Bursting the Bubble

Brexit: Revolutions are won on ideals

14 June 2016 | by

What I tell my friends when they ask about Brexit

As we draw closer to what promises to be a momentous vote for both the future of the UK and Europe – the British referendum on the country’s membership in the European Union – I have observed a peculiar phenomenon. My friends, profoundly concerned about the likelihood of Britain leaving the EU, have gone into a state of mind ranging from a self-inflicted semi-trepidation to downright hysteria.

I must confess: as it happens, most of my friends and Facebook acquaintances are no fence-sitters on the issue of Brexit. They want the UK to stay in the EU and they fear the worst: that Britain will pull up its draw bridge and return to its 19th century ‘splendid isolation’ policy. Their worries stem from the same epiphany that serves as a cause for exaltation for the Leave campaign: the opinion polls.

A sceptic by nature, I take these polls with a pinch of salt. Pollsters do not always get it right (if at all). But my sentiments about the validity of the opinion polls do little to simmer down the fear. And so I try other tactics; I use reason. I tell my friends two things:

First, do not despair. If you are fed up with the withering remarks, disdainful snorts, misinformation and downright lies, there are only so many days left in the campaign until people cast their votes and decide.

Second, I recite the list of reasons why I believe Britain will ultimately make the decision to remain in the EU:

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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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