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Macron Surges in the Polls

by Zwackus Wed Jan 18th, 2017 at 01:28:13 AM EST

According to the press narrative, a "vibrant" and "enthusiastic" and "energetic" Emmanuel Macron is rising in the polls and challenging the nationalist and nativist mood.

What have we here?

Promoted - Frank Schnittger

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A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall

by Frank Schnittger Mon Jan 16th, 2017 at 10:03:11 AM EST

Theresa May to say UK is 'prepared to accept hard Brexit

In a speech to be delivered on Tuesday, the prime minister is said to be preparing to make clear that she is willing to sacrifice the UK's membership of the single market and customs union in order to bring an end to freedom of movement.

An article in the Sunday Telegraph cites "sources familiar with the prime minister's thinking" as saying that May is seeking to appease the Eurosceptic wing of her party by contemplating a "hard", or "clean", Brexit. In the speech to an audience of diplomats at London's Lancaster House May will hope to end months of speculation about her intentions by setting out her aims for Brexit. According to the Sunday Telegraph, she will say that the UK must:

  1. be prepared to leave the EU customs union;
  2. regain full control of its borders, even if that means losing access to the single market, and
  3. cease to be subject to rulings by the European court of justice.

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A Brexit doomsday scenario

by Frank Schnittger Tue Jan 3rd, 2017 at 04:10:22 PM EST

The British Government appears to be blithely proceeding on the basis that it will be able to cherry pick the parts of the EU it wants, whilst at the same time achieving the freedom to do many things that it claims the EU is now preventing it from doing. When you are building an opening negotiating position it is no harm to put forward what you would regard as an ideal outcome of the negotiations. In theory it increases your chances of actually influencing the negotiations in that direction. In practice it may very much disillusion your supporters when they discover that the final outcome falls some way short of their ideal outcome.

But there is also the danger that in hyping your version of how a successful negotiating process should proceed you end up antagonising the other party to the negotiation still further. The EU 27 might well conclude that the UK is living in cloud cuckoo land and that there is no great point in engaging in a serious negotiation at all. Such a response may be amplified if the British media then go on a rampage ridiculing the antediluvian, obstructive, and inflexible EU bureaucrats who simply refuse to see the utter sensibility of the UK proposals. Negotiators are only human after all.

One of the more amusing spectacles of recent times is seeing Leave campaigners argue that they really have the best interests of the EU at heart, and that what they are proposing is in the best interests of all.  After all the EU needs access to the UK market as well, they argue, and a continuation of a free trade zone including the UK can only help economic growth in Europe over all.  But what if the negotiations were to go seriously off the rails and no substantive Brexit deal of any kind were to be agreed? What would a worst case scenario look like both for the UK and the EU? Follow me below the fold for a sneak preview...

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Is it Worth it?

by Frank Schnittger Fri Dec 30th, 2016 at 01:48:34 PM EST

Jon Worth is one of the few knowledgeable UK commentators on the EU who has some idea of how politics works on the other side of the channel based, as he is, in Berlin. I had the pleasure of meeting him at a blogging conference in Rotterdam some years ago and even did a short video interview with him about his political and journalistic ambitions against the backdrop of a boat trip around Rotterdam harbour:

Naturally his critical but basically pro-EU views get him into a lot of trouble with Leavers in the UK who seem to specialize in demonizing and abusing him rather than engaging with the actual factual points he makes. Recently he fisked Andrew Marr's delusional view of Brexit which drew a lot of abuse which he referenced in a follow up blog. None of his detractors seem to have the slightest idea of the political realities of the EU and fondly imagine that the UK can have more or less what it wants out of the Brexit negotiations and that the UK will be able to negotiate far more advantageous trade deals with the rest of the world than it ever could as part of the EU.

I have tried to show him a little support and add some "balance" to the debate by highlighting how the Brexit campaign is viewed from outside the UK. Even though I was as provocative as possible, no Leavers have acknowledged never mind responded to the points I made. They appear to be operating in a parallel universe. Anyway, for what it's Worth, I copy and elaborate on my comments below:

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The Shafting of the UK

by Frank Schnittger Fri Dec 16th, 2016 at 03:00:19 AM EST


Irish TV news showed a clip of EU leaders gathering for their last summit of 2016 yesterday.  All were busily chatting to one another - except one:  Teresa May stood there awkwardly, looking for someone to talk to, but everyone had their backs turned to her.

I very much doubt that the move was choreographed.  EU leaders wouldn't be so petty, would they?  But the scene encapsulated a feeling that I have had for some time: The Brexit negotiations are going to be bloody, and more likely than not will lead to no substantial agreement at all.

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Transparency in the European Union

by eurogreen Sun Dec 4th, 2016 at 12:09:49 PM EST

I have, perhaps foolishly, promised to produce a policy contribution on the above subject, in the context of policy development for DiEM 25.
Currently the only official policy we have is the original manifesto, supplemented by a few ad-hoc issues settled by a vote of members.

The policy formation process itself is still very much a work in progress, but basically it works like this :

  • a policy convener writes a questionnaire on a policy domain,
  • local (or virtual) groups respond with proposals
  • three generations of Green Papers are generated
  • there is a vote to validate a White Paper.

There are six domains identified :
  • Transparency
  • Refugees and Migration
  • the European New Deal
  • Labour
  • Green Investment
  • A European Constitution.
This proces is underway for the first three domains, with a deadline of 15th December for the first round of contributions.

The rest of this diary is the questionnaire written by Dániel Fehér.

You know what I'm asking you to do now, don't you?
That's right. My homework.

More precisely : my Diem25 local group is meeting tomorrow night on the subject, and we have ten days to present a contribution. So any ideas batted around here in the meantime are quite likely to end up in that contribution.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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Enemy of the people: the people.

by Colman Wed Nov 30th, 2016 at 11:42:08 AM EST

I think this take on Brexit is relevant:

Prime Minister Theresa May is being careful about what information is available to her opponents in the Brexit negotiations. There will be “no running commentary” or any substantial disclosure from Downing Street. Her opponents, however, are not the various EU institutions. Brussels probably knows the strengths and weaknesses of the UK negotiating position better than the UK itself.

No, her true Brexit opponents are the UK’s media and politicians and, by extension, the public. Mrs May and her government are in an intense negotiation to obtain approval from those to whom they are, in theory, accountable. This is the settlement which matters most. The actual exit terms with the EU are of secondary importance.

May's problem is how to persuade "the people" that she has carried out the "will of the people" by being seen to carry out a project that is simply infeasible, in the sense that the constraints - if you include "not cratering the UK economy" as one - are mutually inconsistent.

Comments >> (21 comments)

Leaving the EU implies automatic exclusion from the EEA?

by Luis de Sousa Tue Nov 29th, 2016 at 07:35:18 PM EST

This question is slowly percolating through the wall of noise  around the UK's exit from the EU. More attentive folks are wondering if to leave the European Economic Area (EEA) a formal notification is required. I.e., if beyond triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, in order to fully exit its social and economics commitments the UK needs to trigger Article 127 of the EEA Agreement.

This question is highly relevant for a simple reason: membership of the EEA was not voted in referendum, therefore the UK institutions - Government, Parliament and House of Lords - are not morally obliged to any particular course of action in this regard. If leaving the EU does not automatically exclude the UK from the EEA, it will then remain a full member of the so called "Common Market" with all the rights and obligations it entails.

Frontpaged - Frank Schnittger

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Apartheid USA: Will Trump do a reverse Mandela?

by Frank Schnittger Thu Nov 10th, 2016 at 01:45:57 PM EST

I completed my Masters Thesis on Apartheid some months before Nelson Mandela was released from prison by FW De Klerk in 1989. In it I predicted the imminent demise of apartheid based on changes in the South African economy which were happening at the time. I did so despite the fact that the relatively newly installed South African President, FW De Klerk, was widely regarded as a hard liner from within the ranks of the most reactionary parts of the South African Nationalist party at the time.  Sometimes past policies and positions are a poor predictor of how someone will act once in power. For me, economic circumstances could sometimes trump the personal characteristics of those in power.

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Trump: consequences

by Colman Wed Nov 9th, 2016 at 08:55:09 AM EST

Everyone else is doing their hot takes this morning, so why be left out: my sense of likely consequences of Trumps win:

  1. No climate change action from the US for a decade. Possibly a crucial decade for ameliorating the effects. This will make international action harder and less likely.
  2. The xenophobic backlash will be emboldened internationally. What could go wrong? The US could be a leader in rolling back hard won rights for women and minorities.
  3. Increased geopolitical and economic instability at an already unstable time. I wouldn't bother trying to analyse the effects of any of Trumps announced policies, such as they are, but I'd expect policy to be influenced by whoever is ascendant in his court at a specific time.
  4. Significantly increased odds of another global recession.

The consequences for the poor, minorities and women of childbearing age within the US are likely to be awful.

Comments >> (104 comments)

The decline of the USA

by Frank Schnittger Mon Nov 7th, 2016 at 06:45:01 PM EST


For all the hype and noise, this election has seen a remarkably consistent trend. If you average all the polls, Clinton has always been ahead, whether by 8 points or 2. Right now she is 4 to 5 points ahead, and it would take a massive polling failure for that not to be reflected in the actual vote. She is also ahead in all the swing states bar Iowa and possibly Ohio, North Carolina and Florida. What we are arguing about is the margin of victory, and who controls the Senate.

Without control of the Senate (55% probability per 538), she won't be able to make key appointments or ratify Treaties, and without control of the House, she won't be able to pass a budget or keep the government open. So either way we may be facing gridlock and an effective coup d'etat. The New American Century is no more. The USA's influence in the world will probably decline whoever wins the Presidential poll.

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Brexit: A new political dynamic is unleashed

by Frank Schnittger Thu Nov 3rd, 2016 at 01:30:55 PM EST

The High Court has found that the UK Government cannot trigger Article 50 "by Royal Prerogative" but must seek the approval of Parliament first:

The government had argued that it could invoke article 50 without parliamentary approval, using royal prerogative, a set of executive powers. The court found, however, that because article 50 triggers an irreversible process leading to Brexit after two years, it overturns the 1972 European Communities Act, which brought the UK into the Common Market.

"The most fundamental rule of the UK's constitution is that Parliament is sovereign and can make and unmake any law it chooses. As an aspect of the sovereignty of Parliament, it has been established for hundreds of years that the Crown -i.e. the Government of the day - cannot by exercise of prerogative powers override legislation enacted by Parliament," the court said.

The government argued that MPs who passed the 1972 act intended that the Crown should retain its prerogative powers to withdraw from the EU treaties. But the court rejected the argument, saying there was nothing in the 1972 act which supported it. And the judges accepted the main argument against the government, that EU membership conferred rights on UK citizens which the government could not remove without parliamentary approval.

The government has said it will appeal the decision, but presuming that decision is upheld by the Supreme Court, a whole new political dynamic will be unleashed. A clear majority of MPs voted remain in the referendum, and while many, including Jeremy Corbyn, have said that the will of the people must be respected, a vote on the matter ensures they will have to "own" the consequences of invoking A50. The Government's lack of a clear negotiating strategy will be laid bare, and the opposition have the opportunity to re-open the question should they decide to do so.

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The new politics, American Style

by Frank Schnittger Mon Oct 31st, 2016 at 07:17:35 PM EST

In common with many political junkies here, I suspect, I've been following the US elections very closely.  And yet, despite having written about 60 stories on US politics in previous years, I've written hardly a word this time around. Where to start? The subject is almost too horrible to contemplate: a reductio ad absurdum that keeps on plummeting into new unfathomed depths.  Could anyone have imagined a candidate so ridiculous as Donald J. Trump winning the Republican nomination, never mind the Presidency itself?

A narcissistic, racist, misogynist. A self-confessed serial sexual abuser of women and allegedly a child rapist as well. An admirer of Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein and assorted dictators around the world. A businessman who has stiffed many suppliers, contractors and customers throughout his career. A candidate who has encouraged his supporters to commit violence, and who has said he will imprison his opponent if elected. A rich kid who claims to speak on behalf of the dispossessed, and yet proposes policies which will dramatically further increase the gap between rich and poor in the United States.

And yet he is polling within a few percentage points of the front runner, Hillary Clinton, who, for all her faults, is none of the above. Yes, you can fault her for using a private email address for official business, possibly to avoid congressional scrutiny.  But she did so on the advice of a previous (Republican) Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and it was apparently a practice widespread amongst top officials, partly because of the cumbersome nature of the official email system, not to mention the risks of leaks emanating from that system due to cyberattacks and bureaucratic infighting.

So what is happening to the USA, and is it a harbinger of things to come in Europe and elsewhere in the world?

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A more nuanced solution to Brexit

by Frank Schnittger Thu Oct 27th, 2016 at 11:43:42 AM EST

Discussion of Brexit has been almost exclusively based on the proposition that the UK will exit en bloc, and that the only possible exceptions to this are if Scotland were to vote for Independence, or N. Ireland were to vote to join a united Ireland.  But there are some precedents for more nuanced solutions to the fact that both Scotland and N. Ireland voted Remain.  For instance, Greenland and the Faroe Islands remain part of the Kingdom of Denmark but with substantially independent political institutions, and neither are part of the EU.

The Faroe Islands secured an opt-out when Denmark joined the EU in 1973 (the same time as the UK and Ireland) and Greenland voted to leave the EU in 1985. In both cases the decision was based on their desire to retain independent control of fish stocks in their territorial waters.  The UK already issues distinctive passports for residents of the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, and Jersey is neither a Member State nor an Associate Member of the European Union.
Jersey and the EU

Jersey is part of the European Union Customs Union of the European Community. The common customs tariff, levies and other agricultural import measures apply to trade between the island and non-Member States. There is free movement of goods and trade between the island and Member States. EU rules on freedom of movement for workers do not apply in Jersey.

So what if England and Wales exited the EU, but Scotland and N. Ireland remained? Both are substantially self-governing and have economic interests distinct from the rest of the UK. Their First Ministers have demanded a central role in the negotiation process and even Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones departed from Theresa May's "hard Brexit" position by insisting Wales wanted to retain full access to the European single market. Remaining part of both the UK and the EU would go some way towards appeasing both the Independence and Unionist voters in Scotland, whilst allaying Spanish fears of setting a precedent for Catalonian independence.

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Alan Dukes responds to my LTE

by Frank Schnittger Wed Oct 19th, 2016 at 01:30:27 AM EST

Alan Dukes, former Leader of Fine Gael, Leader of the opposition and Minister for Agriculture, Finance and Justice has responded to my letter to the editor criticising his original Irish Times article purporting to advise Theresa May on Brexit:
Preparing for realities of Brexit

Sir, - Frank Schnittger(October 17th) raised some objections to my "tongue-in-cheek" advice to Theresa May about Brexit ("Whitehall's Brexit advice to Theresa May", Opinion & Analysis, October 14th).

He is, of course, right to point out that the EU regards the four freedoms as indivisible. I agree with that, but the EU cannot demand that a state which is no longer a member should continue to take the same view. The EU trades with many states that do not attach the same value to the combination of these freedoms. The purpose of the UK's proposed "Great Repeal Bill" is clearly to lay the groundwork for an agreement with the EU on mutual recognition of standards post-Brexit unless and until the UK makes any specific change. It would be extremely difficult for the EU to argue that standards which it accepted up to the point of Brexit would no longer be recognised on the day after. Such recognition would not require the conclusion of a new trade agreement; all it needs is a bit of common sense.

Mr Schnittger casts doubt on the possibility of the UK simply taking over the terms of existing EU agreements with other trading partners. He does not explain why any other country would decide to treat the UK differently in trade matters simply because it had exited the EU. True, the situation in regard to new trade agreements with the UK would be more complex, but consider the CETA agreement with Canada. Conclusion of that agreement between the EU and Canada has (so far) been stymied as a result of its rejection by the regional parliament in Wallonia - EU ratification requires unanimity among the member states, and Belgium cannot now ratify because of the decision in Wallonia.

My guess is that the UK would signal its agreement to CETA post-Brexit. I hardly think that Canada would not welcome such a decision. Australia has signalled that a UK-Australia trade deal would happen post-Brexit. The UK is leading a group of northern European member states in an attempt to moderate the commission's proposals for tough anti-dumping measures against China. That could facilitate a UK-China understanding post-Brexit.

Mr Schnittger correctly points out that I made no mention of passporting rights in the EU and euro zone for UK financial service providers. I did, however, suggest that the City of London might not be without leverage in a negotiation.

The purpose of my "tongue-in-cheek" piece was to point out that there are viable options for the UK, for which we should be prepared. - Yours, etc,

ALAN DUKES

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LTE: Alan Duke's "advice" to Theresa May on Brexit

by Frank Schnittger Sun Oct 16th, 2016 at 05:25:24 PM EST

Alan Dukes is a former chief of staff to Ireland's EU commissioner who subsequently held the three key cabinet ministries of Agriculture, Finance, and Justice, and then became leader of Fine Gael (the current Irish Governing Party) but who never won a general election to become Taoiseach. As such he is a member of a small band of people in Ireland who are regarded as knowledgeable and authoritative on EU affairs. (Peter Sutherland, former Irish Attorney general, EU Commissioner for Competition Policy, founding Director General of the WTO, Chair of Goldman Sacks International and currently Special Representative of the UN Secretary General for International Migration would be another).

Alan Dukes has just written an article for the Irish Times which I have a hard time taking seriously. In it he purports to articulate the advice Whitehall is or should be giving to Theresa May on Brexit.  I can't make up my mind whether he was just taking the piss, but if so, many people may not have seen the joke.  So I was moved to write the following letter to the Editor:

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The difference a welfare state makes

by Frank Schnittger Fri Oct 14th, 2016 at 06:15:35 PM EST

Guest post by Prof. James Wickham. Professor Wickham was my Sociology Professor in Trinity College Dublin and is now Director at TASC (Think-tank for Action on Social Change - Ireland's independent progressive think tank);First posted: 13 Oct 2016 01:57 PM PDT

----

Two charts that tell very different stories about inequality in Ireland today...

Both charts show the Gini coefficient of income distribution: the lower the Gini coefficient the more equal the society.  The first (Figure 1a) shows Ireland as the most unequal society within the EU: the Gini is higher than for any other member state.

Gini: Market incomes 2013
Figure 1a Gini, market incomes 2013

By contrast, in the second (Figure 1b) shows Ireland to be boringly normal: Ireland's Gini is in the middle of the range.

Figure 1b Gini, disposable incomes 2013
[Source for both charts:  OECD Income Distribution Database (EU countries for which data available)]

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Brexit means Breakup

by Frank Schnittger Wed Oct 5th, 2016 at 09:54:35 PM EST

Theresa May made great play at the Conservative Party conference this week-end of the UK leaving the EU as one unit. Well she would say that, wouldn't she? I suspect that many Scots will have a different take on that, and the situation in Northern Ireland could well become unstable all over again. She also seemed to be hinting that the UK would be opting for a "hard Brexit" with very little in the way of special access to the Single market. Perhaps that is only an opening negotiating gambit - signalling to the EU that the UK won't be held to ransom in the Brexit negotiations.  

Brexit politicians seem obsessed with the notion that the EU can't afford to lose its export surplus to the UK and will thus be very anxious to offer the UK a good deal. But the UK receives only 4% of EU exports whilst the EU imports 40% of UK exports. It is easy to see which economy would be harder hit if no free trade deal is negotiated. Perhaps they also underestimate the degree to which the EU is a political project rather than just an economic arrangement. Having more or less declared war on the EU and everything it stands for, they may be surprised at the ferocity with which the EU will fight back.

But that announcement will also have sent shock-waves through the City and leading industrial businesses with complex supply chains and customers spanning many EU countries.  You can't run a just-in-time manufacturing operation with vital components stuck in customs awaiting clearance. Even more worryingly, Ministers have started talking about British jobs for British people, and Irish academics in leading British Universities have been asked to furnish their passports as part of a "nationality audit".

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Anti-migrant referendum in Hungary

by DoDo Sun Oct 2nd, 2016 at 07:08:50 PM EST

Today, there was a referendum in Hungary against the EU refugee quotas, one instigated by the right-populist government of prime minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party. With an expected turnout of around 45% and an expected high rate of spoiled ballots, it looks like it will fail the validity condition (valid votes cast should be at least 50% of eligible voters) but the Against votes will be well over 90% of valid votes.

Given that, on one hand, the referendum was the government's initiative and thus the result won't change its policy, and on the other hand, it has no bearing on EU-level decisions for or against the quotas, it would appear markedly pointless. Except, the real goal seems to be the creation of a stepping stone for Fidesz to win the next general elections (in 2018). The propaganda campaign before the referendum was unprecedented in its shrillness and underhandedness even by Fidesz standards. Although it failed at getting the turnout necessary for validity, the result is still something that Orbán can use to keep power.

frontpaged - Bjinse

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Brexit and free trade

by Frank Schnittger Sat Sep 17th, 2016 at 11:59:12 AM EST

For anyone still unsure of what complexities await the UK as it tries to negotiate a good Brexit agreement, Nick Clegg and Peter Sutherland, the founding Director-General of the World Trade Organisation, have produced a good outline. In summary, they find that:


  1. A free trade deal with the European Union will be impossible to agree within two years
  2. That, therefore, an interim deal will need to be agreed to avoid a dangerous and extended period of uncertainty for British companies
  3. And that a new trade deal will result in significantly more red tape for British companies exporting to the EU as British exporters will also have to comply with complex `rules of origin' which require UK exporters to obtain proof of origin certificates from their national customs authorities and are estimated to increase trade cost by four and 15 per cent.

And the above is only achievable with a great deal of good will and cooperation on the part of all 28 current members of the EU. Their 8 page report can be found here and is well worth a read in its own right.  Although primarily intended to describe the difficulties of negotiating a good Brexit deal which does as little harm as possible to the UK economy, it is also a systematic and detailed refutation of just about every claim made by the Leave campaign and by the UK Government ministers now leading the UK Brexit negotiating team.  In particular it describes the disastrous economic effects of the "hard Brexit" which will result if some sort of interim arrangements can't be agreed by the UK and all 27 remaining members of the EU on the expiration of the post A50 two year negotiating period.

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News and Views

 16 - 22 January 2016

by Bjinse - Jan 15, 60 comments

Your take on today's news media

 Start of 2017 News

by Bjinse - Jan 8, 76 comments

Your take on today's news media

 Open Thread 16-22 January

by Bjinse - Jan 15, 10 comments

I'm quite illiterate, but I thread a lot.

 2017 Kickoff Thread

by Bjinse - Jan 8, 27 comments

2017. There we are.

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