Losing EU Referendums. Easy When You Know How

How to Lose an EU Referendum

By Denis MacShane

Today (29 May) is the tenth anniversary of the biggest referendum on Europe held this century. In France and the Netherlands, two founding member states of the European integration project voters said No to the proposed constitutional treaty.

It was called a constitution but in reality was just another treaty agreed between member states after arduous negotiations. Curiously the proposed text excluded the words ‘ever-closer union of peoples’ which today is exercising British demands for a new deal from the EU sufficient to persuade David Cameron to throw his weight behind a campaign to stay in Europe.

In France President Chirac assumed a Oui vote was in the bag. Opinion polls showed a 70 per cent support for the EU constitution. After all, had not France been a founding father of European integration and recovered the honour and rank lost in the 1940 defeat and occupation and then in foolish wars in Vietnam and Algeria?

The Socialist Party was fervently pro-European and the images of Franco-German reconciliation  within the EU reflected in the photograph of Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterrand reaching out to hold each other’s hand at Verdun were the most re-published press photo in French journalism.

But quickly the Yes campaign lost the edge. It had the money. It had business on its side. It had two political heavyweights – the French foreign minister, Michel Barnier, and the Socialist Party’s top European expert, Pierre Moscovici – as co-chairs. It had stylish campaigners like Daniel Cohn-Bendit. The French press unlike our own more Eurosceptic media was solidly in favour.

But it took the Oui for granted. The Non camp consisted of the far left of Communists and Trotskyists and the far right of Jean Marie Le Pen and his daughter, Marine, and their growing Front National party network.

In 1992, a referendum in France nearly scuppered the Masstricht Treaty. The losers in that campaign sought their revenge in 2005. Two prominent socialists, the former prime minister, Laurent Fabius, today France’s foreign minister and Arnaud Montebourg, sacked last year as France’s Minister of the Economy, decided to join the Non campaign.

The Nonistes appealed to French workers, to the unemployed, to the poor, to the left-behinds in the globalised EU and told them their unhappy state was because their nation had surrendered too much power to international capital which dominated the European Union. The faceless Eurocrats, or Federastes as Jean Marie Le Pen called them, had robbed France of the power to protect its citizens from the forces of market competition and open frontiers.

The Oui camp had the plush Paris offices and big business lined up. But it had no idea how to reach out to ordinary worried French people. It was complacent about victory.  Those who want to win Britain’s Brexit plebiscite should start learning French.

 

Denis MacShane is a former Europe minister under Tony Blair and author of Brexit : How Britain Will Leave Europe published by IB Tauris

Open Letter to Muchael Gove published in the Guardian  22 May 2105

 

Dear Michael Gove,

One of the pleasant surprises I got while banged up in Belmarsh was a letter from you expressing sympathy and solidarity. Like many MPs who know the truth of the events that led me to prison, and the double standards of one MP and the then director of public prosecutions, you extended a hand of friendship. This was based, I assume, on our common intellectual interest and our talks over the years about the need to understand and confront some of the evil ideologies – such as antisemitism and Islamism – that have become so modish this century.

So although I am now well out of politics, except to argue for Britain’s place in Europe, I was delighted at your appointment. Prison reform was once the glory of the do-gooding English, including many reformist liberal Tories. Sadly today, despite the heroic efforts of Frances Crook of the Howard League for Penal Reform and other charities, the reformers seem to have no impact on policy. I hope you can change that.

The prison disaster is well known from the reports of Nick Hardwick: ever increasing suicides and little rehabilitation

The British prison disaster is well known from the reports of the chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick: ever-increasing suicides and little rehabilitation, with up to 70% of released prisoners back inside within 12 months. The treatment of young offenders at Rainsbook detention centre is the latest revelation of the shameful way we treat those sent inside. Prison staff morale is low. At £14bn, the cost is enormous.

The root cause is the massive increase in prison numbers in the last two decades. Under Margaret Thatcher there were 40,000 prisoners. Like you, she was hardly a bleeding-heart liberal. Yet she did not share the obsession of her successors with mass incarceration. Under David Cameron, UK prisoner numbers are touching 86,000. In the first week of his new premiership, prison numbers increased by 100. Do the maths. What will this be after five more years! This is far higher than equivalent European democracies, which have similar levels of crime but do not seem to need to put so many people inside at such cost to taxpayers.

In the first four years of the coalition government, 1,073 new criminal offences were created. This adds to the 4,300 new crimes in the 13 years of the Labour government before 2010. I was pleased at the announcement that women could no longer be sent to prison over nonpayment of the BBC licence fee. Many inside are there because of debt, just as in Dickens’ time.

No party dares to ask if our judges are adequately trained or are capable of rethinking their pro-prison prejudices. The Tory manifesto wants judges to face challenges if they are considered to have sentenced too leniently. This is an open door to atavistic tabloid editors to create a storm over any sentence they don’t like, and will further press prison-junkie judges to send more inside for longer, with more pressure on the dysfunctional Crown Prosecution Service to initiate prosecutions rather than say that many add nothing to public safety.

No one is willing to make money available to help educate or rehabilitate prisoners, or stop so many being sent in

Your party’s manifesto called for “a semi-custodial sentence allowing for a short, sharp spell in custody to change behaviour”. There is no explanation of what “semi-custodial” means, but it suggests yet more men and women put inside. Far from changing behaviour, most prisons are universities of crime, riddled with drugs and mobile phones smuggled in by staff.

As an author yourself, I know you won’t repeat the fatuous policy of your predecessor of banning books being sent to prisoners. But why did I have to steal paper and pens inside Belmarsh even to scribble diary notes?

There don’t seem to be any MPs up for serious prison reform. No one wants to ask if the mass incarceration policy of the last 20 years really works and why it is so costly. No one is willing to make money available to help educate or rehabilitate prisoners, to stop so many being sent in or to help those released recover work and dignity.

Now you have as your shadow Charlie Falconer, who likes ideas and reading books just as much as you do. Can you meet him privately – maybe at The Clink, the excellent Brixton prison restaurant – and decide to declare a truce so that both of you work to change the mass incarceration policy in place since the mid-90s? You can drop infantile populist attacks on Labour, and Falconer should welcome any serious efforts to reduce prison numbers without headline-seeking accusations of being soft on crime. Go on: there is no need to make party politics out of prisons.

Sadly, unless policy changes, prisons in 2015-2020 are going to be in an as bad, if not worse, state than they are now – with more people inside, more suicides, and little hope of recidivism reducing. You can make a difference. Will you?

Yours, Denis

 

Eureporter 27 May 2015

EU becoming less popular in elections but that’s no help to Cameron
Denis MacShane

The May round of elections are not turning out to be votes of confidence in the existing EU order. David Cameron’s Eurosceptic Conservatives won an overall majority and have now launched the UK on a perilous path of a Brexit plebiscite that may lead Britain out of Europe.
Now elections in Poland and Spain highlight how voters are turning away from the EU-ordained policies in place since the financial crisis. Even in Northern Ireland there is a revolt in the regional assembly there against EU-style austerity measures insisted upon by the Treasury in London using the same language about cuts and fiscal discipline as a member of the EU-IMF-ECB troika might use about the wayward Greeks.
In Poland, the incumbent president was ousted by the nationalist statist catholic party, PiS (Law and Justice.) The new president, Andrezj Duda, is a lawyer MEP who began political life in Krakow with the liberal reformists in the Solidarity movement grouped around Tadeuz Mazowiekci and Bronislaw Geremek. He moved onto PiS and worked closely with the Kaczynski bothers.
The surviving Kaczynski, Jaroslaw, who is hoping to become prime minister in October elections to the Sjem, pushed his protégé to run for President against the Civic Platform incumbent. Civic Platform has been in power since 2007 but PiS is likely to emerge as the biggest party in October though like David Cameron in 2010 without an overall majority.
Duda’s mother has already been on Polish TV saying she has told her son he must be a president for ‘all Poles” and not a party hack but if PiS provides both the Prime Minister and President in the autumn, few doubt Poland will veer off in a more nationalist direction, closer to Viktor Orban’s Hungary than being a poorer version of Germany.
Does this help David Cameron in his search for support for his view on a different Europe and a different set of rules for Britain? Not really. Certainly PiS is in same group in the European Parliament as the Conservatives and the PiS line is for more power for nations in Europe and less for the EU. Duda speaks good English and does modern rather well.
But in terms of politics, Duda and PiS are on the opposite sides of most fences to Cameron other than a dislike of the EU and Brussels. Duda will not support any discrimination against Polish citizens working in the UK or seeking work in the UK which is a core demand in Cameron’s renegotiations with the EU. He opposes economic liberalism, the single market, the presence of foreign banks in Poland, the competition from French supermarket chains in Poland, the sale of Airbus helicopters to the Polish military (he wants a made-in-Poland helicopter), any reform of Poland’s bloated pension system and early retirement for clientalist supporters such as mineworkers.
In his election campaign he made generous spending promises which Polish economists reckon amount to the nation’s annual budget. He has opposed any limits on the use of lignite (brown coal) which provides 90 percent of Polish energy needs so is at odds with the UK government’s stated green energy policy. He wants to see CAP transfers to Polish farmers increased and like most Polish politicians he opposes the UK rebate to which Warsaw is now a significant contributor.
So while he is not in tune with the Brussels economic establishment he is far from being in the same place as British Eurosceptics. This anti-Brussels mood was also seen in Spain where an anti-homeless campaigner became Mayor of Barcelona promising to reduce by 80 per cent the salary of the city’s chief officials. In Madrid, the 25-year reign of the Partido Popular, the current ruling party in Spain, also came to an end. It is not sure if the Podemos candidate, a 67 year old judge, can take office as the Socialist Party is as dismayed by the rise of the anti-EU austerians in Spain as the ruling centre-right.
In Italy, the prime minister, Matteo Renzi, called over the weekend for a ‘Third Way in Europe between the excesses of the Wolfgang Schäuble style austerity ideology on one hand and on the other the flamboyant and never-world promises of Syriza or Italian parties like Beppe Grillo’s 5-star movement.
Even in Northern Ireland, the left parties of Sinn Fein and Social Democratic Labour Party are blocking austerity cuts which the protestant unionists parties are willing to impose and as a result the UK finance ministry is now cutting funds to Northern Ireland much as the EU Commission, IMF and ECB are always threatening to cut of cash for Greece unless Athens accepts full-on austerity ideology.
So Europe appears more centrifugal and less cohesive as elections take place. Claims that the new Polish president is a new ally for the UK are as wrong as the idea that Spain is about to move totally to the left. But there is a new political order trying to be born in Europe as voters make clear they want something different but what that new EU should be is far from obvious.

Eureporter 22 May 2015

 

There was a PM in Riga, who went for ride on the ‘EU Tiger’…

 

Opinion by Denis MacShane

In EU negotiations, like in love and sex, clarity of communications is essential. Knowing when ‘No’ means no, and when maybe means not yet and please stop asking for what I can’t deliver is part of the essential vocabulary.

As the UK prime minister arrives in Riga for his first European Council since his return to Downing Street with his small, but his very own, majority the communications from London seem less than clear.

Last week, for example, the headline briefing based on an interview the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, gave the Financial Times, was that: “Treaty change was no longer a political goal.”  There was an audible sigh of relief in other EU capitals that finally there read-our-lips message ‘No Treaty Change’ had finally got through to Downing Street.

Today however, in the same paper, it is reported that Cameron wants “full-on Treaty change”.  The curious term “full-on” is new in Eurospeak and not one associated with the normally precise unambiguous language of Foreign Office specialists who do these negotiations.

But it does sound as if the prime minister has just reversed his foreign secretary’s denial that Treaty change was necessary.

So once again, the EU leaders, not just the bad boys in Brussels, will have to spell out there is no chance of a new EU Treaty this side of the French and German elections in 2017 and according to the Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, no chance of a new EU Treaty in the lifetime in of the current Commission, which ends in 2019.

By that time Cameron will have stopped being prime minister. If parliaments cannot bind their successors, can statements about what might be in some putative future EU Treaty be considered sacrosanct when a whole team of new prime ministers, presidents and EU commissioners will be place?

According to Bruno Waterfield, the energetic new Brussels correspondent of The Times, the latest demand from Downing Street is that the EU agrees some statement that more than the Euro currency is used in Europe. This may cause some head-scratching in Warsaw, Stockholm and the nine EU member states which don’t use the Euro. But if Cameron thinks he can win the referendum with a statement that zloty, crown and forint are still is circulation why not give it to him?

As with the obsession with the phrase “ever closer union of peoples” which has been in the preamble of EU Treaties since 1957 and which has no legal effect, London gives the impression of wanting to find minor symbols of change that can be brought back to Britain to prove the prime minister has obtained major concessions.

It seems hard to imagine Brussels and EU national leaders bothering too much in signing a bit of paper saying that at the moment when the next EU Treaty is negotiated Britain can have its paragraphs saying that more than one currency is in use or that the British people – maybe by then just the English people – don’t need to worry about getting closer to other peoples.

Whether that is enough to satisfy Cameron’s Eurosceptic ministers and MPs and swing the Eurosceptic press into line for a campaign in support of saying yes to the EU is another question.

Already the briefing has begun about anti-EU cabinet ministers being unhappy about a quick negotiation and referendum. The Eurosceptic think tank, Open Europe, has published 30 reforms it believes the UK should extract from the EU and the Eurosceptic Business for Britain organization has published ten concessions Britain should extract from Europe. These includes limits on European citizens coming to work in the UK.

It is hard to see how this can be achieved without instituting a visa regime for entry into the UK or specific work permit quotas. That would be completely contrary to EU Treaties and would invite immediate reciprocal discrimination against the 2.2 millions Brits who live and work in other EU countries.

British business also lacks clarity with the bosses of JCB and BT – two major FTSE firms – contradicting each other on the BBC this week as Lord Bamford of JCB said he could happily quit the EU while Sir Mike Rake of BT said it would be a disaster.

There have been endless friendly signals from the continent that everyone wants to help Mr Cameron stay in Europe and anything that can be done within the treaties and without breaching core EU law and principles will be done.

But Paris, Berlin, Warsaw and Brussels are all saying No means No on any measure that means an EU citizen working side by side doing the same job as a British citizen will receive inferior pay. And No means No on the idea of changing the Treaty in time for Mr Cameron’s plebiscite which many think has to happen in 2016 before he becomes deeply unpopular as cuts and austerity worsens and the referendum is a vote on him rather than the EU.

Luckily Mr Cameron does not have to make a Commons statement on Riga as parliament does not start work until later next week. But sooner or later he is going to have to make his position clear to his own Eurosceptic party and press, to his fellow EU leaders, and to voters who will decide Britain’s place in Europe and the prime minister’s place in history.

Denis MacShane is a former minister of Europe and author of Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe published by IB Tauris.

 

The European Union as a Foreign Policy Weakling
Does the EU lack the will to deal with its eastern “partners” at Riga?
By Denis MacShane, May 21, 2015

It used to be said about NATO that it was designed to keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down.
In a similar vein, the EU’s foreign policy vis-à-vis its unhappy neighbors consists of giving Russia too much say, while the Balkan and other non-EU Eastern European nations are offered an unfortunate mix of too little hope, too many lectures and not enough solidarity.
As a result, the hopes that the European Union would transform non-EU European states into functioning market economy democracies appear to be hollow.

And once again, the EU seems unable to stop Russia from being the tail that wags the EU foreign policy dog in the near neighborhood that Russia and the EU share.

Given the weight of history, all of this is unfortunate. It has been 20 years since the Katyn-style massacre inSrebrenica, when 8,000 European Muslims were taken out by Serbs and slaughtered in cold blood.

But the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina is no closer to Europe today than when its young men were killed by Serb war criminals, few of whom have ever answered for their acts.
Four hundred miles further south in Macedonia, deadly violence has erupted, as Macedonian politics is conducted in a way that guarantees conflict and no sense of alternating parties in power.

Meanwhile, the EU has all but given up on twisting arms, offering inducements or even getting all its own member states to do simple things like recognize Kosovo and Macedonia.
The EU plus Six (really Seven) at Riga
At the May 21-22 EU Summit in Riga, EU officials will try to show that Europe can change its eastern neighbors for the better. Six countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine — will sit down with the EU to draw up a summit declaration.

The eighth participant in the Riga summit is Russia. It has not been invited and does not have its flag at the table. However, through its client state, Armenia, the Kremlin will seek to influence the summit.
This influence will primarily occur through the positions taken on Azerbaijan, where Armenia occupies part of Azeri sovereign territory — in defiance of both the UN and the Council of Europe. The case is similar to Russia now occupying a chunk of Ukraine via Crimea.

The inability of the EU to shape a policy to deal with Russian aggression in Ukraine has left the Russians feeling cocky and on a roll.
Russia has a plan
The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, has just visited Belgrade in an effort to shore up Serb nationalist positions on Kosovo and present Russia as the region’s friend.
Lavrov’s bigger point, of course, is that Russia has a plan — in contrast to the EU, which is unable to offer effective solutions, such as were found to allow Croatia and Slovenia to enter the EU. Russia does not intend to leave other post-Yugoslav states in limbo.

Russia is central to the EU’s inability to develop a relationship with its eastern neighbors.
The Kremlin is engaged in a variety of maneuvers — military support of Armenian irredentism in Azerbaijan, destabilizing Moldova with its troops in the breakaway Moldovan frontier region of Transnistria, and all but annexing outright the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Ukraine remains the biggest headache. Russia skillfully keeps tensions aflame, with a carefully stage-managed sending of troops and arms to separatists. Russian support in Eastern Ukraine is calibrated to ensure permanent destabilization of Kiev, but is not so crude as to produce a firm and united EU response.
Washington tilts and the EU fumbles
Washington’s tilt away from Europe under Obama has placed responsibility on the EU to sort out its backyard. However, despite grandiose claims to a European foreign policy, the nation states of the EU, as well as Brussels itself, cannot get their act together.

There are demands that the six eastern partnership states clean up their democracies and raise human rights standards.
Human Rights Watch has just cited Armenia for detaining opposition activists who wanted to stage a peaceful demonstration about lack of freedom in Armenia.

Meanwhile, Georgia is demanding that Ukraine hand over former Georgian president Misha Saakashvili, who put his country on the global map after tackling corruption and growing the economy.
Saakashvili is now an advisor on economic and institutional reform to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The former Georgian leader is Putin’s International Public Enemy Number One and few doubt his fate if Kiev handed him over.

True, ballot box and media freedoms are not much in evidence in Belarus and Azerbaijan. But is the EU’s inclination to treat their governments as perpetual pariahs or political lepers an effective policy?

In short, Europe has no offer, even in modest areas like visa liberalization, student scholarships, or trade and transport contacts that can turn the hopes of an effective EU Eastern Partnership policy into delivered reality.

A year after the new EU Commission arrived in office, its foreign policy successes are meager.

David Cameron’s Triple-Speak

Britain seems to be toning down its demands from Brussels for a new European relationship as a basis for an EU membership referendum that Prime Minister David Cameron may bring forward to next year from the earlier planned 2017. The problem is ‘triple-speak’. Cameron has to speak to three audiences at once, and make sure his message achieves the desired effect each time – a near-impossible task.

The first audience is middle-of-the-road British opinion (including much of the business community) that isn’t in love with Europe but doesn’t want to leave. To these people, Cameron has to suggest reasonableness, emphasising that he is opposed to ‘Brexit’ and wants to get the referendum out of the way.

A second set of listeners are eurosceptics in the Conservative party (including many new ministers) and in the anti-EU UK press. Cameron has to tell them he is being tough with Europe and means it.

And to the third audience, the European Commission and other member states, Cameron has to say that a British exit can happen, and will, unless they give him lots of concessions. The danger is that getting all three messages in sequence without blatant contradictions is tricky.

Cameron’s four close-to-minimalist demands, we are led to believe, cover excising treaty language describing the EU as ‘an ever-closer union of peoples’, changing rules on social benefits for EU migrant workers, giving more power to national parliaments, and agreeing that the euro area cannot impose rules discriminating against non-euro countries.
If these reports are right, then agreement with Brussels on the Cameron list could be achieved before the summer holiday. But this would not please the Tory eurospectics. There is nothing here about limiting immigrants, repatriating powers or allowing the House of Commons to veto EU law and policy. This is certain to pose the prime minister considerable domestic challenges.
Things will not be so easy in Brussels either. While Cameron’s spin doctors have been offering in London the vision of a quick and cheerful easy deal, George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, who is charge of the negotiations, got a tongue-lashing in Brussels this week as fellow finance ministers told him to lower expectations.
Michel Sapin, the French finance minister, said Britain was like Greece, insisting on tortuous negotiations that would get nowhere, and ruled out changing the EU treaty. Wolfgang Schäuble, his German counterpart, who has similar views about the possibility of a short-term treaty change, said that Osborne had made ‘unnecessary’ remarks about the euro area to which the UK does not belong.
A closer look at Cameron’s new stance reveals that the four demands aren’t that benign. Take, for example, the call for the euro area to take a non-discriminatory line on rules affecting non-members. If, by that, Cameron means that he wants a veto, or even a say, on the (indispensable) strengthening of monetary union and/or a regulatory holiday for the City, he won’t get it. He tried this at the European Council of December 2011 during a discussion on banking union. He achieved nothing.
Even Scandinavian counterparties, from whom Cameron expected some support, failed to back him. This was partly because no one from Downing Street thought of giving them a call before the meeting. And the Scandinavians were increasingly tired of the British taking them for granted.

This episode may have been forgotten in London. But that’s not the case on the continent.

Britain’s strategy of engaging Berlin in the hope that Chancellor Angela Merkel will somehow manage to silence the remaining 26 member states is very risky. People elsewhere – not just in Paris and Brussels – are frustrated about being taken for a quantité négligeable by arrogant British negotiators. Unless Cameron is very careful, that may get worse.
For better or for ill, the EU is a system where the institutions matter, as do all member states, large and small. And euro watchers know that, even if Merkel is the dominant force, she does not always get it her way, not even (and especially) when it comes to German taxpayers’ money.

Cameron’s toned down demands may be a step in the right direction. But serious complications lie ahead. Negotiating the shoals of ‘triple-speak’ will not be plain sailing.

OMFIF

   
  Cameron’s struggle on Europe  
   
  Pollsters’ view on Brexit discredited  
  By Denis MacShane  
The forthcoming campaign towards a referendum on possible British departure from the European Union will represent one of Britain’s most difficult two year periods in the post-war era.

The plebiscite, a near-certainty in 2017 following the victory of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives in last Thursday’s election, is much more important than the UK’s referendum in 1975 on whether to stay in the European Economic Community Britain joined two years earlier. It eclipses previous votes in other countries on whether  to back new European treaties or to join the European single currency. 

Large sections of the political and business leadership and the press claim there is so much wrong with the EU that only a major renegotiation of the UK’s status can put it right.

Cameron’s negotiating demands will be of particular importance. There will be a long list. It will probably include an end to free cross-border movement of citizens, withdrawal from European social legislation applying to UK firms, and removal of some vague-sounding words about  ‘ever closer union of peoples’ that have been in the European treaties since 1957.

Other items seem likely to be the right of the UK parliament to reject EU rules or policies it does not like, and special protection for the City so the UK financial industry can opt out of EU regulations.  Such ideas are backed by senior Conservatives like Sir John Major, the former prime minister, and Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, as well as most Tory MPs.

Sensible pro-Europeans like Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform and Mark Leonard of the European Council on Foreign Relations have set out more modest demands which they believe the EU can concede and Cameron should seek to obtain.

The problem for such think-tank recommendations is that the EU question is about raw political emotion not rational balance sheet formulae. Cameron won last Thursday’s victory partly by appealing to English nationalism, including adopting demands for an EU plebiscite made originally by the anti-European Ukip party. The Conservatives targeted with precision campaigning seats in England held by the pro-European Liberal Democrats, Cameron’s coalition partners since 2010 in what was always a marriage of convenience that has now been spectacularly dissolved.

The victory was more comprehensive than anyone could have anticipated, given pre-election polls. Yet Cameron has a smaller majority than achieved in 1992 by Major, who subsequently faced considerable pressure from anti-EU backbenchers. Cameron’s party is full of MPs who were selected as candidates by promising local associations they would oppose the EU.

Many pro-Europeans believe that the British would never vote to quit Europe. This is misguided. Opinion polls to that effect are quoted. But Thursday’s outcome has discredited the pollsters. The idea that the referendum is unlosable needs revision.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission president, has made clear he wants to help Britain stay in the EU, but not at any price. Manfred Weber, an influential pro-European politician from Germany’s Christian Social Union, says, ‘Cameron has to put his demands on the table. But the EU freedoms are not negotiable.’

Juncker, too, insists on the sanctity of EU rules on freedom of movement. At a meeting in the Bundestag on Friday, Jens Zimmerman, the Social Democrat deputy chair of the Anglo-German parliamentary committee, said there was no question of ‘meeting impossible demands from David Cameron’.

A smart move by Cameron would be to lead the Conservative Party back into the European People’s party in the European parliament, showing he wanted to rejoin the mainstream European centre-right. But this would produce a revolt among Tory MEPs and cause general Conservative upheaval, so it probably won’t happen.

One major question is whether the European Commission or Council does the negotiations with Cameron. Every proposal and any final deal will have to be accepted by the other 27 member states, many with rules about referendums regarding EU changes. The European parliament will want to have its say. Martin Schulz, its plain-spoken president, will probably not accept any weakening of European social legislation. The same is true of left-wing leaders like François Hollande in France or Matteo Renzi in Italy.

Cameron, in the aftermath of an unexpected victory, is on the crest of a wave. But no one should be fooled into thinking that his European task will be anything but a bitter struggle on several fronts.

Denis MacShane, a former UK Minister for Europe and author of Brexit: How Britain will leave Europe, is a member of the OMFIF Advisory Board.  
   
   

 

Politico 10 May 2015

OPINION
Ten key points on Brexit
Pro-Europeans mustn’t be complacent. They have an uphill battle to keep the UK in the EU.
By DENIS MACSHANE

11/5/15, 5:30 AM CET

Updated 10/5/15, 11:14 PM CET
1. The lead-up to the Brexit referendum is going to be the trickiest two years in Britain’s post-war history. For the first time in the history of the EU, a nation will be offered a plebiscite in which the option is not one of saying no to a treaty, or rejecting eurozone membership, but of voting to leave the organization itself.
2. The British have been told by their politicians, the press and their business leaders that there is so much wrong with the EU that only a major renegotiation of the UK’s status within the EU can put this right.
3. Senior Conservatives like John Major and Boris Johnson as well as most Tory MPs call for an end of free movement, an end to social Europe applying to UK firms, and the removal of windy words about “ever closer union of peoples” that have been in treaties since 1957. They assert the right of the UK Parliament to reject EU rules or policies it does not like, and want special protection for the City of London, so the UK’s banks, hedge funds, and the financial industry can opt out of EU regulations.
4. By contrast, pro-Europeans like Charles Grant of the Commission on European Reform and Mark Leonard of the European Council of Foreign Relations have set out more modest demands, which they believe the EU can concede and David Cameron should seek to obtain.
5. The problem for the professional think-tankers is that the EU question is about raw political emotion, not rational balance-sheet formulae. Mr Cameron won his victory by appealing to English nationalism, by adopting the UKIP demand for a plebiscite, and by targeting Liberal Democrat seats in England with precision campaigning. He has a smaller majority than John Major had in 1992, and his party is full of MPs who won selection as candidates by promising local associations they would oppose the EU.
6. There is a Panglossian feeling among many pro-Europeans that, at the end of the day, the British would never, ever, vote to quit Europe. They quote opinion polls to that effect, even after the pollsters have been utterly discredited. Labour MPs in Scotland were convinced that their giant majorities would protect many, if not all, from the SNP. The Lib Dems never believed they could lose 50 seats and see a major pro-EU voice effectively eliminated from British politics. The idea that the referendum is unloseable surely needs revision.
7. What can Europe do? Commission President Jean Claude Juncker has made clear he wants to help Britain stay in the EU — but not at any price. Manfred Weber, the influential German CSU politician, says “On the referendum, the ball is in Mr Cameron’s court. He has to put his demands on the table. But the EU freedoms are not negotiable.” Juncker also insists on the sanctity of EU rules on freedom of movement. At a meeting in the Bundestag on the day after the election, Jens Zimmerman, the SPD MP and chair of the Anglo-German parliamentary committee, said there was no question of “meeting impossible demands from David Cameron.” A smart move by Cameron would be to lead the Conservative Party back into the European Peoples Party as a symbol that he wanted to rejoin the mainstream centre-right in Europe. But this would produce a revolt by Tory MEPs like Daniel Hannan and cause such upheaval in the Tory Party that it’s unlikely to happen.
8. It is not clear who actually does the negotiating with Cameron — the Commission or the Council. Every proposal and any final deal will have to be accepted by 27 member states, many with complex internal rules about referendums on changes in how the EU works, and with Eurosceptic political forces who will insist that any concession to the UK should apply in their countries as well. The European Parliament will want to have its say and it is hard to see its plain-spoken president, Martin Schulz, accepting any weakening of social Europe. This would also be true of leaders like Hollande in France or Renzi in Italy.
9. Brussels has no problem with ending “benefit tourism” —claims for full access to welfare payments by EU citizens recently moved to another EU country. The European Court of Justice, in a landmark ruling, has already upheld the decision of the German government to refuse such benefits. But what the Tories, UKIP and much of the British press want is for Britain to be able to limit the number of Poles, Slovakians, Bulgarians and so forth who actually come and work in the UK.
10. There are suggestions that a referendum can be held before Cameron’s deadline of 2016. There is merit in this, but it will still require an enormous effort to reverse the two decades of anti-EU feeling generated by Tory-UKIP politicians, especially brilliant populist performers like Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and William Hague, as well as the anti-EU conga-line of mass circulation editors. Pro-Europeans in Britain need to move, and move fast. Otherwise it will be too late.
Denis MacShane is a former British Labour MP and Minister for Europe and author of Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe (IB Tauris).

Elections au Royaume-Uni : “Un ‘Brexit’ serait dévastateur pour l’Europe”
Par Sarah Halifa-Legrand
Voir tous ses articles
Publié le 09-05-2015 à 16h59

Avec sa promesse d’organiser un référendum sur la sortie du Royaume-Uni de l’UE, David Cameron mène son pays et l’Europe à “la catastrophe”, s’alarme Denis MacShane, ex-ministre travailliste des Affaires européennes. Interview.

Comment expliquez-vous la victoire écrasante de David Cameron, le leader du parti conservateur ?
- C’est la conséquence à la fois de la disparition de tous les sièges travaillistes en Ecosse au profit des indépendantistes et de la disparition des sièges des libéraux démocrates au profit des conservateurs. Cette victoire, c’est évidemment aussi la défaite du Labour, qui n’a pas su répondre aux attentes des électeurs.
Mais il faut être prudent. Souvenons-nous que la victoire de John Major en 1992 n’avait pas empêché son gouvernement, six mois plus tard, de sombrer dans les guerres internes et de rester dans les mémoires comme le gouvernement le plus misérable depuis la guerre. David Cameron a obtenu une majorité très étroite et risque d’être lui aussi très prochainement aux prises avec ses frondeurs anti-européens qui veulent la sortie du pays de l’Union européenne.
La promesse de David Cameron d’organiser un référendum en 2017 sur ce fameux “Brexit” (la sortie du Royaume-Uni de l’Union européenne) n’a pas influé sur le vote ?
- La question du référendum n’a pas fait partie des sujets de la campagne électorale. Les médias des autres pays européens ont accordé beaucoup plus d’attention à cette question que les médias britanniques. Il y a eu une conspiration du silence. Les conservateurs ont évité d’en parler pour ne pas faire peur aux grands patrons de la City, pro-européens contrairement aux petits patrons de PME qui se plaignent des contraintes de l’UE. Et les travaillistes ont également préféré se taire pour ne pas rappeler à leurs électeurs qu’en refusant la tenue d’un référendum, ils les privent de la possibilité de s’exprimer sur cette question.
De la même manière que dans les années 30 on évitait d’évoquer la menace de la guerre, on a refusé cette fois de considérer les conséquences d’un “Brexit”. Mais en étouffant tout débat sur les réels enjeux, ils ont laissé le champ libre à tous ceux qui critiquent l’Union européenne et font campagne pour en sortir.
La population britannique est-elle majoritairement favorable à un Brexit ?
- Les sondages sur cette question sont très difficiles à déchiffrer. Tout dépend de la formulation. Lorsqu’on demande : “Si l’Europe est réformée êtes-vous prêts à y rester ?”, la réponse est majoritairement oui. Lorsqu’on demande : “Etes-vous en faveur de l’Union européenne ?”, la réponse est non. Mais si la question posée est : “Etes-vous prêt à sortir de l’UE demain ?”, le résultat est alors 50/50. Reste qu’après cette élection, plus personne n’ose prendre pour argent comptant les sondages, qui nous avaient prédit un résultat très serré entre conservateurs et travaillistes !
David Cameron dit lui-même que son objectif n’est pas un “Brexit” mais la renégociation des termes d’adhésion de la Grande Bretagne à l’UE. Cependant, vous écrivez dans votre livre (“Brexit : How Britain Will Leave Europe”) que le “Brexit” est “probable”…
- Oui, parce que David Cameron veut l’Europe de ses rêves. Il ne souhaite pas sortir de l’UE à condition de vivre dans l’Europe de son choix. Mais comment va-t-il faire pour convaincre 27 Etats membres que ses demandes sont acceptables ? Il dit qu’il faut renégocier les traités. Comment compte-il obtenir une rediscussion des textes en si peu de temps, d’ici 2017 ? Et que va-t-il demander ? On ne sait même pas encore ce qu’il veut exactement.

On sait que le Medef britannique, la Confederation of British Industries (CBI), veut que l’Europe sociale ne s’applique pas au Royaume-Uni. Mais si David Cameron arrive le jour du référendum avec ce type de proposition, une partie de la gauche britannique, du Labour, des indépendantistes écossais, des syndicats pourraient être tentés de dire : nous votons contre cette Europe qui ne défend pas les droits sociaux. C’est ce qui s’est passé en 2005 avec le référendum sur le traité européen en France.

Sur son aile droite, David Cameron va par ailleurs continuer à être sous la pression des anti-Européens et anti-immigration du UKIP, qui, après avoir réclamé la tenue d’un référendum, vont faire campagne jour et nuit pour la sortie de l’Union européenne. S’ils n’ont obtenu qu’un siège, c’est parce que notre système majoritaire par circonscription ne reflète pas leur poids réel : si on avait eu un système purement proportionnel, UKIP aurait gagné 83 sièges (sur 650). Ils ont un bon réseau de conseillers municipaux, une tête d’affiche, Nigel Farage, qui passe très bien à la télé, et un score aux élections européennes de l’année dernière à plus de 25%. Leur discours pèse et va continuer à peser sur l’électorat : même le Labour a dû intégrer dans ses promesses un contrôle sur l’immigration…
Quelles seraient les principales conséquences d’un “Brexit” sur le Royaume-Uni ?
- Ce serait une catastrophe. Déjà parce si les Anglais votent pour sortir de l’UE, les Ecossais voteront certainement pour y rester. L’Ecosse a déjà montré, en donnant aux indépendantistes du SNP 56 des 59 sièges qui lui sont réservés à la Chambre des Communes, qu’elle prend le même chemin que le Québec. Un “Brexit” accélèrera la désintégration du Royaume-Uni. Ce ne sera plus le Royaume-Uni mais le Royaume désuni.

Mais il y aura beaucoup d’autres conséquences. Il faudra plusieurs années pour remplacer toutes les législations européennes. Et les investisseurs étrangers réfléchiront à deux fois avant d’aller s’installer dans un pays où ils n’auront pas accès au marché unique, à moins que les Britanniques n’adoptent le même statut que la Norvège, qui applique toutes les règles européennes… sans la moindre influence sur les décisions de l’Union. Il y aura une frontière entre l’Irlande du Nord et l’Irlande du Sud, qui n’existe pas actuellement. Si on impose des contrôles sur les mouvements des Européens chez nous, on s’exposera à des mesures de rétorsion contre les 2 millions de Britanniques qui résident dans l’UE.
A l’échelle internationale, les Américains seront horrifiés de voir leur allié le plus fiable en dehors de toutes les discussions européennes, dans l’incapacité d’influencer Bruxelles sur le commerce, l’environnement, la surveillance d’internet…
Et sur l’Europe ?
- Ce serait aussi dévastateur. Premièrement, l’Europe aurait, sur sa frontière Est, une Russie agressive qui cherche à la diviser, et, sur sa frontière Ouest, une Grande-Bretagne qui ne l’aime pas. Deuxièmement, cela déséquilibrerait l’Union européenne : l’Allemagne deviendrait totalement hégémonique. Troisièmement, les autres forces anti-européennes en Europe, Marine Le Pen en France, Geert Wilders en Hollande, au Danemark, en Finlande, en Suède et en Allemagne, seraient encouragées à réclamer elles aussi la tenue d’un référendum sur la sortie de leur pays de l’UE. Après le Brexit, et peut-être le Grexit, on risquerait d’avoir le Frexit, le Nexit…
Si le 60ème anniversaire du traité de Rome coïncide avec la sortie des Anglais, les 60 prochaines années risquent d’être marqués par des départs en chaîne. Un “Brexit” perturberait toute l’Europe. C’est à l’Europe de réagir vite. Pas de croissance, pas de réforme, beaucoup de chômage, un manque de leadership… son image n’est plus attirante. Soit elle s’organise pour résoudre ces problèmes, soit elle se désintègre.
Propos recueillis par Sarah Halifa-Legrand
Denis MacShane, ancien député travailliste et ex-ministre des Affaires européennes de Tony Blair, vient de publier : “Brexit : How Britain Will Leave Europe” (éd. I. B. Tauris, non traduit).

UK Elections

OPINION POLITICO EUROPE

Stand by for ‘Brexit’

The political destinies of Scotland, England, and London point in different directions.

By DENIS MACSHANE

The union of the United Kingdom is no more. And the union of the United Kingdom with 27 other European states now comes under serious question. Europe wakes up to its nightmare on Downing Street – the return of a prime minister who is committed to holding an In-Out referendum by 2017. That year sees key elections in Germany and France and, in passing, the 60th anniversary of the 1957 Treaty of Rome, the founding moment of today’s European Union.

Will Britain still be in the EU to share the 60th anniversary celebrations? Or will 2017 mark the beginning of the end of European integration as the British turn their backs on Europe, thereby encouraging other disintegrative nationalisms to turn the EU into a giant centrifuge forcing its component elements ever further apart?

***

The British election is the triumph of three nationalisms. Scottish nationalism has destroyed all hopes of the Labour Party returning to power. Major Labour MPs, including the cerebral shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, have been defeated. Alexander lost to a 20-year-old student standing for the Scottish National Party, which has won nearly every seat in Scotland.

In England, David Cameron’s carefully crafted appeal to English identity has helped the Conservatives. Tory seats that had been won by the Liberal Democrat party from the 1980s onwards have now returned to the fold, and most Liberal Democratic cabinet ministers in the outgoing Conservative-LibDem coalition will lose their seats.

Cameron stole the flagship policy of the nationalist United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which has long campaigned for a referendum to allow Britain to leave the EU. After the Scottish referendum in September – a false dawn for what might be called “the Queen’s party,” those who believe in the sanctity of the union of the United Kingdom – Mr. Cameron insisted that non-English MPs should not be allowed to vote on the same basis as English MPs on legislation applying to England but not to Scotland or Wales.

What Cameron was suggesting was, in effect, dividing the House of Commons into English, Scottish and Welsh sections, signaling the end of a unitary legislature and the beginning of an English political identity in place of a British one.

London has been conquered by the Labour Party, which won Tory and Liberal Democrat seats in the city, small consolations for its wipe-out in Scotland . The ebullient mayor, Boris Johnson, has been elected to parliament, which will afford him time to prepare his bid to replace David Cameron after the promised referendum on EU membership. The next Mayor of London will almost certainly be Labour.

UKIP has not made any major parliamentary breakthroughs. The insurgent party has never claimed to be a party of government, always ruthlessly focused on finding new support for its anti-EU line. But it is expected to make gains among the ranks of newly elected municipal councillors, thus creating a full-time network of elected officials who can campaign for a Brexit.

Ed Miliband’s five weeks of campaigning were better than his five years as Labour Party leader. He sought to bring a post-Blair leftism to life, but in doing so, lost touch with millions of small business owners whose votes he desperately needed.

The big loser is Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democratic leader who led his passionately anti-Conservative Party right into a coalition with David Cameron’s Tories. The LibDems were the lipstick painted on the face of a traditionally right-wing government and have paid a price for turning their coats. “England does not love coalitions,” Benjamin Disraeli once said. The old adage still rings true.

***

The political destinies of Scotland, England, and London point in different directions. Cameron may yet have to find allies to create a working majority, but he, along with the SNP, are the clear winners.

The losers, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, were the flag-bearers of Europeanism in British politics. The SNP says it is pro-EU, paradoxically supporting the UK’s union with Europe while seeking to break apart from the UK itself.

Cameron will have to move forward with his referendum promise. Unlike many of his MPs, Cameron says he wants to stay in the EU but in a “reformed Europe.”

He has called for changes in existing EU Treaties, but European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has ruled out any new treaty this decade. EU Council President Donald Tusk is not likely to make concessions that deny the right of free movement to his fellow Poles.

Conservatives have called for Britain to be able to control the number of EU citizens living and working within its borders, and many pro-Tory business leaders insist that EU-wide social regulations should not apply to Britain. This will encourage Labour and trade union opposition to any deal Cameron brings home for ratification.

Cameron has already announced that he will stand down as prime minister after 2017. “I am more Euroskeptic than you imagine,” he told me in 2005. The top Tories, who have already started jockeying to succeed him, are overtly Euroskeptic. Mayor Boris Johnson boasts that Britain “will flourish outside the EU.”

The UK’s political jigsaw has broken apart and the new pieces have yet to be crafted. The rest of Europe, Washington, and Moscow should all begin thinking hard about the possibility, even the probability, that Britain will vote to leave the EU. The EU has not yet been able to find a solution to its Greek question, so how will it answer the English question?

Denis MacShane is a former British Labour MP and Minister for Europe and author ofBrexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe (IB Tauris).