The EU’s ill-conceived TTIP technocracy strikes again

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The Independent: ‘You need to hear what the EU official in charge of TTIP has told me’ (an account from a TTIP opponent):

When put to her, [EU Trade Commissioner] Malmström acknowledged that a trade deal has never inspired such passionate and widespread opposition [as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership has]. Yet when I asked the trade commissioner how she could continue her persistent promotion of the deal in the face of such massive public opposition, her response came back icy cold: “I do not take my mandate from the European people.”

So who does Cecilia Malmström take her mandate from? Officially, EU commissioners are supposed to follow the elected governments of Europe. Yet the European Commission is carrying on the TTIP negotiations behind closed doors without the proper involvement European governments, let alone MPs or members of the public. British civil servants have admitted to us that they have been kept in the dark throughout the TTIP talks, and that this makes their job impossible.

 
Not all of the European public’s concerns and trust issues on the negotiations are unwarranted just because a few of them are paranoid. Whether or not TTIP is a good idea (personally I think not), European officials need to take those concerns more seriously — particularly as any deal will have to be ratified by an increasingly jittery 28 national parliaments facing hostile publics more directly.


Previously from AFD on this topic:

“Drawbacks of Technocracy, Part 1: Europe’s Political Crisis”
“The Economist on technocracy in democracies”

Good ways to ensure Brexit

Pardon the Tory-friendly sourcing, but I stumbled across this news and was startled enough to remark upon it.

The Telegraph: “EU demands Britain joins Greek rescue fund”

Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, discards David Cameron’s deal that spares Britain from Eurozone bailouts

 
Is the European Commission entirely filled with fools? The Conservatives in Britain just got re-elected on a platform bragging about how they had legally firewalled UK from liability for eurozone bailouts (which makes sense since the UK isn’t part of the eurozone and doesn’t have any major connection to crises there), and they’ve got a difficult referendum coming up on whether or not to leave altogether.

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker screwing over Prime Minister Cameron and using UK funds for bailouts (against the written agreement) is an excellent way to ensure the Conservative Party’s voting base goes very hard against continued EU membership, whether or not Cameron tries to campaign in favor of remaining inside the EU.

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Time for a “Two-Speed Europe” after all?

This is a pretty good article on the future of the European Union and the eurozone after the Greek Crisis subsides (probably after Greece’s departure from the eurozone). A “Two-Speed Europe” — once a widely feared and derided proposal — is suddenly looking much more attractive on its merits after the events of the past several months, from Greece (Grexit) to Britain (Brexit) to Hungary (Orbanism) and other severe challenges (refugees).

Political union is necessary for the economic integration to move forward, but it is currently out of reach and probably ill-advised for the full 28 members as a complete set. A political union of only core countries (the eurozone) could be made significantly more democratic than the current structure, while still offering relatively close alignment by much of the rest of Europe, as well as stepping stones up the economic and political development ladder for countries that are not yet prepared to be fully deep-integrated.

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Greece’s Syriza, Germany, and the Gordian Knot

The talk of Europe in the past week has been the snap elections called for Greece at the end of January, which may bring to power a new leftist party called Syriza, which seeks to make domestic reforms and EU reforms that will help average working people and end widespread corruption. Critics have called it “populist” or “radical,” but everything I’ve seen indicates it’s not particularly radical in reality:

Syriza’s manifesto proposes that repayment of debt could come through economic growth, rather than from budget cuts. It wants a European new deal backed up by an investment bank; an all-out war against the tax avoidance endemic in Greek society; an emergency employment programme; a raised minimum wage; and the restoration of collective bargaining.

 
More:

Syriza promises first to achieve a substantial write-off of Greek debt and, second, to lift austerity by aiming for balanced budgets, instead of the surpluses demanded by the troika. It will reconnect families to the electricity network, provide food relief and shelter the homeless. It will take immediate action to reduce unemployment through public programmes. It is committed to lowering the enormous tax burden and to boosting public investment in an effort to accelerate growth.

There is nothing radical, much less revolutionary, in these policies. They represent modest common sense and would open a fresh path for other European countries. After all, Syriza has repeatedly declared its intention to keep the country within the economic and monetary union, and to avoid unilateral actions. There is little doubt that its leaders are committed Europeanists who truly believe that they could help transform the EU from within.

 
Arsenal For Democracy’s guest post by Etienne Borocco, on the 2014 European Union elections, also drew a strong contrast between Syriza on the populist left and the legitimately frightening populist but ultra-right-wing parties rising across Europe, including in Greece:

Additionally, we should also qualify the right’s surge by noting that the radical left made a sharp increase in Southern Europe and in Ireland. The EUL/NGL gained 10 seats. The Greek party Syriza, whose national leader Alexis Tsipras was the EUL/NGL’s candidate for the European Commission, arrived first in Greece. In Spain and in Portugal, the radical left also earned very good results, via new parties such as Spain’s “Podemos,” which ideologically aligns with parties like Syriza, or via older organizations like the Communist Party of Portugal. The far left collectively won as many seats as the Non-Attached members. Notably, in contrast with the right, leftists like Tsipras are not against euro or the EU as a concept; he only denounced the austerity policies advocated by the EU leaders in recent years.

 
They are pro-Europe and pro-reform, just not pro-austerity. They are also not neo-Nazis like Golden Dawn, the ultra-right-wing party in Greece that has also been boosted significantly after four years of economic grind on the poor and lower middle class.

In a recent post on his blog, economist Uwe Bott argues that the rise of Syriza in Greece provides an incredible opportunity for Greece to escape the tangle of its debts — like Alexander the Great slicing through the Gordian Knot instead of trying to untie it — and for eurozone-leader Germany to help the country do so in a responsible manner … if it chooses to:

Like many fables or legends there is a moral to this story: Was Alexander the Great cheating when he cut the knot with his sword or was his an act of genius? Or to put the analogy in this context: Would a Greek default be cheating or the only plausible solution to an intractable problem?

Of course, the troika would scream: Fraud! After all, most of the irresponsible lending to Greece has long been transferred from the private banking sector to public accounts at the IMF, the EU Commission and the ECB.

Now, many Greeks would call a default ingenious. After all, Greek GDP has plummeted by 25% during the austerity program. Unemployment stands at 25% with youth unemployment double that. Pensions have been cut in half. Poverty is skyrocketing. Suicide rates have doubled and infant mortality is up as the public healthcare system has collapsed.

So, from a Greek perspective what is not to like about a default? Some of the alleged consequences, such as kicking Greece out of the Eurozone, turn out to be paper tigers. There are no means by which Eurozone countries can actually expel a member. In other words, a Greek default within the Eurozone is possible.

However, defaulting on one’s debt is not to be taken lightly. The default would exclude Greece from access to capital markets important to its private sector and banks.

 
He also warns in the full post (which I’ve only clipped bits out of) that there is a real risk that an entirely unrestrained default — which Syriza seems to want to avoid anyway, if the EU will help work out a deal — could cause a contagious shock that topples other economies and markets (particularly, he finds Italy a likely candidate). But that’s why Germany needs to lean in and embrace the new movement in Greece, to ensure it has a say in how any default or partial default is managed, so it doesn’t cause panic across Europe: Read more

More anti-EU plans from Cameron after another UKIP win

Following the earlier first-place nationwide triumph this year by the right-wing/anti-European “UK Independence Party” (UKIP) in the 2014 European Union elections, mainstream British politics suffered another serious blow last night, as the first elected UKIP member of the UK parliament was elected in a special election. As with his response to the EU election result, Prime Minister David Cameron yet again handled the situation by immediately ratcheting up rhetoric and policy plans against the European Union (and immigrants), according to the (pro-Conservative) Telegraph:

David Cameron will unveil tough plans to restrict immigration from the European Union within weeks to stop another Ukip MP being elected following Thursday night’s by-election [in Clacton].

Douglas Carswell, a former Conservative, yesterday became the first MP elected to Parliament for Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party following a huge swing in support.

Conservatives warned that the decision by traditional Tory supporters to vote for Ukip would allow Ed Miliband to become Prime Minister if repeated in the general election in 209 days.

Labour narrowly won a second by-election by just 617 votes [over the UKIP candidate] and Mr Miliband is also now facing a major challenge from UKIP in [Labour’s] traditional northern heartlands.

 
The party elite’s right-wing also trumpeted the defeat as a sign that the Conservatives must double-down on anti-immigrant, anti-EU policies and even break up the coalition government with the far more moderate and internationalist Liberal Democrats. While not going that far, Cameron and the ruling government did continue to recast the party toward the euroskeptic position:

The Prime Minister said: “If you vote Ukip, you’re in danger of getting a Labour government with Ed Miliband as prime minister, Ed Balls as chancellor and you’ll get no action on immigration, no European referendum, and obviously – most importantly – you won’t get a continuation of the plan that is delivering success for our economy and security for our people.”
[…]
Brandon Lewis, a communities minister, said that the Tories will put immigration “at the heart” of the renegotiation with the EU to be held before an in-out referendum scheduled for 2017.

He said: “What people are worried about though is migration from the EU, and the Prime Minister made very clear last week that has got to be one of the key things at the heart of renegotiation that we will have before that referendum which we will deliver in 2017.”

 
And after its own close shave in the other by-election, the Labour Party leader also made rumblings of rethinking Labour’s immigration policy:

Mr Miliband conceded that Labour now needs to address “specific concerns” about immigration and denied that he was “complacent”.

 
Miliband is undoubtedly keeping in the back of his mind the situation in France and elsewhere, where traditional far-left, working class communities have gradually abandoned the leftist parties in favor of ultra-right-wing nationalist parties that vow to halt immigration and restore protectionist industrial policies that once helped those workers. Labour is significantly more economically centrist than it once was.
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EU Elections, the Rising Populists, and Why Europe is Worried

Guest post by Etienne Borocco in France: Europe went to the polls last weekend and elected a lot of fringe politicians to the EU parliament. So what does it all mean?

Traditionally, the turnout is low in the European elections: only about 40%. This year, it was 43%. The functioning of the European Union is quite complex, as depicted in the chart below:

Illustration 1: Flowchart of the European political system (Credit: 111Alleskönner - Wikipedia)

Illustration 1: Flowchart of the European political system (Credit: 111Alleskönner – Wikipedia)

Why the EU elections matter — and why the media and most voters ignore them:

The directly elected European parliament and the unelected Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers) co-decide legislation. The European Commission has the monopoly of initiative, i.e. it is the only one to initiate proposals. The European Parliament can vote on and amend proposals and has the prerogative to vote on budgets. If the Council of European Union say no to a project and the parliament yes, the project is rejected. So the parliament is often described as powerless and its work, which is often about very technical subjects, does not hold the media’s attention very much. Consequently, the European elections to vote for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have a low turnout – and a lot of electors use it to express concerns about national subjects.

For example in France, 37% of the registered voters answered that they would vote by first considering national issues and 34% also answered that they would vote to sanction the government. The proportional vote system (in contrast with America’s first-past-the-post Congressional elections, for example) gives an additional incentive to vote honestly according to one’s opinion, rather than strategically for a major party (or major blocs of allied parties in the case of the EU parliament).

The May 25th European election was a shock in the European Union, even after the small parties had long been expected to do well. The biggest parliamentary groups in the European parliaments lost seats, while parties that reject or contest the European Union rose dramatically.

In Denmark, in the United Kingdom, and in France, the anti-euro right wing took the first place. It was particularly striking in France because unlike the traditionally euroskeptic UK or Denmark, France was one of the founding countries of European integration and is a key member of the eurozone (while the other two are outside it). The Front National (FN), which has anti-EU and anti-immigration positions, gathered one quarter of the vote in France. Non-mainstream parties captured significant shares in other countries, although they did not finish first.

Populist/Right-wing/Anti-EU party vote share by country in the 2014 EU elections. Data via European Parliament. Map by Arsenal For Democracy.

Populist/Right-wing/Anti-EU party vote share by country in the 2014 EU elections. Data via European Parliament. Map by Arsenal For Democracy.

The new seat allocations:

Let’s look at the gains and losses. With the exception of the socialist bloc, the traditional parties lost seats — particularly in the mainstream conservative EPP and centrist ALDE blocs, which virtually collapsed. The May 25 European parliamentary elections also marked the notable appearance of new populist right-wing parties in Eastern Europe, among the newer member states. For example, two conservative libertarian parties (movements that are a bit like a European version of Ron Paul) won seats – the KNP in Poland and Svobodní in Czech Republic. Moreover, the national government ruling parties were hugely rejected in most countries, whether by populist fringe parties dominating (as in France, the UK and Denmark) or by the main national opposition parties beating the ruling parties.

2014-european-election-results-table

Among the non-aligned (NA) members elected, if we exclude the six centrists MEPs of the Spanish UPyD (Union, Progress and Democracy), the 35 MEPs remaining are from far-right parties.

Among the 60 “Others” MEPs, there are 3 MEPs of Golden Dawn in Greece and 1 MEP of the NPD in Germany, both of which are neo-Nazi parties. The NPD was able to win a seat this year because Germany abolished the 3% threshold. With 96 seats for Germany, only 1.04% of the vote is enough to get a seat. The Swedish Democrats (far right) got 2 seats. In total, 38 MEPs represent far-right parties, out of a total of 751 MEPs.

So why do observers talk about an explosion of far right?

Beyond those scattered extremists, the vote for the more organized euroskeptic, hardcore conservative, and far right parties all increased sharply. The UKIP in UK (26.77%, +10), the National Front (FN) in France (24.95%, +18), the Danish People’s Party (DPP) (26.6%,+10) and the FPÖ in Austria (19.7%,+7) rocketed from the fringe to center stage. The UKIP, the FN, and the DPP all arrived first in their countries’ respective nationwide elections, which is new.

Other parties elsewhere did not come in first but performed unexpectedly (or alarmingly, depending on the party) well this year. For example, although the Golden Dawn only won three seats from Greece, they did so by winning 9.4% of the country’s vote, even as an openly neo-Nazi party. The Swedish Democrats (9.7%, +6.43) and the Alternative For Germany (7%, new) also made a noteworthy entry in the parliament.

Their shared characteristic of all these parties, regardless of platform and country of origin, is that they are populist in some way.

True, under the word “populism,” a lot of different parties are gathered and their ideologies may vary. While most of these parties claim to be very different, we can, nonetheless, put everyone in the same basket for the purposes of this analysis, to understand why the results were so shocking. Their core point in common is that they all claim represent the people against “the elite” and “Brussels” which embodies both “evils”: the EU and the euro.

We could use the following system to classify like-minded populist parties:
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