Boris Johnson knows how to play the Eurosceptic press

Boris Johnson

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson made his latest thinly veiled bid for the Tory leadership, outlining his own distinctive vision of Britain’s relationship with the EU ahead of David Cameron’s crucial, defining speech on Europe later this month. He called for Britain’s EU membership to be “boiled down to the single market”, scrapping the social chapter and other pesky regulations from Brussels. He then went on to suggest that Britain should join the “outer tier” of Europe along with Switzerland and Norway, while maintaining an active role in shaping single market legislation.

Never mind that neither Norway nor Switzerland’s relationship with the EU is purely based on free trade, never mind that minimum social and employment standards are an inextricable part of the single market: Johnson knows how to play the keys of Eurosceptic press like a concert pianist. This may just be because when it comes to British Euroscepticism, Boris Johnson invented the Steinway. Continue reading

Theresa May’s opt-out mess

Stephen Booth of Open Europe was alone in defending the UK government’s plan to opt out of 130 EU police and judicial measure at a Law Society debate last week. Even he pointed to the list of 60 measures of ‘practical value’ to the UK compiled by prominent Tory eurosceptic Dominic Raab. These include the instruments governing Europol, Eurojust and even the oft-maligned European Arrest Warrant.

Professor John Spencer, author of a Cambridge University paper on this topic, hit back at some of the arguments being made in favour of the opt out. He first pointed to the letter to the Telegraphin January 2012, signed by 102 Tory MPs and calling for a mass opt out. Of the three measures mentioned in the letter – the European Public Prosecutor, the European Investigation Order and the European Arrest Warrant – only the third is even covered by the opt out. Continue reading

Focusing on the size of the EU budget is side-lining the wider issue of what it is spent on

The outcome of the EU budget summit last week was not as bad as it could have been. Cameron did not wield his veto, as he was threatening to just a few days before. And while EU Leaders did not reach a final agreement, progress was made towards reaching a compromise at the next Council meeting in early 2013. Crucially, the UK was able to drum up support for a real-terms freeze amongst like-minded member states such as Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. This is in stark contrast to our self-imposed isolation following Cameron’s blocking of EU-wide treaty change last December.

However, Cameron’s focus on preventing a rise in spending is side-lining the wider issue of EU budget reform. Continue reading

Why the EU deserves the Nobel Peace Prize

The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU on Friday was met with predictable derision from the likes of Nigel Farage, who described it the decision as “baffling,” and leader of the Tory MEPs  Martin Callanan, who said it was “a little late for an April Fools’ Joke.”  Admittedly, the current social unrest across Southern Europe made the award seem a little incongruous, especially coming just days after Angela Merkel’s visit to Greece was met with violent protests in Athens. Yet in fact, this was precisely the logic behind the decision by the Norwegian committee, as explained in their statement; that in these times of instability it is especially important to remember the EU’s contribution to peace and prosperity on the continent. In this way the award serves both as a timely reminder of what the EU has achieved, and as a warning of what could happen if it were to collapse. Continue reading

European countries must work together to solve the asylum crisis

Today marks World Refugee Day, which aims to raise awareness of the plight of the 42.5 million people worldwide who remain forcibly displaced due to conflict and political persecution. The UNHCR’s Global Trends report, released earlier this week, shows how during 2011 major conflicts in Ivory Coast, Libya, Somalia and Sudan caused several major refugee crises, forcing more than 800,000 people into neighbouring countries, the highest in more than a decade, and internally displacing a further 3.5 million within the borders of their own countries.

Yet with world leaders focusing on the fate of the eurozone, the plight of the world’s most vulnerable people is in danger of being overlooked. As well as working together to solve our economic troubles, it is vital that we help the millions of men, women, and children who have been forced from their homes and had their lives thrown into a state of fear and uncertainty.  Continue reading

It’s not a case of austerity v stimulus for Europe

Calls for a more growth-led approach dominated last week’s informal EU summit, but European leaders made little progress in the ongoing discussions over the best way to overcome the economic crisis – and stalled over disagreements about eurobonds and the role of the European Central Bank. The debate over the future of the eurozone continues to veer between two extremes: stimulus v austerity. “You cannot spend your way out of a debt-fuelled recession”, shout those on one side of the divide. Others, mostly from the left, respond that economic recovery is not possible without a major influx of public spending. But what if there’s a more meaningful discussion to be had about finding an effective middle ground, combining sustainable fiscal policy with long-term economic recovery? Continue reading

France did not reject European austerity, it rejected Sarkozy

President François Hollande’s call for a new growth-led approach has resonated with many people across Europe who continue to suffer from a seemingly endless cycle of economic decline and painful public sector cuts. Nobel prize-winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman, who have strongly criticised the self-defeating nature of the Eurozone’s austerity-based economic policy, have also welcomed his election as a much needed breath of fresh air. Yet amidst this initial wave of optimism, it is important to remain realistic about what Hollande can truly achieve. Continue reading

Spread the word about this EU push for citizen participation

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Most people probably won’t have even heard of the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), introduced on the 1st April last week. Hailed as the first transnational instrument of participatory democracy in world history, it allows members of the public to call for new European laws on issues of their choice, provided they have a million supporting signatures from at least seven member states. But despite its alleged aim of bringing the EU closer to its citizens, it hasn’t aroused much interest outside of the so-called ‘Brussels Bubble’. Instead, it seems to have primarily got the attention of lobbyists eager to use it to their advantage. If the initiative is to succeed in actually giving a voice to everyday citizens rather than special interest groups, it is crucial that more people are made aware of it and how they can become involved. Continue reading

The Untold Story – Arms imports and the Greek debt crisis

Last week I went to a talk by Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas at LSE in which he made the usual grim diagnosis about the debt crisis in Greece. The country was in dire need of structural reforms, he said, both to its economy and society. Leaders across the continent have been making similar criticisms, with Sarkozy and Merkel warning the Greek government last month that it wouldn’t receive new bailout funds unless it fully implemented austerity measures. And despite the significant debt swap agreed on today, any EU bail-out remains conditional on the country implementing a further round of budget cuts. Yet one area of the Greek budget doesn’t seem to have received such scrutiny, its huge military spending. The reason is simple, France and Germany still account for the vast majority of arms sales to Greece.

Continue reading

China, the EU and the new race for Africa

In Luanda, the capital of Angola, Chinese construction workers are relentlessly putting up another skyscraper, one of many which have been popping up like mushrooms all over the city over the past few years. Back in 2002, this was a barren, impoverished place, ravaged by decades of civil war. Now it is the centre of one of the fastest growing economies on the planet, with new infrastructure and construction projects rapidly transforming the face of the country. Continue reading

Jack Straw on Britain, Europe and the EU’s “existential crisis”

Jack Straw came to UCL last month and gave an inaugural lecture on Britain and Europe, after having been named Visiting Professor in Public Policy. Throughout his 33 year career the Labour MP has had experience in nearly every senior cabinet position, having served as Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Lord Chancellor and Leader of the House of Commons. Continue reading

MEP Diana Wallis Interview: Improving Tranparency and Participation in the EU

Many in the UK and across Europe tend to view the EU as an elitist and alien bureaucracy, out of touch with the everyday needs of its citizens. This is particularly significant at a time when there is widespread alarm over the Euro crisis coupled with growing separatist yearnings  in the UK. So how is the EU responding to such charges? Can the EU become more democratic, more transparent, and increase the participation of its citizens in the policymaking process? Eureka spoke with two high-ranking officials of the European Parliament, Diana Wallis and Michael Shackleton, to find out their thoughts on the matter Continue reading

Despite the Euro crisis-Britain still needs Europe

When the Euro crisis first began to unfold back in 2010 it was greeted by many in the U.K.with a certain sense of schadenfreude. There was an air of smug satisfaction that we had decided not to join the single currency, and many argued that those countries that had joined should deal with their own mess and leave Britain to focus on its own painful economic recovery Continue reading