L’idée de l’Europe est en déclin, et l’Union Européenne est dans un état avancé de désintégration. Avec le Brexit, un pilier capital de l’Union Européenne s’est déjà effondré. D’autres pourraient suivre – si ce n’est pas au cours des cycles électoraux de cette année, alors ce sera pour les suivants.

“ Peu importe le coût. Nous avons repris les rênes de notre pays ! ” clament èrement ceux qui ont soutenu le Brexit. Quitter l’Union Européenne, c’est une aspiration qu’on commence à rencontrer aux quatre coins de l’Europe, même au sein de partis de gauche qui défendent un retour à l’état-nation.

L’Europe est-elle une cause perdue ? Peut-elle être sauvée ? Doit-elle être sauvée ?

DiEM25 est convaincu que nous, les peuples d’Europe, devons reprendre les rênes de nos pays. Nous devons même reprendre les rênes de nos régions. De nos villes et cantons. Mais pour cela, nous devons retrouver un but commun entre peuples souverains. C’est ce que nous apportera un projet Européen internationaliste, commun, transnational. C’est ce que nous apportera un New Deal Européen. Ce document vise à le démontrer.Partie 1 – INTRODUCTION


Rather than putting all their hopes in top-down democratic reforms that never come, progressives should themselves assume responsibility for building a truly democratic Europe. The 2019 elections could be the best chance to engage citizens in radical, participatory processes and end years of statis in the European institutions.

Waiting for European democratic reform is more frustrating than waiting for Godot. In the Beckett play, Godot is clearly never coming, and at least in the eternal wait we can meditate on the absurdity of human existence (and anyway the play will finish at some point). In the European Union, democratic reforms are coming at some point, but are seemingly endlessly deferred. When they do come, as a result of political compromise and national obstructionism, they are rarely what is needed. In the meantime, for lack of ambitious European democracy, the forces of reaction and nationalism grow so that on the one hand democratic reform becomes less likely, and on the other any such reform is less likely to be satisfactory or ambitious. A perfectly vicious circle.

It is time to stop waiting for others. Godot isn’t coming, and he is not called ‘Emmanuel’ or ‘Angela’. The 2019 European elections can be an important moment to mobilise citizens around the request for democratic change. But change will not come through the official ballot boxes alone. Whatever welcome progress may be made by having spitzenkandidaten or transnational lists or even genuine transnational parties will not be sufficient to drive through an ambitious democratic transformation. And so, in addition to fighting in the official elections and getting votes in the official ballot boxes, citizens need to set up their own ballot boxes, and even their own elections.

Turning back the technocratic tide

The intergovernmental and technocratic system of the EU increasingly frustrates any meaningful space for the expression of European citizenship. For as much as the Parliament has gained powers of co-decision, decision-making has moved to informal groups like the Eurogroup, intergovernmental agreements outside of the Community method (such as the Fiscal Compact or the scandalous EU-Turkey agreement), and into secretive ‘trialogue’ negotiations. The structure of the Parliament itself prevents the emergence of real transnational parties. By consequence, European citizens are deprived of political agency at precisely the time when they demand it and need it the most.

The question ‘what Europe is going to do?’ – about the banks, about Greece, about the euro, about the migrants, about Brexit, about Catalonia, about TTIP, about tax evasion… – has been discussed every day in almost every bar and café up and down the continent for nearly a decade of crisis. The idea that there is no European public sphere is no longer tenable. And it is not just discussion. Millions of Europeans have mobilised on the streets in protest or solidarity over the past years. The alleged apathy of citizens is a myth actively fostered by governing elites: it provides the ideological justification for keeping the EU a technocratic, intergovernmental, backroom affair. The distance of citizens from ‘formal Europe’ is fully understandable. They have no seat at the table and few avenues of meaningful political participation. But Europe has a meaning beyond the grey corridors of the European Council, and citizens have been reclaiming it.

It is now time to go the extra mile. People deprived of political agency have little to gain by crafting common positions in the hope that the ‘powers that be’ will take them up. In the 20th century, both the Indian Congress and the South African Congress realised that, rather than expect the imperial elites to change, they needed to construct bottom-up political power in order to transform a system that structurally deprived colonial subjects of citizenship rights. This required a movement that politically enfranchised its members through organised struggle in order to legally and socially enfranchise the majority that was being denied a voice. Today in Europe, most people are not subject to state violence – although migrants and Roma very often are – but like in colonial contexts, institutions increasingly impervious to democratic control need to be resisted and citizens need to politically enfranchise themselves as citizens of the European Union against repeated attempts to relegate them to mere subjects of undemocratic, intergovernmental governance.

Hacking the 2019 elections as an act of civil disobedience could be the way to open up fresh alternatives. We propose using the occasion to elect a Constituent Assembly for Europe.

A democratic strategy for a citizens’ Europe

This political and performative act would work as follows. All candidates in the official European parliamentary elections, as well as all citizens and any individual who declares an interest in the future of Europe, would be able to stand for the constituent assembly.

These candidates may organise themselves in transnational lists, and European parties would be asked to field candidates for election, so as to create an immediate link between the emerging assembly and the European Parliament. Taking part in the assembly process would represent a stupendous opportunity to show commitment to the idea of citizens-led democratic renewal. Civil society and social movements would be encouraged to propose their own lists. Ideas, programmes and values for a future European constitution would come forward. The communication campaign and the performative act of organising the election of such an assembly would provide a powerful push for getting the debate on European democratic reform on the agenda for the 2019 election campaign.

Preparing the ground for the election of a constituent assembly will take time and money. The whole exercise could be carried by NGOs interested in democratic renewal coming together before the election to organise it. A network of organisations could secure the necessary funding and human resources to start the process and see the election through. New transnational parties could also play an important role. Clearly, depending how large the elections get and how many places hold them, the process might get very expensive. But as a performative act there is no need for a complete coverage of the European territory, only for enough participation to create awareness around the idea and a sense of legitimacy.

So here is how it would work: on the day of the elections, in as many cities, towns and villages as possible across Europe, just outside the official polling stations, voters would be able to physically elect members of the constituent assembly. At the same time, online elections would be held. These elections, which should be accompanied by as much publicity as possible, would choose a group of, say, 200 elected representatives.

The constituent assembly itself would not have the legitimacy to decide on a new democratic constitution.  ‘Elections’ self-organised citizens across Europe would not be formally adequate for that. Rather, the assembly would serve as a new civic power to inject ideas for democratic renewal into the European institutions, show that citizens are full of ideas and energy for such a project, and ensure that they cannot be ignored or side-lined in any future convention or treaty change. The assembly could be accompanied by a secretariat and would operate as a new kind of organisation: a cross between a citizen-led NGO and a democratically elected congress.

Following the elections, the assembly would meet as the elected representatives together with randomly selected citizens, representatives of non-European countries (because Europe’s actions impact the whole world and the whole world needs to have a say – and this is what real transnationalism should ultimately be about), representatives of municipalities and local authorities as well as interested NGOs and social movements to elaborate ideas for the values and content of a democratic European constitution. Online, a wiki-constitution would be discussed and collaboratively drafted. Indeed, the assembly would be a significant actor to initiate a wider process of citizens’ assemblies, through a cycle of meetings, discussions and debates organised in town-halls, schools, universities, cultural spaces and other venues throughout Europe, with coordination and exchange between these different cities and citizens.

The process could focus on three questions:

How to ensure democratic decision–making at a European level in which the interests of people throughout the continent, and the consequences of European decisions for other people affected, are taken into account and the common interest is guaranteed through a just, accountable and transparent process?

 How to ensure the maximum possibilities for direct citizen involvement in political decision–making, as an expression of European citizenship and the best guarantee of common interest?

 Which economic, political, and social issues are best approached at European level and what legislative competences should democratic transnational institutions have in these areas?

This process could run in parallel to ‘official’ processes at a European level, but would be more effective if it could fully infiltrate and initiate the formal processes and possibly lead to the participatory drafting of a new constitution to be approved by European citizens by transnational referendum. Beyond just a drafting of a new constitutional proposal, such process would itself be an experiment in transnational participation and a testament of the possibility of practicing European democracy in a new way. The recent process of participatory constitutional redrafting in Iceland is an important precedent in the development of empowering processes where citizens commonly decide their rules for living together. The scale of the task is enormous, but that is no reason not to start.

Doing nothing is not an option

Many of the changes proposed by such a participative process may require EU treaty change, and therefore unanimity between Member States. Treaty requirements should not prevent European citizens from initiating processes of change and adopting various strategies for enacting those changes. The important first step would be to establish transnational movements of citizens for a democratic infrastructure for Europe. The second step would be to adopt strategies, depending on legal procedures, for forcing institutional changes to be adopted. Leaving all initiative for treaty change to Member States, or worse, just some powerful Member States, is no longer an acceptable option. Doing so just reinforces the impression that the only options available are either to submit to the authority of the leaders of the most powerful countries or to abandon all European integration. However, a third alternative is available: citizens themselves proposing a genuine European democracy.

Etienne Balibar has recently powerfully argued that we need to be more nuanced in the way we talk about the EU and its history. It is important to distinguish between the philosophical prehistory of Europe as a utopian idea of perpetual peace, the political origins of the federalist project particularly in the anti-fascist resistance, and the historical beginnings of the supranational institutions in the Cold War. Only by reclaiming Europe in the first two senses, taking Europe into hands of the citizens as an act of resistance and invention, and through recovering a sense of utopian energy that can transform the apparently insolvable contradictions of political power, will projecting a positive European future become possible. This is no play, and citizens are not spectators in a theatre. Let’s stop waiting and let’s start acting.

The first transnational European list – a DiEM25 initiative


On 7 February in Brussels, the European Parliament rejected the idea of creating transnational European lists for the 2019 Elections. Nevertheless, the first transnational European list of candidates for the 2019 Elections was created on 10 March, in Naples.

On the initiative of the Democracy in Europe Movement, DiEM25, founded in 2016 by the former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, several national, regional and municipal political organisations from all over Europe met in the Domus Ars in Naples:

Génération-s, the left-wing French environmental movement led by Benoît Hamon;

DeMA, Democrazia e Autonomia,  a citizen platform, led by the mayor of the “rebel city” of Naples, Luigi De Magistris

Razem, the Polish feminist, pro-labour, anti-austerity movement, represented by, among others, Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bąk

Livre , the pro-European, left-wing libertarian, ecological, Portuguese movement, represented by its co-founder Rui Tavares

Alternativet, the Danish, progressive, European, environmentalist party represented by Rasmus Nordqvist

Bündnis – DiEM25, the electoral wing of DiEM25 in Germany

Open to the public with its press conference livestreamed, the meeting took place under the benevolent regard of a great lady of the European left, Susan George, and was observed by representatives of the Romanian DEMOS movement, the German DiB party, the French Communist Party, the Croatian parties Nova ljevica and Zagreb Je NAŠ! the Slovenian Levica Party, as well as the Party of European Greens and the Party of the European Left.

In the context of the European Elections of 2019, the organisations gathered at the Naples meeting decided to present:

–  a common policy programme,

–  a single spitzenkandidate (a candidate for the head of the commission),

–  a common coordination,

–  a list of candidates (corresponding to the sum of the lists presented in each country by each party and movement member of the list). This list, which will be agreed upon and democratically voted on by the members of the various movements and parties, may provide for the swapping of candidates across countries.

An act of constructive disobedience

This initiative is put forward, explicitly and deliberately, as an act of constructive disobedience, that is, an act of concerted, manifest disobedience capable of accelerating change.

The technocrats in Brussels don’t want transnational lists? In reality, it only takes a little imagination and political creativity to simulate them within the framework of existing laws.

A rebellion is developing

This act of disobedience announced by the organisations gathered in Naples is only the first in a long series.

The European New Deal, for example, i.e. the economic policy developed within DiEM25, around which the list will build its programme, recommends disobeying the status quo by using existing European institutions in order to simulate federal functionality within the framework of the current treaties – thus without providing a pretext for ruinous and unrealistic exits from the European Union.

This federal simulation will ensure the creation of an economic, ecological, feminist and social policy framework capable of addressing under-investment, poverty and inequalities in Europe, tackling public and private debt crises, promoting public and common goods, and implementing a massive green investment programme representing at least 4.5% of the European Union’s GDP in direct cooperation with European cities.

In the same spirit, the forces gathered in Naples plan to launch a citizens’ assembly process, beginning in villages and cities all over Europe. This process will enable European citizens to implement, at least symbolically, the constitutional process that Europe needs and that the European institutions do not have the strength to ensure. This process of participatory democracy will initiate the creation of a democratic Constitution written by the peoples of Europe for the peoples of Europe, capable of putting citizens, local communities and municipalities at the centre of decision-making processes, eventually leading to a Constituent Assembly which, together with the European Parliament, will draw up the future European democratic Constitution by 2025.

A European liberation movement

Far from being a simple electoral cartel, therefore, this newly created list represents the electoral expression of a common vision now beginning to spread among the peoples of Europe.

Aware of the fact that European problems can only be solved at the European level, and firmly opposed to any compromise with the existing European institutions, the groups gathered in Naples have set themselves the objective, not only of participating in the 2019 elections, but more generally of launching a movement that Rui Tavares has proposed calling a European liberation movement.

As well stated by Luigi De Magistris, for years the forces of national, local, civil society have been resisting Brussels’s institutional violence – the time has come to strike back.

An open call

The organisations gathered in Naples intend to broaden the scope of this movement well beyond its first members. A call has been extended to other political and civil society movements throughout Europe to participate in the political elaboration and electoral expression of the programme.

We stress that the process is wide open to civil society.

For too many years, professional politicians have had an interest in deepening an artificial distinction between grassroots politics and institutional politics, thus separating citizen action from power.

DiEM25, together with all the protagonists in Naples, invites civil society movements, local authorities and citizens’ initiatives to respond to the call and to bring their know-how, experience and demands into the institutional game. We believe that it is only through their contributions that together through the struggle against European institutions, we can forge the European people.

Politicians are clearly misreading EU provisions regarding freedom of movement

UKIP’s success in the Clacton by-election has prompted further unease in Conservative and Labour ranks, with free movement of people in the EU, a cornerstone of the Union, now suddenly under fire from the political elite. Brad Blitz writes that the shift in tone is not only at odds with previous policies, it reflects a clear misreading of EU provisions regarding the free movement of people. The free movement of people is not an absolute right and does not guarantee automatic access to the UK; states are still permitted to treat nationals and EU citizens differently and prevent benefits fraud and welfare tourism.

After 21 years UKIP finally secured a seat in Parliament, prompting both the Conservative and Labour parties to express their desire to revise European Union provisions regarding the free movement of people. Prime Minister David Cameron went on record to say that within the EU, citizens from new EU Member States should not have automatic access to the UK’s labour market and that he supported a crack-down on benefits. London Mayor Boris Johnson stated that freedom of movement was central to negotiations over Britain’s future in the European Union and suggested that it was a deal-breaker. Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, though more circumspect and committed to Britain’s membership of the EU, nonetheless called for raising the qualification period for unemployment benefits and argued that Britain must put a stop to the practice of EU migrants sending child benefit back to their families outside the UK.

The cross-party fury over freedom of movement is not informed by statistical evidence regarding levels of immigration from the new European Union Member States. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), between March 2013 and March 2014 an estimated 560,000 people immigrated to the UK. Though a substantial increase on the previous year when the UK received 492,000 migrants, almost half of those who arrived in 2014 were non-EU citizens (265,000). While the overall increase in UK immigration figures is attributed to EU nationals, the ONS records that only 28,000 ‘new Europeans’, Romanians and Bulgarians, moved to the UK during that period. The vast number of EU nationals who entered the UK, including these Romanians and Bulgarians, did so in pursuit of work or study.

Why has the immigration of EU nationals become such a political bugbear? For more than a decade the UK has received considerable numbers of EU nationals, the largest originating from Poland. The arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrants arguably poses a challenge to the existing social infrastructure just at a point when it is calling out for modernisation, especially in the health and education sectors. But previous British governments actively supported EU enlargement, which has been a consistent plank of UK foreign policy. Until recently both the Conservative and Labour parties expressed at least a qualified support in favour of immigration from the European Union.

Unlike most other EU member states, the UK government chose not to impose significant transitional provisions to delay the right of freedom of movement to nationals from the A10 countries – Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia – when these states joined the EU in 2004. Instead the UK opted for a registration scheme for workers of eight of the new Member States. While both the previous Labour and Conservative governments fought to protect UK rights to control immigration – the UK has never joined Schengen – British governments have, until recently, openly respected the rights of EU nationals to freedom of movement (as opposed to asylum seekers and migrants from outside the EU). In contrast to fringe nationalist parties including UKIP, which have seized upon the rise in migration as their principal cause, the main parties have generally worked within the EU system.

The latest declarations from David Cameron and Boris Johnson, however, point in a different direction. The shift in tone is not only at odds with previous policies, it reflects a clear misreading of EU provisions regarding the free movement of people. The free movement of people is one of the fundamental freedoms that underscores the EU but it is not an absolute right and does not guarantee automatic access to the UK. The free movement of workers was historically treated in the context of production where labour was a central input and the desire was to remove national barriers rather than press for a common European right to mobility per se.

The rights to free movement are set out in the consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) signed in Maastricht in 1992 and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), formerly known as the EC Treaty, signed in Rome in 1957. In addition, there is an important body of secondary legislation and the right to freedom of movement has been further clarified by the EU Court of Justice, giving rise to a significant body of case law.

While the right to free movement has been expanded, via jurisprudence or through legislation, and most clearly by the introduction of the Citizenship Directive (2004/38/EC) which encourages EU citizens to exercise their right to move and reside freely within Member States, there remains an important divide between those who may benefit from the right to freedom of movement.

The legislation extends access to the Single Market beyond the original beneficiaries, namely workers and self-employed persons, to people who enjoy various types of economic status. Nonetheless, several categories remain outside the scope of existing EU free movement provisions. This includes non-economically active people (with no family link to an EU economically active citizen) who fail to meet the test of self-sufficiency (e.g. the ill, elderly and unemployed); and non-EU nationals who cannot derive rights on the backs of family members. One obvious point of exclusion stems from the transitional provisions which qualify the right to free movement for nationals of new EU Member States.

Both the Treaty of Accession of 2003 and the Treaty of Accession of 2005 include transitional provisions which set out transition periods before workers from new member states are able to enjoy full rights to freedom of movement. Individual member states may restrict the right to work of EU citizens from the acceding states for up to seven years from the date that their home state joined the EU. In the case of Bulgaria and Romania, this period expired at the end of December 2013. Croatian citizens of the EU, however, have been denied the full/free movement rights afforded to other European nationals until 2020 and must apply for work permits in other EU member states. Although migrants who are subject to these transitional arrangements are entitled to equal treatment with national workers after a period of employment, these transitional arrangements enable social assistance and services to be refused.

Moreover, states are still permitted to treat nationals and EU citizens differently when they can demonstrate a justified distinction. Member States’ actions must be in pursuit of a legitimate public interest and must be proportionate. EU Law prohibits clearly arbitrary rules and collective blanket-bans. This applies to areas which may be considered basic rights by large sections of the European population and include, for example, affordable education and decent housing. The case of Förster (C-158/07) illustrates this point. Förster was a German national who had been denied a grant to study because she was economically inactive and had not been a resident in the Netherlands for five years. In this case the Court ruled that the Dutch authorities were permitted to deny her the funding that would have been available to Dutch nationals. This was not a matter of nationality-based discrimination but rather a conclusion that she had not satisfied the criteria for integration – in this case, the residence test. In fact, there are many conditions that may be imposed before an EU citizen from another member state is able to access welfare support in the UK, and the government has been able to introduce several new restrictions within the existing framework of EU law.

Previously the Commission has found that the free movement provisions are not sufficient in themselves to promote mobility. The numbers benefiting from the exercise of free movement rights remain low by comparison with the inward migration of third country nationals into the European Union. Eurostat records that only 2.3 per cent of EU citizens reside in another member state and that almost two-thirds of migrants come from countries outside the EU.

Despite the introduction of EU legislation on free movement, there are still multiple legal, administrative and practical obstacles that complicate the exercise of free movement. These include the recognition of qualifications and portability of supplementary pension rights as well as more typical challenges that face any migrant, for example, housing, knowledge of a foreign language, the employment of spouses and partners, return mechanisms, historical ‘barriers’ and the recognition of mobility experience, particularly within SMEs.

In spite of the development of EU case law, the introduction of the Citizenship Directive, and the promise to respect the rights of family members as set out in Regulation 492/2011 (formerly 1612/68), the practical enjoyment of the right to free movement rests on the satisfaction of several conditions. This includes not only overcoming the societal challenges associated with relocation from one country to another but also political requirements.

The UK government has sufficient tools at its disposal to address the problems of benefit-cheating among what must be a small population of new EU nationals. EU law already allows British authorities to fight potential fraud and welfare tourism, even though the government has yet to provide evidence of the scale or indeed existence of the problem. Furthermore, the suggestions made by the UK government amount to arbitrary blanket rules which are clearly not compatible with EU law. Rather, the government should simply implement EU law on a case-by-case basis instead of answering UKIP’s overblown alarm call to curb the right to freedom of movement.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the British Politics and Policy blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting. Featured image credit:

About the Author

Brad K. Blitz is Professor of International Politics and Deputy Dean of the School of Law at Middlesex University and Senior Fellow at the Global Migration Centre, Graduate Institute, Geneva. He is the author of Migration and Freedom: Mobility, Citizenship and Exclusion, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2014. He is also an LSE alumnus, graduating with an MSc. in European Studies in 1991.

Alex Salmond and David Cameron’s incoherent referendum plans mean that they are unlikely to get what they want for either Scotland or the UK

Posted: 06 Feb 2013 06:00 AM PST
An independence referendum is due to be held in Scotland in 2014, with another referendum being pledged by UK Prime Minister David Cameron on the country’s relationship with Europe in 2017. Jo Murkens and Peter Jones argue that in both referendums the options put before the electorate are likely to be exceptionally vague. The UK’s proposed new relationship with Europe is still largely unknown, and it is unclear what the precise nature of an independent Scotland would involve.

This article was first published on LSE’s EUROPP blog

Countries that are used to referendums on constitutional matters use them sparingly. The UK has no such constitutional requirement, but faces the possibility of having to deal with two such referendums within the space of a few years. The first referendum could see Scotland break away from the United Kingdom, the second could see the United Kingdom(which by then may or may not include Scotland) break away from the European Union.

The common issue to both Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, is political sovereignty. They both want more of it; Salmond wants to claim it from the UK, Cameron wants to claim it from the EU. In that narrow sense, they are both nationalists: Salmond a Scottish one, Cameron a British one. Both also want, they claim, to be good European citizens but have to contend with the problem that the European club they want to be members of has rules which conflict with their visions of the idealised version they imagine it should be. And the promotion of this idealised vision to their voters leads them both to political positions which are incoherent.

Scotland’s difficult road towards independence and EU membership

Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond and UK Prime Minister David Cameron Credit: Scottish Government (Creative Commons BY NC)

For the Scottish National Party (SNP) which was, until the advent of devolution in 1999, a minority fringe party, the ‘Independence in Europe’ policy was never subjected to serious examination. It was not much more than a political slogan used in political debate to counter the separatist charge levelled by opponents. The most that was done to develop this policy was to locate sympathetic European luminaries who gave the SNP helpful quotes asserting that upon independence,Scotland would move seamlessly into EU membership. It became an article of SNP faith that Scotland would be warmly welcomed into the happy European family, effectively countering ‘separatist’ accusations. So cemented into SNP ideology is this belief that Nicola Sturgeon, deputy first minister, told the Scottish Parliament’s European and external relations committee in December 2007: ‘It is the clear view of the Scottish National Party and the [Scottish] government that Scotland would automatically be a member of the European Union upon independence.’

The automaticity proposition founders on the rather obvious point that while the people and territory of Scotland may already be in the EU, the Scottish government is not. And the Scottish government being in the EU requires its votes in the European Council and other entitlements to be written into EU treaties, which can only be done with the unanimous consent of all other member states. This remains the case. The SNP, however, refuses to acknowledge this point because it raises the vision of Scotland being outside the EU and having to bang on the door begging to be allowed in out of the cold, bringing the separatist bogey back into play.

The battle against the separatist charge has had to be fought on another front – within the UK. Unionists have alleged that independence will mean that families with members on either side of the border will become fragmented, that they and commercial trade will have to negotiate border controls at Berwick and Gretna Green, that Scotland will lose access to popular BBC shows such as East Enders and Strictly Come Dancing and so on. To counter this, the SNP has devised a new strategy – that while the political union of the UK will come to an end, the social and civil union will continue and prosper. Thus families will be just as united and able to jointly celebrate such things as the Queen’s birthdays and anniversaries as she will still be the titular head of state in an independent Scotland.

Harsh economic realities, however, have forced the extension of this soft unionism into harder areas. The stresses and strains that the euro is under have made it as unattractive to Scots as it is to the English. The SNP decided some time ago that it would stick with sterling as its currency until such time as there are economic benefits to joining the euro, which would only occur after a referendum. As some 60 per cent of Scottish trade is with the rest of the UK, it makes little sense to erect a currency barrier to that trade while tearing one down to benefit the 20 per cent of Scottish trade that is with the Eurozone.

The travails of the euro and the proposed deeper integration remedies, however, demonstrate that such a currency union would erode Scotland’s fiscal independence. Proposed tax changes and government budgets would have to come under the tutelage of the (by then) foreign institutions of the UK Treasury and the Bank of England. Various unionist politicians, such as Treasury chief secretary Danny Alexander and former chancellor Alistair Darling, have argued either that the UK government simply could not countenance such an arrangement, or that the arrangements would be so restrictive as to nullify the claimed gains from political independence.

The SNP’s counter to this has been to assert a rather crude truth, that as sterling is a fully tradeable currency, the UK cannot stop Scotland from unilaterally adopting the pound. This, however, looks unsatisfactory from the point of view of independence. It leaves monetary policy, the determination of interest rates, and the operation of quantitative easing in the Bank of England’s hands. The SNP also claim, rather more vaguely, that the fiscal stability pact necessary for a currency union need not be so restrictive when, in fact, the lesson of EU struggles to stabilise the euro point to tighter rather than looser centralised fiscal controls.

This puts Salmond in the odd position of being, simultaneously, a Scottish nationalist, a European federalist, and a British unionist. He wants Scotland to have untrammelled use of its own credit card to dine at the same time in the British and European restaurants, but refuses the table d’hôte menu and insists on picking from two à la carte menus, which neither chefs seem willing to offer.

David Cameron is asking the impossible of Europe

Cameron is in only a slightly less strange place. He wants to trade heavily on his British nationalism with his domestic audience, but waves his European unionism when on the other side of the English Channel. Both audiences are, however, able to see what is being presented to the other and thus he runs the high risk of undermining his message to one by his contrary calls to the other.

In his much publicised speech on 23 January 2013, David Cameron set out his intention to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU and put the terms of that changed membership to the British people in an ‘in/out’ referendum by the end of 2017, subject to the Conservatives winning an outright majority in the general elections in 2015. His speech received global attention and a mixture of praise (e.g. those who agreed that the EU ‘needs to be reformed’) and criticism (e.g. those who disagreed with the‘language of unilateral negotiations and the threat of withdrawal’). Much of the commentary, indeed much of the speech itself, is based on the dubious premise that the UK is a major player in the European Union.

On one level, the UK undoubtedly sits at the top table: it has the third largest population and the third largest economy in the EU. However, the UK already has a different relationship with the EU than the other member states. It gets a significant rebate on its financial contributions to the EU budget; it has external borders with other EU member states; it has its own currency; it did not sign the fiscal stability treaty which requires budget prudence and introduces a debt brake for the 17 Eurozone states; and it will not (unlike 11 Eurozone states) impose a financial transaction tax which is designed to discourage speculative trading. Moreover, the UK limited the applicability of the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the way in which it may be interpreted. And its red-lines approach at the IGC in 2007 means that the UK can itself decide (by 31 May 2014) whether to implement all the European measures on police and justice (which will be subject to the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union) or whether to opt out of all the measures and then adopt individual measures on an ad hoc basis (subject to the consent of the other member states). Although how exactly the latter option ‘cuts red tape’ is anyone’s guess.

If this isn’t à la carte, then what is? What more does Cameron want to renegotiate? No one knows, and no one has yet produced a checklist, although the government will be working on one until the autumn of 2014. For the time being, the Working Time Directive, the European Arrest Warrant, and a better deal on fisheries keep coming up in debate. Is it realistic to argue that powers in those areas can be returned to the member states? The practical options are the following. Either the UK tries to tackle the matter from above by reducing the law-making powers of the EU institutions (that option would require a treaty change and the unanimous agreement of the other member states which is, currently, unrealistic). Or the UK tries to negotiate a better ‘deal’ for itself (e.g. through opt outs and protocols that are attached to the Treaty). But is it credible that the other member states would grant the UK special treatment when every member state is subject to aspects of EU law of which it disapproves? Overall neither option seems workable.

On a more fundamental level it seems baffling that British Euroscepticism would appear to hinge on a handful of powers that need to be ‘repatriated’. It doesn’t, and it is ludicrous to suggest that the Europhobes in the Conservative party will be placated if junior doctors work longer, and UK nationals who are wanted on charges abroad cannot be extradited (whereas, of course, UK nationals who have committed a crime in the UK but fled to another EU member state will immediately be brought back home). On fishing, where the real issue is depleted stocks through overfishing, the Commission is already transferring decision-making powers to the member states in an attempt to decentralise fishing policy and tailor it to local conditions. As Douglas Alexander put it: ‘The gap between the minimum the Tories will demand and the maximum the EU could give is unbridgeable’. These are not the fundamental issues, and any self-respecting Europhobe will not rest until the UK has exited the Union and re-attached itself to the single market like a dingy to a supertanker.

So if Cameron’s speech does not stand up to scrutiny from a European perspective, maybe its intended target was closer to home. Almost all foreign and domestic observers noted that the speech was driven primarily by domestic party politicking (the United Kingdom Independence Party – UKIP) and internecine party struggles (Bill Cash). Cameron is trying to unify a fractured party in the run-up to the general elections in 2015, and UKIP and the Tory backbenchers forced his hand. But even domestically Cameron may have dealt himself a bad hand. The offer of a referendum on renegotiated membership after the next general election is subject to two unknowns: i) the outcome of the 2015 elections; ii) the outcome of the negotiations. It is presently far from clear whether he will be successful with respect to either or both.

Until then Cameron will be seeking, not so much nouvelle cuisine as cuisine impossible, just like Salmond: untrammelled UK access to the European single market restaurant, refusal of the table d’hôte menu and insistence on the à la carte menu which is not on offer. And then he will have the nerve to ask for a rebate (i.e. other member states subsidising his dining) when presented with the bill.

Two Incoherent Policies

Cameron’s policy on the EU is just as incoherent as the SNP’s policy on continuing EU membership on current terms. Cameron assumes he will win the next election, just as Alex Salmond assumes that Scotland will automatically be an EU member state. Cameron claims that he can walk into the room and negotiate a new deal. Salmond claims that he can secure Scotland’s place in Europe on current terms: i.e. by inheriting the UK’s opt outs on the euro currency and the Schengen free travel area, which is illusory.

Moreover, a referendum (if one is to be had) needs to set out two clear choices beforehand. The in/out referendum on the EU or the Yes/No referendums on Scottish independence do not offer sufficient alternatives. What will come after EU membership? A free trade (all pay and no say) agreement with the EU like Norway? The Commonwealth? The USA? NAFTA? The global market? Splendid isolation?

Likewise, Salmond promises continuity when any EU lawyer, politician, and bureaucrat will tell him that there is no automatic right to membership of the European Union. So, what if membership is not automatic? Will Scotland stay outside the EU? Have its application fast-tracked? Join the queue of applicant states? He also promises currency continuity within a skeletonised British union, when there are an array of economists and Treasury politicians past and present saying it either will not work, or will render the gaining of political independence pointless. So what will happen then? Freelance use of the pound? Enforced joining of the euro? Invention of a Scottish currency?

The à la carte menus offered by both are, in reality, a dog’s dinner.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the British Politics and Policy blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting.

About the Authors

Jo Murkens is Senior Lecturer in Law at the LSE. Dr Murkens was previously a researcher at the Constitution Unit, UCL, where he led the research on the legal, political and economic conditions and consequences of Scottish independence. Jo has taught at University College, King’s College, and Queen Mary College (all in London), and was called to the Bar in 2006.

Peter Jones is a freelance journalist, writing on Scottish current affairs for The Economist, the Times and The Scotsman. He is also, with Jo Murkens, a co-author of Scottish Independence: A Practical Guide, EUP 2001.

Seven hazards in David Cameron’s intended European policy

Posted: 23 Jan 2013 12:00 AM PST

This morning sees UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s long anticipated (and delayed) speech on the UK’s relationship with the EU. Michael Emerson sets out seven major hazards that his expected policy positions will have to overcome, ranging from defining its core objective, problems with the referendum process, and the economic costs of generating uncertainty over the EU/UK relationship. 

This article was first published on LSE’s EUROPP blog

Unless the British Prime Minister changes the script that he has led us to expect for his speech later this week on his policy intentions towards the European Union, his propositions are going to encounter a plethora of problems for their successful implementation in the British and European interests. To set out the litmus tests, there are no less than seven major hazards for his policy to overcome.

The first hazard is the task of defining the core objective in a way that holds water, i.e. operational and proportionate to the political purpose of repatriating sufficiently substantial EU competences to claim that he has strategically rebalanced the relationship. The UK has already opted out of the eurozone and the Schengen area, and does not want to opt out of the single market and foreign and security policy. What is left to add to the opt-outs? Not much. That is why much is being made of the possibility (provided for by Protocols 21 and 36 to the Lisbon Treaty) to repeal the UK’s implementation of much existing EU law and policy in the Freedom, Security and Justice area. The populist argument being made that this legislation somehow threatens the rule of law in the UK is utterly contrived.

Michael Theis Credit: (Creative Commons BY ND)

The second hazard lies in the negotiating style and tactics currently already being announced by the Prime Minister, namely that of either getting his way, or if not, blocking the eurozone’s proposals for a new EU-based treaty to correct its systemic deficiencies. This is already criticised as ‘blackmail’, notably by some senior German parliamentarians, but the use of this damning language gets an immediate echo around the rest of Europe. The blackmail tactic encounters two problems, both fundamental. The first is that it will not work, since eurozone countries are already prepared if necessary to negotiate a new treaty outside the formal EU legal order. The second is that it will harden the terms of opposition to whatever the UK wants or has as a special favour (e.g. the UK’s budget rebate).

The third hazard arises from the political manageability of the process, when the outcome would have to be settled by referendum in the UK. The Swiss are well trained to use the referendum instrument for precisely targeted issues. For the rest of Europe with less training, like the UK with hardly any, the hazard is that of the referendum question being transformed in the eyes of voters into something other than what the text exactly says, like general dissatisfaction with the state of the economy or general performance of the government.

Indeed these first three hazards might push the political dynamics into the secession scenario, or fourth hazard, which the Prime Minister says he does not want. But if one looks at the secession scenario, what does one see? The most obvious approximate model is that of Norway, which is wholly in the single market as member of the European Economic Area (EEA). The problems here are that the UK would have no say in the negotiation of a new single market law. So the UK would have less sovereignty than it does now over the single market, which is its highest priority domain of EU activity. In addition, Norway has agreed to substantial financial contributions to the EU structural funds, which would certainly be demanded of a seceding UK.

Hazard number five is the potential economic cost of the strategic uncertainty that is being created for a number of years ahead, with the scenario of secession in the air. Competition between EU member states over footloose investment by multinational corporations is already fierce. As British business interests are already saying with alarm, in a situation of strategic uncertainty for the UK the most obvious sales pitch of its close neighbours will be “you cannot know where the UK will be in relation to the EU single market in a few years time”. With the obstinately on-going recession in the British economy, this is hardly a message one wishes to facilitate.

Hazard number six concerns the political future of the United Kingdom itself, with pressure for a referendum in Scotland over its possible secession from the UK. The Scottish nationalists do not however want to secede from the EU, and for the UK to be toying with secession from the EU could intensify Scottish arguments for seceding from the UK. EU lawyers seem to be of the view that an independent Scotland would have to apply under the regular accession procedure, and several member states would not want to endorse this precedent. But the prospects for a very messy tangling up of the debates over these Scottish, UK and EU affairs are very real, with Cameron risking that his epitaph becomes “the man that led the unravelling of both the UK and EU”.

Hazard number seven concerns the place of the UK in the world, and its relations with its closest allies and friends. The US has already in recent days made its position absolutely clear, that its interest lies in a strong UK voice within a strong EU. Here they are getting a crystal-clear message that the current British government is heading in the wrong direction. The UK’s traditional like-thinking liberal democratic allies in the EU, such as the Nordics and Benelux, are appalled at what they see emerging. As for the old Commonwealth, they went their own way a long time ago. The UK’s remaining international prestige with major powers such as China and Russia will decline.

At least these seven hazards are now being aired in public debate, and it is for the normal democratic processes to sift through the arguments and see informed judgement prevail. The responsibility of the British Prime Minister in these next days will be at least not to foreclose the debate by locking his government onto a path of uncontrollable political damage, for which the possibilities are nonetheless abundantly evident.

This article is a shortened version of a CEPS Commentary paper.

Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the British Politics and Policy blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting.

Michael Emerson has since 1998 been Associate Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), Brussels.  Since 1998, researching European foreign, security and neighbourhood policies. He was a Senior Research Fellow at the LSE in 1996-1998. He has numerous publications on EU integration, EU relations with the wider European neighbourhood and contemporary European conflict.