Archive for the ‘European Union’ Category

For trade deals (Canada) or for foreign policy (Russia sanctions) the EU is not a competent organisation

October 21, 2016

The message from the latest failures of the EU are quite clear. In its ambitions (or should it be delusions) to act as a single state, the EU is a failed organisation. When it does act as a state it is only by oppressing its own dissenting minorities.

In the first of the latest failures, one regional parliament in Belgium rejected the trade deal with Canada (CETA), which prevented Belgium from approving the deal, and which, in turn, caused the deal to be rejected (since it requires unanimity). The point is that even if Belgium had approved, it would have been by strong-arming and suppressing dissent, just as Germany and Spain and France have already done. There is something fundamentally unjust in the manner in which the EU forces small regions to accept policies and actions against their own interests. “Global EU issues” take precedence over local issues. It is bureaucracy gone mad. Canada would have been far better off negotiating 28 separate bilateral deals. It would have been faster (7 years for the EU rejection) and it would have had the flexibility to be nuanced enough to cope with local needs. The message to the world is quite clear. The EU is not a competent negotiating partner and is unable to represent the disparate views within the EU member countries.

The second failure was the drive by the UK and France to increase EU sanctions on Russia for its support of Assad against rebel groups in Aleppo. That the UK and French objective was not so much humanitarian as driven by the need to protect rebel groups that they have been supporting was not given much publicity. However the Italians and the Greeks and others were looking for ways to increase dialogue with Russia and nothing came of the UK / French “initiative”. The EU is proving incapable of bringing together the foreign policy views of its 28 members. And if that is so, one can wonder why one bothers with the expensive and useless and unrepresentative paraphernalia of an EU External Action and the Foreign Affairs Council.

Fractured Europe  (image Counterpoint)

Fractured Europe (image Counterpoint)


EU farm subsidies to a Saudi billionaire for breeding racehorses

September 29, 2016

The EU is replete with examples of how a bureaucratic process is made into a god and they lose sight of the objectives intended to be achieved by that process. Process keepers in Brussels have become more important than process objectives.

The latest example is of subsidies paid to a Saudi billionaire for a farm he owns in the UK where he breeds racehorses.


Taxpayers are paying more than £400,000 a year to subsidise a farm where a billionaire Saudi prince breeds racehorses.

The Newmarket farm of Khalid Abdullah al Saud – owner of the legendary horse Frankel – is among the top 100 recipients of EU farm grants in the UK.

The system’s critics say Brexit will let the UK redirect £3bn in subsidies towards protecting the environment.

A spokesman for the prince declined to comment.

Farm subsidies swallow a huge chunk of the EU’s budget. They were started after World War Two to stimulate production, but led to food mountains that had to be dumped.

A compromised reform process – the so-called “greening” of the Common Agricultural Policy – resulted in farmers mostly being paid depending on how much land they own.

Frankel (horse).jpg

Frankel owned by Khalid Abdullah al Saud


Collateral advantages of Brexit for EU states

September 8, 2016

The Times reports (paywalled):

Former communist states are planning to exploit the fallout of Brexit with a “counter-revolution” designed to block migrant deals and assert the power of national governments over Brussels.

Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, an influential diplomatic European Union bloc known as the Visegrad Group, will lobby together at a summit next week to ensure that national governments are put back in the EU’s driving seat.

The summit will gather all EU leaders, excluding Theresa May, in Slovakia’s capital to forge a new vision of Europe. It is expected to expose the rift between newer member states ………

No doubt the UK will – in about 3 years – conclude a reasonable trade agreement with the EU and implement Brexit. No doubt also that EU citizens who have work to go to in the UK, will still be able to do so quite freely. But “benefit” tourism will become extremely difficult. The long term benefits for the UK will no doubt unfurl. I expect to see a revival of some old Commonwealth ties. New trade and labour movement agreements will be put in place. The UK could even gain a competitive edge over the remaining EU.

In the EU the dream for some of a Holy European Empire will receive a debilitating setback – thank goodness. But there will even be real benefit for all of the remaining members. For EU member states, the silver lining in the Brexit cloud will accrue only if the power of the EC and Brussels is sharply curtailed. If the EU Parliament (which – by any measure – is the most useless and wasteful institution in the world) happens to get abolished along the way, so much the better.

But one shouldn’t hope for too much.


and lo, the EU led all the rest ….

August 19, 2016

The EU lives in false glories. Excluding Brexit, of course.

Table by Euro Informationen

EU at the Olympics

It reminds me of the Soviet Union

euccp image nccg-org


Juncker’s days seem numbered as Merkel cracks the whip

July 3, 2016

About a week ago I wondered why Jean-Claude Juncker hadn’t resigned after the Brexit vote.  He is not unaware that much of the “leave” motivation is linked to the behaviour of Brussels bureaucrats and that his name is high on that list.

I wrote then:

The President of the European Commission – a former PM of Luxembourg – is the living face of the privileged, protected, arrogant, unaccountable bureaucracy that is Brussels. The EC – more than anybody – else is the reason for the deep and widespread dissatisfaction in Europe with the way in which the EU operates and where it is headed.

It is time for Jean-Claude Juncker to resign. And that means that the leaders of the core countries need to tell him to go.

The politicians are now realising that Juncker is part of the problem. It would seem that Jean-Claude is not Angela Merkel’s favourite person at the moment. Juncker particularly riled the Germans, the French and the Spanish when he invited Nicola Sturgeon to came calling and then went on German TV to talk about independence for Scotland and N Ireland. The French and Spanish will not thank him for encouraging talk of Catalonia and the Basque country. Moreover it seems Merkel wants to keep the Brexit negotiations at the political level and to keep the Brussels bureaucrats away from the key decisions. If the reports in the Sunday Times, Express and Telegraph, among others, are correct, Juncker will be gone within 12 months.

The Telegraph: Angela Merkel could move to oust Europe’s federalist chief Jean-Claude Juncker ‘within the next year’, a Germany government minister has said, in a sign of deepening European divisions over how to respond to Britain’s Brexit vote.

The German chancellor’s frustration with the European Commission chief came as Europe split over whether to use the Brexit negotiations as a trigger to deepen European integration or take a more pragmatic approach to Britain as it heads for the exit door.

“The pressure on him [Juncker] to resign will only become greater and Chancellor Merkel will eventually have to deal with this next year,” an unnamed German minister told The Sunday Times, adding that Berlin had been furious with Mr Juncker “gloating” over the UK referendum result.

Mr Juncker’s constant and unabashed calls for “more Europe”, as well as his reported drinking problem has led to several of Europe other dissenting members – including Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic – to lay some of the blame for Brexit at his door.

Since the June 23 vote both the Czech and Polish foreign ministers have called publicly for Mr Juncker to resign – moves that one senior EU official dismissed last week as “predictable”. However, the rumblings from Berlin now represent a much more serious threat to Mr Juncker’s tenure. …….

“Everyone is determined that this negotiation is handled in the European Council – i.e. between the 27 heads of government – and not by the Commission, the eurocrats and the EU ‘theologians’ in Brussels,” a senior UK source told The Telegraph.

In a signal that battle has partly already been won, Mrs Merkel pointedly met with French and Italian leaders in Berlin last week, excluding Mr Juncker from the conversation.

Sunday ExpressThe fuming German chancellor is planning to wield the axe on the bungling bureaucrat, who is facing calls from across the continent to resign. Senior ministers in Berlin have been dismayed by Mr Juncker’s confrontational approach to Britain over the last fortnight and now believe he is “part of the problem”. 

…… In particular there is fury and bewilderment in Berlin at his decision to welcome Nicola Sturgeon to Brussels and then talk openly on German television encouraging Scottish and Northern Irish independence. ………… 

Support for the beleaguered Brussels chief appears to be ebbing away fast in Germany with the influential Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper urging him to resign in a recent editorial. It wrote: “Juncker once again shows in a fatal way how little he sees himself to be a president of the Commission that represents the whole of the EU.”

That UK newspapers are contemptuous of Juncker is not all that surprising. But even the Letzebuerg Privat from his home country is pretty damning today:

There are three good reasons for a political resignation: a glaring failure in office, a scandal or a dramatic loss of acceptance. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker meets all three conditions for his overdue resignation. 

Disastrous Juncker

The EU needs deep reform in many areas. But most of all it needs to puncture the bloated egos of its many arrogant, privileged and protected bureaucrats.

And Jean-Claude Juncker’s name leads all the rest.


Only a vote in parliament can trigger Article 50 say constitutional experts

June 27, 2016

Brexit is not going to happen any time soon.

If it happens at all.

It seems according to constitutional law experts that any government with any Prime Minister will need a vote in parliament to give authority to an Article 50 notification of intention to withdraw from the EU. Once triggered, withdrawal is inevitable and time-bound. But there is no majority in the current parliament for leaving. And it could be the best part of a year before such a vote in parliament can even be held. For any chance of such a vote being passed it will need a General Election fought on precisely such a question and that the party or parties in favour of an exit win such an election. But it is also possible that such a vote can not, in the reasonable future, be passed.

A new report from Nick Barber, a fellow at Trinity College, Oxford, Tom Hickman, a barrister at Blackstone Chambers and reader at University College, London, and Jeff King, a senior law lecturer at UC, write for the UK Constitutional Law Association:

In this post we argue that as a matter of domestic constitutional law, the Prime Minister is unable to issue a declaration under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – triggering our withdrawal from the European Union – without having been first authorised to do so by an Act of the United Kingdom Parliament.  Were he to attempt to do so before such a statute was passed, the declaration would be legally ineffective as a matter of domestic law and it would also fail to comply with the requirements of Article 50 itself.

There are a number of overlapping reasons for this. They range from the general to the specific. At the most general, our democracy is a parliamentary democracy, and it is Parliament, not the Government, that has the final say about the implications of the referendum, the timing of an Article 50 our membership of the Union, and the rights of British citizens that flow from that membership. More specifically, the terms and the object and purpose of the European Communities Act 1972 also support the correctness of the legal position set out above.

The authors argue that a Prime Minister and his government alone cannot trigger Article 50 without the explicit authority of a parliamentary vote. David Cameron’s resignation statement where he said it is right that this new Prime Minister takes the decision about when to trigger Article 50 and start the formal and legal process of leaving the EU” does not specify the legal authority under which a Prime Minister alone could make the call:

The Prime Minster did not specify the legal authority under which he believed he or his successors might invoke Article 50, but the typical answer will be obvious to constitutional lawyers: it is the royal prerogative, a collection of executive powers held by the Crown since medieval times, that exist unsupported by statute. …… 

One of the earliest limits on the prerogative was that it could not be used to undermine statutes; where the two are in tension, statute beats prerogative.  In one of the seminal cases of the common law, The Case of Proclamations,(1610) 12 Co. Rep. 74 Sir Edward Coke declared:

“..the King by his proclamation… cannot change any part of the common law, or statute law, or the customs of the realm…”

A more recent statement of this principle can be found in the Fire Brigades Union Case[1995] 2 AC 513 in 1995, where Lord Browne-Wilkinson stated that:

“…it would be most surprising if, at the present day, prerogative powers could be validly exercised by the executive so as to frustrate the will of Parliament as expressed in a statute and, to an extent, to pre-empt the decision of Parliament whether or not to continue with the statutory scheme…”

…… The wider principle is that it is not open to Government to turn a statute into what is in substance a dead letter by exercise of the prerogative powers; and that it is not open to the Government to act in a way which cuts across the object and purpose of an existing statute. In our view the wider principle correctly states the law and is particularly apt here, as we are concerned with a constitutional statute upon which an extensive system of rights is founded.

They conclude

Our analysis leads to the possibility that the process of extraction from the EU could be a very long one indeed, potentially even taking many years to come about. Of course, the EU Member States have made clear that they will only negotiate once the Article 50 exit provisions have been triggered and are pressing the UK to pull the trigger “as soon as possible”. It is also clear that uncertainty is itself undesirable. But uncertainty needs to be weighed against other imperatives, such as the need to comply with the UK’s constitutional requirements and the need to ensure that Brexit is effected consistently with the national interest. A quick pull of the Article 50 trigger is unlikely to be feasible under the UK’s constitutional arrangements and may well not be desirable for any UK Government or Parliament, even one committed to eventual withdrawal from the EU.

Brexit is the most important decision that has faced the United Kingdom in a generation and it has massive constitutional and economic ramifications. In our constitution, Parliament gets to make this decision, not the Prime Minister.

Nick Barber, Fellow, Trinity College Oxford.

Tom Hickman, Reader, UCL and barrister at Blackstone Chambers

Jeff King, Senior Lecturer in Law, UCL

Citation: N. Barber, T. Hickman and J. King, ‘Pulling the Article 50 ‘Trigger’: Parliament’s Indispensable Role’, U.K. Const. L. Blog (27th Jun 2016) (available at

It seems to me that whether Brexit is initiated or not (and therefore happens or not) is entirely dependent upon a majority vote in parliament.

(It occurs to me that if Nicola Sturgeon wants to postpone, if not block, Brexit she should get the European Court of Justice to rule on whether or not a parliamentary vote is needed to give authority to a government to invoke Article 50. Even EU bureaucrats can not quibble with that).


Why hasn’t Juncker resigned?

June 27, 2016

Why hasn’t  Jean-Claude Juncker resigned?

The European Commission, Council of Ministers and the European Parliament are answerable and accountable, theoretically to all the EU members but in practice to nobody.

MEPs are accountable in the sense that they are voted in every 5 years. But in many countries that use party list systems of voting, candidates are simply put on a list by their party and the voters have no or a limited say on who is going to be elected. 

In most countries it is very difficult to present a new list alongside the lists of the traditional parties represented in the national parliaments. Voters have a formal choice but not necessarily a real possibility to have their own views being represented by an MP or MEP.   ……..

MEPs receive €4,299 per month in a general expenses allowance. MEPs do not need to deliver any proof as to how their money has been spent.

Commissioners need to be accountable to the European Parliament. They are obliged to answer questions from MEPs both orally and in writing. Many MEPs do not feel that they receive satisfactory answers. Many believe that the Commissioners are hiding too much; ………. You should also have the right to know how the different Commissioners vote on the different topics put on their table, but at present one has no idea.

During 2004-14, under the mandate of Commission President Barroso, the Commissioners did not vote among themselves at all. Discussions took place behind closed doors on proposals for new EU laws. The Commission President often reads a text prepared by his official services. There is usually no real political debate. The President concludes. Most decisions are taken in the name of the Commission outside the Commission meeting room ……..

The Commission now publishes agendas and minutes of their decisions. However nowhere can it be seen how they actually came to those decisions. They do not provide access to documents relating to their discussions or preparations. EU Commissioners give information about the amounts spent on representation. Yet this does not happen for individual spending, unlike what journalists can receive or request in most countries from their national ministers. …… Commissioners may hire special advisors. These names are now published – but the information does not include the salaries paid for the special advice they may receive from political friends or others. 

Commissioners are proposed by the prime ministers or presidents of the member states. Often a prime minister or president proposes a candidate who could no longer be elected as an MP or appointed as a minister in his or her own country. When former Prime Minister Tony Blair appointed Peter Mandelson as an EU Commissioner he had already been twice rejected as a minister by the British Parliament at Westminster. 

Prime Ministers may sometimes propose the names of national politicians they want to get rid of. There is no election procedure safeguarding voters so that they may have the best candidate from their country. 

There is some EU accountability in some of the national parliaments. In Denmark the European Affairs committee has met in public every Friday since October 2006 and  it can  give negotiating mandates to Danish ministers before the latter can approve something in the  EU Council of Ministers.  

There is no other  EU country where ministers need to have a negotiating mandate for such votes at EU level. In most countries the national MPs are rather badly informed about EU law proposals and have no real influence. Even in Denmark it is normally the civil servants in the ministries who decide and implement the Danish position in the 275 Council working groups. 

They are assisted by 35 special committees composed of representatives from business organisations and NGOs in an tightly woven corporative system. 

The ordinary members of parliament, the media and citizens are sidelined in the important preparatory phase where most EU decisions are prepared and then adopted.

The President of the European Commission – a former PM of Luxembourg – is the living face of the privileged, protected, arrogant, unaccountable bureaucracy that is Brussels. The EC – more than anybody – else is the reason for the deep and widespread dissatisfaction in Europe with the way in which the EU operates and where it is headed.

It is time for Jean-Claude Juncker to resign. And that means that the leaders of the core countries need to tell him to go.


Is Brexit already dead?

June 26, 2016

The Brexit referendum was advisory and non-binding. There is no absolute requirement for the government or parliament to follow the result. There may be a moral obligation but with the split 52/48 result it is not all that compelling. It could be argued that since David Cameron called the election, he is responsible for implementing whatever result it produced. He has said that he will not start the formal Brexit process (invoking Article 50) and it seems unlikely that he will cave in to pressure from the EU, either in verbal or written form, such that the EU can “deem” the process to have started. Certainly if he stays he has some obligation, but he has got out of that by announcing his coming resignation.

The same parliament but with just a new Prime Minister – and even one from the Brexit camp – will not have a parliamentary majority in favour of Brexit. (In fact I am not convinced now that a Brexiteer could even win a majority among the current Conservative MP’s). Without a parliamentary majority no necessary legislation will get passed. Moreover the Scottish parliament will withhold consent for any legislation which makes any change to how EU laws affect Scotland. Theoretically, the UK parliament could overrule a Scottish withholding of consent, but, without a parliamentary majority for Brexit, that  probably could never happen. So the new Prime Minister has little option but to call a General Election asking for a mandate. But first he has to lead a party which takes on Brexit in its manifesto. And that today is not possible for either the Conservative or the Labour party. I cannot see a Conservative Conference in October accepting to put a Brexit in its manifesto. The Labour party is in shambles and it was labour voters defecting to a UKIP immigration agenda which tipped the balance in the referendum. The Liberal Democrats will not have any anti-EU manifesto and UKIP will. Even supposing that UKIP win a number of seats, they will never have enough to form a government. The bare majority in the referendum comes from across party lines. But any government, now or after a general election, will follow party lines.

So, even after a General Election, there can be no government committed to a Brexit and willing to set it in motion.

The EU is suffering from “interesting times”. Perhaps the EU will actually be reformed along the way. But I am beginning to wonder – just two days after an advisory, non-binding referendum – whether there can be a Brexit at all without a government and a parliament committed to implementing a Brexit. Is Brexit already dead?

My preference for a reformed EU without a Brexit is not – at least on this Sunday evening – not looking as impossible as it was yesterday.

Running away from Brexit



The EU cannot expel the UK and any UK government will need parliament’s approval to invoke Article 50

June 26, 2016

The key question for the timing of a UK exit becomes “Can any UK government invoke Article 50 merely on the strength of an advisory referendum and without the express approval of parliament?” I think not. It may be that merely changing Prime Minister will not create a majority in parliament and then a General Election on the question of Brexit will be needed. Without a government willing to apply for withdrawal, Brexit does not begin.

The core founding members of the EU met yesterday and have issued demands that the UK leave the EU quickly. But the EU bureaucrats and the core founding countries seem terrified of a slow measured process of withdrawal. It is not difficult to see that they are expecting a domino effect and further countries holding referenda about EU membership. No matter what they do referenda in the Netherlands and France are just a matter of time.

But their strident calls yesterday for a quick withdrawal seem to be a knee-jerk reaction. David Cameron and his government cannot now invoke Article 50 (he could theoretically do that but after his resignation speech he would then have to emigrate). Suppose the UK, by October, gets a pro-Brexit Prime Minister. He would have a new cabinet and it is inconceivable that he could invoke Article 50 without first getting that action approved by the UK parliament. That approval will not be so easy. Assume that such approval is forthcoming. The timing of an invocation of Article 50 would then be at the discretion of that new government and that would surely not happen until all member countries had been sounded at the political level (rather than the elite bureaucrats of the EU), as to the conditions of the withdrawal.

The EU bureaucrats can talk as tough as they like, but they know very well that there are no provisions in the EU treaties to expel a member.

Extract from : Withdrawal and expulsion from the EU and EMU. Legal Working Paper Series No 10 / December 2009.

Unlike the Charter of the United Nations (UN), Article 6 of which expressly provides for the possibility of a UN Member being expelled for persistently infringing the principles of the Charter, there is no treaty provision at present for a Member State to be expelled from the EU or EMU. The closest that Community law comes to recognising a right of expulsion is Article 7(2) and (3) TEU, allowing the Council to temporarily suspend some of a Member State’s rights (including its voting rights in the Council) for a ‘serious and persistent breach by a Member State of the principles mentioned in Article 6(1)’ of the EU Treaty. This might be thought of as a preliminary step to the expulsion of a Member State, but it is not the same as its definitive expulsion.

In fact the EU cannot expel a member without effectively negating all its treaties:

A Member State’s expulsion from the EU or EMU would inevitably result in an amendment of the treaties, for which the unanimous consent of all Member States is necessary under Article 48 TEU. Given that a Member State’s expulsion would, by definition, be contrary to the presumed wish of that Member State to continue its membership of the EU, a right of expulsion would be inconceivable, since it would have to entail an unauthorised Treaty amendment, in breach of Article 48 TEU. Besides, it is likely that some Member States would object to the introduction of a right of expulsion in the treaties, coupled with an amendment of Article 48 TEU to make that possible, since this would expose them to the risk of being forced out at some future date. 

In practice I begin to think that a General Election will be needed before Article 50 can be invoked and where the incoming government will need to have been elected to implement a Brexit.


An independent Scotland could probably not join the EU until 2030

June 25, 2016

Scotland’s desire to remain a part of the EU is not so easily satisfied even if a new independence referendum is carried out rapidly. Three different timetables (which can partly be in parallel) have to mesh.

  1. Exit process for UK from EU
  2. Independence process for Scotland from the UK
  3.  Application and accession process for an independant Scotland into the EU.

Looking at these 3 timetables, I reckon the earliest an independent Scotland could enter the EU in its own right would be around 2030.

Brexit now sets in motion an exit process for the UK from the EU. The only deadline is that the process will be completed 2 years after the UK invokes Article 50. However it is up to the UK to invoke Article 50. So the start point is flexible and is solely in the control of the UK government of the day. Even if Cameron is replaced by another Prime Minister, it will be up to his new government and the UK parliament to decide when they are comfortable enough to start the ball rolling (because then the 2 year deadline will apply). There is no reason for the UK to give up too early its current time pressure advantage which will pass to the EU once Article 50 has been invoked. I see the earliest that a UK government is prepared for this will be around March 2017. That would give an exit being effective in March 2019.

March 2017 is probably the earliest a new referendum on the independence of Scotland could be held. Using the timetable put forward by the SNP for the 2014 referendum, it would then be March 2019 before Scotland was an independent nation. This may be a little too optimistic both for when the referendum could be held and for the time required for the legal measures necessary. Whether the UK parliament could be handling the bills necessary for exiting the EU simultaneously with passing the bills for Scotland’s exit from the UK is also doubtful. Nevertheless I assume a referendum could be held by March 2017.

To apply for EU membership, Scotland would need to have, and be able to show, a “stable” economy and stable, established institutions. With the best will in the world, this is going to require at least 3 years (and probably more) as an independent nation. Assume anyway that Scotland can submit an application for membership sometime around 2022/2023. The minimum time needed for accession of a new member has been the 3 years for Finland and Sweden. It is more usually of the order of 10 years with countries with weaker economies taking longer. It is not unreasonable to assume that a newly independent Scotland would need 7 years for accession.

Accession times to the European Union (pdf)

And that would take us to 2030 for an independent Scotland’s accession to the EU.


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