Thursday, August 28, 2014

Douglas Carswell defects to UKIP: A Clacton by election could change the general election result

Douglas Carswell was until this morning the Conservative MP for Clacton on the Essex coast. He has now resigned from the Conservative party, joined UKIP, and says he will resign his seat in order to contest it as a UKIP candidate in the resulting by-election.

His resignation is not a total surprise as it follows a long period as a critic of the Conservative Party's direction and of David Cameron in particular. Carswell's criticisms are not limited to the Conservatives and not limited to Europe - he has developed a critique of British politics generally -  but Europe is among his key complaints.

In his resignation speech Carswell questioned David Cameron's commitment to EU reform accusing him of aiming to do the bear minimum necessary in order to secure an 'in' vote, while Carswell's view of a satisfactory renegotiation seems more akin to associate membership. He says this is a classic example the political class not being straight with the electorate and his reason to quit. The Conservative leadership for their part will feel aggrieved that having set out a 2017 referendum on EU membership they are rewarded with Carswell's 'ingratitude' - recriminations will run and run.

Carswell prides himself on having a large following locally and Clacton itself, it has been argued, is  the "number one most demographically favourable seat in the country for UKIP" according to Goodwin and Ford's Revolt on the Right. He therefore has a fighting chance of winning the seat. So what could happen?

Firstly, it is unclear whether the Conservatives will allow the by election to go ahead - they have to approve the writ being moved and could argue that with an election already scheduled the people of Clacton can wait until May 2015. However, if it is called, the stakes could not be higher.

For the Conservatives to hope to win the 2015 general election they need to minimise the UKIP vote. The best way to do this is the classic 'squeeze'. In a first past the post election they will say there is no point voting for a third placed party - i.e UKIP. This will be very effective. However Carswell's by-election could change voter's calculations - and set a hugely important electoral precedent one way or another:
  • If Carswell wins, UKIP can then tell voters everywhere that voting UKIP gives a genuine change of producing an MP. This could be catastrophic for the Conservatives and may deprive them of a number of seats, to other parties mostly, but conceivably to UKIP as well.
  • If Carswell loses, the result will be equally disastrous for UKIP. The Conservatives can use it to show that even in one of UKIP's best constituencies with one of their biggest names they can not win a seat - so why waste your vote in May 2015 will be the refrain.
UKIP does not just take votes from the Conservatives, they also gain a lot of their support from Labour, non-voters and even the Lib Dems. However, Carswell by taking on his former party will polarise the debate again into Conservatives/UKIP, something perhaps both parties may wish to avoid. This could be a foretaste of 2015.

In any case, a Labour victory would most likely mean that the In/Out EU referendum Cameron has promised won't happen, as Ed Miliband looks determined to stick to his promise not to offer a straight vote. It would be a tremendous irony if Carswell's defection - Carswell, remember, having campaigned tirelessly for an EU referendum and more direct democracy - would in the end deny the UK public an EU referendum and more direct democracy.

Latest UK migration statistics likely to further turn up political heat on EU migration

The ONS has this morning released its latest long-term UK migration statistics and they are likely to increase the intensity of the spotlight on EU migration - if that was possible. The headline statistics are:
  • 560,000 people immigrated to the UK in the year ending March 2014, a statistically significant increase from 492,000 in the previous 12 months. Two-thirds of the increase is accounted for by immigration of EU citizens (up 44,000 to 214,000).
  • 28,000 Romanian and Bulgarian citizens immigrated to the UK in the year ending March 2014, a significant increase from 12,000 in the previous 12 months.
  • This contributed to overall net migration rising to 243,000 from 175,000 the previous year, way over the totemic 100,000 figure targeted by Conservative ministers.
  • It is also interesting to note that the decline in non-EU migration (the part the Government can control) seems to have stopped. The latest estimates for the year ending suggest that 265,000 non-EU citizens immigrating to the UK, a slight increase but not a statistically significant change, from 246,000 in the previous year. Net migration of non-EU citizens increased from an estimated 145,000 in the year ending March 2013 to 162,000 in the year ending March 2014.
Source: ONS
These estimates show that 54%, 30% and 14% of total EU immigration was accounted for by citizens of the EU15 (the 'old' EU member states), EU8 (central and eastern member states that joined in 2004) and EU2 (Bulgaria and Romania) respectively. Overall net migration of EU citizens was 131,000, a statistically significant increase compared to 95,000 in the previous year.

This highlights, once again, that a large part of the recent increase in EU migration is being driven by migration from the more established EU member states, presumably a large number of them looking for an alternative to the high levels of unemployment in the countries worst affected by the eurozone crisis.

In contrast, migration from the 2004 accession states has been relatively stable. Net migration from these countries was 41,000, not a statistically significant increase compared to the 34,000 in the previous year. For Bulgaria and Romania, it looks as though the ending of transitional controls on access to the UK labour market in January 2014 could have had some impact with a 12,000 increase in migration on the previous year (although we should be careful since this data mostly reflects 2013), and almost 80% of EU2 citizens arriving for work-related reasons.

Yesterday saw the German government announce tough new domestic rules on EU migrants' access to benefits, which closely mirror those announced by David Cameron late last month. Downing Street has welcomed the German proposals and added, "Clearly there is now a case for looking at other things we want to do where we may need to change the [EU] rules". The question now is whether Cameron can muster enough European support to change the EU rules in this area sufficiently to satisfy public and political opinion in Britain.

It says it won’t accept a “gentlemen’s club” but how gender-balanced is the European Parliament itself?

Jean-Claude Juncker and his people have rightly expressed concern over the lack of female European Commission candidates put forward by member states. It’s raining men in Brussels as we put it recently.

Never slow to jump on a bandwagon, certain MEPs are now digging in as well, threatening a veto (remember the European Parliament has to approve the new Commission) should Juncker’s Commission not include enough women.

The European Parliament’s President Martin Schulz – the guy, remember, who lost to Juncker – said
"The European Parliament is very concerned that at present virtually all the potential candidates whose names are circulating are men. The European Parliament will not accept a gentlemen’s club." 
The head of the liberal ALDE group, Guy Verhofstadt – a man known for his strong views – added
"As liberals, we cannot support a commission with too few women."
Meanwhile, the head of the Socialists in the EP, an Italian gentleman named Gianni Pittella, said
"We will not support a European Commission with fewer women than today." 
Fine, these three men have a point. But let’s throw back the question: how gender-balanced is the European Parliament itself? Well, a rather mixed bag it turns out – with some depressing stats in particular:














  • 20% of members in the Conference of Presidents – EP group leaders plus the EP President, i.e. the top dogs – are female 
  • 22% of the leaders of the EP’s political groups are female 
  • 37% of MEPs are female 
  • 45% of the EP’s committee chairs are female (encouragingly up from 36% in the last Parliament) 
So whilst not exactly Whites or the East India Club – hardly a great beacon of gender balance either. As that old saying goes, start with the man (errr) in the mirror.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Sweden set for a lurch to the left - and further gains for anti-immigration party

The Swedish elections take place on 14 September. As polls stand, the sitting centre-right coalition government, "Alliansen" - the Moderates, Centre Party, People's Party and Christian Democrats - look set to lose to a leftist coalition of some sort. The big question might be who the Social Democrats - the biggest party in the polls - decide to rule with: the Green Party is the most likely partner, but the Left Party could be in the mix too.

There's even talk of the Social Democrats reaching across the aisle to form some sort of 'grand coalition' - which would break with tradition. It may not be that easy for the Social Democrats to agree economic policy with the Greens and Far Left, both of which are, well, pretty far to the left. In the latest Ipsos poll, the three left parties together muster 50.4%, whilst Alliansen is on only on 35.6%.

A poll of polls for daily Expressen has a slightly stronger showing for the centre-right but the broad picture remains the same: absent an upset, Sweden looks set for a centre-left government following eight years of centre-right rule.


At the same time, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats have gained steadily in the polls, and it is now the fourth most popular party in the country on 10.3% (it made the Parliament for the first time in 2010, on 5.7%) according to the poll of polls - breathing down the neck of the Greens, on 10.8%. This despite Swedish media really having turned up the heat on the party over the last few years - often deserved but at times hysterically and counter-productively (the Swedish establishment hasn't quite yet grasped the 'metropolitan elite is ganging up on us' narrative that is doing so much for anti-establishment parties across Europe).

That's worrying news for those of us who want Sweden to remain a liberal and outward-looking country.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

'Erm...Brussels we have a problem' (Or "If EU did satellites..." Part III)

This week has seen the latest farcical episode in the EU's foray into space. The independent European Space Agency (ESA), which is based in Paris and is building the so-called Galileo satellite navigation system for the EU, was left with egg on its face after the two latest satellites for the system were launched into the 'wrong' orbit. In total, the project has now launched six satellites - two are in the wrong orbit and one, it emerged previously this year, isn't working.

Bad in its own right, but forgivable. We're dealing with some pretty advanced technology after all. Except, as we have chronicled before, this project has been absolutely bedeviled by unfortunate incidents, delays, infighting, poor planning and all sorts of other problems.

To re-cap:

Massive cost-overruns: The cost of completing the project and running it for 20 years (including maintenance) was under the original estimates (from 2000) €7.7 billion, of which only €2.6 billion was to be borne by taxpayers and the rest by private investors. In 2007, following the collapse of the private-public partnership, this cost had risen to € 11.8 billion, all of which was to be borne by taxpayers. In the autumn 2010, leaked information suggested that the cost had risen to a staggering €22.2 billion – again with the entire bill footed by taxpayers. But, it didn't end there…

The Commission all over the place on numbers: In 2010, Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani denied new cost over-runs, saying “I don't know where these figures come from.” He insisted that the deployment budget (which is only part of the cost) remained at €3.4 billion (not €5 billion as the leaked info suggested). Only a few months later, in January 2011, however, Mr. Tajani and the Commission admitted that Galileo needed not just another €1.5-1.7 billion as was thought in 2010, but an extra €1.9 billion of taxpayers’ cash to cover the booming deployment cost – taking the deployment cost above €5 billion. At the same time, the Commission put the annual operation cost at €800 million (not €750 million as assumed in the 2010 estimate). This means that even €22.2 billion for deployments and running cost was an under-estimate.

Tajani has since announced what he calls “savings” of some €500 million on the huge cost overrun, but frankly, at this point we simply don’t trust any of the numbers coming out of the Commission on this one.

Taxpayers getting hammered: The cost for taxpayers for deployment plus 20 years’ worth of running cost may well have increased by some 750% - from €2.6 billion to somewhere in the region of €20 billion+. Shocking.

Delays: Originally Galileo was to be finished by 2008 – a date that was subsequently pushed back several times due to a series of delays, disruptions and other embarrassments. Between July 2005 and December 2005, the project came to a complete halt as member states and the private investors argued. According to the European Court of Auditors, these six months of doing absolutely nothing added an extra €103 million to the cost of the project. Encouragingly, the project managed to make up some time and the satellites were launched this year. However, with only three of the four previously launched working and this latest setback, the performance of this project leaves a lot to be desired to say the least.

Public-private partnership flawed from the very start: As the European Court of Auditors concluded in a damning investigation, the original public-private partnership proposal was “unrealistic” and “inadequately prepared and conceived.” Symptomatically, the private investors withdrew due to fears over the cost of the project spiralling “out of control” and that they wouldn't outweigh the benefits.

The original estimated benefits delusional: In 2006, the Commission estimated the market for Galileo as potentially consisting of 3 billion receivers and revenues of some €275 billion per year by 2020 worldwide – in addition to potentially leading to the creation of more than 150,000 high qualified jobs in Europe alone. The European Space Agency and others have estimated 3.6 billion users by 2020. These are such delusional assessments that it’s hard to know where to start. Indeed, a 2010 report from the German government admitted that "All in all, it is assumed, based on the currently available estimates, that the operating costs will exceed direct revenues, even in the long term.” And according to American diplomatic cables, released by WikiLeaks, Berry Smutny, the CEO of OHB Technology, a company that has a £475 million contract to build 14 Galileo satellites, is claimed to have said: “I think Galileo is a stupid idea that primarily serves French interests.”

The Indian, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, American markets already crowded: One of the reasons why the idea of “3 billion users” is so ridiculous is that all major players already have, or are in the process of acquiring, their own satellite navigation systems. The newly-redeveloped Russian “GLONASS” system has already been launched, and the Chinese are developing their own Compass/Beidou system (not a global endeavour, but set to deprive Galileo of revenue in China). India’s equivalent technology, IRNSS, will be operational within the next two years. Japan has one too and the US is soon to boast a new generation GPS System (though to be fair, that too seems to be delayed) – GPS being what most people happily use in Europe anyway. Where in the world is Galileo going to get its 3 billion users? Is there a better of example of how the EU is falling behind in the 'global race'?

The Chinese have nicked the frequency: In 2003, China agreed to invest €230 million in the project but pulled out after disagreements. Lo and behold, the Europeans noted that the Chinese government was a little too interested in the security related aspects of the project, and got cold feet. But only after Beijing got its hands on some very useful information. So while Galileo was falling behind schedule, the Chinese were developing Compass/Beidou. Chinese officials told the International Telecommunications Union, the United Nations agency that allocates radio spectrum frequencies for satellite use, that China plans to transmit signals on the wavelength that the EU wants to use for Galileo. In other words, the EU is now in the absurd position of having to ask China's permission to run its secure 'encrypted' signal on Chinese frequencies.

All in all, Galileo has had a sorry history right from the very start. And we suspect we haven't heard the end of it yet...

Friday, August 22, 2014

Handelsblatt: France is the new sick man of Europe

The front page of Germany financial daily Handelsblatt today depicts France as the sick man of Europe, warning that "a once proud nation faces economic decline." Of course warnings of French decline have been made before - notably the famous ticking baguette bomb on the front page of the Economist a couple of years ago - but it is striking that the German press is increasingly reflecting these concerns.

The front page trails a detailed eight page feature which the paper introduces by arguing that:
"Our most important neighbour is mired in crisis. France risks falling behind when it comes to its budget, its labour market and its industry. However, the country could be successful if only it stops making itself smaller."
The timing might be slightly ironic given that the French economy 'outperformed' the German economy in the last quarter - albeit by staying flat as Germany contracted by 0.2%. Handelsblatt has itself warned that Germany was "no longer a champion" but the German economy is still pretty robust, and should bounce back quickly, while France's problems are much more deeply entrenched.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The SNP embraces EU reform - but is it trying to have it both ways on treaty change?

Ahead of next month's crucial Scottish independence referendum, the Scottish government has put out its own paper on EU reform, designed to position the SNP on the pro-reform as opposed to the status quo side of the debate. The report has generated very little coverage (our daily press summary being the exception). It's a mixed bag but contains some worthy ideas - we look at the key points below:

Reconnecting European citizens with the EU

The paper notes that "it is important that the EU institutions and the Member States recognise and respond to the challenges to the EU’s wider legitimacy". Its suggestions include:
"the Scottish Government considers that greater observance of the principle of subsidiarity, is one of the key means of maintaining the democratic legitimacy of the EU… it is essential that the procedure for monitoring subsidiarity by national parliaments is extended further to give an enhanced role for both sub-national and local parliaments."
Cutting red tape and EU "competence creep"

The paper notes that warns that “much more remains to be done” to alleviate concerns about EU “competence creep” and excessive “red tape”, and to “restore a balance between the burden of EU legislation and the benefits expected to derive from its implementation.” It adds that:
"the volume and complexity of the EU regulation affecting businesses in Scotland can pose a significant administrative and financial burden on them (particularly SMEs) and is threatening their ability to recover from the economic and financial crisis."
Its recommendations include:
  • Consistent regulation - greater adherence to the framework set by the EU Treaties with less ‘competence creep’ without formal amendment of the Treaties,
  • Increased flexibility to the member States when incorporating EU law into domestic legal systems and greater use of exemption schemes, in particular for SMEs,
  • Further developing the impact assessment tool and applying it at each stage of the EU legislative process where prospective legislation is subject to significant amendment by the Council and/or European Parliament,
  • Focusing on overall principles rather than detailed prescriptive measures,
  • An increased review of legislation which is no longer appropriate for today’s climate.
The above are good suggestions - indeed ones which Open Europe has been advocating for a while now (see our 2011 report on European localism and our 2010 report on EU over-regulation for example) but as always, the question is how to translate this into practice. 

Still, the report has some pretty big gaps - for example, it barely mentions the EU budget despite this being in radical need of reform (for example, contrary to common perceptions, Scotland would benefit from devolving regional subsidies back to the national level). Likewise beyond some general praise for EU free movement, the report does not discuss whether changes are needed to rules around EU migrants' access to benefits. In some places, the report calls for more protectionist measures at the EU level, such as amending procurement laws to ensure that contractors to pay the living as opposed to the minimum wage. 

The SNP is also keen to distance itself from David Cameron's EU policies and says that changing the EU Treaties is "neither necessary nor desirable". The party claims that its reforms can be accommodated within the existing Treaties. Whatever the rights and wrongs, this is slightly ironic given that Scotland's potential accession to the EU as an independent country rests squarely on the EU Treaties being opened and changed: not only the accession itself (to which all other member states would have to agree) but also to get the opt-outs from the euro and Schengen that the SNP says it wants.

It's also ironic since if SNP has its way, it could deliver the kind of opening of the Treaties that the Tories are hoping for. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fairness vs Volume: EU free movement debate hotting up in upper echelons of the Tory party

The Times yesterday noted that pressure among some senior Tories is building on David Cameron to prioritise the negotiation of 'curbs' on the free movement of persons. The word 'curb' is used often in this debate, but it is not always clear what it is that people are demanding be 'curbed'.

There are essentially two issues here: one about fairness - fair, sound and transparent rules around who can access what benefits and when. And one about the level of EU migration - volume. The first is what David Cameron and Downing Street have been trying to address by tightening EU migrants' access to out of work benefits. As we've noted before, more could certainly be achieved through amending legislation at the EU level.

Other issues that arguably fall into this category are access to the UK's system in-work benefits, such as working tax credits, which are meant help to boost incomes at the lower end of the labour market and ease the transition from out of work benefits. However, the UK is currently unable to regulate EU migrants' access to these under the EU's current non-discrimination rules and the definitions of an 'EU worker' set down by EU courts. This is another area that could potentially be addressed to some degree by amending secondary legislation.

But what is clear is that an increasing number of Tory 'big beasts' - Iain Duncan Smith, Theresa May and Boris Johnson - are looking to address the second issue: public concerns about the volume of EU migrants (the latest stats showed a marked increase in the number of central and eastern EU workers). This is a much taller ask and would almost certainly require treaty change and therefore unanimity. This does not make it entirely impossible but certainly more difficult than addressing concerns about fairness. Remember, this involves amending one for the most fundamental principles of the EU treaties.

Another massive question is how, exactly, strengthened control over the volume of EU migration could work in practice.  There have already been suggestions that the Home Office is considering options that fall under this category. In May 2012, at the height of the Greek social and economic crisis, it was reported that Theresa May was looking at whether emergency immigration controls could be applied if required by exceptional circumstances. Another proposal, put forward by David Goodhart, is that governments should be able to introduce qualifications or restrictions on free movement "if the EU inflow breaches a cap of, say, 75,000 in a single year".

In any case, this will be a key debate within Tory ranks leading up to the potential 2017 EU referendum.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Fact check: Can we take Danny Alexander's "3 million jobs" threat seriously?

In June, Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said that, according to Treasury analysis, more than three million British jobs would be at risk if Britain left the European Union. This is what he said:
“Indeed, the latest Treasury analysis shows that 3.3 million British jobs are connected to Britain’s place in Europe. That is the measure of the risk that isolationists would have us take.”
What new analysis could this be? So we asked the Treasury. You can read the full response here, but this is perhaps the key part:
“As set out by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the Treasury estimate that 3.3 million jobs in the UK may be related to exports to other European Union countries. This figure is based on the assumption that the share of UK employment associated with UK exports to the EU is equal to the share of output that is exported to the EU, making allowance for the composition of the UK economy. It is not an estimate of the impact of EU membership on employment.”
The Times also reported on the FOI response today. Now, there are at least three things that are problematic with Mr Alexander's claims:

1. First of all, this is not in fact 'new' analysis. As the response to our FOI makes clear, Mr Alexander's remarks were based on the following methodology, which has been used and cited countless times before. In 2003, Ruth Kelly told Parliament that:
"The Treasury estimates that 3 million jobs in the UK are linked, directly and indirectly, to the export of goods and services to the European Union. This figure is based on the assumption that the share of total UK employment associated with UK exports to the EU is equal to the share of total UK value added (GVA) generated by UK exports to the EU. The information necessary to apply the same method to derive comparable estimates for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is not available."
In February 2014, Lord Livingston again confirmed this methodology as follows:
"The estimate of 3.5 million jobs linked to trade with the European Union is based on the assumption that the share of UK employment linked to trade with the EU is equal to the share of total UK value added (GDP) generated in the production of goods and services exported to the EU." 
"The calculation uses data from UK Input-Output tables to estimate the proportion of UK value-added content generated in exports of goods and services and applies this to the values of UK exports to the EU. This is then divided by total UK GDP and the resultant proportion then applied to the total UK labour force to estimate the proportion of the labour force linked to EU exports on a value-added basis."
In short, the methodology dates back more than ten years and does not seem to have been updated at all.

2. Perhaps most crucially, as the Treasury's response makes clear, this study "is not an estimate of the impact of EU membership on employment." So it is rather misleading, to say the least, of Mr Alexander to suggest that these jobs are at "risk". To say that X number of jobs are linked (directly or indirectly) to exports to the EU is clearly not the same thing as suggesting that they are dependent on EU membership. To be fair to Mr Alexander the Treasury's position on this is somewhat confused itself - it claims that this is not an estimate of the impact of EU membership on employment, however, that is exactly what the simplistic calculation and, importantly, its flawed counterfactual seem to suggest (see below). 

3. Thirdly,  is immediately apparent, it is a very simple approximation, not detailed analysis which one might have expected from HMT on such an important question. The methodology used is very simplistic, for a number of reasons:
  • A flawed counter-factual: We have always stressed the importance of the counter-factual when assessing the future of the EU/UK relationship. The counter-factual here is essentially that these jobs would not exist without the EU.  This is odd for at least two reasons: first, it effectively assumes an end to all exports to Europe should the UK withdraw from the EU. We can argue about the level of market access a post-Brexit UK may be granted (we've done a lot of work on this) but one thing is clear: there will be exports from the UK to the EU under any scenario. Secondly, by definition the analysis assumes that all value added by jobs related to EU exports would not exist without the EU membership. A simple common sense check suggests that, actually many of these jobs may still produce some value even if the goods did not find their way to the EU and that the resources could be alternatively employed.
  • Assumes productivity is the same across the UK economy: While it is claimed that the calculation "takes account of the composition of the UK economy" it is not clear exactly how this is done. On the surface the calculation also seems to implicitly assume that labour productivity (broadly output per worker or per hour) is the same across the entire economy (by saying the basic proportion of output corresponds to the same proportion of employment). Fundamentally we know this is not true - on the most basic level, we know that skilled and unskilled jobs will have different productivity levels. A quick glance at the most recent ONS labour productivity statistics confirms this and highlights that over the decade since this methodology was created, different sectors' and regions' productivity rates have grown in different ways. Unless this is accounted for in a detailed way in the methodology it is likely to distort the figure.
The final point above suggests that there is either some continuing lack of transparency with regards to the calculation or it really is just overly simplistic (if not both). This is all quite ironic given that UKIP and Better Off Outers in general are often criticised - and often justifiably so - for not establishing a credible counter-factual whilst relying on heroic assumptions.

Mr Alexander should know better.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Latest employment stats suggest no new 'wave' of Bulgarian and Romanian migration

The ONS has today released its UK labour market statistics for the period April-June 2014, which include the latest estimates of the number of EU migrants in the workforce. These are the key points:
  • In total, there were around 820,000 more people employed in the UK than a year earlier, of which around 500,000 were UK born and 327,000 were non-UK born. 
  • Of the non-UK born, 187,000 were from the EU and 140,000 from non-EU countries.
  • The number of Bulgarian and Romanian born people employed in the UK stood at 153,000, up by 13,000 from the same period last year (a 9% increase), before transitional labour market controls were lifted.
  • However, the numbers from other central and eastern European countries increased far more dramatically to 861,000, up by 178,000 from last year (a 26% increase).
  • The number of migrants from the ‘old’ EU member states fell by 9,000 (a 1.2% decrease).
This is only one set of data and refer only to employment (not the same as migration figures, the latest batch of which will be released later this month), and it will be interesting to see how the figures match up.

Source: ONS
The chart above breaks down the share of EU born employed and shows that the group responsible for the biggest increase is the central and eastern European countries that joined the EU in 2004. The Romanian and Bulgarian share is up a little but, as we noted before, there has not been a major change since the lifting of transitional controls on 1 January 2014. Interestingly, the number of people employed from the 'old' EU 14 states has dropped slightly - the number of migrants from this group had been increasing as a result of the eurozone crisis. Is this a sign that this trend is slowing or reversing?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

German 'crackdown' on EU citizens’ access to benefits: what does it involve?

The issue of how to balance EU free movement and the rights of member states to control their welfare systems has been a long running issue, one which several countries (not only the UK) are struggling with. We've previously reported about how the influx of EU migrants has caused problems in Germany, prompting the grand coalition to commission a review into the issue.

In March, we reported on and analysed the key recommendations of the interim version, and now it appears the final version will be adopted by the German cabinet later this month. According to FAZ, here are the key points, which are virtually unchanged from the draft version:
  • Limiting the period in which EU citizens can be registered as jobseekers to six months, after which they are obliged to leave the country if they are still unemployed. This is similar to the UK's current approach, although David Cameron announced last month that this would be toughened.
  • Banning any EU citizens found guilty of “abusing or defrauding” the German welfare system from re-entering Germany for a period of five years. How easy this will be to enforce in the Schengen border-free zone is questionable.
  • Making it harder to export child benefit abroad by demanding additional documentation and changing domestic taxation rules. David Cameron has also made this a priority and it remains unclear whether limiting payments to working migrants' children who live abroad is permissible under EU law.
  • In addition, German municipalities are to get additional financial assistance from the government to cope with the effects of an influx of migrants to help cope with extra pressures on local services.
This 'crackdown' comes at an interesting time for two reasons. Firstly, today's Bild reports, according to new figures from the German Federal Employment Agency, the number of EU citizens from Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and the ten Central and Eastern European member states claiming unemployment benefits in Germany has for the first time exceeded 300,000 after going up by 53,216 (21.6%) in April compared with April 2013. Secondly, confidence in the German economy is on the decrease which could add political momentum to those who want to further restrict free movement.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Italy slips again into recession: time for Renzi to re-focus his reform plans?

When Matteo Renzi was widely tipped to take over as Italian Prime Minister back in February, we wrote on this blog
Renzi may be able to muster wider parliamentary support than [his predecessor Enrico] Letta, but he would still be stuck with a diverse coalition with smaller centrist and centre-right parties – meaning that the difficulties in pushing ahead any significant political and/or economic reform would not evaporate.
A few months later, it is fair to say the prediction was broadly correct. In his first keynote speech in the Italian parliament, Renzi pledged to implement one big reform per month. However, not much has been achieved so far:
  • Some of the promised reforms have been passed only in part (such as the reform of the labour market);
  • Others have been proposed by the government but are still awaiting parliamentary approval (such as the reform of the electoral law);
  • Others have been announced but have yet to be turned into an official legislative proposal (such as the reform of the judiciary).
To be fair to Renzi, his reform plans involve changes Italy has failed to make for decades. However, there is little doubt the pressure is slowly mounting on the ambitious Italian Prime Minister - especially in light of the latest daunting economic data. Italy has entered recession again. Its GDP contracted by 0.2% in the second quarter of 2014 - worse than expected. The country's national statistics office ISTAT now expects Italian GDP to shrink by 0.3% this year, unless the trend is reversed. This is nowhere near the 0.8% GDP growth initially predicted by Renzi's government. By contrast, Spain is going to upgrade its growth forecast to +1.5% and +2% for 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Needless to say, the meagre growth prospects are raising questions in Brussels, Berlin and Frankfurt over Italy's ability to keep its deficit below the 'magic' EU threshold of 3% of GDP and start reducing its mountain of public debt. Unless Renzi can show substantial progress on the reform side, he's unlikely to achieve any of the 'flexibility' on the application of EU fiscal rules that he's been demanding - along with French President François Hollande - over the past few weeks, and may find himself left with little wiggle room. This would set the scene for another political stand-off between the core and periphery of the eurozone - a scenario which few emerge from looking good.

Perhaps more worryingly, Renzi seems to be currently focusing too much of his reform efforts on the political-institutional side. The reform of the Italian Senate - which has recently taken the centre stage in Rome - is of great symbolic importance and will help speed up the decision-making process once (and if) passed. But its economic impact is limited, and it involves changing the Constitution, meaning that it may not be finalised until early 2015 and will then also be put to a referendum - whose outcome cannot be taken for granted at this stage. Italy can only benefit from the removal of the institutional blockages stemming from a system where the two chambers of parliament have equal powers. However, Italy's economic situation means Renzi should consider investing his best energy and political capital elsewhere - not least because economic reform is the key area where his EU counterparts wish to see progress.

On the economic front, the main achievement of Renzi's government to date is probably a tax cut worth €80 a month for employees earning less than €25,000 a year. The measure may have played a part in Renzi's Democratic Party winning an outstanding 40.8% of votes at the European Parliament elections in May - but the jury is still out as regards its effectiveness as a means to boost domestic demand.

Furthermore, uncertainty remains over Italy's plans to cut public spending and use the savings to finance tax cuts for workers and businesses. Carlo Cottarelli, the Italian government's special commissioner for public spending reform, has recently warned on his blog that the resources he's expected to raise via spending cuts next year are already being used to fund new spending projects. In practice, this means less money to cut the tax burden on Italian businesses and workers - which is among the highest in the world and has been identified as a key pillar of economic reform.

Predictably, Renzi was off to a strong start in terms of trust from both Italian voters and Italy's European partners. However, the time may have come for him to re-focus his priorities and push harder on economic reform. A more efficient parliamentary system and electoral law, while very necessary, will do little to help him win any meaningful concessions in Europe. A thriving economy that grows at an acceptable pace will.

Is Germany emerging as the biggest obstacle to a liberal EU-US trade deal?

If you read our press summary, you will have noticed that the debate around the US-EU free trade deal (TTIP) is really picking up in Germany, with even the euro-critical AfD coming out against key elements of the deal ahead of the European elections.

Of all the mainstream newspapers in Europe, Süddeutsche Zeitung is the one that has devoted the most time and effort into covering the on-going negotiations over TTIP, and it has also published a number of comment pieces - both for and against.

In an opinion piece today, the paper's Economics correspondent Alexander Hagelücken argues that the debate around the EU-US free trade agreement (TTIP) has become “schizophrenic” amid mounting public opposition (as highlighted by the cartoon above). However, he argues that:
"European governments can escape the impasse by making it clear that they want to expand free trade via the TTIP principle while at the same time meeting the legitimate concerns of their citizens who do not want increased prosperity at the cost of losing environmental and health standards. GM foods? Only after passing the European approval procedure and with clear labeling. Investor lawsuits against environmental legislation such as Vattenfall’s legal challenge against the nuclear phase-out? Not before secret tribunals, but only in the ordinary courts."
He concludes that:
"Yes, such a path would not lead to unfettered capitalism with a neoliberal flavour but free trade with constraints. In other words, it would be the kind of social market economy which has given the [German] Federal Republic decades of prosperity after World War II, while tensions decreasing rather than increasing tensions between the social classes.” 
German public opinion will be a crucial factor in determining the success or failure of the TTIP negotiations. As with everything else these days, we suspect, on TTIP, as goes Germany, so goes Europe. 

Friday, August 08, 2014

German public opinion hardens against Putin but business community still reluctant

An Infratest Dimap poll for Welt/ARD published today showed that 70%  of Germans are in favour of the EU's response to the crisis, with 80% thinking that Russia bears the biggest responsibility for the break-down in relations between Russia and the West, and with a slim majority (49% vs 46%) in favour tightening sanctions further, even if it has a negative impact on the German economy and jobs.

Being as ever nervous about meddling too much in world affairs, there's been a considerable shift in the German media and public-opinion regarding Russia. In March, after the annexation of Crimea, only 38% supported economic sanctions. By May this had risen to 50%. Now it's at 70%. The volte-face can be explained in part by some industry bodies publicly announcing that they would be able to weather such sanctions and the public outcry over the MH17 tragedy.

As has been noted by others, Angela Merkel was absolutely instrumental in breaking the deadlock over the sanctions, by showing willingness for Germany to bear a large chunk of the costs. This probably wouldn't have been possible absent the shift in public opinion (incidentally also illustrating how the "as Germany goes, so goes Europe" rule now increasingly also applies to foreign policy).

However, there's still plenty of opposition from within Germany. Business continue to warn against loss of jobs and profits. And today, Gabor Steingart, Editor-in-chief of Germany's financial daily Handelsblatt, laments "The folly of the West," for entering into "the politics of escalation" with Russia, on the front page of his paper today, writing:
"With its politics of escalation, Europe is missing a realistic [end] goal... Even the aim to bring Russia to its knees through economic pressure and political isolation, has not been properly thought through." 
"Even if this were to work: What good will that do? How can one expect to live alongside a demeaned people in the European house, when their elected-leader is treated like pariah, and their citizens may be committed to soup-kitchens in the coming winter?"
As Steingart sees it:  
"German journalism has switched from level-headed to agitated in a matter of weeks. The spectrum of opinions has narrowed to that of a sniper's scope... Headlines betray an aggressive tone that is usually characteristic of football hooligans."
There is clearly a growing gap in the German media, politics and public between those who want to go in harder on Putin, and those who favour Germany's 'Ostpolitik' tradition of bridge-building with the Kremlin. In turn, this reflects that on-going, grinding and drawn-out debate about Germany's role in Europe and the wider world, in which all kinds of German instincts clash.

Boris is right to set out an ambitious EU reform agenda

As we noted in an earlier post, London Mayor Boris Johnson's intervention on the UK's future relationship with the EU set out a list of policy objectives that go well beyond what David Cameron has so far proposed. They noticeably set the bar higher for any successful renegotiation.

Boris also told the Evening Standard this week that the UK had to go into the negotiations prepared to be tough. "You don’t go in hard to the tackle you are never going to come out well. You've got to go in hard and low," he said. Judging by his past form, he means business:



Here are the key reforms that Boris outlined, which embellished on those contained in the report authored for him by his economic advisor Dr Gerard Lyons - a member of our Advisory Council. They are an excellent marker for the direction in which the EU needs to go and most of them are reforms we have ourselves proposed and promoted:
  • Make progress on the single market in services: The report for the Mayor cites Open Europe's research which illustrates that an ambitious liberalisation of cross-border trade in services could boost EU GDP by 2.3%. This is in fact a call for free trade that could boost competitiveness across the EU - the UK should push this policy hard and, if others aren't willing to agree en masse, be prepared to lead a vanguard of countries who are.  
  • Better protection for the City of London from intrusive financial services regulation: A long-standing concern for us. We have noted that, since the eurozone crisis, the EU's regulatory output in this area has become far more trade-restricting and items such as the FTT were outright hostile to the City of London. This ties into the eurozone/non-eurozone point below, and why mechanisms to ensure that the single market cannot be controlled by the eurozone-bloc are essential to the UK's interests.
  • Reform the relationship between euro ins and outs: This is arguably the biggest strategic issue facing the UK in Europe - and the report goes into far more detail on this than Boris did in his speech. The UK will not be able to live within an EU dominated by the eurozone. The ad-hoc solution used in the European Banking Authority of so-called 'double majority voting', which we were the first to propose, illustrates that this can be addressed but how easily this model can be replicated elsewhere is debatable and other solutions will be needed.
  • A 'red card' for national parliaments: Again, a policy we have long championed. This is something that has support in several member states and would if member states and the Commission are serious about respecting it, root EU policy making more firmly in the hands of those with most democratic legitimacy in Europe - national MPs
  • Reform "if not abolition" of the CAP: Abolition of the CAP is clearly a tall order, but we have set out how agricultural policy could be radically reworked which would hugely reduce the budget required and make it more market-orientated. Another budget reform we would through into the mix, which Boris didn't mention, is the repatriation of regional funding to the richer member states
  • A return to intergovernmental cooperation in justice and home affairs, outside the jurisdiction of the EU: We have long argued that the ECJ should not have jurisdiction over crime and policing law as it applies to the UK and that the UK should seek a return to intergovernmental cooperation that does not cede democratic control over such a sensitive area.
  • Reforming social and employment law: Boris talked of minimising "the costs to all EU businesses", but also said that if this meant resurrecting the UK's social policy opt-out, "I don’t think it will be a bad thing." We have calculated that EU social law currently costs UK business and the public sector £8.6bn a year - a figure also cited by Boris in his speech - and while these costs would not magically disappear if this area was left to national governments, there would be far more flexibility to tailor rules to local needs and practises - i.e. the UK's flexible labour market.
  • On free movement of people, Boris called for "managed migration": Here Boris went further than Gerard's report. Boris seems to be calling for the principle of free movement to be revisited. It's not entirely clear what he means but we have long argued that EU migration can provide benefits to the UK and EU economy but that reform is certainly needed to the rules around access benefits for EU migrants. This means far more discretion for national governments over who can access state welfare and public services and on what terms. However, we do think the principle of free movement of workers - as originally intended - should remain. 
  • Halting 'ever closer union': Often dismissed as a symbolic change, in fact this is about changing the culture of the EU and the default position that centralisation is always good. It is about instilling the principle that not all member states want to head in the same direction and that powers should be able to move downwards from Brussels to national capitals.
This is a reform agenda that would indeed radically reform the EU and the UK's relationship with it. As we have noted elsewhere, if there is a referendum in 2017, the British public will be far better placed than in 1975 to decide if the change is enough to vote for and that  is why the stakes are now so high. As we also have noted, however, the big challenge will be the timetable. Will this be possible before 2017?

Thursday, August 07, 2014

What will the impact of the Russian retaliatory sanctions be?

Russia earlier unveiled the key plank of its retaliation against the ‘stage three’ EU sanctions confirmed last week. It has said that it will now ban all imports of fruit, veg, meat (including fish) and dairy products from the EU (as well as the US, Australia, Canada and Norway).

How will this impact Europe?


This helpful factsheet gives an idea of the overall level of EU agricultural exports to Russia. As the box above shows, agricultural exports are about 7% of total EU exports. Of this, 10% goes to Russia. This means that agricultural exports account for around 0.7% of overall EU exports – it’s important to remember that this figure includes much more than the specific parts targeted in the sanctions.


In terms of specific countries, the chart below highlights that the Baltic countries (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) will be hardest hit – in terms of the trade as a share of GDP. In absolute terms, Poland, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark will also face losses.


How will this impact Russia?
Well, as has already been pointed out, the likely fallout will be higher prices for Russian consumers (driving up inflation more broadly) and reduced consumer choice. As we pointed out previously, Russia does import some agricultural products but only to the tune of around 1.2% GDP per year. This is dwarfed by some of its other imports.


That said, it still accounts for some 13.3% of overall imports. This is a sizeable chunk of imports to replace, but Russia has a few options:
  • Expand domestic production. Not impossible given the natural resources and land at Russia’s disposal as well as the state’s resources (although these could take a hit from the escalating sanctions). In terms of security this has long been on Russia’s list of things to move towards.
  • Expand production with Eurasian partners. As part of its ongoing response to the crisis Russia is deepening links with surrounding states and specifically members of the fledgling Eurasian Union. Some of these states will have significant agricultural sectors, although they will unlikely be quickly able to help supply a country the size of Russia.
  • Look farther afield. Rumours of Russia trying to strike agricultural deals with Latin America abound, while (as is always the case these days) Russia will likely look to China for support. This would obviously undermine any attempt to increase food security, however, would help limit the economic impact.
Does this set the scene for a broader trade war?
Hopefully, not yet. The sanctions on both sides remain quite targeted and specific. That said, it’s hard to see how either side could easily change position. That is feeding into a broader feeling of unease when it comes to the private sectors of both sides doing business together. This indirect or de facto halting of trade is likely to be the largest negative effect from this escalation.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Boris: EU reform the best option, but Brexit should not scare us

Boris Johnson today outlined his response to the report by his economic advisor - and Open Europe board member - Dr Gerard Lyons on the future of the UK’s relations with the EU and how they impact on London.

The report entitled 'a win-win situation' outlines four economic scenarios, with the best seen as staying in a reformed EU and the a close second being leaving the EU on good terms with growth-focussed policies towards Europe and the rest of the world:
  • The best scenario is UK membership of a reformed EU, which could see London’s economy grow in size from £350 billion now to £640 billion over the next 20 years.
  • The worst scenario would be where the UK leaves the EU on bad terms and does not produce a growth-focused policy. The report suggests the London economy would only grow to £430 billion by 2034 in this scenario, and see a shedding of about 1.2 million jobs. 
  • If the UK left the EU, maintained good relations with the EU and adopted outward-looking policies, then the London economy would grow to £615 billion and see an additional 900,000 jobs created over the next 20 years. This is despite the near-term uncertainty that would follow from leaving.
  • Being in an unreformed EU, London might see only an extra 200,000 jobs created and growth to £495 billion over two decades.
The key reforms - which draw heavily from Open Europe's work - proposed in the report are: addressing the relationship between euro ins and outs, liberalising the single market in services, safeguards on the single market in financial services and the position of the City of London, EU budget reform, reducing the burden of social and employment law, and halting over-regulation. The reforms go well beyond what David Cameron has set out so far.

If reform is not sufficient, the report concedes that withdrawal would create immediate economic uncertainty but this could be mitigated in the longer term if the right policies are pursued. The report suggests that the terms of a Brexit could be defined by the referendum result itself - a close result could prompt a re-re-negotiation rather than an immediate reach for the Article 50 exit clause - you can read the outcome of our 'wargaming' of Brexit here (which the report also references).

The report notes that financial services and insurance are key London industries, comprising 19.8% of GVA, the single biggest sector measured in these terms – how will this be affected in Brexit? The report notes that London has many attributes other than acting as a springboard for access to EU markets but adds that this market access is valuable and could face some extra barriers following withdrawal.

In summary, the report concludes that reform is the best option, but there is little to fear from Brexit.That last point - in addition, to the various reform proposals set out - will no doubt serve to put additional pressure on David Cameron to be more ambitious in his push.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

It's official: the 2014 European elections saw the lowest turnout ever

Remember how some tried to make a song and dance about the turnout in May's European elections having increased for the first time since direct voting was introduced in 1979? Having dropped from 62% in 1979 to 43% in 2009, the 2014 elections saw a staggering increase of 0.09%, thus reversing the trend. The always-available-for-BBC-interviews Guy Verhofstadt said this increase in turnout was “an endorsement of the European project”, whilst Viviane Reding, as usual, didn’t disappoint:


Well, courtesy of European Voice, we now learn that the final turnout figure has been revised down to 42.54% – i.e. the lowest turnout ever. The 43.09% figure was based on exit polls so was preliminary, and it has taken a month and half to establish the real figures.

So it’s official: voter turnout has dropped in every single European elections since 1979, whilst the EP’s powers have consistently increased. It’ll be interesting to see how the usual suspects try to spin this one.


This isn’t a cause for celebration. It’s just simply embarrassing.

Monday, August 04, 2014

What will the impact of stage three sanctions be and how might Russia retaliate?

Over the weekend we published a new flash analysis looking primarily at the impact of the financial sanctions on Russia and what action Russia could take in retaliation. The key points are below with some key graphs, while the full release is here.

Key points

Impact on Europe: UK to bear the largest burden. Between 2004 and 2012 Russian firms raised $49bn on the London Stock Exchange (LSE), of which $16.4bn was raised by state-owned Russian banks (Sberbank and VTB). The burden will be manageable since revenue from financial services to Russian firms’ accounts for only 1% of UK exports in this area.



Impact on Russia: State-owned banks such as VTB and Gazprom have to rollover at least $6bn worth of foreign currency debt in the next 18 months – funding costs will be increased but other markets likely to remain open. Indirect impact will be much larger as reluctance to do business with Russian firms or in Russia increases. Russian entities have $85.4bn in external debt to rollover in the rest of 2014 alone, while capital outflows have totalled $75bn in the past 6 months alone. The Russian economy could find itself short of credit and liquidity, although its sizeable international reserves ($478bn) will help.


Russian retaliation: Russia will likely further alienate the Ukrainian economy and destabilise the situation on the ground. This could prompt Ukraine to request a further bailout from the West, totalling double digit billions. Russia could also respond with its own sanctions on Western firms and may even consider asset freezes or seizures. Further escalation could also see Russia leverage its position as Europe’s main gas supplier – either through price hikes or disrupting transit through Ukraine – to hurt the EU economy.


More broadly the sanctions will hit other countries, primarily Germany. While German business will be hit directly by sanctions on exports of high tech goods in the oil sector, the much larger impact will be indirect. Declining business between European and Russia will likely hurt Germany since it has the largest level of trade with Russia and one of the more closely linked economies. This will likely be another test for Germany’s ability to diversify its exports, as it has proven to be so adept at doing during the eurozone crisis.

For better or worse, without the UK and Germany showing a willingness to stomach the cost of these sanctions, it seems unlikely that a deal would have been reached.

Would a stand alone financial services commissioner be a curse or a blessing?

There’s a bit of a debate going on at the moment over whether splitting up the internal market portfolio in the next European Commission is a good or bad thing for UK interests. The idea is to separate financial services from the wider internal market portfolio, to create a more manageable brief and avoid a scenario whereby an activist Commissioner turns this portfolio into a financial services one anyway, neglecting the many other crucial single market issues such as professional services, energy and digital services.

The idea has been subject to a bit of push-back with some worrying that a new “financial services tsar” will turn against the City, while making it more likely that the Commission develops a Eurozone-bias in its financial services legislation. The British Bankers’ Association has come out against the idea, for example. 

There is undoubtedly a risk here: if a free-standing financial services brief goes to a candidate who is anti-free markets, doesn't get financial services and who wants to pursue Eurozone-tailored solutions at the expense of the single market, then of course, it would be a bit of a disaster. However:
  • Remember, we’ve lived with a 'financial tsar' over the last fine years. His name is Michel Barnier. Though there are now those within the UK Government who say Barnier “wasn't that bad after all”, it was clear that he saw his primary mission as restricting and controlling financial activity. He focused almost all his energy on this to the detriment of wider internal market issues. 
  • Under Barnier’s watch the integrity of the single market has been mostly protected – for example there are now non-discrimination provisions in laws such as MiFID and EMIR – however it has been and remains a daily struggle and most of these protections were inserted by member states during the negotiation process. Let’s not forget, this is the man who has played a leading role in the drive for a Financial Transaction Tax and the banker’s bonus cap. Furthermore, the original proposal for a eurozone banking union transferred huge amounts of power to the Commission and put a eurozone focused brief right at its core (to the chagrin of more than just the UK). 
  • More importantly, however, while financial services is hugely important for the UK national interest, it’s not the only interest. The problem with merging financial services and the wider internal market is that the latter tends to get neglected given all the focus on the likes of banking union and regulating sprawling multinational financial institutions. An active Commissioner dedicated to liberalising the single market in services, digital and energy could be hugely beneficial at the moment, particularly since the appetite for a new push in some of these areas may be growing across Europe. Also, this will form a key plank in Cameron’s renegotiation strategy. 
  • Splitting off financial services is the only chance the UK has of getting internal market – which even without financial services (for the reasons described above) would be a big prize. 
  • While it is often said that keeping financial services inside internal market ties it to the single market, the point also runs both ways. For example, outside the internal market brief, more attention may be paid to the legal justification for financial services regulation rather than it simply being pushed through under a single market justification as is usually the case. 
  • In terms of Eurozone-bias – we’re as concerned about it as anyone, as we flagged up as early as 2011 (though we don’t believe that the Eurozone will organise itself as a perfectly coherent entity any time soon) – the key for this is to keep financial services as far away from the Economic and Monetary affairs brief as possible, which for the most part looks to be taking place. 
So it could go go either way. However, you have to compare it against what has gone before and what the likely alternative is. Cameron would have to screw it up badly to make the de facto division of labour worse in this area than what was the case in the previous Commission.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Annus horribilis? 2017 could become the EU’s most challenging year to date

We don’t want to be over-dramatic, but 2017 could shape up to be the toughest year for the EU in a very, very long time. Perhaps ever.

If David Cameron gets re-elected, there will be an In/Out EU referendum in the UK in 2017 (though it could perhaps be delayed). With the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as new European Commission President and the symbolic defeat that involved, the risk of Brexit is now arguably higher than ever. The UK could leave the EU in 2017.

At the same time, there’s a growing possibility that Front National leader Marine Le Pen – who’s said she expects “nothing from Europe apart from destruction” – could win the French Presidential election due in April/May 2017. According to a new IFOP poll for French weekly Marianne, Le Pen would finish ahead in the first round of the 2017 presidential election with 26% of votes – followed by former President Nicolas Sarkozy on 25%, and President François Hollande or Prime Minister Manuel Valls on 17%. This means Le Pen and Sarkozy would make it to the final run-off. Although, the chances of her winning the run-off are relatively slim, it is notable that her closest challenger could yet be drowned in a corruption investigation.

As we noted yesterday, Swiss voters will likely be asked to vote again on the country’s relationship with the EU “at the latest by the end of 2016, or the beginning of 2017,” according to Swiss President Didier Burkhalter. It could be a “take it or leave it” vote in response to Swiss voters' opposition to the current free movement arrangements and the EU’s refusal to budge on the issue. If the Swiss vote “leave it”, there will be a huge crisis between Switzerland and the EU.

This wouldn’t be pretty at all. Now, we still don’t see this triple-whammy as a central scenario, but it’s hard to find a more ample illustration of why the status quo in Europe is the biggest threat to its survival.

Get on with EU reform. Now.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

EU referendum to be held in 2016 or 2017...No, not that one!

Swiss President Didier Burkhalter (see picture) has today announced that Swiss voters will be asked to vote on the future of their bilateral relationship with the EU "by the end of 2016 or the beginning of 2017."

There have been long-running negotiations over the Swiss-EU bilateral deals, with the EU keen on greater supranational oversight, but these talks gained more urgency in the wake of February's referendum in which the Swiss electorate voted in favour of renegotiating rules on the free movement of persons.

The result stipulated that Switzerland will have to renegotiate its bilateral accord with the EU on free movement within three years or revoke it. This in turn could threaten Switzerland's other bilateral agreements with the EU.

Last week, the EU told Switzerland that it was not prepared to negotiate quotas on free movement. In other words, in that choice between accommodating Swiss demands or playing hardball that we identified back in February, the EU has definitely opted for the latter approach. Interestingly, the decision not to negotiate was apparently reached by unanimity amongst EU governments, meaning that the UK opposed allowing the Swiss to 'renegotiate'. This is awkward for David Cameron, he was left with a choice of either giving Better Off Outers fresh ammunition ("see what the Swiss can do outside the EU") or accusations of denying the Swiss a similar right to which he wants to give Britain. In addition, in that old EU tradition, the Swiss are effectively being asked to 'vote twice', with a view to them voting 'the right way' the second time around.

In any case, faced with this impasse, the Swiss government's approach seems to be to put a 'take it or leave it' package to the public in the hope they vote to renew the bilateral relationship with the EU, even if this means little or no change to the rules on free movement.

Given that Switzerland is already outside the EU, a rejection of the package by the Swiss electorate could see relations return to square one - what that means is anyone's guess at this stage.

If David Cameron is re-elected, Switzerland's 'renegotiation and referendum' could coincide or foreshadow the Conservatives' efforts, which could be interesting.

Renegotiation and referendum: history repeating?

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has published a previously confidential account of the 1974-75 renegotiation of the UK's EU membership under Harold Wilson's Labour Government. That renegotiation largely resulted in only token concessions to Britain - greater imports of New Zealand butter being chief among them. They were however enough to secure an In vote of just over 67% in 1975.

The account, written in 1975 by Nicholas Spreckley, then head of the FCO's European department, is a hugely interesting read. Some of the similarities to the situation David Cameron finds himself in are striking, although there are major differences in today's environment, such as a much less deferential media, a greater flow of information, far more actors in the space (including think-tanks), which means the public will be far better placed to assess the success of any negotiations.

Still, the politics described are remarkably similar to those of today. Consider this passage:
"The Germans, the Dutch and the Danes seemed the most sympathetic to British objectives...But as so often, it was the French attitude which was at once the most important and the most critical. In these early weeks the French government took the line that the Treaties and the principles of the Community were inviolable."
The most important figure was then German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who proved willing and keen to be helpful in addressing British concerns. France, however, was hard work and largely unhelpful.

There are also strikingly similar disagreements about the budget, and the UK's contribution to it, the frustration of UK ministers to fundamentally alter the CAP, and so on.

There are however some clear differences in approach between then and now. The 1970s negotiators were extremely cautious and ruled out treaty changes at an early stage - due to the small of number of such changes, this was seen as a radical option in the UK and among the eight other member states. However, David Cameron is on the record as saying he wants treaty changes as part of his negotiations.

As Sir Stephen Wall writes in his foreword, the "past is a different country", and with over 40 years of collective memory of the EU - added to the famous British cynicism - Cameron is unlikely to be able to pull off the Wilson trick with the British public this time around.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Is David Cameron's latest immigration crackdown legal under EU law?

David Cameron today announced another 'crackdown' on EU migrants, stating that from November, EU jobseekers "will only be able to claim Jobseeker's Allowance and other key welfare benefits for a maximum period of 3 months." This will halve the current period over which unemployed EU migrants can claim these benefits. The result of this change will therefore be that new arrivals from the EU cannot claim Jobseeker's Allowance for their first three months in the UK but can receive it for three months after that, rather than the six allowed under the existing rules.

In addition, a consultation has been launched on banning overseas-only advertising – legally requiring employment agencies to advertise in Britain, and new plans to restrict the number of Job Centre Plus jobs which are automatically advertised on an EU-wide job portal.

The European Commission has already said it will investigate whether the changes to the benefit rules are legal under existing EU law (the UK and Commission are already locked in a long-running legal dispute over EU migrants' access to benefits). So, are they?

Needless to say No10 and the DWP are confident they are, and we think the Government has a strong case. However, as we noted of David Cameron's last 'immigration crackdown' in November 2013, the UK is at the very limit of what it can do within the confines of EU law.

In order to keep this latest measure within the EU rules, it will only apply to new arrivals to the UK who have never worked in Britain. This is because under existing EU rules, people who have worked in the UK must be treated differently because they enjoy 'worker status' for at least six months. As others have noted the impact of this policy on the ground is therefore likely to be small as not many EU migrants will be affected.

We have ourselves called for the Government to address public perceptions about free movement, primarily by instilling the principle that EU migrants should only be entitled to benefits after having made an economic contribution. This is clearly David Cameron's intention and he used today's Telegraph article to make the point: "You cannot expect to come to Britain and get something for nothing."

But unless this latest measure is followed up with reform of the underlying EU legislation, the UK Government is in danger of chasing diminishing returns with the risk is that voters simply become desensitised to the flurry of crackdowns that make only piecemeal changes.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Banking Union challenged at the German Constitutional Court

It emerged over the weekend that five German academics have launched another challenge at the Bundesverfassungsgericht – the German Constitutional Court (GCC) – this time against the proposals for a banking union based on the Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM) at the ECB and the Single Resolutions Mechanism (SRM) at the Commission, with a Single Resolution Fund (SRF) set up via a separate intergovernmental treaty.

For background on all these institutions, see these links: SSM, SRM & SRF

One of those bringing the complaint is Prof Markus Kerber of Europolis (who has been heavily involved in previous suits). According to the press release the key point of the challenge is:
  • That the banking union plans overstep power given in Article 127 TFEU. This is the article which was used to create the SSM in the ECB. Essentially it seems the group take issue with the idea that this could be done since the article refers only to conferring “specific tasks upon the European Central Bank concerning policies relating to the prudential supervision of credit institutions”. The thinking seems to be that, article 127 allows for the ECB to take on certain specific tasks, but not to turn the ECB into the eurozone's single supervisor, giving it complete supervisory control over certain banks and, to an extent, superiority over national supervisors (which some might see as a transfer of power).
  • A key question will be around the amount of power transferred to the ECB. (There is no doubt it has become one of the most powerful institutions in the eurozone crisis both due to de facto action and de jure changes. There are certainly valid questions to be asked here, particularly since the level of democratic oversight is limited due to difficulties in combining this with its strict independence when it comes to monetary policy matters).
  • Although the details are yet to be released, the complaint is also likely to question the legal base of creating the SRM inside the Commission and the pooling of national funds through the SRF. The main questions here relate to the level of control and oversight from the national level, particularly whether the Commission is the right institution to take on this new role and whether it is gaining too much power - not least since the decision was taken under qualified majority voting due to the use of the single market legal base.
The group are far from alone in raising legal concerns surrounding the basis for the banking union. As we have previously noted, both the German government and the European Parliament have expressed legal concerns over the structure; the former with regards to the fiscal impact and the legal basis for pooling of funding and the latter with regards to the use of intergovernmental treaties and the circumvention of the EP. (Ironically, such intergovernmental agreements arose in large part to avoid Germany’s original concerns).  The German government’s concerns have also been mostly dismissed by the Council legal service previously.

The UK Government has also made noises about concerns around the use of the single market article (114) to create a new eurozone architecture.

As the FT notes, these cases take some time to work their way through the system and the GCC has shown a track record of generally siding with the EU, albeit often with some caveats.

Given said track record and the previous opinions expressed by the Council legal service, we can’t help but feel the outlook is already dim for this challenge. As with all eurozone policies, overturning it would likely cause huge market disturbance and shift the eurozone back towards an existential crisis – something the court is usually quite aware of.

That said, the court could add caveats in terms of the democratic assent required for banking union and the role of the Bundestag where funds are concerned. It could also pass the judgement onto the European Court of Justice, as it has done with the case over the ECB’s bond purchase programme the OMT, not least because it seems to mostly question the legality under EU treaties.

In any case, this is certainly one to watch and not just from the eurozone perspective. Any ruling could well set a precedent and have a role in determining how far the eurozone can push certain treaty articles in terms of legal bases but also how it fits with national constitutions. In other words, it could be important in determining the issue of euro-ins vs. euro-outs as the EU develops.