Katasztrófa lenne, ha a britek kilépnének az EU-ból

Katasztrófa lenne, ha a britek kilépnének az EU-ból

Katasztrófa lenne, ha a britek kilépnének az EU-ból

Written by Rem Korteweg, 08 May 2015
From Nol.hu

So, Mr Cameron, how can we help? EU seeks to avert Brexit

So, Mr Cameron, how can we help? EU seeks to avert Brexit

So, Mr Cameron, how can we help? EU seeks to avert Brexit

By Charles Grant, 08 May 2015
From Reuters

Link to press quote(s):


A five-point plan for Cameron to win an EU referendum

A five-point plan for Cameron to win an EU referendum

A five-point plan for Cameron to win an EU referendum

Written by Charles Grant, 08 May 2015

The politicians hardly mentioned Europe during the campaign, yet the most important consequence of Britain’s general election will be a referendum on EU membership. Prime Minister David Cameron plans to negotiate reforms to the EU and then hold an in-or-out referendum before the end of 2017. What does he have to do in order to win a referendum on keeping Britain in the club? What is he likely to ask for, in terms of reform? And what would be the impact of ‘Brexit’ on the rest of the EU?

The voters defied opinion polls and delivered a shocking result: the centre-right Conservatives performed much more strongly than expected in England, the centrist and pro-EU Liberal Democrats lost most of their seats, and the Scottish National Party (SNP) won almost every seat north of the border. The anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) won 13 per cent of the votes but only one seat. The centre-left Labour Party – which according to the final opinion polls had a good chance of forming a government – finished almost a hundred seats behind the Conservatives.

At least three factors explain the Conservatives’ triumph: Cameron was a more convincing leader than Labour’s Ed Miliband; the economy’s recent strong performance strengthened the Tory reputation for economic competence; and in the closing stages of the campaign, the Conservatives played on fears that a Labour government propped up by the SNP would be bad for the English.

But although Cameron is the clear winner, he may face some of the problems faced by John Major after he – also in defiance of opinion polls that proved wildly wrong – won the 1992 general election. Major had a majority of 20, soon eroded by by-elections and deaths, which enabled his party’s eurosceptic right-wing to make his life a misery. Cameron’s majority is 12. For the past five years his Lib Dem coalition partners have given him a clear parliamentary majority, and thus some protection from Tory eurosceptics. But now they will be urging Cameron to make maximalist demands of his European partners; they will shed few tears if such demands cannot be met, since that would only reinforce their point that Britain should leave the EU.

Cameron will have to fend off the Conservative hard-liners if he wishes to keep Britain in the EU. He can face them down if he wants to: his surprise victory has given him considerable political capital. He does not need to consult backbenchers on the finer points of his negotiating strategy. If Cameron wants to, he can negotiate some modest improvements in the way the EU works. But he will need to be diplomatic and constructive. The British brand in the EU is much more toxic than many people in the UK appreciate. Here are five pieces of advice for Cameron.

First, do not over-bid. If Cameron tries to make fundamental changes to the way the EU works, he will fail. Britain’s partners have no appetite for treaty change: a new treaty would need to be ratified in all 28 member-states, some of which would have to hold referendums. The process of changing the treaties would take many years, and most governments – including Germany, which leads the EU – fear that reopening the treaties would be like opening Pandora’s Box. There is no chance of a new treaty being ratified by 28 countries before the end of 2017. The best that Cameron could obtain would be a promise of very minor treaty changes, to be ratified at some point in the future.

Second, make the case for EU membership. Cameron did so with his Bloomberg speech of January 2013 – but never followed up, because he did not want to annoy his party’s eurosceptics or potential UKIP voters. Britain’s partners will not take Cameron seriously until they see that he is prepared to explain to the British the benefits of EU membership – and thus be ready to make enemies in his own party. Cameron surely understands that during the referendum campaign the Conservative Party will inevitably split into two hostile camps – and that that may in the long term damage its unity (just like Labour’s EU referendum in 1975 presaged the split of 1981, when a group of pro-Europeans set up the separate Social Democratic Party).

Third, take initiatives in the EU and seek to lead in areas where Britain has expertise. One reason why British influence has dwindled in recent years is that it has often sat on the sidelines and appeared happy for others to lead. Britain’s EU partners would listen to it with more respect if it made concrete proposals in areas such as foreign and defence policy, co-operation on policing and counter-terrorism, climate and energy, or trade and the single market. Many other member-states would welcome a more pro-active Britain.

Fourth, work hard at building alliances and making friends. Cameron has very few close friends in the EU. When the European Council voted on Jean-Claude Juncker’s appointment as Commission president last June, only Hungary’s Viktor Orban joined Cameron in opposition. Angela Merkel is something of a friend, on a good day, but she and Cameron are prone to misunderstand each other (as in December 2011, when he wrongly thought that if he signed the ‘fiscal compact’ she would give him a protocol protecting the City of London). Other leaders tend to complain that Cameron is a very transactional politician who does not invest sufficient time in building relationships with them. Britain’s relations with several Central European countries have frayed in recent years, largely because of the Conservatives’ anti-immigration rhetoric. Of course, the problem is not just Cameron. Under the last Labour government, too, many of the EU’s smaller members complained that British ministers and officials seldom took them seriously, for example by making the effort to travel to discuss areas where they could work together.

Fifth and finally, a point that my late colleague Philip Whyte often made is that clubs have not only rules but also mores. British politicians tend to forget that their rambunctious style of domestic politics – involving confrontation, rudeness and a win-or-lose psychology – goes down badly in the EU. The EU works through long negotiations and compromises that end in everyone feeling that they have got something. Sometimes Cameron gets this: two years ago he worked patiently with Germany and other partners to get a good deal on the EU budget, shrinking its size. Sometimes he does not: prior to the appointment of Juncker, other leaders reported that Cameron had threatened to campaign to take Britain out of the EU if the Luxembourger was appointed. Such threats alienate potential allies.

Cameron has to take two decisions very quickly: when should he hold the referendum, and what should he ask for, in terms of EU reform?

On the first point, there is a strong case for bringing the referendum forward to the second half of 2016. The longer it is delayed, the more the climate of uncertainty will afflict the British economy and potentially deter foreign investment. Furthermore, newly-elected governments usually have more credibility and popularity than tired governments in mid-term. If the referendum happened at the end of 2017, some voters might vote against the EU only because they were fed up with Cameron. Then there is the electoral cycle of other key countries to consider: both Merkel and France’s President François Hollande face elections in 2017 and will be unwilling to make big concessions to the UK in the period leading up to them.

On the second point, Cameron’s EU partners will, of course, urge him not to ask for too much. Many in his own party – and the UK’s eurosceptic media – will tug him in the other direction, arguing that unless he extracts major concessions from other member-states, the British people will never agree to stay in the club. Cameron and his officials have given several hints of what Britain’s priorities would be in a negotiation with EU leaders:

* He will ask for limits on the in-work and out-of-work benefits available to migrants from EU countries. As my colleague Camino Mortera-Martinez has written, several of his demands would be difficult to achieve and require treaty change. See Cameron's migration speech and EU law: Can he change the status quo?

* He will try to shift the institutional balance in the EU, so that the Commission becomes less dependent on the European Parliament than it has been in recent years, and closer to the Council of Ministers. Part of this rebalancing would involve giving national parliaments a bigger role in scrutinising subsidiarity and proportionality in EU rule-making. See Not in front of the MPs: Why can't parliament have a frank discussion about the EU? by Agata Gostyńska.

* He will try to introduce safeguards for the single market. There is a potential risk that the 19 countries in the euro will club together, caucus and seek to impose their views on the broader 28-country single market. In fact such caucusing has not yet happened, but Cameron will ask for new mechanisms to ensure that it cannot.

* He will urge the EU to pursue British priorities on economic policy-making, such as negotiating more trade agreements, extending the single market into services and the digital economy, and improving the quality while minimising the quantity of regulation. In fact the Juncker Commission is doing most of these things already, but Cameron will need to dress this up as a triumph for his agenda.

* He also is keen to get some sort of opt-out from treaty language on ‘ever-closer union’. And he may seek radical changes to Britain’s relationship with the European Convention on Human Rights (though this is separate from the EU).

None of this would be easy to negotiate, but on most of these dossiers Cameron will find allies as well as opponents. So far, Britain’s partners have not taken the question of Brexit very seriously. They have been pre-occupied with the problems of Russia and Greece. Many EU leaders were praying for a Labour victory. They have not given much thought to the areas in which they could help Cameron to achieve some of what he wants. A successful British renegotiation will require moderation and constructive diplomacy on their part as well as that of Cameron.

Other leaders will now have to consider the impact of a British departure on the EU. Economically, the EU would lose its biggest champion of free trade and the single market (which is why some protectionists would welcome a Brexit). In terms of foreign and defence policy, the British – despite recent defence cuts, and their reluctance to become involved in the diplomacy over Ukraine – have serious capabilities; without the UK, the EU would find it harder to become any kind of power. If the EU lost one of its two countries with seats on the UN Security Council, other powers would take it less seriously.

And then there is the transatlantic relationship: though UK-US ties are weaker than they were, the British have so many economic and cultural links to the Americans that they can often explain the EU to them; and they can help continental Europeans to understand the US. For example, the UK has played a key role in forging transatlantic agreements on counter-terrorism. Finally, there is the German question. Germany’s weight in the EU often dominates economic decision-making, and is increasingly important on foreign policy, too. A Brexit would leave Germany even more preponderant, which would concern a lot of other countries – as well as a number of Germans.

Brexit is far from inevitable. Recent opinion polls in Britain suggest that more voters wish to stay in the EU than leave. But for a referendum to be won, Cameron needs to become more strategic and less tactical. And Britain’s EU partners need to help him to frame a deal that he can sell to the British people.

Charles Grant is director of the Centre for European Reform


Added on 02 Jun 2015 at 11:58 by Peter Martin

The problem with a "reform" package is that the British electorate will very likely reject it.

If there is a real reform package then it will probably be accepted. The EU-powers-that-be shouldn't underestimate the intelligence of the UK electorate. They are quite capable of spotting the difference between "reforms" and reforms.

Added on 13 May 2015 at 16:47 by Mark Tokola

There is a path to the UK remaining in the EU. On one of Charles' points in particular, strengthening the role of national parliaments, there is nothing to prevent member states from deciding on their own to have their governments consult more closely with their parliaments before Council votes. That would not require a treaty change. With a modicum of good will, a "reform" package should be possible.

Added on 09 May 2015 at 11:53 by David Broucher

Fully agree that the negotiations need to focus on a few modest things that are achievable, don't require treaty change and go with the grain of what partners are doing anyway. If the bar is set too high, the enterprise will end in tears.

Added on 08 May 2015 at 22:45 by Anders Åslund

Great comment, Charles. It is difficult to disagree with anything that you write.

However, one big point is missing. The tory party should rejoin the European People's Party. That is the easiest and best way of making the UK relevant in EU politics again.

Anders Åslund

ECFR's the world in 30 minutes: British elections

ECFR's the world in 30 minutes: British elections

By Charles Grant, 06 May 2015

UK elections: The evil of two lessers

The evil of two lessers

UK elections: The evil of two lessers

Written by John Springford, Simon Tilford, 06 May 2015

Britain faces some major challenges. The recovery is unbalanced, and productivity growth has been weak. Poor infrastructure, patchy skills and constrained housing supply are holding back the economy. The Union itself is in danger, with the rise of the Scottish National Party. And relations with the EU and the US are at a low point. Yet neither the Conservative party nor Labour has a compelling strategy for tackling Britain’s problems.

There are only two possible governments after Britain’s general election on Thursday: a minority government led by the Conservatives or one led by Labour. Neither main party will command a majority at Westminster, even in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. Both have ruled out going into coalition with the Scottish National Party (SNP), which will be the third largest parliamentary force following the election.

The UK faces major challenges. While its economy has grown swiftly since 2012, so has its current account deficit. Productivity growth has been weak, and there are serious supply-side problems, especially in infrastructure and housing. Britain’s influence with both the EU and the US has diminished as the country has withdrawn to the margins, and the future of the UK itself is in danger. Which of the two possible governments is more likely to tackle the political and economic uncertainties facing the country?

Assuming (as the polls suggest) that the Conservatives emerge as the largest party, they will have first crack at forming a coalition. One involving the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists might get close to the 323 seats needed. But although the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, has indicated that he would back another coalition with the Conservatives, he could struggle to bring his party with him, opening the way for a Labour-led coalition.

A coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats is unlikely to command much more than 300 seats, and so would fall even further short of a majority. However, the SNP is likely to secure nearly 50 seats. Ed Miliband has ruled out a formal coalition with the SNP, but one can imagine an informal arrangement, whereby a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition governs with the tacit support of the SNP.

The UK’s economic performance compares well with the eurozone since the trough of the downturn. However, this partly reflects the fact that the British government has (sensibly) eschewed the draconian fiscal austerity seen across much of the eurozone. As a result, the UK’s fiscal deficit in 2014 was the second-highest in the EU after Spain. Furthermore, Britain’s current account deficit has widened sharply, to 5 per cent of GDP in 2014, in the process ending the coalition’s hopes of rebalancing the economy away from consumption in favour of investment and exports (see Chart 1).

Chart 1. Government, current account and private sector balances

Source: Office of National Statistics, Haver Analytics. Private sector and government are calculated as four-quarter rolling averages.

To a significant extent, the British government is powerless to do anything about the external imbalance. The UK’s exports to non-EU markets have grown strongly in recent years, but exports to the EU have fallen, since demand in the eurozone has been weak (see Chart 2). Indeed, the UK’s trade with non-EU markets is broadly in balance, with the deficit mainly accounted for by the EU, suggesting that the origins of the deficit lie as much in weak demand in export markets as supply-side constraints at home. Stronger eurozone growth should start to rebalance trade with the EU, although the current strength of sterling against the euro suggests that progress will be slow.

Chart 2. UK exports to the EU and the rest of the world
Source: UK trade info

However, policy differences between the Conservatives and the Labour Party could influence the outlook for the UK economy. While the UK faces several more years of fiscal consolidation regardless of the outcome of the election, the Conservatives are also likely to cut spending on education and infrastructure – two of the UK’s key weaknesses – by more than the Labour party. While Labour has announced that it will balance the current budget (that is, the budget excluding investment spending) by 2020, the Conservatives are committed to balancing the overall budget (including investment spending) by then, implying much tighter policy than under Labour.

The Conservatives’ ‘reform and referendum’ EU strategy is economically risky. It proposes minor changes – some of which might help the economy (such as deepening the single market, and striking more trade agreements with non-European countries) and some of which might not (making it easier for national parliaments to block legislation to deepen the single market). But the loss of foreign direct investment deterred by a referendum campaign would far outweigh any benefits from such tinkering. And if ‘Brexit’ does happen, it could result in considerable damage to Britain’s manufacturing base, and to the City of London, since it would raise barriers to competition between firms in Britain and the rest of Europe, rather than reducing them. It would also hit the poorest regions of the UK hardest.

Britain has a productivity problem. Output per hour remains lower than it was in 2007. The pick-up in economic growth since 2012 has been founded on a growing labour force rather than productivity growth. Neither of Britain’s biggest parties has a coherent set of policies for dealing with the supply-side problems responsible for this trend, and some of their proposals might worsen it.

Both Labour and the Conservatives promise to intervene in prices – for domestic energy, rail travel and housing – in a clumsy attempt to tackle the ‘cost of living crisis’ brought on, in part, by a failure to address the underlying supply-side constraints. Labour has proposed a price freeze on household energy prices and controls on rents. The Conservatives have promised to cap rail fares and provide subsidised finance for homebuyers. These policies would discourage investment in energy and rail capacity, reduce the number of homes to rent, and inflate house prices.

Despite Conservative claims that Ed Miliband is suspicious of markets, it is Labour that promises more forceful attempts to promote competition. It wants to compel the big six energy companies to build a Chinese wall between their generation and supply businesses, and to make companies buy and sell energy on exchanges. It promises two new challenger banks ‘on the high street’ (although it has not specified how it will create them) and is more likely to take concrete steps to alleviate the UK’s chronic housing crisis.

The Conservatives will do very little to address Britain’s biggest supply-side problem – the constrained supply of housing. The party plans 200,000 new ‘starter homes’ for young people over the next parliament, although its dire performance in this regard since 2010 strongly suggest this target will not be met (see Chart 3). But it will ensure ‘local people have more control over planning’ and promises to protect the green belt (the areas of largely agricultural land that surround Britain’s largest cities and which may not be built upon). It will pump up house prices by extending the ‘help to buy’ scheme, which offers subsidised finance for first time buyers. And it will reduce the availability of affordable rental housing by forcing housing associations (private charities that provide Britain’s cheaper rented accommodation) to sell to tenants, with the government subsidising their purchases. This set of policies would make the situation worse, not better.

By contrast, Labour promises 200,000 new homes a year. Although it is short on the specific policies to deliver them, its track record on housing is far stronger than the Conservatives: two-thirds as many houses were built in 2014 as in 2007. However, Labour has not said how it would tackle the issue of excessive business rents, which are as important a supply constraint as private housing. And while it promises a so-called ‘mansions tax’, which will hit the owners of expensive homes, Labour has no plans to reform Britain’s low and regressive property tax rates.

Chart 3. Housebuilding
Source: Department of Communities and Local Government

What impact will the election result have on the outlook for constitutional reform? The rise of the SNP in Scotland after the country voted to stay in the UK at last September’s referendum is, at first sight, perplexing. But the Scots were promised more devolution in the referendum campaign, only for David Cameron to announce the morning after the vote that more devolution would only happen if Scottish MPs were stopped from voting on English matters in Westminster. Since then, the Conservatives have portrayed any Labour government reliant on SNP support as a betrayal of the English, and Ed Miliband has felt compelled to say that Labour will not deal with the SNP if Labour forms a government. If the Scots return 45 to 50 SNP MPs to Westminster, and both major British parties shun them in an attempt to court English votes, Scottish voters will be disenfranchised and the Union will be further weakened.

There is one way out of this: reforming the voting system to make it more proportional, and devolving more powers to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland – and to the English regions. Proportional representation (PR) would ensure that parliamentary representation was more closely aligned with voter preferences, and would mean that more voters’ views were represented in parliament and government, since coalitions would be more likely. And crucially, it would prevent Scotland from becoming a permanent SNP fiefdom. The SNP has taken over from Labour as the beneficiary of first-past-the-post in Scotland. With PR, there would be far more Labour, Liberal Democrat, Green and Conservative MPs in Scotland, slowing or stopping the drift towards independence.

In many ways, Conservatives’ attitudes towards the EU are the mirror of Scottish Nationalists’ attitudes towards the UK. Both want sovereignty returned to ancient parliaments, and both consider themselves to have bad deals in their respective unions. Labour is the best hope for constitutional change. Having lost most of the Scottish MPs, it will no longer be a beneficiary of the current first-past-the-post voting system, and could hope to be the dominant political force in most the UK’s devolved regions.

Finally, could the election reverse Britain’s increasing international marginalisation? The current coalition has presided over a dramatic worsening of Britain’s relations with the EU. This has partly been the result of David Cameron’s decision to concede a referendum on membership of a ‘reformed’ EU. As there is no appetite on the part of the rest of the EU for a treaty change to accommodate major concessions to the UK, the relatively minor reforms Cameron is likely to achieve will not be enough to assuage the eurosceptics in his party. Even if Britain votes to stay in the EU, a referendum campaign will ensure that British politics is inward looking until the vote is held, further weakening Britain’s already diminished status in the Union.

A Labour-led government would be better placed to improve relations with the EU. Crucially, it is highly unlikely there would be a referendum. Nor would Labour seek to renegotiate the terms of the UK’s EU membership. Britain’s relations with a number of EU governments could improve significantly: the Conservative-led coalition has focused on relations with Germany almost to the exclusion of relations with other countries because it believes that Germany is key to a successful attempt to renegotiate membership. A Labour-led government is also more likely to reboot Franco-British military co-ordination, which has been badly neglected by the current government since François Hollande became the French president. However, even under Labour, it is far from clear that Britain would revert to a more assertive role in the EU, given the need to manage what promises to be a tricky domestic situation.

Not only has the current British government damaged relations with the EU, but it has undermined relations with the US. The UK’s waning influence in the EU combined with big cuts in defence spending, and a growing reluctance to participate in international military operations, has made the UK a less important partner for the US. However, this is unlikely to change much regardless of the outcome of the election. A Labour-led government would at least remove the spectre of a referendum and with it the biggest threat to British influence in the EU. But neither party is likely to try to meet the NATO target of spending 2 per cent of GDP on defence, although both would renew the Trident nuclear deterrent. Similarly, as minority governments, neither would risk participating in international military action in the face of strong domestic opposition.

The general election campaign has shown some of the uglier features of British politics. It has been marked by short-termism: the Conservatives have been willing to risk both Britain’s membership of the EU and the UK itself in order to court English votes. For its part, Labour has focused on populist responses to the UK’s poorly performing markets (such as price and rent controls) as much as on policies to make those markets work better. The campaign has focussed on side issues: how each party plans to cut the budget deficit has featured far more prominently than what they will do about weak productivity growth, or how to make Britain’s government more legitimate in the eyes of its people. And British politics is becoming insular: while the Middle East and Eastern Europe are torn by conflicts and a rising China squares up to the US, the next parliament will ignore those challenges in favour of arguments over ‘Scoxit’ and ‘Brexit’.

John Springford is a senior research fellow and Simon Tilford is deputy director at the Centre for European Reform.

Royaume-Uni. Un scrutin très ouvert

Royaume-Uni. Un scrutin très ouvert spotlight image

Royaume-Uni. Un scrutin très ouvert

By Charles Grant, 04 May 2015
From Le Telegramme

Link to press quote(s):


Bye bye England ou la schizophrénie européenne des Anglais

Bye bye England ou la schizophrénie européenne des Anglais

Bye bye England ou la schizophrénie européenne des Anglaisvideo icon

Radio France International
By Charles Grant, 03 May 2015
From Radio France International

Link to media:


Britain leaving the EU: How it would impact Ireland

Britain leaving the EU: How it would impact Ireland

Britain leaving the EU: How it would impact Ireland

By John Springford, 29 April 2015
From UTV Ireland

Link to press quote(s):


Do the UK's European ties damage its prosperity?

Do the UK's European ties damage its prosperity?

Do the UK's European ties damage its prosperity?

Edited bySimon Tilford

Written by Philip Whyte, 30 April 2015

David Cameron is short on specifics over Europe


David Cameron is short on specifics over Europe

with John Kerr, 21 April 2015
From Financial Times

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