Bursting the Bubble

Britain and ‘the Continent’

16 June 2016 | by

With the referendum on the UK’s membership to the EU just around the corner and polls indicating a neck and neck race, campaigners on both sides are understandably desperate to score points. Winston Churchill has been resurrected in both Europhile and Eurosceptic forms. “If Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea”. This quote sings to the tune of the Leave campaigners’ favourite economic
argument which proclaims a Britain out of the EU will be able to tie itself with the vibrant economies of the Commonwealth and the rest of the world and rid itself from the dictates of a sclerotic EU. Churchill made this statement in a heated exchange with Charles de Gaulle during the Normandy landings in 1944, long before the Schumann declaration. The Remain campaigners like to remind us of Churchill’s vision of a “United States of Europe”. How involved Churchill would have liked Britain to be in a federal union remains heavily debated. In 1961, Churchill wrote, “I think the Government are right to apply to join the European Economic Community”. The application was subsequently vetoed by De Gaulle in 1963 as he saw Britain as too different in its geography, history, economy and trade relations to genuinely integrate with ‘the Continentals’.  The Leave campaigners argue that Churchill would never have agreed to Britain in the EU in its current form and this is where the Churchill debate become purely speculative. To understand Brexit, it is best to look at how it became a possibility in the first place.

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Greece: Eurozone and IMF clash over debt relief

7 June 2016 | by

On one level, the recurring Greek crises fits the idea from Karl Marx of history repeating itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Greece came close to a eurozone exit last summer. While it will probably come close again this year, it is unlikely to leave. The eurozone, Greece and International Monetary Fund (IMF) stood at a stand-off and reached an agreement implanting some proposals from the IMF, but the group around Germany, swept along by Alternative fur Deutschland, won the stand-off. The IMF published a new document right before the summit. In that document they has concluded that Greek public debt, at 180 per cent of gross domestic product, is unsustainable; as is the agreed annual primary budget surplus, before interest payments, of 3.5 per cent of GDP. The fund insists on debt relief, but Germany continues to resist. Continue reading

Contrary to popular opinion, business lobbyists are less effective than NGOs

1 June 2016 | by

This title summarises an important study carried out in 2015-16 by three professors at the London School of Economics (LSE) with a specific focus on consumer protection and the environment. The statement might appear shocking, but in fact I arrived at the same conclusion 10 years ago in my book “European Lobbying”.

Why?

My analysis at the time, and that of LSE, converge to give reasons for this lack of performance among business lobbyists. The first reason lies in the fact – indisputable in my view – that the EU agenda is in practice inspired by NGOs. GMOs, pesticides, nuclear, endocrine disruptors – on all these issues and others, industry is on the defensive. However, in lobbying, defensive strategies are destined to lose in the long term.

The second reason is directly linked to the first. According to the three LSE professors, systems moving towards more regulation – certainly the case in the European Union – give more of an advantage to NGOs than to industry. This is another common point of our analyses.

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What does the election of Alexander Van der Bellen mean for Austrian (and EU) energy and climate policy?

25 May 2016 | by

On Monday 23 May, the Green Party candidate, and former Interior Minister, Alexander Van der Bellen, beat Freedom Party hopeful Norbert Hofer in the Austrian Presidential election by a margin of 31 000 votes, gaining 50.3% of the popular ballot versus 49.7%, from a total of 4.64 million cast, ending one of the closest election races in years. He becomes the second European Head of State with a Green Party background following Latvia’s Raimonds Vējonis who was elected in 2015. Besides the worrying amount of right wing sentiment in Austria following Mr Hofer’s surprise run, and the even more worrying total number of votes recieved, Austria can now boast one of the most progressive Heads of States in Europe, with a firm focus on the green economy and sustainable investment. But with such a slim majority, can President Van der Bellen unite a divided country, and push through the green agenda which Austria and Europe so vitally needs? Continue reading

Written procedure: the devil is in the detail

13 May 2016 | by

In the not too distant past, we communicated a lot about the Orphacol case, involving the authorisation of an orphan medicine via an implementing decision. The affair made great waves. We told the story in a booklet called ‘The Orphacol Saga.’

One of the many bombshells in this case occurred when a Member State interrupted the written procedure, initially started by the Commission to enable a quasi-automatic approval of the medicine. The cancella on of the written procedure brought even more turbulence for Orphacol!

The written procedure allows the Commission to adopt a draft measure without debate (although a debate might have taken place at an earlier phase). This automatism of decision-making can be stopped by a Member State, giving the committee the chance to meet, vote and potentially oppose. Stopping the written procedure is therefore not a neutral act: it constitutes an important lobbying act on in terms of taking back control of the situation.

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