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Monday, January 20, 2014

Fact check: Has Germany's Foreign Minister really "isolated" Cameron on EU migration?

Update 1:20pm: The FT has told us that it was the German Perm Rep in Brussels that sent the FT the quote, in reply to the question: "I'm trying to understand what the German position is on this matter and I'd be keen to know whether Berlin shares the UK view of curbing free movement of European Union workers." If that's the case then the German Perm Rep should obviously share some responsibility for recycling the quote and not being clear about the source or context of it. That said, we still think it's an odd basis for such a major splash and, as we argue below, conflates the issues involved since Cameron has not actually advocated a cap on current EU migration.

The FT's front page claims David Cameron "faces EU isolation on anti-immigration stance". Exhibit A in the paper's case is a quote from Germany's SPD Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier:
“Germany has benefited tremendously from this and surely more than others. Now many young people from southern Europe are coming to us, to learn and study. That benefits us and also helps the states from which they come. Whoever questions that damages Europe and damages Germany.”
However, a little digging in the German press reveals that there's something fishy about Steinmeier's apparent criticism of Cameron.

Firstly, his comments were first reported on 2 January by German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, so this is not a new quote. Secondly, and much more importantly, his comments were not in response to anything proposed by the UK at all. In fact, he was responding to proposals from his CSU coalition partner. The original story made no mention of Cameron or the UK. So, unless Steinmeier repeated the quote to the reporters, the FT effectively extrapolated from a quote that was given specifically in the context of German Coalition politics.

It so happens that the CSU's ideas on EU migration quite closely resemble much of what the UK Government would like to do to tighten rules on access to benefits. Nevertheless, Steinmeier appears to be quoted completely out of context. This was a domestic German dispute about tackling the abuse of EU free movement (the German coalition fought fiercely about this at the turn of the year).

Even disregarding this (which is pretty difficult), the article is unclear on what issue Cameron is isolated over. It mentions outright "curbs" on EU migrants. We agree talk of this is unfortunate and that there's very little appetite for this across Europe. Fortunately, curbs are neither an official Tory or Coalition policy. The article also makes a specific reference to beefed-up transitional controls on migration from future EU accession countries, based on new economic criteria (potentially a GDP per capita threshold) before their citizens are eligible for full free movement rights. We don't know how much support there is for this proposal.

And finally, it also cites rules on access to benefits, for which there is support in Germany and elsewhere (though the extent is still unclear).

Now, we may agree or disagree with Cameron's stated policy on EU migration, and as we've argued before, No 10 could have handled this situation a lot better.

But using a quote taken completely out of context as the key basis for a major splash does nothing to boost the quality of the wider political debate about the EU and immigration.


Anonymous said...

All of this just suggests to me that we are better off being masters of our own destiny and regaining sovereignty over all factors that impact us as a sovereign nation.

The time wasted by our politicians dealing with these issues (when they should be non-issues) and the hot air that surrounds them could be better spent on actually changing things for the better.

EU membership has added layer upon layer of fluff that has to be dealt with before we can achieve anything.

How is this efficient government?


Rik said...

There are 2 sorts of people:
1. The ones that make an inventory of the facts, evaluate these and gets to a standpoint.
2. Ones that have a standpoint and a) cherry pick facts that fit in with that and b) spin stuff that doesnot.

Compared to eg WSJ the FT is considerably more a representative of the second group. It is as simple as that.
Bloomy does nowadays more or less the same but has the advantage of picking the 'right' political standpoints. Right as in majority/stronger/prevailing etc. nothing to do with ethical right, simply the one that is likely to win.
FT has as a second weak point simply they have a pro-European bias. In the way they they often look at things through European glasses. As said Bloomberg does it very similar however from the American and rest of the world's pov. As that is very likely the one in which context, things will be happening it can cause much less problems.
If 90% of the world thinks in a certain way that way simply becomes reality.
It is not black and white of course, it is all in degree. But it can clearly be seen. Method of analysis sucks, there is a bias and it is from a worldwide perspective a minority view.

Anyway FT's EU reporting is overall pretty poor. Simply looks like the department (FTs European/Brussels desk) dealing with that are a pretty lazy bunch. Just look at their blog and the number of articles they produce minimal if one looks at the manpower available or compared to the 'Financials'. Look like a lunch-brigade tbo.

FT on Europe is simply not a serious player (allthough it could be one of their strong points compared to the competition, but it clearly isnot) unless they step up. And one doesnot see them doing that.
Problem being for FT that it is not a normal paper, it is a source where people look for hi-speed info (FT is about as fast as Presseurope was) and put their money on (and are not interested basically in a paper's political preferences, info and analysis is what count). The 'world wants the European view explained not defended in a nutshell.

Anyway as said on Europe they are simply lazy and followers in no way agenda-setters like OE. The only way they really influence public opinion on Europe (via the business part thereof) is via their financial news.
And even there the last 1-2 year the number of referrals by other financial sources to FT articles has dropped dramatically. My guess as basically economics has moved deep into politics (US deficit and QE stuff, Europe with its Euro barely kept alive by political horsetrading and countries unable to become competitive again), more specialist sources have arrived (like OEs own blog for instance) . The frontrunners simply are moving and have moved to those iso rely on traditional sources like the FT (or Reuter's which has a similar sort of problem).

Michael Taylor said...

Heads should roll at the FT. There is no possibility that the writer of the piece could not know that he/she was mis-attributing/making up a quote. So it's simple - they need firing.

Then there's the editorial prominence given to the story. Who knew that it was a fake? Did the sub? Did the news editor? How high up does the fakery go?

As I said: heads must roll.

Rik said...

Another side issue:
It looks more and more that the FDP is on the end of its track.

New leader is likely as unappealing as the previous 2 ones (Westerwelle and Rosler). Hard to see anybody changing votes because of Lindner.
Also policy choices seem optimal for wiping it off the map.
Should be a rightwing alternative for Merkel. It is however a strongly diluted version of Merkel. Stressing its main weak point a lot of talk but at the end of the day KleinBein (jump in line). That will not work.
Even worse they have passed their yellow card stadium with all the personal and programmatic rubbish of the past and their potential voterbase is very unlikely to buy that (no voterbase does that). Its electorate wants a proper candidate and a real alternative. Not Rosler 2.0 or Westerwelle 3.0.

Which makes AfD a more likely alternative. Add the general credibility problems of traditional politics. Add the yellow card effect for the traditionals (similar what we will see in the UK) and the 3% iso 5%.
Hard to see that AfD will not get into EP.

From that moment on there is a permanent pressure on the traditional parties (like we see in the UK now and earlier we have seen in Holland, Finland, France and Danemark.

Anonymous said...

The irony is delicious: The Eurofascist and constitutionally dishonest Open Europe trying to set the record straight regarding comments made by EUSSR lackeys.

I wonder what Open Europe will be doing when the UK is escaping the EUSSR...