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Brexit is an old people’s home

... And it's English, not British.

Scotland would not be independent inside the EU

Will Scotland get special treatment from the EU just because it voted remain?

The paradox of true sovereignty points to Remain

The EU provides a means to exercise more control of international capitalism. It's paradoxical but critical: sovereignty is dependent on an economy and order over which no nation is sovereign.

Protests in Calais: valuing human complexity in crisis

Thoughts on the UK media's representation of the refugee crisis, from a day of action and protest in Calais on Saturday 19th September. In the midst of political maelstrom, migrants are fighting for their humanity along with their rights. 

Scrutinising the Scrutineers: part 1

The European Scrutiny Committee has locked horns with the BBC, repeatedly accusing it of a pro-EU bias. Is the corporation’s editorial independence under threat? 

The left needs to confront its illusions about the EU

How can we voice opposition to the EU without sounding like Nigel Farage?

Blair For President Raises European Hackles

With all the speculation in the UK press at the moment about Tony Blair’s potential ascendency to the presidency of the E.U., one could be forgiven for thinking that it’s all in the bag. This despite the fact that Blair is not even officially up for the post yet, and he remains wildly unpopular in much of the E.U. for his role in the Iraq war and his perceived loyalty to American interests over European.

This latter sentiment has led to the reactivation of the Stop Blair! petition with thousands of new signatures coming in to demonstrate the popular opposition to Blair becoming the E.U. President. There are currently around thirty-six thousand signatures attached to the petition, which points out Tony Blair’s profound unsuitability for the role as the divisive, hawkish former leader of a country which he consistently kept at a distance from Europe, evidenced by acts such as securing an exemption for Britain from the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.

It is not entirely surprising to see such a reaction to the idea of Blair as E.U. President, but it will be interesting to see whether the antipathy shown by so many E.U. citizens will be reflected in the attitudes of the administrations that run their countries. There have been mutterings from the French Presidents’s party about Blair’s unsuitability for the role, but so far neither Sarkozy or German Chancellor Angela Merkel have openly declared whether they would support a campaign by Blair for the post. Many of the smaller countries of the E.U. would no doubt be lukewarm about a President from one of the major countries, but whether this will translate into strong opposition remains to be seen. It would seem likely, however, that the more popular opposition to the notion is seen and felt by the governments involved, the more pressure there will be to oppose Blair for the role, and campaigns and petitions such as this will play a vital role in establishing depth of public feeling on the issue and in convincing European leaders to take a stand in line with their citizens.

Saying Yes 2 Europe

Those hostile to or simply unenthusiastic about the European Union have plenty of smaller parties for whom to vote in this year's European Elections. They can vote for UKIP, or for the parties of the extreme left and the extreme right that are bidding vigorously for the Eurosceptic vote. They can vote for the  Conservative Party, which attacks the European Union as a quasi-socialist, fundamentally corporatist organization. They can vote for No2EU, which  depicts the Union, with a righteous conviction entirely matching that of the Conservatives, as a neo-liberal conspiracy. The Labour Party stands on its record of having kept Britain out of the euro, while the Liberal Democrats claim to want Britain to join the single European currency in the long term, but (in case you were worried folks) certainly not any time soon.

There is, however, a small party standing in London which comes from a completely different part of the European argument from all the above. It stands firmly in the European, if not necessarily in the British political mainstream. Yes 2 Europe believes that the genuine merits and advantages of the European Union incomparably outweigh any of its (largely fictional) disadvantages. It is taking advantage of the European Elections to pursue the unusual tactic of speaking exclusively about the European Union and Britain's role in it. Its central message is that Britain is doing itself no good at all by its uncertain and half-hearted attitude towards the European Union and its policies.

R.I.P the Acre c1300-2008

Guy Aitchison (London, OK): Have we seen the last of the "British" acre? The 700-year old land measurement has apparently been banned by the EU following a meeting in Brussels last week.

The Sun (as you may have guessed) is not best pleased, informing its readers that "Britain" (don't they mean England?) has used the acre to measure land since " the late 13th century under Edward I’s reign." The word acre is apparently derived from the Old English for "open field" and was considered the amount of land tillable by a man behind an ox in one day. The measurement was eventually defined by law under Queen Victoria in the Weights and Measures Act of 1878 as being 4,840 square yards or 43,560 square feet.

This history was brought to an end last week when a "lowly Whitehall official" nodded through the EU orders that sealed the acre's fate. What do OK readers think? Surely the humble acre deserved better than this.

What's Wrong with the European Union and How to Fix it by Simon Hix

John Palmer reviews What's Wrong With the European Union and How to Fix it by Simon Hix.

(Hix, 2008, Polity Press, 228pp)

In the midst of what has been a largely introverted - even turgidly morbid - debate about the future of the European Union following, the "No" vote outcome in Ireland's referendum on the EU Lisbon Treaty, the publication of a book which grapples with just why voter malaise with the EU has become such a problem is a healthy antidote. What's Wrong with the European Union and How to Fix it by Professor Simon Hix of the London School of Economics challenges much conventional wisdom by insisting that the EU suffers from too little politics - not too much.

At the heart of Hix's analysis is a conviction that it is long overdue for the peoples of the EU to be given a far greater voice in shaping the political future of the Union and the political character of its leadership. Hix believes that with - or without - the Lisbon Treaty - there should be far greater and more transparent choice about who should become the next President of the European Commission - the key executive body of the EU. This - he rightly believes - will encourage the political parties to openly contest each other's programmes for handling the current economic, social, environmental and other challenges facing the Europe in an ever more inter-dependent world.

Solidarity with the Irish No

Hugo Robinson (Open Europe): The Irish people have voted down the EU's Lisbon Treaty. The EU's rules are clear - if any one member state rejects an EU Treaty, the Treaty falls. It seems pretty simple - Lisbon should be dead.

Yet yesterday evening, the House of Lords rubber stamped the Treaty. The only explanation for this continuation of the ratification process is that it is a means to isolate and pressurise the Irish, with a view to reversing the referendum decision. Keeping the legislative process in motion reflects a presumption that the Irish will be talked out of their rejection - because otherwise, ratification is pointless.

Surely the only way to truly "respect" the result of the referendum - as EU leaders keep saying they will - is not to have the Treaty at all? The end result of pushing ahead with ratification would be a situation where 26 member states have approved the Treaty, and Ireland has not - making the pressure of isolation far more tangible than is the case now, where eight countries (excluding Ireland) are yet to ratify.

Europe must embrace federalism with or without the Brits

This is a response by David Marquand to John Palmer's article on Ireland's "No" vote on the Lisbon Treaty.

David Marquand (Oxford): The real issue goes far deeper than our blinkered political class and media commentariat seem to realise. The post-cold war world, with a hegemonic US as the only super-power, is dying if not dead. An infintely more complex and more dangerous multi-polar world is coming into existence, with China, India and perhaps a revitalised Russia as super powers alongside the US. The US will for the foreseeable future remain the strongest of these super-powers, but it will not be the only one. Economically it has already ceased to be a hegemon: as the dollar falls, the Euro climbs. The crucial question for Europeans is whether we want the world to be run by the Americans, Chinese, Indians and perhaps Russians, or whether Europe should get its act together and become a quasi-super power as well. Europe’s political elites have either funked or fudged that question, and in Britain virtually no one has so far faced it. But the answer Europeans give to it will determine the shape of global and European politics as the 21st century proceeds. If Europe wants to hold its own in the multipolar world now taking shape it has to make a qualitative leap towards federalism.

Lisbon Treaty: New Taoiseach choosing his words carefully

Catherine Reilly (Dublin, Metro Eireann): Just days before he left office on 7th of May, former Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Bertie Ahern told an audience at Harvard University that rejecting the Lisbon Treaty would be an “act of lunacy” by the Irish people.

For a man lauded for his so-called common touch, and ear to the ground, it was an odd choice of expression. Irish people don’t like being told what to do. Irish people don’t like being tagged potential lunatics. This sense of being patronised was, I believe, a factor in Ireland’s initial rejection of the Nice Treaty in 2001, quite aside from concerns over neutrality. 

Interestingly, new Justice Minister Dermot Ahern TD - who was promoted from his foreign affairs brief in last week’s cabinet reshuffle - has constantly played down the implications of a No vote, adopting a stoical ‘life would go on’ message (this, despite the fact that he resoundingly supports a Yes vote). Just like the dad who tells his teenage daughter that she can go to Friday night’s disco, but he won’t be paying for it, it has been a clever tactic.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD has been similarly circumspect. Since taking office, he has placed full emphasis on the benefits that EU membership has wrought for Ireland, linking a Yes vote as a fitting return from a self-confident, modern Ireland. He has also played on Ireland’s current sense of economic uncertainty, as the country begins to come to terms with the fact that the boom is no more. “It is very important that we get a Yes vote,” Cowen said last Saturday. “It is critically important to our strategic interest and to our national interest.”

The Lisbon Treaty: Ireland’s awful secret

Catherine Reilly (Dublin, Metro Eireann): Burying bad news: never really a good idea, is it?

Just ask the former British government spin doctor who infamously called 9/11 a good day to "bury" bad news. She lost her job. Or indeed the Irish footballer who, in order to avoid international duty after his girlfriend's apparent miscarriage, ‘killed off' not one but two grandmothers when the media smelled a rat. Those terrace chants and nightclub wind-ups will follow him for life.

Is a new Europe possible?

John Palmer on We the Peoples of Europe by Susan George.

This book makes a powerful call for a more just and democratic Europe but ignores the gains made from recent reforms.

Fianna Fáil eye euro-elections in the North

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): has news of the emerging 'Northern strategy' of Ireland's largest party, Fianna Fáil:

There has been persistent speculation that Fianna Fáil could merge with the SDLP, with the two parties possibly agreeing a common candidate for next year’s European Parliament election.

Net making EU public sphere possible

Jon Bright (London, OK): I picked this up thanks to Jon Worth's excellent Euroblog. Romanian Institute IPP have set up a new website which allows you to track the performance of your MEP - and the 750 odd others that are out there. I realise, of course, this will be somewhat of a minority pursuit, and there are more than a few people who would rather do away with the whole lot of them than pick through how they are voting. But, for a Europhile (albeit sometimes sceptical) such as myself it's another small sign that, if such a thing as a European "public sphere" is to develop or could possibly develop (a big if), it is the existence of the internet that makes this possible - its ability to do things the printed press could never have dreamed of. A political union of the type the EU is developing (which is still directionally unclear, and still very much contested) would simply be unimaginable without technological advance - and  tools like this one seem to me to be a small contribution to this project.

Britain and the EU must look to India

Neena Gill (West Midlands, Labour MEP): The financial crisis in the US will have a serious impact on Britain and Europe's economic outlook for years to come. Unsustainable dependence on the world's number one economy, which now faces the threat of a recession as grave as that of the 1930s, brings with it a risk of job losses across Britain and Europe.

Door opens for a democratic EC president

John Palmer (London): For too long serious political debate about the future development of the European Union has been distorted by the constant mantra from populists, euro-sceptics and others about opposing "rule by unelected Brussels bureaucrats." Although this is a gross distortion of the reality - that decisions are taken by elected governments and an elected European Parliament - the fact that the President and other members of the European Commission (which cannot pass laws but does propose legislation) have always been appointed rather than elected has been an embarrassment.

European "fifth freedom" rings hollow

Ralf Grahn (Helsinki, Grahnlaw): The European Council was up to some grandstanding again at its spring gathering. The presidency conclusions brought us the following vision (Presidency conclusions, document 7652/08 - opens pdf):

Somewhere to practice European democracy?

Jon Bright (London, OK): One of the interesting aspects of the new EU treaty is the institution of citizens' initiatives and petitions - of which Grahnlaw has an excellent and detailed dissection here. Initiatives with the support of at least 1 million EU citizens can be submitted to the European Commission, which can then turn them into proposals.

Could the EU accept an Irish no?

Jon Bright (London, OK): Mark Mardell's excellent euroblog has a post asking whether Ireland could vote no to the Lisbon treaty. He says it's too early to assume the "yes" is set in stone:

Some are already suggesting the foundations for rejections are there.

Michael White shocked?

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): The Guardian's veteran political correspondent Michael White cultivates a knowing, seen it all, it won't change, nor-should-it-if-it-comes-to-that, attitude that is only bearable because he works fairly hard. Finally, after thirty years, his faith in the system may have been rocked. In today's political briefing he reports that Parliament's Lisbon debate "rings hollow",

Can the Charter protect us?

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I've been taking another look at the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights (opens as pdf). As I wrote in OK, when I first looked at it it seemed great and I asked why we should not sign it. In particular, according to Spyblog these principles seemed designed to protect us from a database state:

Fog in Westminster by Peter Sutherland, Federal Trust

John Palmer reviews Fog in Westminster - Europe Cut Off by Peter Sutherland.

This pamphlet shows how narrow and unreflective the European debate is in Britain and how misguided the government's approach to integration has been.

Brown's Britishness must address both England and the EU

Jon Bright (London, OK): David Marquand has written an article for OurKingdom we have published in on our openDemocracy article page: England and Europe: the two 'E's that lie in wait for Brown's Britishness. It analyses the state of Gordon Brown's reform agenda, and the wider prospects for democratic change in the UK - and is based on his introduction to the recent Rowntree seminar on how the reform movement that has been stimulated by the Green Paper on the Governance of Britain shuld engage with it now.  Read the article in full here.

Blair tires of mid-east; would accept dictatorship of Europe

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): Today's Independent reports that Tony Blair is warming to the idea of becoming President of Europe even though he would have to give up a "clutch of lucrative business appointments". With a classic Blair spin he has let it be known that he "does not want to be seen to be angling for the job or as the front-runner, which might enable opponents to rally against him". This means he is desperate to get out of the Middle-East. However, "friends" believe he would only "accept a heavy-hitting role as a "Mr Europe" figure".

Blair inches towards EU presidency

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): The Mail reports that at the World Economic Forum, in Switzerland, Tony Blair said he was ready to interrupt his nascent business career to return to the political frontline. Blair already has the support of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is his "unofficial campaign manager." Elsewhere, the collapse of Romano Prodi in Italy has meant another Blair ally - Silvio Berlusconi - stands a good chance of returning to power in his country. The article notes however that the support of Berlin remains critical. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is said to support him privately, but faces opposition from left-leaning coalition partners, wary of Blair's role in the Iraq war.

The year ahead: the EU awaits two new presidents

J Clive Matthews (London, Europhobia): Ignore the stop-gap measure that is the new EU reform treaty and all the attendant calls for referenda. The really important developments for the future of the EU - and for the UK's relationship with the rest of Europe - will not be governed by bits of paper this year. Nor will they be decided from within the EU's borders.

We should be debating Britain's place in Europe, not Lisbon's

Jonathan Church (London, The Federal Trust): "Everyone but a fool (or a minister) knows that the new treaty is the rejected 2005 constitution in all but name" wrote Simon Jenkins in Wednesday's Guardian, referring to well-publicised comments made by Valerie Giscard d'Estaing and Angela Merkel to support this assertion. Brown's case is ignored, presumably on the grounds that somebody like Mr Brown would not be an objective judge of the two treaties. But Jenkins is happy to gloss over the fact that d'Estaing and Merkel also have their pre-existing interests in the debate: one being the Constitution's proud "architect", the other heading a country thoroughly at ease with the original document. The ruling of the Dutch government's independent legal panel, the Council of State, that the two Treaties were "substantially different" is, a cynic might say, no less a product of national political pressures.

Parliament may have undermined its own sovereignty

Moderator: This is a response to a comment left on John Jackson's previous post, which disagreed with his contention that English common law cannot be made superior to Strasbourg.

John Jackson (London, Mishcon de Reya & Unlock Democracy): Initially it was not clear to me what Richard is "completely" disagreeing with. But his follow up comment suggests that he is defending the deep rooted concept of parliamentary sovereignty - the notion that our parliament can do anything it wants, pass any legislation it likes.

Snapshots from the Fabian's global conference

Sunder Katwala (London, Fabian Society):  We are exactly a year from the happy prospect of a new US President taking office. Bush’s progressive critics must now deepen the debate. So this year’s Fabian conference – ‘Change the World’ – was dedicated to global issues,– to ask what change in America and the year in which China will take the global spotlight will mean for us, but also to ask how progressives in Britain and Europe should respond. Hopes of progress on the great issues we face – from climate change to a response to terrorism - which uphold our democratic values depend on making 2008 a year of new ideas in foreign policy.David Miliband offered a thoughtful keynote speech arguing that a number of fundamental power shifts were reshaping our world.

European football

Jon Bright (London, OK): The EU treaty, on which debate in parliament starts next Monday, is going to be the very epitome of a political football, and Fraser Nelson has a superb match preview in the Spectator. All three teams parties will be trying to score some political points whilst keeping their back line intact: Brown will be hoping to prevent backbenchers in marginal seats defecting to protect their own slender margins, Cameron will have to decide what he would do if the treaty is ratified (2010 will be far too late for a referendum) - and make enough concessions to the Eurosceptics in the party to keep them in line, and Clegg will have to justify Menzies Campbell's original decision not to support a referendum on the treaty (which was promised in the last Lib Dem manifesto), whilst instead pushing for a more fundamental referendum on whether Britain wants to be in or out of the EU.

The year ahead: EU to ponder the future of economics, environment, and the atlantic alliance

John Palmer (London): With a sigh of relief, but also with an increasingly nervous scan of what may be coming over the international horizon, the European Union enters 2008 - a year which will put the durability of European integration to some demanding tests.

The relief comes from the likely prospect that the EU Reform Treaty - the re-written version of the blighted "Constitutional Treaty" - will be ratified by all 27 EU Member States by the year end or very shortly thereafter. There are still some difficult obstacles to be surmounted - not least ratification by the UK Parliament and Ireland's referendum. But in both cases approval seems distinctly more likely than rejection and nowhere else is there a realistic prospect of the Reform Treaty being rejected.

EU gives new meaning to the idea of nationalism

Jon Bright (London, OK): Picked up this Al-Jazeera report from Tartan Hero - "to see ourselves as others see us" he calls it - AJ's take on the rise of support for Scottish independence.


I always love watching international news reports on domestic issues because you get a fresh pair of eyes looking at an old problem. And what comes out, for me, from both Margot MacDonald and Alex Salmond, who were interviewed for the piece, is how important the existence of the EU is in framing the context of the debate on 'independence'. MacDonald made the point that other 'small' nations also exist happily in the EU. Salmond emphasised that Scotland wanted to represent itself in institutions like this. When it is explained again, from first principles, it is the existence of this larger statelike structure that is always lurking in the background in the SNP's desire to break away from the original (albeit far more developed / centralised /powerful) British superstate. Would calls for Scottish independence be conceivable without the EU? If not, what does that say about the existence and future of the significance of the word 'nationalism'? Is the entropy being felt in the UK part of the inevitable destruction needed for the creation of something new - and what might that be?

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