Hoping to put the 'In' back in Britain

Hoping to put the ‘In’ back in Britain

Hoping to put the 'In' back in Britain

By Charles Grant, 05 October 2015
From Politico

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Q: With Europe at the top of the Tory party conference agenda, is Cameron's EU renegotiation doomed to fail?

With Europe at the top of the Tory party conference agenda

Q: With Europe at the top of the Tory party conference agenda, is Cameron's EU renegotiation doomed to fail?

Written by Simon Tilford, 05 October 2015
From City A.M

Poland: Warsaw's stance will remain uncertain until after the October elections

Poland: Warsaw's stance will remain uncertain until after the October elections

Poland: Warsaw's stance will remain uncertain until after the October elections

Written by Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska, 30 September 2015
From LSE - European Institute

Britain & Europe: National parliaments and the EU

Britain & Europe: National parliaments and the EU

Britain & Europe: National parliaments and the EU

12 October 2015

Panel discussion as part of UCL's 2-year series on Britain & Europe with:

Location info

University College London
Cruciform Building B404 - LT2
Gower Street

Britain can't be Norway, and Eurosceptics know this

Britain can't be Norway, and Eurosceptics know this

Britain can't be Norway, and Eurosceptics know this

Written by John Springford, 29 September 2015
From The Telegraph

A troubled euro needs a softer Germany

A troubled euro needs a softer Germany

A troubled euro needs a softer Germany

Written by Charles Grant, 25 September 2015
From The World Today

Issue 104 - 2015

Bulletin issue 104 - October/November 2015

Issue 104 October/November, 2015

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Bulletin issue 104
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Jeremy Corbyn and the rise of groupthink

Jeremy Corbyn and the rise of groupthink

Jeremy Corbyn and the rise of groupthink

Written by John Springford, 24 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to the Labour leadership heralds an era of ideological contest that threatens Britain’s membership of the EU – and the United Kingdom itself.

When does cosy consensus become groupthink? According to the social psychologist, Irving Janis, it is when the desire for conformity becomes so strong that alternative courses of action are not even considered, let alone taken.

Jeremy Corbyn, the uncompromising left-winger who has never held ministerial office, surfed from Labour’s backwaters to party leader on a wave of groupthink. The British left never fully accepted Blair’s Third Way – and his greatest mistake, the Iraq war, provided the pretext for its demonisation of him. Corbynistas disparage the party’s centrists as “red Tories” – a process Janis defined as 'stereotyping' opponents as spiteful and biased. The British left has always seen itself as the guardian of political morality, leading to a state of total certainty in which the risks flowing from the group’s decisions – withdrawal from NATO might endanger the country’s security, for example – are reflexively dismissed. And Janis also pointed out that moral certainty encourages excessive optimism: the British left imagines that the surge of Corbyn backers signing up to vote will be replicated in the broader electorate, despite the fact that no leader from Labour’s left has ever won a general election.

The stable liberalism of the pre-2008 period is crumbling, giving way to ideological contest between three political tribes – a Corbynite left, the Conservatives and the Scottish nationalists – which imperils Britain’s membership of the EU, and the future of the UK.

Between 1992 and 2008 there was consensus over the big policy questions of the age: that the state should reflect and nurture the country’s social liberalism, and provide more rights and opportunities for minorities and women; that it should intervene in markets only to correct obvious failures; that pro-work redistribution through tax credits and a minimum wage should counter poverty and inequality; and that more should be spent on improving public services. Now, Britain’s parties are retreating into ideological comfort zones, ignoring or attacking evidence that contradicts their prior beliefs, and choosing policies less on a careful analysis of outcomes than on tribal orthodoxies.

Corbyn’s policies engage in a debate with a spectral Margaret Thatcher: re-open the coal mines that she closed; subordinate monetary to fiscal policy; unpick the privatisation programme that she started. He has no programme of progressive structural reforms – to property, land and retail finance markets, or to the tax system – which would be efficient ways of reducing Britain’s troublingly high level of inequality and raise its weak level of productivity. Confronting past enemies, the left does not notice the alternative roads it might travel.

Labour is not alone. The Conservative policy programme follows party ideology over a careful analysis of the country’s problems. The EU referendum will define Cameron’s second term, even though Britons still rank Europe below immigration, the economy, health, welfare and housing in importance. They are right to do so: it is hard to find a major problem facing the country that would be solved by leaving the EU. Meanwhile, George Osborne’s decision to move towards a budget surplus, reached predominantly by cuts to government consumption and capital spending, is ideological small-statism: higher public investment in infrastructure and housing is needed to cope with a growing population, and investment finance is currently cheap as interest rates are low. The Conservatives’ proposed laws to make industrial action harder are simply a political trap for Labour, since Britain’s days lost to strikes are half the EU average, and are hardly a major drag on the economy.

As for the third force in British politics, the Scottish National Party’s rise lies in the fact that Scots have come to define their political identity against the Tories. The SNP has a tendency to make eye-catching policies to maximise the contrast with those south of the border, irrespective of whether the policies work. Abolishing university tuition fees was a canny political move, since they are hated by the predominantly middle-class students that pay them, and fees in England have risen to £9,000 a year. But abolishing fees led the SNP to cut bursaries for poorer students, to the extent that they are worse off under the new system. The SNP’s decision to make medical prescriptions free costs 7.5 per cent of the Scottish health budget – money that could be better spent on hospital and social care, given that Scotland’s population is ageing rapidly.

Britain’s tribal warfare threatens to undermine the country’s political and economic settlement. Jeremy Corbyn is at best equivocal about Britain’s membership of the EU: he sees it as an agent of international capitalism. Under pressure from Labour moderates, many of whom said they would quit the shadow cabinet if he did not support EU membership, Corbyn has said that Labour will campaign to remain in the EU. But he also said he would try to reverse any “damaging” reforms David Cameron negotiates, citing an opt-out from EU employment rules as an example – and criticised the EU’s proposed trade deal with the US, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
But the threat Corbyn’s leadership poses to the UK’s EU membership arises mostly in the internal dynamics of the Conservative party. The Tory right, knowing that Labour has little hope of winning the 2020 general election under such a left-wing leader, has less incentive to maintain party discipline. Eurosceptics will be tempted to follow their gut feeling, since a split over Europe will not be hugely damaging with the electorate.

The pro-EU coalition on the centre ground of British politics is shrinking, as is the opinion poll lead for the In camp. And since the EU’s member-states face intractable problems – refugees and the euro's flaws – which aggravate British euroscepticism, the referendum could hardly be held in worse circumstances.

As for Scotland, Corbyn’s supporters say a left-wing Labour party will draw voters lost to the SNP back to the fold, and make Scottish independence less likely. There are two reasons why this is doubtful. First, there are not enough left-wing voters in England and Wales for Labour to win the 106 seats needed for a majority in 2020. Scots will have little faith that Corbyn will deliver them from Toryism. Second, Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, has popularity ratings in Scotland that are matched only by Angela Merkel in Germany.

The SNP has drawn up a list of ‘triggers’ that it says should prompt a second independence referendum. Some of the mooted triggers are unlikely to work – a renewal of Trident, Britain’s nuclear deterrent, because a majority of Scots support a deterrent; or if the Conservatives take Britain into an illegal war, because illegality is difficult to prove. But if the majority of Brits vote to leave the EU, with a Scottish majority voting to stay in, Sturgeon would justifiably argue that the constitutional settlement that Scots approved in the first independence referendum was no longer in place. And Scotland would probably vote to leave in a second vote.

Britain’s move towards the international margins and its inability to confront underlying social and economic problems are the result of its widening political fault-lines. If the country does break up, its failure to rise above groupthink will be to blame.

John Springford is a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform.

Annual report 2014

Annual report 2104

Annual report 2014

Written by Charles Grant, 02 February 2015

Europe’s refugee crisis: Chronicle of a death foretold

Refugee crisis

Europe’s refugee crisis: Chronicle of a death foretold

Written by Camino Mortera-Martinez, Ian Bond, and Simon Tilford, 08 September 2015

The forces driving refugees towards the EU will not disappear in the foreseeable future. Europe needs a comprehensive long-term strategy to improve the political and security situation in its neighbourhood. And whatever else it does, it needs to take urgent steps to accommodate and integrate refugees already in Europe. The European Commission is on the right track and the member-states should follow its lead.

The response of European leaders to the scale and urgency of the refugee crisis has been inadequate. Stronger fences have not stopped migrants at Calais from regularly disrupting train services to the UK; or those in Serbia from walking along train tracks into Hungary. People still climb on board rickety boats along the Turkish and Libyan coasts. Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, has suggested that the Schengen agreement could be suspended, allowing EU member-states to reimpose border controls between them – but that would only leave even greater numbers of refugees stuck in ‘frontline’ EU states like Greece.

David Cameron, the British prime minister, has said that the solution lies in stabilising countries of origin and “trying to make sure there are worthwhile jobs and stronger economies there”. Of course. But nobody suggests that such a goal is achievable in the foreseeable future in Syria (now the source of the largest contingent of refugees) or Libya (a transit state mired in civil war that cannot prevent people-smuggling). Huge numbers of refugees will continue to head for Europe as long as the conflicts and chaos they are fleeing endure.

Europe is doing very little to try to stabilise not only Syria and Libya, but also Eritrea and Afghanistan, which are also sources of significant numbers of refugees (though in recent years it has expended much blood and treasure in the last of those countries). The EU’s efforts have been focused on supporting the moribund UN-led peace process in Libya, and on helping Syria’s neighbours to shelter refugees.

In Syria, neither the EU nor its member-states have been willing either to compel the warring parties to stop fighting or to create incentives for them to do so. Russia has stepped up its support for President Bashar al-Assad, to the extent of sending some Russian forces. The Islamic State terrorist organisation, despite being on the receiving end of airstrikes by the US, some EU countries and several Gulf states, continues to control much territory and attract many recruits. A rare glimmer of hope is that the nuclear deal with Iran might make Tehran a more co-operative partner in seeking a solution. But even in the unlikely event of a Syrian peace deal, it is doubtful that refugees will return home quickly.

The EU is a major donor in Afghanistan, particularly in supporting institution-building. But since the EU is involved neither in improving security nor in promoting a political settlement between Kabul and the Taliban, it can do little to stem the flow of refugees. Eritrea, a poor country with an appalling human rights record, will remain a source of refugees and economic migrants. Its government is unco-operative and the EU has few levers to pull. And in Libya, where there is no effective government, the EU is dependent on UN-led efforts to find a political solution. Even if the UN was able to put Libya back together again, there would still be some time before the country had a government capable of controlling porous borders and cracking down on people-smuggling.

So the flows of people will continue. How should the EU respond? Europe is a large donor to programmes that seek to keep refugees close to their countries of origin (and has provided more than €3.9 billion for Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, in particular). But those inside the camps face unpleasant living conditions and meagre hopes of being accepted as an asylum seeker. This encourages them to seek a better life in Europe. The EU needs to step up its efforts to improve standards in these camps, support refugees in the region and enable them to resettle elsewhere. The EU may be able to persuade some other countries in the Middle East to take Syrian refugees (most have taken very few), but many more will still want to come to Europe.

The European Commission is now proposing a scheme for relocating 160,000 refugees already within the EU (in May it had already proposed a system of quotas for 40,000 refugees). This would be the first step towards a more permanent relocation system, and a far-reaching reform of the Dublin regulation, the system governing the management of asylum claims in Europe. Under the Dublin system, asylum seekers must apply in the first EU member-state they enter.

Among the most vocal critics of the Commission’s initial proposal for quotas were Spain and the Visegrad countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia). The UK has been clear that it will not take part, and it is not legally obliged to, since it has the right to opt-out of EU measures related to Justice and Home Affairs (including asylum). But, even though the Commission is seeking to quadruple the number of refugees that it wants distributed among the member-states, public opinion in several member-states has shifted in its favour over the past week. Some governments are softening their opposition to quotas. For his part, David Cameron has announced that the UK will take 20,000 Syrians from camps near Syria over the next four years, but none of those already in the EU. Given that the Commission’s plans have strong backing from Germany and France, there may well be enough support among governments for them to pass.

The EU has 500 million inhabitants so should not find it unmanageable to settle 160,000 refugees. But countries that have a strong record of integrating immigrants, and of cultural and religious tolerance, will be more effective in absorbing refugees than those that have experienced less immigration. The EU therefore needs its richer and more ethnically and culturally diverse member-states to do the heavy-lifting. Germany already is, but France and the UK must pull their weight, too. These are countries with very substantial immigrant populations from outside the EU, which also have the social infrastructure needed to integrate sizable numbers of refugees.

This is not to say that other member-states, notably the Central Europeans, should reject refugees. But with the exception of Poland they are small countries that could not accommodate huge numbers. In any case, only if the EU’s wealthier and more open societies pull their weight will they have the moral authority to cajole the Central European member-states to do more.

Beyond relocation and integration, the EU must also take action to prevent asylum-seekers travelling to Europe. An ‘open doors’ policy for asylum-seekers would be irresponsible, encouraging people to risk their lives with people-smugglers. That is why member-states (and the European Parliament) should agree, in the shortest possible time, to a common list of countries of origin that are ‘safe’, so that no asylum should be granted to their nationals. The Commission’s proposal will include such a list, which would have a deterrent effect – and help to ease the procedures when reviewing claims.

A functioning asylum system should also ensure that those not qualifying as refugees are effectively returned to their countries of origin. That is why the Commission’s proposal will also focus on improving the EU’s poorly-functioning return system. The EU needs to make sure that the readmission agreements with neighbouring countries that are already in place are enforced, while pushing ahead with negotiations on new deals with other relevant countries. The EU should also provide more funds and equipment both for its frontline member-states, and for the countries where refugees come from and travel through. This should include development aid to improve living conditions in source countries, as well as experts and technology to strengthen the key borders.

People fleeing conflicts or political persecution should expect their asylum claims to be reviewed within a reasonable period of time, under fair and humane conditions. The EU should create safe processing centres in countries closer to the refugees’ countries of origin: this would reduce both the need for improvised refugee camps on European soil, and the incentives for refugees to risk their lives by trying to reach Europe. In the Middle East, the most obvious candidate would be Turkey: a bridge between Europe and Asia, it already hosts 1.6 million refugees, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Legally, the EU can only set up a processing centre in Turkey if Ankara agrees to become a full member of the UN’s Geneva convention on the status of refugees. Currently, although a signatory, Turkey maintains a territorial exception that specifies it will only accept refugees from European countries. In return for Turkey agreeing to host the centres, the EU could expedite the talks on visa liberalisation, and offer financial support. In North Africa the EU should be ready – as soon as a viable government is installed – to set up safe processing centres in Libya.

The EU must also rethink the mandate of Frontex, the EU Borders Agency. Frontex can currently deploy Rapid Border Action Teams (RABITs) to help a member-state that is under exceptional pressure, as is currently the case for Hungary and the UK. If the EU wants to prevent Schengen from falling apart, it should reinforce the control over, and the management of, its external border, rather than rely on ad-hoc co-operation during crises. A permanent European Border Guard, with a strong mandate and budget, would ease the burden on the member-states struggling to cope with refugees, and would help to stop human traffickers.

Europe’s response to the refugee crisis has been painfully slow, but the Commission is now giving some sensible pointers on the way forward. Nothing that the EU’s institutions and governments can do in the near future will stop flows into the continent. The member-states will have to work out a fair system for processing and resettling asylum-seekers. But in the longer run a more pro-active EU foreign and development policy can help to reduce the incentives for people to travel to Europe.

Camino Mortera-Martinez is a research fellow, Ian Bond is director of foreign policy and Simon Tilford is deputy director at the Centre for European Reform.

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