Monday, 13 January 2014

No, the EU didn’t help to prevent a Third World War



by Marc Glendening
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Expect the history wars that broke out last week between Michael Gove and Tristram Hunt over the causes of the First World War - and whether or not Blackadder Goes Forth should be shown to school children during this anniversary year of the start of the conflict - to intensify.

World War One is in the process of becoming intensely politicised, since the EU has already started its drive to use the conflict to justify a further centralisation of power.

During the run-up to the Euro elections and a possible UK referendum on membership, the pro-EU lobby is seeking to unleash a big scare campaign to parallel the one it is running about Britain becoming economically isolated should it choose independence.
For example, the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, when asked to comment on the Gove-Hunt dispute said – I assume with absolutely no sense of irony:

“One essential difference between 1914 and 2014 is that we have the EU to ensure that democratic values cannot and will not be undermined … European integration is the answer to the catastrophe of the first half of the 20th century, where our continent was facing wars, the Shoah [Holocaust], totalitarianism, poverty and injustice.”

Brussels can really plumb the depths of bad taste concerning this type of stuff. In a last ditch attempt to swing the French and Dutch referendums in 2005, Margo Wallström, then a Commissioner, organised a publicity stunt in a Nazi concentration camp and said: 

“There are those today who want to scrap the supra-national idea. They want the EU to go back to the old purely intergovernmental way of doing things. I say those people should come to Terezin and see where that old road leads.”

Mass race-based homicide, needless to say, did not follow on the streets of Paris or Amsterdam following the declaration of the results.


EU myths


In its preparation for a possible referendum, the pro-independence movement needs to take on the great foundational myth of the EU – namely, that it has saved Europe from war and genocide. We must argue that it was the defeat of German and Austrian imperialism in 1918, and of fascism later, that ultimately paved the way for the peace.

Nation-violating ideologies caused wars, not the existence of independent countries per se. The subsequent peace has had absolutely nothing to do with the EU, which in any case did not start to manifest itself until about ten years after 1945, and which has had no responsibility for collective European security.

We need to show that it is precisely the project that the Brussels elite is pursuing with unhinged messianic vigour, one that combines an up-dated form of imperialism with the emasculation of democracy, that could lead our continent back to dark times. Not, obviously, full-scale wars – but probably the unleashing of extremely unhealthy forces within some of the member states.

This is likely to intensify as the EU gains more control in the years ahead without the democratic mandate of referenda. It will be the Martin Schulz types who we should then point the finger at if fascistic parties do well in the forthcoming Euro elections and beyond.


False thesis


Our second key task is to deconstruct the Brussels thesis that an international system of diplomacy based on nation states led to the two big 20th century wars. The EU is very keen to challenge and silence an analysis of WW1 that identifies the specific genesis of the conflict in terms of the ideological motivations of the German political elite.

Tristram Hunt is not just smart but charming. He took the trouble to come and speak to a small society I help run, the Sohemians, about his great biography of Engels, so I’m something of an indebted fan. However, his attack on Gove serves to bolster the disingenuous EU line.

In his response, Hunt argues that “any attempt at a First World War blame game is futile”. He tries unconvincingly in a very post-modern way to muddy the waters by talking about “multiple histories” and whether Russia and Serbia were also factors. He is, however, entirely right when he says that we shouldn’t engage in an orgy of music hall circa 1914 “Bash the Hun” jingoism, but then who is saying we should?


Hunt and his allies therefore seek to establish a moral equivalence between many of the countries that went to war in 1914. When I participate in schools-based and other debates, the claim is often made that Brussels has succeeded in achieving peace by binding together France and Germany.

The implication is that France was equally to blame for having been invaded in 1870, 1914 and 1940. Just be thankful, then, that Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg signed the Treaty of Rome, who knows what they might have done had they not.


Of course, this post-modernist getting away from the cause and effect specifics of the causes of World War One doesn’t work so well when it comes to the Second World War. Even the most X-Factor obsessed youth knows exactly who started that one. So, the Brussels apparat has to employ a slight modification.

The trick now is to present fascism as having been the logical extension of the commitment to the nation state – namely, ‘nationalism’. This is conveniently defined not just as a belief in upholding national sovereignty but as a belligerent ideology that wishes to visit aggression on outsiders. Though, interestingly, no explanation is given as to why such an ideology has only manifested itself in some countries and not others.



Spooky parallel


There is another problem with this strategy: Fascists didn’t believe in nations.  There is, in fact, a spooky parallel between the mindset of many within the pro-EU camp of today and the outlook of fascists in the inter-war period, as John Laughland in his book The Tainted Source of Europe: The Undemocratic Origins of the European Idea (Warner Futura, 2000) made clear.

An international system based on sovereign states was seen by fascists, among others, as having been analogous to dangerous chemicals being kept within close proximity of each other in a rather poorly-managed laboratory.


What was apparently required instead were overarching, transnational structures that would keep the individual elements under control. Fascists applied their rejection of pluralistic liberalism at the level of society to the international sphere. They wanted their idea of the omnipotent corporate state writ large on a continental basis.


Authoritarian tendencies


As Laughland pointed out, this was why so many of the early enthusiasts for the idea of European political unity; the Belgian Paul-Henri Spaak (one of the so-called ‘founding fathers’ of the EU), together with Delors, Mitterand and d’Estaing, had personal histories of fascist involvement. Here, the British Fascists under Mosley’s leadership called for ‘Europe a Nation’. Fascists were among the trailblazers for Pan-European unity.

The vast majority of today's EU enthusiasts are of course not politically totalitarian and certainly not racist; they have no desire to stomp around in strange uniforms (though there is something of a flag fetish problem in Brussels). There are, however, authoritarian tendencies within the EU elite: a rejection of the idea of an international spontaneous order based on flexible, voluntary co-operation and trade. There is an enthusiasm for top-down, technocratic structures that strictly contain the expression of democracy – and clearly, too, a desire to prevent the peoples of Europe from deciding in referenda if they wish to be part of a Pan-European system of governance.



Neo-imperial


Jose Manuel Barroso has himself famously claimed that this emerging system has ‘the dimension of empire’.  It is a new manifestation of this concept: not built this time like the Roman, Habsburg, British and other empires on violent conquest, but rather by a coming together of a new political class, a cabal from across the EU that wishes to by-pass democracy within their own countries.

The EU is an neo-imperial structure that emanates from a class interest, not a military force emanating from a particular people. It is a post-modern empire built on the foundation of treaties and passerelle clauses to which the ordinary peoples of the member states are not invited to give or withhold their consent.


The First World War was kicked off by an imperialist ideology and one hundred years later a more successful, more subtle and far less bloody, thankfully, version of it is in the process of creation. But what will it lead to?

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written by Marc Glendening - Political director
This article was first published on ConservativeHome

For the latest campaign news and EU developments, follow us on Twitter: @DemocracyMovemt



 

Monday, 14 October 2013

EU membership is incompatible with Labour ideology

by Marc Glendening - Campaign director

Ed Miliband's promise to freeze energy prices, whilst simultaneously supporting movement towards a European Single Market in energy, indicates that he, like most of the Labour mainstream, have not thought through the implications of EU membership for social democratic politics.

They refuse to confront the inconvenient contradiction that exists between adhering to certain types of left-of-centre objectives and blind adherence to the EU status quo.

In addition to the Labour leader's commitment to block energy price rises, he recently announced a plan to force UK companies to create a new apprenticeship for a British citizen for every worker they employ from outside the EU. However, it would be illegal under Single Market rules for a Labour government to restrict apprenticeships to UK nationals.

Then there was the vote at the Labour conference on September 25th to renationalise the railways and postal services. Again, not possible so long as Britain remains within the EU.

Brussels is in the process of liberalising these areas of public provision that, on the railways, started with 1991's EU directive 91/440 requiring a division between the operation of transport services and infrastructure management, both with budgets and accounting "separate from those of the State."
[Article 4]

Various EU postal services directives have already seen the most profitable parts of the Royal Mail put out to tender and the latest requires "full market access" to the Royal Mail's business, leaving no realistic option other than privatisation.

Legal appeals

As the Head of Legal website argues, were Labour after 2015 to impose price restrictions on the energy companies this could result in legal appeals by the companies to the European Commission. The EU directives relating to gas and electricity do allow for state intervention in some circumstances relating to 'public interest' and it could be around how this is defined in practice that might open the door for legal challenges.

Whether or not a future Labour government was acting in a non-discriminatory manner (that is to say, not giving certain types of business an advantage over their competitors, in the UK and also across the Single Market) could also be the key to whether price controls in this area were considered acceptable by Brussels. Poland is in the process of being taken to court by the Commission for price regulation.

If the Labour leader seeks to make his price restrictions more acceptable to the energy companies through the offer of state subsidies to cushion their loss of profit, he could also find himself being challenged by the Commission, again on the grounds that this would give UK-based companies an advantage over firms operating from the continent who would not by definition receive this benefit of the freeze in prices. 

Contradictions unchallenged

There seems little inclination on the part of most of those on the centre and right of the party to take on honestly the severe restrictions that EU membership places on Labour to pursue centre-left  polices.

At the Fabian Society debate Preventing a Lost Decade: How Can We Make Europe Work for Growth? at the recent Labour conference, I asked Catherine Stihler MEP how she could reconcile being, as you might expect given her position, an ardent supporter of EU membership and opponent of a referendum, with the Laval and Viking rulings by the European Court of Justice?

These rulings essentially render national minimum wage laws and nationally determined agreements between employers and unions an irrelevance by allowing firms to transport workers from their own countries and to undercut local labour.

The interests of multinational companies now officially take precedence over democratically determined national laws and those of trade unions.

You would have thought, for someone who purports to represent the party of trade unionism and who places the interests of workers over those of big capital, this should not represent such a huge personal dilemma. However, Ms Stihler had no coherent response, that I could ascertain anyway, as to how she resolves this ambiguity.


Ideology hits back

The truth is that all theoretically left-of-centre MEPs have got around this dilemma by, in reality, prioritising the interests of the Single Market and the EU in general over the political philosophy to which they supposedly adhere.

The truth is that, as Karl Marx would have argued, contradictions can't remain contradictions in practice.They get worked out by what people actually do, not what they say.

There are, however, a growing number within the Labour party and trade union movement who do now get it and are prepared to confront the inherent contradiction between desiring social democratic objectives and Britain being in an organisation that is constitutionally committed by EU treaty to the disciplines of the Single Market.

My hope is that more on the left will pipe up and force Mr Miliband to explain what, should he become PM, he will do if Brussels tells him to abandon his energy and apprentice-related promises.

And what will he do if the Commission insists that the EU Services directive is finally applied to the NHS? Does the Labour leader have any political bottom line when it comes to EU membership?

I think we should be told.

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written by Marc Glendening - Campaign director, Democracy Movement
 

For the latest campaign news and EU developments, follow us on Twitter: @DemocracyMovemt

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Hague speech signals further retreat from EU renegotiation

by Marc Glendening

Foreign Secretary William Hague's recent speech to Open Europe indicates that the government has already given up on the pretence that it can negotiate back substantial powers from the EU.

It is now trying to manage expectations in the long run-up to a possible deal with Brussels should the Tories win the next general election.


The rhetoric now is about 'reforming' the EU with regard to future legislation, not re-visiting the powers that have already been transferred from Westminster to Brussels. 


The idea is to get unanimous agreement between all the member countries for some as yet unspecified changes, rather than trying to decentralise back to the UK control over key areas.

You can't now even slide a non-branded cigarette paper between the government's emerging position and that of the Labour and Lib Dem leaderships. Even the pro-EU British Influence in Europe and Business for a  New Europe are also talking about 'reform' and, just like the foreign secretary and David Cameron, are very vague as to what this actually means.

Vague card

One of the few specific proposals William Hague has come out with recently, is enabling national parliaments in EU states to club together to give a 'red card' to new EU laws. This, by definition, will not affect the 30,000 or so directives and regulations that have already been passed.

Nor is it clear, given the sheer volume of Brussels-initiated legislation, how the House of Commons together with other national parliaments could block new measures. Regulations are imposed automatically on the member states, they are not up for debate and they account for the vast majority of EU legislation.
Directives are largely introduced into UK law through the use of statutory instruments and so are also not even debated, let alone voted on in Parliament.

So who, then, would decide which pieces of proposed EU legislation were to be brought to the attention of MPs and Peers? How many prospective directives coming out of Brussels could realistically be put before parliament? In any case, how could this feasibly be co-ordinated with other national parliaments?


At present the EU treaty enables national parliaments to give the Commission a 'yellow card' but it is only obliged to think again for a while and can then press ahead regardless. In other words, this supposed check, just like the concept of subsidiarity, is pure window dressing. An insult to the collective intelligence of all European citizens.

Because of the logistical nightmare involved with trying to organise this delaying tactic, it has never succeeded in practice (House of Commons Library SN/1A/6297, pdf).

Renegotiation
Reform


This really is bottom of the barrel stuff from our government. The Tory leadership, having realised that their renegotiation campaign was going nowhere and that they risked an embarrassing failure should they actually put a list of serious demands to Angela Merkel and the other EU leaders, have decided to dispense with what Cameron now dismisses as 'shopping lists'.

The strategy now is to go for the safer option of soft focus 'reform' and vague rhetorical promises of change in the future, rather as Harold Wilson did with his similarly bogus renegotiation prior to the 1975 referendum.

My suspicion is that David Cameron is hoping that he might be able to wriggle out of holding a referendum should his party remain in office after the general election, possibly by blaming the Lib Dems should he need to put together another coalition.

Failing that, the calculation might be that, even if the promise to consult the British people about continued EU membership has to be delivered, odds are that there is a natural majority against leaving. As with Wilson forty years ago, the hope will be that the mere pretence that there has been some sort of renegotiation will be enough to win comfortably. 

Stark choice

While it is true that the Little Europeans start as favourites to win should there be an in-out referendum, given the major task involved in trying to get the electorate to vote for radical change, the government's backtracking on its renegotiation commitment is good news.

It will provide greater clarity concerning the stark choice confronting the British people: to stay in an increasingly centralised and undemocratic EU (with or without yellow, red, green or pink card systems) or to become a self-governing democracy, trading and interacting with the whole world.

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written by Marc Glendening - Campaign director, Democracy Movement
 

For the latest campaign news and EU developments, follow us on Twitter: @DemocracyMovemt

Monday, 29 April 2013

Is Cameron watering down his EU renegotiation pledge?

by Marc Glendening  

Before his hurried return to London following the death of Margaret Thatcher, David Cameron undertook a much-publicised tour of other European countries to promote his campaign to see the EU 'reformed'.

Leaving aside the question of how realistic it is to actually bring about a fundamental change in the terms of our membership of the EU, there is an interesting change in tone coming from the prime minister.

In his long-awaited speech on Europe back in January, the prime minister committed himself to try to renegotiate with the EU the balance of law-making powers between Brussels and Westminster.

The implication was that, should Mr Cameron win the next general election (clearly a big 'if'), he would seek to persuade the other 26 political heads of state to sign a new treaty by 2017 returning a range of significant competences to Britain.

Ed Miliband, in his response, attacked the idea that this was desirable or possible and instead said that Labour would seek a vaguely-defined 'reform' of the EU which would not require treaty change.

In his recent truncated tour, Mr Cameron too spoke of 'reform' and talked in terms of trying to get all member countries to agree to certain, again unspecified, changes. So does this mean that he has given up on the idea of a special deal for Britain?

If so, it is a recognition, though not an honestly conceded one, that a thorough-going renegotiation is indeed impossible. This follows the boycott by the French, German and other EU governments of the 'balance of competences' review that William Hague invited them to participate in. This was conclusive proof, were it needed, that Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande have no intention of allowing the UK to re-write the current EU treaty.

It is not clear where all this leaves Mr Cameron's apparent promise to hold an in-out referendum in 2017. The government has refused to answer what it refers to as hypothetical questions about what would happen if it failed to bring about a successful renegotiation within two years of being re-elected. Would it still honour the referendum pledge?

When the 'balances of competences review', being overseen by Europe minister David Lidington, is completed David Cameron will come under pressure to list specific measures that he will want to see implemented by the EU, whether as a consequence of a renegotiation or collectively agreed reform resulting in a generalised decentralisation.

The Conservatives will then need to define what is the bottom line for them; what would qualify as a success and a failure. At present David Cameron is saying that he wants Britain to remain in the EU, but at any price? Even if he does not succeed in getting back any major powers whatsoever? 


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written by Marc Glendening - Campaign director, Democracy Movement
 

For the latest campaign news and EU developments, follow us on Twitter: @DemocracyMovemt
 

Thursday, 4 April 2013

No more euro flim-flam

By Marc Glendening 


Sometimes there is a time for cutting through the mushy triangulated BS of modern mainstream politics.

Europe is the question that now brooks no unambiguous answer. 

Yet the political elite, supported by the many fellow travellers who follow in its slipstream, want, for their different reasons, to keep a dense fog hanging over this issue.

I don't think Malcolm X was specifically speaking about the EU when he said, "there will be no controlled show... no flim-flam... if you're afraid to tell the truth you don't deserve freedom," as captured in No Sell Out, Keith Leblanc’s 1983 hip hop tribute.

However, those of us who want a real debate about the EU, regardless of our different preferred outcomes, should now seek to apply Mr X's commendable clarity of approach to this issue. 

This is why my organisation, the all-party Democracy Movement, is launching a new campaign, Fast Forward: beyond the outdated EU. We want to take head-on the commission/big business, financed pro-EU lobby and force them into an honest war of ideas on what exactly would be the implications of Britain leaving and staying in. 

We know that the in-out referendum David Cameron has apparently promised us will truly be a no flim-flam moment. There will be no post-modern, third way option on the ballot paper. Political rationality, courtesy of the European enlightenment, will reassert itself. To quote Malcolm X again: "You're either this or that."

Bogus debate

The current debate within the political mainstream is horribly bogus. The Tory eurosceptics, with a few honourable exceptions, are playing along with the fantasy the prime minister has been trying to sell to us.

Namely, that should the Conservatives win in 2015, it will be possible to negotiate a new treaty with Brussels and that within two years this will result in a torrent of powers being returned to Westminster.

The grandees of the pro-EU elite, as exemplified by Peter Mandelson, Ken Clarke and that other great political Malcolm - I speak, of course, of Rifkind - are selling us another fairy story. This is that there will be no fundamental further implications for Britain if we remain inside the EU. This is the soft line the Centre for British Influence in Europe is peddling.

Compare and contrast the degree of political clarity expressed by the two Malcolms: The benighted Scottish version declared his admiration for Cameron's Europe speech not only because he committed himself to continued EU membership, but also because the PM did "not reveal any significant details as to how radical, or otherwise, his negotiating objectives will be", according to Rifkind's January piece.

Presumably Malcolm R doesn't want us to even know before we vote in 2015, what exactly the Tories will be trying to get back from Brussels should they win? And people wonder why there is a political disconnect between the elite and the people.

Reality of 'in'

The stark reality is that if we vote in the referendum to stay in, we will be signifying our acceptance of EU rule once and for all. Brussels already makes approximately half our laws, according to research paper 10/62 (pdf) from October 2010 published by the House of Commons Library.

Next year negotiations will commence on a new treaty designed to save the euro by transferring a raft of new economic powers to the centre. The eurozone members will then vote as a single, majority bloc within the council of ministers, a body in which Britain has only 8.4% of the votes.

The idea that this will have no repercussions for the non-euro countries is bizarre, as John Stevens, the principled pro-EU campaigner and chair of the new UK European People's party, has argued.

How long will Brussels, Stevens asked at a recent People's Pledge debate, allow us to competitively devalue against the eurozone economies?

At some point, if we are to remain inside, Britain will be made to put up or shut up about joining the euro. The euro, not the single market, will become the defining feature of the new EU, stated Stevens, and this is what all members will be required to join.

Post-EU future

The Democracy Movement in its new campaign will seek to challenge the British people to confront not only the political reality of remaining within the EU, but to project ahead and contemplate what being shackled to Brussels will mean for us economically.

Our assertion is that there is a decisive, unstoppable shift in power taking place away from Europe to the Commonwealth and other fast-growing parts of the world. 

Britain because of its language, history and geographical position, together with the communications revolution, needs to look forward to a post-EU future.

The single market is of declining significance to us, accounting for only 9% of our GDP, a figure that will fall as we export a growing percentage of goods and services to the non-EU world. 

Our message is we must stop being little Europeans, as much as we should avoid being little Englanders.

It is said that education minister Michael Gove has a poster of Malcolm X in his office bearing the legend: "By any means necessary." This should not come as any surprise to us. Here is the one government minister to have said that, in a future referendum, he would vote to leave the EU. 

He understands that the time for euro flim-flam is well and truly over. Let the real debate begin. 

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written by Marc Glendening - Campaign director, Democracy Movement
 

This article was first published on Politics.co.uk. For the latest campaign news and EU developments, follow us on Twitter: @DemocracyMovemt


Monday, 25 March 2013

Cyprus bank account grab exposes EU's new feudalism

by Marc Glendening
 
The peasants of Cyprus are now truly revolting, following a decision by Angela Merkel and the other Eurozone heads of government to force Cyprus to grab private bank savings to contribute 5.8 billion towards an EU-IMF bailout. 

This edict demonstrates that the rule of law accounts for very little in the European Union. 

One of the big claims always made by supporters of Brussels-based governance was that the individual EU member states would be subject to a system based upon predictable and impartially applied rules, enforced by a Commission and Court of Justice above sectional, national interest.

The EU, they have argued, was therefore a continuation of the political project commenced by the European Enlightenment in the late eighteenth century. It has heralded, allegedly, another move away feudalism of the ancien regime. 

However, the situation in Cyprus proves what some of us have been arguing for some time. Namely, that the brave new world of the EU represents in reality a return to pre-modern, pre-democratic Europe. 

By Brussels fiat, savers' private property has been seized in an act of retrospective taxation. This is an arbitrary act of raw power befitting Louis XIV. A decision taken in private, passed on as a fait accompli to the EU's local agent in Nicosia, 'president' Nicos Anastasiades, and then imposed by him without reference to the national parliament - the same elected body that last week voted against divesting savers of their already taxed income. 

How convenient that Brussels and the Cypriot president have found a (constitutional?) way to circumvent the impertinent reservations of parliamentarians.

This is not the first time Brussels has made it all up on the hoof and disregarded the apparent rule of law that supposedly lies at the heart of the treaty. 

In 2003, Germany and France both broke the Stability and Growth Pact  rules that supposedly accompanied the single currency. No action was taken by the Commission for exceeding budget deficits of 3% and levels of national debt exceeding 60% of GDP. Portugal and Greece did, however, have their collars felt.

As many politically dissident Germans have argued, the various euro bailouts have contravened the supposedly strict Maastricht rules designed to prevent members of the single currency from becoming responsible for the debts of others. They claim, as a result, the EU treaty is now incompatible with the Germany constitution. 

When Alastair Darling was summoned to Brussels to discuss the eurozone crisis the day after the British general election in 2010, he thought there was no way Britain as a non-euro member could be forced to contribute to the bailouts. Wrong! The European Court of Justice and the Commission suddenly decreed that Article 122 of the EU treaty - a measure originally related to helping member states that had experienced a natural disaster - now covered those countries experiencing economic problems. Our then chancellor was forced to stump up £11 billion in loans.

At the beginning of the Cyprus bailout scandal we were told that this savings grab would be a one off. Now we learn from Jeroen Dijsselbloem, chair of the eurozone finance ministers, that this 'solution' might indeed be applied to other single currency countries as well. 

In Brussels anything goes and anything is possible. The European Enlightenment was about the rule of law and making the exercise of power accountable and transparent to the people. The EU is about reversing this process.

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written by Marc Glendening - Campaign director, Democracy Movement

For the latest campaign news and EU developments, follow us on Twitter: @DemocracyMovemt





Monday, 18 February 2013

EU's environmental failures expose its structural flaws

EUobserver reports today yet another high profile failure in the EU's grand-style, centralised policy-making, adding to a list that includes, most notably, the huge waste and imbalances of the Common Agricultural Policy, the depleted fish stocks of the Common Fisheries Policy and the euro austerity crisis.

Around 75 'green' NGOs are calling jointly for the EU to scrap its flagship environmental scheme for trading carbon emissions - the ETS - accusing the scheme of actually increasing carbon emissions instead of reducing them.

According to the EU, the ETS scheme is "a cornerstone of the European Union's policy to combat climate change and its key tool for reducing industrial greenhouse gas emissions cost-effectively." It covers more than 11,000 power stations and industrial plants in 31 countries, as well as airlines.

But environmental groups, including Friends of the Earth and Carbon Trade Watch, say that by distracting from the task of reducing consumption and dependency on fossil fuels, the scheme has caused emissions to rise.

They also highlight how the EU-ETS facility to import cheaper emissions permits from abroad in return for the polluter supporting 'offset' projects in developing countries has provoked land-grabs, human rights violations and related environmental damage in poverty-stricken regions.


'Life support'

In recent months the EU-ETS has been described as being on "life-support" due to a collapse in the price of its carbon permits - the opposite of the scheme's intention. The EU hoped that higher carbon permit prices would incentivise businesses to cut emissions or invest in clean technologies.

Companies have blamed government handouts of too many free permits in order to limit the initial impact of the scheme on the highest polluters and are supporting a European Commission proposal to suspend future permit auctions, hoping that consumption of credits in the interim will prop up prices. MEPs on the European Parliament's environment committee are due to vote tomorrow on the Commission's proposed reform.


The scheme's faults mirror the EU's similarly ill-judged rush to promote biofuels through dramatic targets and offering generous subsidies to grow fuel crops. The result has been large-scale deforestation in developing countries as land was cleared for growing these newly lucrative crops, together with a dramatic rise in food prices as farmers cashed in by switching millions of acres from food production.


Faulty structure

There are huge questions here, of course, about the merits or otherwise of biofuels and about how best to manage and preserve our natural environment.

But t
he far more fundamental question these failures should provoke is about whether the EU represents the best structure for effective decision-making on the now wide range of policy areas affecting our lives over which it has control.


The course of the EU's development has now demonstrated repeatedly through the increasing number of 'grands projets' emerging from its structure that over-centralised decisions, made by institutions too far removed from democratic accountability, are much more likely to be of poor quality and detrimental to Europe's security and prosperity.

Break down the elements of EU decision-making and its easy to see how this comes about.

First policy ideas are boiled down to the lowest common denominator in order to secure majority support in the Council of Ministers, often involving persuasion based not on the merits of the policy in question but on horse-trading over the benefits a country or countries could gain from a completely separate forthcoming EU decision. 


Second, the counter-balancing and constructive pressure of having to answer to voters on pain of losing their jobs, perks and privileges is not something felt by the vast majority involved in make EU decisions. Not even large numbers of MEPs who, thanks to the list system the European Parliament employs, enjoy safe seats by virtue of being near the top of their party's slate of candidates.

Third, majority voting on most policy areas in the Council of Ministers prevents those countries that disagree with an EU policy or strategy (perhaps rightly) opting out of its effects, resulting in these poor quality decisions and the resulting damage being imposed uniformly on a pan-continental scale.


Finally, when policies go wrong, the cumbersome structure and huge turning circle of the EU means that changing course and limiting the damage takes years. Despite EU biofuels policy having being roundly criticised now for several years, no change is expected before 2020. Even then, the EU's inherent faults mean new decisions are unlikely to be better constructed.

EU unfit

The growing evidence of failed policies confirms the view of many that the EU's structure simply isn't fit to make decisions of the quality required in the huge areas of policy with which it is today entrusted.

Its activities on the environment have shown vividly the damage its poor decisions can cause, but this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg relative to the effect of EU decisions in the many other policy areas in which it governs with longer or more obscure feedback cycles. 


Damage to the environment is bad enough. The detrimental impact of intrinsicly poor EU decision-making on a wide range of policies imposed over an entire continent should give far greater cause for worry with respect to Europe's future prospects.

The best solution would be for the accountable leaders of the EU's member governments to open their eyes and take steps to reinvent fundamentally the EU's structure to become more flexible, dynamic, accountable and attuned to Europe's 21st century needs rather than those of the 1950s.

Since the multiplicity of interests propping up the existing structure makes this highly unlikely, it is Britain's relationship with the EU that must in fact be rebuilt from first principles - those of trade, co-operation and cultural exchange, rejecting outdated and flawed centralisation.