find ways of taking its arguments into European politics.

This was easier in a time when Israel’s Labor Party and its Histadrut trade union had significant reach and the backing of the Israeli state which, until 1980, was largely dominated by the democratic left in Israel.

I used to watch Shimon Peres at excruciatingly boring meetings of the Socialist International, then the main forum for center-left parties in Europe. Peres would say nothing and just be available for small talk, surrounded by his security detail. But perhaps, just with a brief word, he would intervene and derail some ugly anti-Israel motion, usually put up by an unpleasant Nordic politician who would never condemn brutalities in an Arab country.

With the rise of Likud, Shas and the nationalists of Russian origin who now dominate Israeli politics, whole swathes of the liberal-left in Europe now have little knowledge of, or political contacts with, what remains after-all the only electoral democracy in the region.

Israel has to find a way of reconnecting with Europe and stop treating the EU and European politicians as opponents in contrast to the uncritical support they receive from American politicians.

A new European Parliament with 751 MEPs has just been elected. A whole new leadership team will soon emerge in Brussels – a new EU Commission president, a new President of the EU Council and a new EU Foreign Policy supremo. 28 Commissioners will soon be named to new posts.

Can Israel connect with this new EU leadership team? It will be uphill work – but the effort is needed. The forces promoting boycotts and using trade and other sanctions to put pressure on Israel over the occupied territories are strong. But these are essentially political processes and Israel is not sufficiently present in European politics.

It is just so much easier to whizz over America and hear warm words that do not help Israel in the rest of the world.

Finally, send Haaretz’s Ari Shavit out on a permanent speaking tour, especially to the England from which his forebears came. His book “My Promised Land’ is brutally honest about the disasters and dishonesties of Israeli politics towards its Arab citizens and the Palestinians now living in the Iand conquered in 1967.

States need to be respected and even liked beyond their own circle of friends and fans. Ireland exists independent of its support base in Boston and its diplomats have brilliantly transformed the image of Ireland so it is now seen as the most European-friendly of any English speaking country.

Israel has to rethink its public diplomacy before it’s too late.

Denis MacShane is the UK’s former Minister for Europe and author of “Globalising Hatred: the New Antisemitism” (Weidenfeld and Nicolson 2008). He works in Brussels and London advising on EU policy and politics.


Good Book

Francis Beckett, the writer and joournalist, and it must be said a good friend has written this appreciation of My Prison Diaries

Dear Denis

Your book is a splendid achievement because it gives the taste and texture of prison. It’s a journalist’s book – all the specifics, all the details, by someone who knows how to write, how to tell a story. You write what you see, as clearly and economically as it can be written.

You have, quite rightly, ignored the commonsense voices that must have told you to leave out your own anger at your treatment. You were treated with appalling vindictiveness, and your own burning sense of grievance makes the book stronger.

A couple of things occur to me. First, that you must have had many much more bitter enemies than most politicians; and that’s at least partly due to the characteristic that makes this book so good – the political method is to soften what you have to say, to use generalities instead of specifics, so as not to make too many enemies, but you and I are writers and we instinctively give our words maximum impact.

And second, that if you hadn’t been treated in this way, you would never have seen the inside of Belmarsh and Brixton, and we wouldn’t have this clear, fluent denunciation of the prison system.

John McTernan on my Prison Diaries

John McTernan, the policitical commentator and former No 10 insider and press chief to Australian PM Julia Gillard wrote this about my book Prison Diaries in Progress


Nearly a decade ago I spoke at a conference in Spain. It was partly organised by the youth wing of our sister party PSOE and was about the impact of new media – at that time mainly blogs and the blogosphere – on politics. We were in Cáceres in Extremadura and I started talking to local politicians. As I began to explain the situation in the United Kingdom they said ‘Oh, we know. Denis Macshane has just been here.’ I have had similar conversations all across Europe. Denis is that rarity in our party someone who is an internationalist, rather than someone who says they are.

He is also brilliant company and a great writer. When the courts turned on him savagely last year he went to prison well-prepared – he took a suitcase full of books with him. But he fell foul of the new Chris Grayling edict that there is nothing more dangerous in prison than free thinking, and his books were impounded. Not deterred, Denis decided that if he couldn’t read a book he could certainly write one. And now we have ‘Prison Diaries’ a brilliant account of Denis time in Belmarsh and Brixton. It is a great book, by turns analytic, personal and passionate. We get a strong sense of the absurdity of the prison system and its appalling failures. But throughout there is Denis’ characteristic humour. Here’s just one sample:

‘A prison is a bit like a party political conference – full of intensity, lies showing off, preening, seeking to dominate and conquer.’


A must read.

How I Was Nearly Sacked as a Minister for Challenging Islamist Terror

Calling Islamists ‘Deranged and Deluded’ Avoids the Real Issue

Comment in Huffington Post 22 August 2014

Is the choice of words over the slaying of James Foley by a British Islamist really helpful? The normally sober Financial Times today has an op-ed where the IS Islamists killers are called ‘disturbed, deluded and deranged’ before the author turns of his adjectival tsunami to express his (and our) disgust at what happened.
But we have been here before. Similar language was used when the Stern Gang hanged two British soldiers who had been abducted in Palestine in 1948. British Jews were told they had to stand up against terrorism and denounce the atrocity – for which Israel has never apologised or paid compensation to the murdered victims’ families.
In the 1970s, similar language was used about IRA killers. Sir Nigel Bridge QC who presided over the trial of the entirely innocent Birmingham bombers said he regretted the death penalty had been abolished as he could not sentence them to hang. Naturally, he was made a peer and promoted to the appeal court for such language as he condemned six innocent men to life sentences.
Every time something cruel happens, the reflex is go into the rattle bag of clichés of condemnation. What that does is prevent serious thought about the politics and ideology behind the decision to fly a plane into the World Trade Centre, murder Daniel Pearl in Pakistan because he was Jewish, and now butcher James Foley because he was American.
Unlike France where serious scholars like Giles Keppel have been writing about Islamist ideology for years and where soft Islamist ideologues like Tariq Ramadan face excoriation on television Britain has been in denial about the reach and influence of Islamist ideology.
For the City and the ruling Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher and John Major it was vital not to challenge the Wahabi creed of Saudi Arabia whose arms purchases and oil sales made London rich. More recently the Gulf States like Qatar which openly fund hard-line Islamism bank-roll politicians with huge fees for boring speeches and keep much of the UK luxury life-style business in handsome profits.
The Royal Family are complicit in rolling out red carpets for men from the Gulf whose world view is based on oppression, and denial of key human values like religious freedom, respect for women’s rights as well as intellectual inquiry, media freedom and gay rights.
Inside Britain there has been a 25 year long growth of Islamist ideology which has sunk roots in organisations that have influence with Britain’s 2.7 million Muslims. Many of these come from poor families still rooted in village patriarchical traditions in Kashmir or Bangladesh. Unemployment rates in these communities is much higher than is realised and education attainment often low.
The insistence on bringing over spouses – young women and men – from the sub-continent who can barely read or write English reproduces poverty and dis-integration. The TV channels are tuned to Pakistan stations, the papers read are in Urdu, the religious services are not in English and men and women never co-mingle at public events.
None of this is challenged because any such challenge is condemned as either racist or an assault on multicultural values. As an FCO minister in November 2003 I had to deal with an Islamist attack on the British consulate in Istanbul in which 26 people, including a young woman diplomat from Manchester, were killed. At the same time, a 24 year old Muslim from South Yorkshire had gone out to Tel Aviv encouraged by the relentless hate of the Islamists and their fellow-travellers like George Galloway for Israel. He was tasked to kill Jews but instead pressed the wrong button and blew himself up.
In a speech to my constituency I said it was “time for the elected and community leaders of British Muslims to make a choice: the British way, based on political dialogue and non-violent protests, or the way of the terrorists against which the whole democratic world is uniting”.
The heavens fell in. The Guardian and Observer and World at One made it a major story as British Muslim organisations called my remarks “outrageous” and “disgraceful”. Shahid Malik, then a Labour MP, who saw himself as the parliamentary spokesperson for British Muslims attacked me openly as did Trevor Philips from the Commission for Racial Equality.
In the Foreign Office there was a great kerfuffle. Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, spent an inordinate amount of time cosseting his Muslim constituents in Blackburn. He had brought in an official from the Muslim Council of Britain to advise the FCO on outreach to Islamist outfit like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. To attack their values was heresy. I was told I was close to being fired as a minister unless I signed some grovelling climb-down which as a coward I did. I also liked and respected my Kashmiri constituents and did not want to hurt them.
But perhaps if all politicians, journalists and intellectuals had told the truth about Islamism, ten, or better twenty years ago Britain might have been equipped to understand what drives British citizens to go out and commit these atrocities.
There was a wake-up call after 7/7 but under David Cameron for whom reaching out to British Muslims amounted to just having a token Sayeeda Warsi as decoration in his cabinet the coalition never understood the problem.
Whitehall has gone to sleep about Islamism and its doctrine of hate against women, against gays, against free expression, against Jews, against Israel’s right to exist.
By all means call the most extreme violent Islamists deranged and deluded. But such language has no impact on them. The emerge from a culture based on Islamist ideology, both hard and soft. This deforms the religion of Islam, but it must be confronted intellectually, politically and with vigour and resources if we want to Britain to be a country where Muslims can worship but Islamism is eradicated.

The Changing Nature of MPs

Why Roy Hattersley Is Last of a Kind

(this article was published in the Huffington Post UK on 20 August 2014)


Peter Hennessey has been carrying out a fascinating series of interviews on Radio 4 with veteran politicians like John Major and Roy Hattersley.

It is unlikely we will see their like again as the role and make-up of MPs is changing faster than ever before in Parliament’s history.

Take Hattersley as an example. A gifted politician who was educated at one of Yorkshire finest grammar schools before they were abolished in the 1970s, he was found a safe seat in Birmingham at a young age.

He never lived in Birmingham, just popping up for the odd surgery. I was active and an office holder in the Birmingham Labour Party in the 1970s and Roy was a remote London figure. His fellow Brummie MPs like Roy Jenkins or Brian Walden were also London based figures. Walden stayed in a hotel when he made his fleeting visits to Birmingham while Jenkins was as remote to Birmingham Labour activists as the Dalai Lama.

Today Labour MPs have to be rooted in their constituency. The first thing Tony Blair, a London lawyer, did on being selected for his north east seat in 1983 was to buy a house there. Weekend after weekend he and his wife would travel up with their children to show a permanent family presence. His wife earned serious money so having a home in both London and his constituency was possible. Today unless an MP is independently wealthy it is not.

The generation of an Attlee, Gaitskell, Wilson, Callaghan or Foot who had safe seats but would never have dreamt of living in them or expecting their families to spend their weekends on crowded roads going to constituencies has been replaced by a generation of MPs whose tweets and interventions at Prime Ministers’ Questions are about showing a local presence.

There was a nasty little spat between Austin Mitchell and Stella Creasey on Newsnight after the retiring 79 year old Grimsby MP made some disobliging remarks about all women short lists and the right of constituency parties to chose their preferred candidates.

Austin might recall that the only reason he was chosen for Grimsby after the death of Tony Crosland in 1977 was because he was the local ITV evening news TV presenter and thus a favourite in every sitting room in the town. MPs always have the vanity that they have a special relationship with their constituency and party but if truth be told they are elected because of party labels, nothing more.

But the post-Hattersley Labour MPs have to show much more presence in their constituency than his generation did.

The other big difference is that Roy Hattersley earned serious money writing books and articles which took up an enormous part of his life as an MP. He was a good writer and earned a very handsome crust. This too is impossible for today’s MPs. Other than the Murdoch press buying future Tory ministers with a £250k column most newspaper articles by MPs, other than sensationalist allegations or gossip, make little money. The censorious press, social media and parliamentary oversight apparat means that very few of our MPs write, publish, produce major books on contemporary political questions.

To think requires time and training for thinking. And unless you write you don’t know if your thoughts matter. The post-Hattersley generation have little time to think or write. They work very hard and are constantly available to constituents and pressure groups but today’s MP is constantly on the move between London and constituency, often trying to keep a marriage or family alive as the new hugely expensive parliamentary expenses bureaucracy is family-phobic.

With post-Hattersley generation MPs denied the time to think and write so much more power is handed to civil servants who are sent away to think on secondments, away-days, or taking part in seminars and conferences.

John Bercow is involved in an odd row over plans to import a manager from the Australian senate to be run the Commons. But the real problem is that MPs in the UK sit for more days in London doing nothing very much – the myth of holding government to account is surely one cliché past its use-by date. The Australian federal parliament meets for 72 days a year, half the time of the Commons. The German Bundestag meets for one week a month and Germany is not badly governed.

And if MPs take time off to travel they are traduced as junketeers, The tabloid press and even some of the more stupid rent-a-quote MPs seem to think that if MPs sat 365 days a year the nation would be better governed.

Where Austin Mitchell was right was when he pointed out that the new way post-Hattersley MPs work means more and more MPs are reduced to social worker, or senior councilor status. There are big single issue campaigners like indeed Stella Creasey on pay day loan sharks or Simon Danczuk on dirty old men whose MP status protected them in the past.

But the demands of being a modern MP means it is hard to develop wider perspectives, foreign travel, or ideas from reading and writing. PMQs now never has questions to the PM on international policy. Much of the time the Prime Minister has to answer a protest about why a bus shelter has not been built or accept congratulation from a toady MP that a bus shelter has been built.

Roy Hattersley was never like that. He lived mainly in London, wrote to earn money to supplement the low pay of an MP (compared to other professions), and was not harried and trolled by social media and twitter. Today’s MPs, for good or ill, are very different.

Miserable time ahead for Europe

Joyless time as Europe returns from holidays

Buffeting from foreign policy and economic squalls

By Denis MacShane

What the French call la rentrée – ‘the return’ (from the summer break) – is not going to be a happy one in Europe. There is not a single European government with a sense of élan. Leaders and ministers appear at the mercy of events, buffeted by the fickle demands of public opinion. For a brief moment earlier in the summer, Matteo Renzi, Italy’s young, Blairite prime minister, seemed to have a golden touch but Italy dropping again into negative growth has brought him down to earth.

Brussels has to put in place a new leadership team after the refusal in July by European leaders to agree key nominations for president of the European Council and the post of high representative for foreign policy.

Jean-Claude Juncker has to satisfy demands for key posts from powerful member states. The UK, French and German leaders, David Cameron, François Hollande and Angela Merkel, are not helping the new EU Commission president by nominating male political trustees. If Cameron or Hollande had sent a woman, London and Paris could have named the Commission slot they wanted.

Instead Juncker may be warming to proposals from an influential group, ‘The Friends of the European Commission’, suggesting clusters of Commissioners under more powerful Commission vice presidents. Juncker’s chief of staff says that Juncker will do less travelling than outgoing EU president José Manuel Barroso who insisted on appearing at every international photocall with Council president Herman Van Rompuy.

Luxembourg, Juncker’s home country, is run by an effective strategic cabinet of just five people. If Juncker really can streamline the Commission and stop it generating anti-EU backlash, then perhaps even British Conservatives will warm to him.

The foreign policy front is a nightmare. Islamist ideology and organisation have sunk deep roots. Expenditure of blood and treasure again looms in Iraq. British, French, and German youngsters are going off to join the Muslim jihad in Syria or Iraq and pose with the heads of decapitated opponents.

The Arab spring has become an Arab nightmare with no progress towards democratic stability or market economics under rule of law anywhere along the southern Mediterranean coastline.

Russian President Vladimir Putin plays cat and mouse with Ukraine, encouraging and arming separatists and scorning Merkel’s anger over Russia’s Anschluss with Crimea.

The sanctions decided by the EU and Putin’s counter-boycott of EU agricultural exports are hurting many economic sectors. Putin’s adversaries may welcome a decline in growth in Russia, but the whole European region from the Atlantic to the Urals, from the Mediterranean to the Arctic Circle, suffers when any sector or region stops making money, creating jobs and paying taxes.

Meanwhile the economic outlook is bleak. The big three euro area economies – Germany, France and Italy – contracted in the second quarter, Portugal’s economy was shaken by troubles at its biggest bank. Greece reports a small primary surplus but its GDP is 25% smaller than when it enjoyed an economic glow after hosting the 2004 Olympics. As OMFIF advisory board member and former UK government joint chief economist, Vicky Pryce, author of Greekonomics, says, Greece is in a 21st century equivalent of a debtor’s prison.

Britain is showing the best GDP growth in the European Union (EU) but this is not leading to higher wages or more stable employment. And many economists, of all political persuasions, warn that UK growth may again be based on a housing bubble as well a boom in public and private debt.

A group of French business executives and professionals based mainly in London (Le Cercle d’Outre-Manche) has produced a report, La France et le Royaume Uni face à la crise 2008-2014 (France and the UK: Reponses to the 2008-2014 Crisis) which lists the immobilism of French economic and labour market policy-makers.

But the biggest difference with the Anglo-Saxon response to the banking crash and subsequent recession appears that Washington and London have rediscovered the virtues of Lord Keynes. On the continent there is a belief that the more the patient bleeds the quicker will be his recovery. A big question in la rentrée will be whether the economic theory of Ordoliberalismus – to use its Teutonic title – in place since 2008-09 is reaching its use-by date.

Since 2008 the US Federal Reserve has pumped $2.5tn into its economy; the Bank of Japan $2tn, and the Bank of England $625bn. How long before the European Central Bank and the practitioners of Ordoliberalismus in Berlin learn to speak English or indeed American?

A return to growth in the EU will not solve the challenges of foreign policy or the anti-politics of the new left-right europhobic populists. But if growth returns, so many other problems can be solved. As Berlin and Frankfurt look out on a Europe without growth, there must be a chance that the alternative policies on offer from the Fed and Bank of England begin to become persuasive.

This was published in the OMFIF bulletin 19 August 2014

Where is New EU Foreign Minister to be Found?

Wanted: Superman (or woman) to be EU foreign policy chief


Five years ago Europe got a foreign minister by accident. Catherine Ashton was no-one’s first or last choice but emerged like Eurydice from the Brussels underworld where potential EU bigwigs emerge into the sunlight or are turned into salt.        

In 2009 there was a Brussels corridor carve-up. A handful of men decided that the new post of President of the Council should go to the centre-right (EPP) and the High Representative to the centre-left (PES).

Without real discussion the socialists decided that David Miliband, the UK’s young Labour Foreign Secretary, should have the job.

Miliband refused the offer made by the PES president and former Danish prime minister, Paul Nyrup Rasmussen, at a frosty meeting in London. He saw his future in British politics. His brother did not. But with the Hi Rep post already  allocated to a British Labourite it was just easy to give it to the competent if unflashy Catherine Ashton, already in place in 2009 as British Commissioner.

She has had mission impossible as the old guard of the Commission want to keep all the jobs at the EU’s 139 delegations or embassies around the world for their own people. EU member states wanted to slot in their own diplomats and make the EU’s foreign policy empire more responsive to national governments.

Ashton has been almost permanently on the road without a proper holiday in five years. Every day there is a demand that she chairs a meeting or visits a country or attends international gatherings. She hardly turns up for Brussels Commission meetings and the social democratic hopes she would influence the EU’s austerity growth- and job-destroying orthodoxy came to naught.

Before 2009, the EU had an External Relations Commissioner and the EU Council had a High Representative. Ashton combined the posts and did all the work done before by a tandem of skilled foreign policy operatives like Chris Patten and Javier Solana.

She has in fact brought more peace in the Balkans with an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo than any national foreign minister has managed. She has also kept difficult four-way talks (EU, US, Russia and Iran) alive on the problem of Iran’s bid for nuclear power status.

And now she has to be replaced. A group of all the main European foreign policy opinionators ranging from ex-foreign ministers like Spain’s Ana Palacio, ex-foreign policy advisors like Charles Powell, and policy experts like Charles Grant, Mark Leonard, Andres Ortega and Aleksander Smolar have appealed to EU governments to appoint someone ‘who can coordinate European policy and re-examine its global strategy.’ Moreover the new Hi Rep must be chosen ‘not on the narrow basis of geography, or quotas’ but ‘the best candidate must be chosen’ as ‘Europe’s place in the world’ is at stake.

This eoloquent language sounds noble though it is doubtful if Charles Powell, when advising Margaret Thatcher, would have paid any attention to Brussels. Many of the other politician-signatories endorse EU foreign policy as long as it support their own national foreign policy line as any British minister who has discussed Gibraltar with Madrid can testify.

And that is the rub. The EU Hi Rep cannot go beyond what is acceptable in Paris, London, Berlin and other capitals. In fact, if a Hi Rep offered the kind of resounding leadership and vision described by the think-tankers and retired foreign ministers he or she would quickly find out what it is like to be cut off at the knees.

Right now the EU is seized by the Putin question. Two of the proposed candidates, Frederica Mogherini from Italy and Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva are seen as coming from political backgrounds far too ready to accommodate the Kremlin. Two other names, Poland’s Radek Sikorski or Sweden’s Carl Bildt, have from the opposite profile – they have made foreign policy careers out of being strongly anti-Moscow. Is there someone out there who has no sharp edges – a Goldilocks Hi Rep who can stand up to Kremlin bullying but not to the point of confrontation? Someone who can speak for EU public opinion after Gaza but not renounce Europe’s duty to protect Israel from terrorism and anti-semitic ideology?

Equally, is there someone who can find ways of speaking for Europe without irritating EU leaders who see statements and positions on foreign questions about the last bit of Spielraum they have in a world where economic issues are decided by banks and markets, and no EU national leader has the clout of a de Gaulle or a Thatcher in world affairs?

And will other commissioners in areas like international development or trade be ready to submit to wider EU foreign policy as defined by the Hi Rep? All these questions are expected to be answered by the end of August. The superman or woman to succeed Cathy Ashton may be hidden somewhere in Europe. But it is hard to spot him or her right now.

Denis MacShane is Britain’s former minister of Europe.

first published Eu Reporter 13 August 2014


London-grad: British Capital Under Russian Influence
Britain looks to move away from Russia, but London stands in the way.
By Denis MacShane, August 11, 2014

“Hand Back the Roubles, Dave” screamed the front-page headline of the Daily Mail, Britain’s best-selling middle class tabloid. It was a reference to the oddest tennis game ever in England – and a matter of concern to Prime Minister David Cameron. He needs the Daily Mail’s readers to vote Tory — if he is to win a second term in 2015.
What had happened? At a Conservative Party fund-raiser, Mr. Cameron had offered to play a doubles match, partnered by his rival Boris Johnson. That enticing offer was taken up by the wife of a Russian oligarch and former Putin minister. Mrs. Lubov Chernukhin paid $250,000 (£160,000) for the privilege.
The problem for Cameron was that he took the Russian money and agreed to the tennis game just a few weeks before Russian rockets downed the Malaysian airliner over East Ukraine. Ten British citizens were among the victims.
The Daily Mail is angered by the fact that Cameron and his party are hanging on to the $250,000, as they build up a war chest for the general election to be held in May 2015. Opinion polls are still giving the victory narrowly to the Labour Party, currently in opposition.
London for sale – to Russians
The episode is part of the decade long love affair between the Conservative Party and Vladimir Putin.
Perhaps the most amazing consequence of this romance is that the British capital is now known as Londongrad. Many Brits do not like the fact that their capital city has become the city of choice for oligarchs. It is a place where Russian money has bought political influence openly and crudely.
Even Vladimir Putin mocks London as the place where “the oligarchs have bought Chelsea,” a reference to Roman Abamovich, the owner of the top soccer club. Another oligarch, Evgeny Lebvedev, is the owner of two key newspapers, the Independent, and the respected London Evening Standard, as well as a London TV station.
One in ten of all London homes with a price exceeding $1.5 million was bought by a Russian last year. Mrs. Chernukin and her husband, Vladimir, a former director of Aeroflot, live in a $12 million dollar apartment.
Another Russian donor to the Conservative Party, Andrei Borodin, has fled to London after accusations of a $370 million fraud in Russia. He lives on a $235 million estate near London and paid $67,000 for a portrait of Margaret Thatcher at a Tory fundraiser last year.
The UK Electoral Commission reports $1.5 million in donations from rich Russians to Conservative funds last year. The UK has given visas to 433 Russians since 2008 who invested more than $1.5 million in Britain.
Russians send their children to be educated in elite private boarding schools. The daughter of the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, is a student at the London School of Economics.
Like Putin’s daughters who live outside Russia, the Russian elites have no confidence in their own society. They are adamant about making sure that their offspring can live outside the reach of Russia’s security firms and secret police.
London courts are also where Russian oligarchs fight out their legal battles. London lawyers earned an estimated $150 million from just one court fight between Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky. Lawyers say that 60% of all the cases now heard by London senior commercial courts are linked to disputes over spoils from the ex-Soviet Union.
Another attractive legal market is divorce fights. Londoners have gaped at the fierce legal fallout as elderly Russian oligarchs trade in their wives for slimmer, younger beauties.
For all the Russians’ strong embrace of British law in these various circumstances, none of this has prevented Putin’s agents from turning up in London to silence, quite literally and for good, those deemed enemies of the Russian state.
The most notorious is the Alexander Litvinenko case. The former FSB agent was poisoned by polonium poured into his tea by two Russians in 2006. British police have named their chief suspect, Andrey Lugovy, and asked Moscow for his extradition.
Not very principled
True to his character, which is rooted in oppositional defiance, Putin’s response was to put Lugovy in the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament. There, he is protected by parliamentary immunity, in addition to the fact that the two countries have no extradition agreement.
Under constant pressure from the press and MPs, Mr. Cameron and his recently fired Foreign Secretary, William Hague, have had to raise the Litvinenko assassination with Putin. But they have done their best to slow walk any investigations.
After the annexation of Crimea, one of Cameron’s top Foreign Office advisers went into Downing Street carrying a position paper which was caught by long-range cameras. It said Britain “should not, for now, support trade sanctions.”
No wonder a New York Times op-ed by Ben Judah argued that “Britain is ready to betray the United States to protect the City of London’s hold on dirty Russian money.” The accusation that a Conservative government would “betray” Washington was frank — and it hurt.
Britain faces serious economic fall-out if Russia decides once and for all it does not like London. Oligarchs can relocate to Switzerland, conveniently outside the European Union, or to Dubai.
But since the Swiss go to bed at 10 p.m. every night and the maximum bet that can be placed outside big city casinos is just $25, the country is not much of an attraction for, shall we say, the vulgar end of the Russian nouveau-riche. They find London so much more attractive.
The British establishment, having hitched its fortunes uncomfortably closely to Russia’s, has other reasons to be concerned about a possible fallout for the UK if strife with Russia continues.
Britain’s flagship oil firm BP has a 20% stake in Rosneft, the Russian company which the Putinites set up to take over Yukos’ assets. Rosneft has had a $50 billion fine slapped on it by an international arbitration court in the Hague over its seizure of Yukos’ assets.
Why would that be a headache for Cameron? Here is why: BP dividends pay 15% of all income going into UK pension schemes and Rosneft’s financial obligations diminish key financial flows to BP.
Joined at the hip
British commoners are only slowly becoming aware of how closely their country’s elites are joined at the hip to big Russian money.
But the loss of income to lawyers, real estate agents, luxury goods providers, private schools and top-end universities is enormous, if Russia continues to be sanctioned.
Scores of retired British ministers, serving parliamentarians, royal household courtiers and even the Queen’s cousin, Prince Michael of Kent, have served as board directors or consultants pocketing large sums from Russian oligarchs.
No wonder that Mr. Cameron, who is otherwise so quick to talk principled and advocate a principled course of action, has refused to take any action that might hurt the Kremlin.
True to form, Cameron has attacked the French decision to sell a Mistral class helicopter ship to Russia, a deal negotiated by Nicolas Sarkozy when president of France.
But a House of Commons committee recently revealed that the UK has 285 arms contracts with Russia worth more than $200 million. That makes Cameron’s criticism of France completely hypocritical.
Fraternizing with the Russians
Another astonishing symbol of the degree to which the British Conservative Party is willing to fraternize with the Russians is in the Council of Europe. It has 47 member states, including Russia.
Hard though it may be to believe, British Conservative MPs formed a joint political group with the Putin-controlled Russian Duma deputies in the Council’s parliamentary assembly.
Instead of working with other center-right European parties like Angela Merkel’s CDU, Cameron and the Conservative Party preferred to align themselves with Russia.
How did Cameron get away with that, you wonder? Questions were raised in London about these Putin-Tory links, but issues of international affiliation among political parties are too esoteric for the average UK political reporter to worry about.
It only became a story when Cameron, wising up at long last, abruptly ordered his Conservative MPs to break away from the Russians after the annexation of Crimea.
Like Neville Chamberlain in the 1930s who only woke up to just what authoritarian politics entailed after years of appeasement, Cameron has not known how to deal with Putin or even understand what Putin represents.
To be sure, in recent months, circumstances have changed considerably, whether due to the annexation of sovereign territory of a European state or seeing innocent British lives lost thanks to a Putin-supplied missile.
The resulting fury is changing Britain’s views about Russia. Cameron understands this, as he is no fool.
But taking the Grad out of Londongrad is not easy. Meanwhile, Britain’s prime minister continues to train for a tennis match to justify the payment of $250,000 from a dubious Russian oligarch to Conservative Party funds.
Vital lessons about principles and sheer decency still need to be learned.

Resignation of Sayeeda Warsi


The conventional Westminster bubble accounts of Sayeeda Warsi quitting the government rely on unpleasant Tory spin questioning her motives.
In fact there is a much richer Warsi story to be written about the multiple complexities of the British Muslim communities – the plural is important – which cannot be reduced to the horrors of the Gaza conflict. In 2010 David Cameron described Gaza as a ‘prison camp.’ This week President Hollande of France, Europe’s most pro-Jewish and pro-Israel leader, described what was happening in Gaza as “massacres.”
Cameron dropped his critique swiftly while Hollande spoke for European public opinion. But for the British Kashmiri Muslim community, the Palestinian cause is second to the cause of Kashmir where more than 70,000 Muslims have been killed in the past 25 years since India imposed military rule on the divided, contested nation which is to both India and Pakistan what Kurdistan is to Turkey, Iraq, Syria and now the Islamic State.
Warsi’s mentor and very close friend in her years trying to make her way up the West Yorkshire political ladder was Nazir Ahmed who was made a Labour peer by Tony Blair soon after 1997. Blair’s people did not bother to contact a single Labour person in Yorkshire about the nomination. Ahmed was a local businessman and Labour councillor because in his Labour-run town only Labour could help with planning permission or getting settlement rights for poor people in Kashmir who came to the UK for cousin marriage or for old age family care thus maintaining the stronghold a few men had over the community and its voting behaviour.
A little further into Yorkshire the Kashmiri community was too big to be a one-party show. Bradford threw up Tory council majorities and so Warsi was one of the ambitious wannabees who opted for a Conservative career. Nazir Ahmed, by now a Labour peer, encouraged her and spoke for her in elections to the fury of her Labour opponents. Community always trumps party affiliation.
Cameron like Labour has any number of ageing Muslim businessmen who have done well in Britain to put in the Lords but they are not much use in doing political business. He promoted Warsi even though she told a meeting in Rotherham in the May 2010 election that most Muslims in parliament were without ‘azool’, the Urdu word for honour and they were in politics to promote personal, family or community interests.
She was a feisty peer and made strong speeches against anti-semitism. Unlike Sajid David, Cameron’s hastily promoted Culture Secretary, who turned his back on his religious and communal identity as he went off to New York to work for global finance capital, married outside his faith, and offered himself as a grandson of Thatcher contemptuous of the north, Warsi had always stayed close through marriage, family and presence to her Kashmiri background.
Cameron’s patronizing decision to send her to the dysfunctional Foreign Office under William Hague made matters worse. The FCO has become the graveyard department under Cameron. The UK has managed to alienate Washington and has no friends in Europe where most expect Britain to leave the EU if Cameron’s In-Out referendum is held.
China and Russia ignore the UK and India prefers to buy its military hardware from France and has not supported London at the UN on any major issue since Cameron became PM.
Cameron has fired respected FCO ministers like Alistair Birt and Jeremy Brown to offer ministerial slots to Tory MPs to keep them loyal. Now Caneron has replaced the at least fluent and intellectually able Eurosceptic William Hague, by the overtly anti-EU managerialist Philip Hammond.
The anti-European Treasury has replaced FCO people as Cameron’s principal advisors in No 10 and in Brussels with its own trusties and since 80 per cent of Cameron’s foreign policy time is managing Tory policy on the EU, the FCO, which prefers to work for Britain not a party faction, is sidelined.
But for Warsi, as for all British Kashmiri Muslim citizens, the Kashmir question is uppermost. Like Ireland for Bostonians, or Israel for New York Jews, Kashmir burns up every single British Muslim from the region who now has a UK passport. Unfortunately for her Cameron, Osborne and Hague has put all their eggs in India’s basket, hoping to create a 21st century axis between an old European power and a rising Asian one.
In this process, there is no room for human rights abuses in Kashmir, let alone any consideration of democratic rights for the Kashmiri people and their families who are now British voters.
Labour has expelled its two most prominent spokesmen on Kashmir, namely the peer, Nazir Ahmed and the MP, George Galloway because of the stridency of their anti-Israel views which easily cross the line into old language about Zionists or Jews. Now Cameron has forced out of his cabinet the one Tory high-profile minister who really understands and can speak to Kashmiri Brits. At a stroke Cameron has lost a vital voting block in may key constituencies in the North and the Midlands where Kashmiri Muslim politics is well-organized and can deliver votes.
But the real problem is that after decades of treating Kashmiri Brits as voting fodder, the Westminster political-journalist elite does not grasp that they matter, they are real people, and will affect the future foreign policy of Britain as British voters who are fed up being patronized by out-of-touch political leaders and journalists.