Friday, February 22, 2008

Brown in Brussels: in the footsteps of John Major

Gordon Brown was in Brussels yesterday. Echoing John Major, Brown said that “Britain must be at the centre of Europe”.

The Guardian notes that Brown set out "four major goals" for the EU: building global prosperity, creating an environmentally sustainable world, leading on stability and reconstruction around the world, and leading the fight against poverty. These issues will apparently be discussed at annual spring EU economic summit.

"The March summit is a natural playground for Brown," one EU official said.

Brown has also proposed setting up an independent EU carbon bank whcih would hand out pollution permits under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. If Brown's proposition were accepted, it would take away the power to hand out the permits to pollute from member states and the European Commission, which wants the power for itself after 2013, when the third phase of the ETS will begin.

This story is depressing in a number of ways.

(1) The proposal for a “carbon bank” is yet another headline British proposal which will quietly sink without trace - like the second chamber of the European Parliament… or the “subsidiarity watchdog”… or Brown’s 2003 proposal to “take back control” over regional spending. Not only does this idea have no political backing elsewhere, but more importantly it is poorly thought through. For example, is Brown trying to tell us that carbon taxes – which is what the ETS would become if all permits were auctioned - and therefore our electricity bills, should be set by an independent and unelected body? This is not serious. It shows how feeble Britain’s EU policymaking apparatus is - and that the focus of the FCO and cabinet office is entirely on grabbing headlines and “showing willing” in Europe – rather than really changing anything.

(2) Brown’s remarks are basically defensive. He seeks to persuade us that that there will be no further transfer of power to the EU for a bit after the Constitution. But Sarkozy’s “wise men” will soon start discussing the next round of integration. And the incremental centralisation which the Laeken Declaration condemned will accelerate. Brown seeks to defend the status quo with scaremongering – and argues that jobs are at risk if the status quo in Europe is questioned. This goes unchallenged. His “positive agenda” - the “four points” - lacks any specific content (like Miliband’s inane “civilian surge” and “global hub” slogans).

(3) For example: Brown wants “economic dynamism” – but as soon as ratification is “out of the way” the EU will pass the Agency Workers Directive and hugely damage our economy. He wants “global stability” – but as soon as ratification is out of the way Sarkozy will press for an EU intervention force which can do nothing but divert resources away from the wars we are really fighting, to what is essentially an EU vanity project. He wants the EU to help developing countries – but has done nothing to bring to an end EU policies which do the exact opposite. He wants the EU to lead the fight against climate change – but has acquiesced in policies like the biofuels target which may well increase emissions.

This is utterly vacuous.

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