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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Why Britain leaving the EU for the EEA or EFTA will not solve any of the anti-EU crowd’s complaints

“Let’s leave the EU and join the EEA or EFTA – Norway and Switzerland are doing fine without EU membership!” It’s a perennial argument of a surprisingly large number of anti-EU types, and I’ve been meaning to do a proper post on it for (literally) years. It is, needless to say, a nonsense argument based on a fundamental misunderstanding of Norwegian/Swiss relations with the EU.

Norway has oil. Switzerland’s a tax haven. Both have far, far smaller populations than the UK, accounting for their far higher GDPs per capita (and hence relative prosperity). They are not comparable with Britain.

Even if they were – both also have to pay in to the EU budget proportionate to their economies. Norway currently pays c.340 million euros per annum. This is more than many EU member states – especially when you consider the fact that actual members get money back, reducing their net contributions.

In fact, judging from this chart of net contributions, Norway would – if included in the chart – be about the 10th highest contributor to the EU budget, despite not being a member.

Rough maths tells us that, all things being equal, as the UK’s GDP is approximately 5.7 times that of Norway’s, the UK would still need to contribute around 2 billion euros a year to the EU budget if part of the EEA/EFTA. While having no say in what EU laws and regulations we’d still have to follow.

Because both Norway and Switzerland also – without having any say in their formulation – have to abide by 80-90% of EU rules and regulations in order to be part of the Common Market.

Because you know what you need for a Common Market to function? Common rules and regulations.

That’s the whole reason *why* the EEC has been shifting down the path towards elements of political union over the last five decades – you need a certain amount of political harmonisation to enable functional, stable economic harmonisation. The lack of greater political cohesion (especially the lack of a common fiscal policy) is one of the major contributing factors to the current eurozone crisis, FFS.

Also worth remembering – these “we’d be better off in EFTA/the EEA” arguments used to have a third “look how well so-and-so’s doing” country included: Iceland.

We don’t hear much about how well Iceland’s doing in the EEA any more, do we?

You see – it’s all very well saying “let’s leave the EU”. But if you’re advocating ditching the status quo you’d better have a pretty bloody well thought-through alternative plan.

The vast, vast majority of EU withdrawalists, however, seem simply not to have done their research.

(This originally posted as a comment here, and now slightly modified with additional links)


  1. Useful idiot
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    For other uses, see Useful idiot (disambiguation).

    In political jargon, the term useful idiot was used to describe Soviet sympathizers in Western countries. The implication is that though the person in question naïvely thinks themselves an ally of the Soviets or other ideologies, they are actually held in contempt by the Soviets, and were being cynically used. The term is now used more broadly to describe someone who is perceived to be manipulated by a political movement, terrorist group, hostile government, business, or other organization, whether or not the group is Communist in nature.

  2. Or in the case of this Blog author: An EUseful Idiot.

  3. *slow hand clap*

    Brilliant refutation of the argument, there. Well done.

  4. Well written. Good to see one side at least presenting actual arguments, and convincing ones at that. For far too long the anti-camp’s baseless opinions have been allowed to be masqueraded as fact without any form of critique; critique which would quickly display a lack of substance behind their arguments.

    Open Europe are masters of this.

  5. Would be interested to know how much we pay currently? After rebate and such.

    • Currently around £6-9 billion.

      This varies annually due to contributions being set marked on the dollar (a brilliant Gordon Brown idea of the late 90s when the pound-ecu exchange rate was significantly more favourable than the current sterling-euro one…).

      It also fluctuates due to being set in line with member states’ GDP, with the EU’s budget being set at c.1% of the total EU GDP.

      So you’re talking a potential saving of £4 to 7 billion, based on current net payments, for sure.

      But for that saving in payments we’d end up in a *far* worse position than we’re in now, in terms of getting our way with our European neighbours, as we’d have no say in the laws and regulations that the EU would be passing and that we’d have to abide by.

      Considering the fact that £4 to 7bn is only 0.7-1.3% of the total UK budget, is exposing ourselves to that much interference – with no say whatsoever – really worth it?

  6. However we would be outside the CAP and CFP and we would be free to lift tariffs on goods from other countries.

    That said perhaps a better comparison is with Mexico which has a free trade agreement with the EU but isn’t compelled to contribute to the EU budget.

  7. As a mental experiment imagine the true state of our governance was visibly expressed.The House of Commons contains an assortment of unelected Poles and Germans issuing diktats about prisoners voting and having a family life .About 200 would be about right. Perhaps a Schmidt or a Dubois on Question Time to tell us what we may or may not do.
    Obviously there would be outrage dismay and disbelief, so we know the EU is a bad thing.
    On the other hand these Germans,French and and so on have an implicit threat to operate effective sanctions and tariffs against us unless we fall into line.That,at least,is the suggestion.

    The question then is not “Do we like the EU” ..of course not it is ,”How real is the threat , would they do it, would we be poorer ?”
    This National question was the way in which the Common Market ,as it was then called was advertised , and it is the grounds on which any conceivable referendum would e fought by the yes side. ( Shame really I `d love it to be about England not being a real thing as you seem to suggest)

    My suspcision is that the German will still be willing to sell us their BMW`s even if they cannot order us around and bi-lateral agreements on trade issues would suffice .Anyway the word is a big place nowadays and the EU an old ladies armpit of stagnation . It is this change of context that has shifted pragmatic Conservatives away from support to outright loathing.

    • Much of that is silly for many reasons – especially the nonsense about imagining a House of Commons made up of Germans and Poles.

      As it stands, we each have a single vote for just one out of 650 MPs.

      We have no vote on who becomes Prime Minister.

      We have no vote on the make-up of the Cabinet.

      We have no vote on the members of the House of Lords.

      We have no vote on the members of the Civil Service, or the heads of government departments.

      I live in London. Why is it any worse for a German or a Pole to have any influence over the laws I have to live by than for a Yorkshire farmer? Both are pretty much equally geographically and socially remote from my life. Indeed, a German living in Berlin or Pole in Warsaw are both likely to have more in common with me than a farmer on the Yorkshire moors.

      (You also seem to be under the entirely mistaken belief that the EU has a significant role to play in criminal law, which it doesn’t, and to believe that the prisoner voting rights issue is something to do with the EU. It’s not – that was the Council of Europe, an entirely separate body.)

      On your more sensible points about the level of the threat:

      Of course EU countries would still trade with us if we were no longer a member. That’s not the danger. The danger is that the British economy is too weak to gain good terms with other, larger trading partners, putting us at a disadvantage that could further weaken our already weakened economy.

      After all, if you think that Britain has failed to get her own way with the EU, where she is the third largest economy and one of the most powerful member states, what hope does Britain have in negotiating with China, India, Russia?

      The key point of tranding blocks is that they are not just for internal advantage – they’re also for strength in numbers when negotiating with other economic powers. If Russia decides to turn off gas supplies (as she already has, more than once), a single European country acting alone has very little bargaining power – even if it is a big one, like the UK. Acting together, though, they can put enough pressure on the Kremlin to force a speedy, satisfactory resolution.

      Will this always work? Of course not. But your chances for a favourable deal are vastly increased.

      The UK’s GDP is around $2.2 trillion. The EU’s amounts to around $16.2 trillion – making it the largest economy in the world. With that sort of money, the EU cannot be ignored. The UK – while still strong – can.

      There’s not a single country in the world that could not survive without British trade. But surviving without EU trade? Far, far harder.

      Yes, it might work out if the UK runs off on her own. But it’s a very, very big risk indeed. If in doubt, stick with the status quo. If the status quo is unsatisfactory, try to change it gently, by degree – don’t go for the nuclear option unless the current position is utterly horrific.

      And although many anti-EU types seem to believe that the UK’s relationship with the EU *is* horrific, any sensible, rational, fact-based assessment would demonstrate that the worst that could *possibly* be said about it without mad hyperbole is that it is mildly unsatisfactory in some areas.

      • “Why is it any worse for a German or a Pole to have any influence over the laws I have to live by than for a Yorkshire farmer”

        For the same reason that we accept the results of general elections even if for example the Tory South ensures a Tory government over the Labour North or vice-versa. Most people have a sense of nationality which makes it easier for them to consent to be governed by Mancunians or Surrey-dwellers, even if they don’t like it. Interesting to note though that there is increasing resentment about Labour Scotland being governed by Tory England and vice-versa (I know of course that these are very simplistic examples). Suggests if you ask me that we should be decentralising downwards rather than centralising upwards. Personally I am all for giving English county councils maximum autonomy except in a few areas.

        • I’m all for decentralising – that’s one of my prime reasons for supporting the concept of the EU.

          Sounds counterintuitive, but it’s not. Honest. I see the national layer of government as increasingly obsolete – we need more things done at a local level, and a few things (trade, defence, etc.) done at as high a level as possible. This would be far more flexible, far less costly, far more efficient, and be far better able to reflect the needs of the people.

          See, for example, a post of mine from last year, The libertarian case for European integration.

  8. Thanks for this – I am tired too of anti EU arguments without a better workable plan – having just come back from a week in the WW1 battlefields – where crossing the borders is as easy as walking across the street – I was reminded again and again of how far Europe has come in the last seventy years and how grateful we should be for a stable and relatively prosperous Europe.

  9. Its like this my simian chum. Having decided who shall represent our constituency by one man one vote, our MP then ..guess what ..represents us. He is answerable to us all at the next election which keeps things nice and directly accountable. Yummy
    True we have no vote on the make up of the cabinet, the colour of the wallpaper, the number of after dinner sherries no vote, period. Its called a representative; and the shrewder amongst may have divined why that might be. We can however boot out any set of rascals we take offence at.
    The House of Lords is about to undergo considerable reform. Low blow lets leave that one for now.
    More importantly we have an immensely subtle relationship between our democratic traditions and our voting or other involvement .It is woven into our lives and thoughts . It is a non stop interaction in offices bars and cars TVs and . It is actually this diffuse knowledge that makes the organic constitution of the UK.
    None of this applies to our moustache twirling 200 or so foreign who as you rightly point out should also be proportionally bossing the Civil Services hectoring the cabinet and gesticulating incontinently at the House of Lords. Like the one about a trip to Barnsley being much the same as a trip to Warsaw. I `ll use that next time I`m up there. Ridikulus
    Membership of the Council of Europe and signing up to the European Convention on Human Rights is a requirement for membership of the EU. Ce n’est pas optional .. .So we shall have paedophiles expressing their views on the age of consent via the ballot box. Can I get a “.mildly unsatisfactory”…?

    Turning to the “ dare you go it alone” stuff I think that combined with the fact we have been in it for ages and our jobs often depend on it plus sensible conservatism a referendum would be lost whatever the polls say. Polls aint decisions . Much enraged and insulted Conservative and socially conservative Labour opinion might thereby be gainsaid. I might be convinced either way myself, god how gritted can teeth get though ?
    This is why I favour a slow incremental withdrawal by increased pressure on the main Parties .There the signs are encouraging
    I agree a particular problem dealing with the strangely sovereign capitalist banditos Russia and to a lesser extent China. No need to be ruled by foreigners to deal with it but, to be fair,this is a much stronger point.

    • And the EU is also representative. Arguably more so than the UK system:

      The people vote for members of the European Parliament, who represent them in more or less precisely the same way as in the House of Commons.

      On the European Council and Council of the European Union, the ministers and heads of government of the member states represent and take decisions on behalf of their people, just as they do domestically and when dealing with other international bodies.

      In the Commission, the governments of each member state – all representative of the people of those states – nominate a representative, who is then quizzed and ratified or rejected by the members of the European Parliament.

      As for your belief that everyone in the UK understands the British political system – why, then, did we have all that “Gordon Brown’s never been elected” nonsense? That showed a fundamental, widespread misunderstanding of the constitutional position of the highest office in the land – that takes it beyond “diffuse” knowledge into the realms of “no knowledge”.

      And as for the Council of Europe as condition of EU membership thing (a popular meme among some eurosceptics, popularised by the Express and UKIP), it’s idiotic and you know it – Britain joined the Council of Europe 23 years before we joined the EEC. And on top of that, Britain retains massive opt-outs on the closely-connected Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. There is no reason to suppose that we couldn’t gain similar opt-outs on prisoner rights from the Council of Europe if we decided to put up a fight.

  10. You do realise we have 792 unelected toffs in parliament and your lot have added one hundred and seventeen new ones in a year?

  11. MEPs cannot produce legislation it emerges from the ungodly laboratories of Commission an the sinister Council of ministers .The Parliament ,soi disant is an embryonic part of a super state with no real function except as a place for anger to be dissipated pointlessly
    . As we have not been invaded there is ,of course, a faint echo of attenuated legitimacy to this . I have no power over any of it . Who is the administration? How do I get rid of them ? 90% of them, in any case are an arbitrary gaggle of foreign jabber merchants whose power over me I accept in the same happy spirit I would accept rule by a kennel of smelly muts.
    The accusation -“Vote Blair get Brown?” was consistently denied by New Labour thereby winning the marginal seats they needed .They were split into two bitterly opposed factions and the country got the one it had not voted for. The collectivist top down bossy booted one of Brown Balls and Milliband the lesser . many instinctively felt that the one eyed Scot had no mandate . Quite right .
    Compulsory HRA -This is not a piece of “right wing” propaganda it is a fact. You are not being reasonable or straight here and you were not being honest in the first place were you.We . We did make considerable efforts to avoid adopting the Human Rights Act . In the end it was not possible . I think we do get some say in which prisoners have rights but it then becomes a Euro legal question which is risky and potentially expensive.
    You see we are dealing with a broad movement not a set of bureaucratic functions. Which shadowy cell happens to be attacking the country on this or that day is not a distinction of much importance to me
    Its the classic assymetric war. Hide , move make trouble …tire them into submission .

    • “Ungodly”? “Sinister”?

      The “sinister” Council of Ministers is made up of the ministers of the governments of the EU member states. Your “ungodly laboratories of the Commission” being the source of EU legislation likewise indicates nothing more than your own ignorance about a) how EU legislation comes into being, and b) how the Commission actually works.

      Take a deep breath, and try to be a little bit objective for a change. If you’re going to get all hyperbolic and hysterical there’s really not any point in attempting to discuss, is there?

      Think for a second.

      When was the last time a British government fell due to popular pressure?

      Name *one* British administration that has been toppled by the power of the people.

      Name *one* British MP who has been kicked out of office by the people outside of a standard election cycle.

      Explain how, if Gordon Brown was so unpopular with the people, the people had to wait until *he* decided to quit.

      Everything you are attacking the EU for is either equally applicable to the UK, or based on (it would appear) a lack of understanding/knowledge of how the EU actually works.

      You seem like an intelligent chap. Calm down, take a step back, and try to look at it without the emotion involved.

  12. Its called comic hyperbole NM, blimey, you are sure you aren’t actually German are you? Waaaay too Germans to have a crack at the old,“calm down dear” gambit that’s for sure? Anyway, he said in a brisk orderly way,allow me to quote from the very pro EU “Understanding the European Union” *( John Mc Cormick)
    “ The process by which laws and policies are made in the EU begins with the Europeran Commission, the executive bureaucratic arm of the EU”

    Who elected them ?
    Who are they?
    What Party holds power?
    How do I de -elect them ?

    That was what I was on about, so most of your comment is redundant. I appreciate we hold our own administrations accountable at elections .
    I `m sure you are right that you know a vast deal more about the EU than I do(clap clap). I know a bit, quite a lot about politics in general but its not an obsession or anything. I just don’t like the attack on the Nation as the dominant idea of community. Now; as I do not like it, I don`t want the EU to be more democratic. Polly Toynbee does.
    Without either legitimacy or coercive force Europe cannot do anything you say it can. It cannot act against China (unless it would have been possible to align interests anyway ). It cannot solve the regional fiscal /currency problem and it certainly cannot export boots on desert power.
    Why? Because that would require a willingness on the part of English people to be ruled and make serious sacrifices for Germans Poles and the rest. It would require Europe to be the focus of that unreasonable allegiance without which nothing happens.It would need a European people and there is no such thing .The loyalty the Church once commanded across Christendom is specifically rejected by its supporters and would not suffice now anyway. For that to happen we would have to come to see England as Mercia as you suggest
    I don`t want that. That is why the EU is weak and I am not fussed .No-one loves it and no-one ever will.
    ( Except you, you are German aren`t you..)

    • Notice how I called it hyperbolic? I didn’t call it comic for a reason. It’s not funny, it’s dumb, and undermines any serious point you have to make by making you look stupid and hysterical. Which I’m pretty certain you’re not.

      Then again, if you’re going to move on to national stereotypes, I may have to revise that opinion. (Yes, I do have a bit of German blood, as it happens.)

      Answer my questions about the British system, then I’ll answer yours about the Commission.

      You’re getting tedious, old boy.

  13. You are sweet when you get angry darling.Oh well, turned out nice again, as they say Cheerio.

  14. MEPs cannot produce legislation it emerges from the ungodly laboratories of Commission an the sinister Council of ministers

    You’re badly out of date.

    Who is the administration? How do I get rid of them ?

    The European Commission. They can be dismissed by your elected representatives in the European Parliament, like the cabinet can be sacked by the House of Commons. This happened in 1999. (When was the last time a British government went down on a confidence vote? 1979? Before that…?) You’re really badly out of date.

  15. This is an interesting topic, but I’m not sure that it’s been looked at beyond some big macroeconomic graphs.

    That said, most exit plans for the UK from the EU are little beyond back-of-beermat sketches!

    It is of course, important to highlight the non-comparable nature of small and large countries. But to simply highlight this as a problem for EFTA/EEA-UK comparisons is doomed. Why? Because Eurostat attempts to post-engineer comparability into EU Member States all the time: Germany vs. Malta, Lithuania vs. Spain etc. The statisticians I know in the EU tend to be almost acrobatic in their attempts to build cross-country indicators that pass muster, and any conclusions usually come wrapped in caveats and disclaimers. The statement that the Eurozone’s problems are simply linked to fiscal integration, forgets the many hundreds of other significant variations – from work ethics to educational/entrepreneurship levels and basic geography – that destabilise the whole project.

    So when the eurosceptics compare Norway and the UK, or Switzerland and the UK, this might represent fewer issues than, say, comparing the UK with Slovakia or Greece: the UK has oil, a highly educated work force, a huge banking sector, tax havens etc. But granted, the UK has few fjords and has not produced a singles tennis champion in decades. Apples, pears, oranges, kumquats.

    It is also misleading to suggest that an EFTA/EEA state excludes itself from ‘having a say’ on lawmaking when it pays contributions to the EU budget. There are extremely active Norwegians represented on technical boards and committees across the EU. They are also know to field strong delegations at the UN level, where much of the technical smallprint of international trade regulations is thrashed out. While the EU bloc certainly carries weight for negotiation at the UN level, there are certainly arguments for where some precision lobbying linked to national interests can provide a more effective voice: consensus is fine (particularly for minor states, which have little choice but to broker positions with others), as only if you agree with the majority.

    I’d also suggest that any pull-out from the EU (partial or otherwise) would be unlikely to be unilateral. Eurosceptics in the UK are not alone in arguing that a ‘one size fits all’ EU requires considerable magnanimity, and occasionally very deep pockets. In fact, the loudest political voices right now on this point are the domestic politicians of Germany, the Netherlands and France. What will be interesting will be how centrifugal forces – particular those opposing greater political union and idea of a ‘perpetual transfer union’ – can be reconciled with principles of solidarity, poverty reduction and market development. The EU has traditionally been about accelerated expansion. Yet the current EU budget negotiations seem to be the first battleground for those keen to apply the brake, or at least demand more control over the steering. Perhaps an EU standpoint on ‘you are either with us or against us’ is too manichean.

  16. I believe 10% of them were nominated by my elected representatives ( who knows its all kept secret) but I do not recall agreeing the principle they could convert their temporary tenure into legislation I cannot undo by virtue of its inclusion in vast webs of international treaty. That quite clearly undermines Parliament and they have no mandate for any such transference of powers held only in trust in our tradition
    I see the parallel Strasbourg legal attack on Parliament is gathering momentum centring on the hated HRA ( of which we cannot get out as established above )
    My developing feeling is that the UK by virtue of its uniquely anti European traditions Atlantic and US attachments, Common Law, ancient Parliament , Communitarian philosophy et all should negotiate a special position in the EU reclaiming whole areas of National life
    We are currently being treated like a despised satrap just as our money we borrow floods into Greece and Portugal and Ireland in order to save a currency we do not have,thank go. Any fig leaf of honest dealing from the Empire builders was once and for all whipped away by the treatment of the Irish when they got it “wrong”.
    The same goes for other aspects of the Cameron`s Heathish centrism which is not working. Pity I had high hopes but ought to have known better .
    We need another general election in which we decide a few things.I have no doubt the great good sense of the British people will deliver a firm shove in the right direction k as it did over the AV nonsense.

    • “I believe 10% of them were nominated by my elected representatives”

      You do? In which case you’re entirely mistaken. Sounds like you’re getting confused between the Commission and the Council, and are misunderstanding the process behind which the latter is formed.

      “the hated HRA ( of which we cannot get out as established above )”

      Not established, in fact… You were previously discussing the European Convention on Human Rights via the Council of Europe. The Human Rights Act is an entirely British piece of legislation, written by British officials and passed by the British Parliament. It can therefore be repealed by the British Parliament. (It was, after all, only passed into law in 1998 – 45 *years* after Britain ratified the European Convention on Human Rights. It is perfectly possible to scrap it while still complying with Council of Europe obligations.)

      As for the UK’s “special position” – by the same logic, the UK itself should not exist. After all, Scotland also has a very different political, philosophical and legal tradition to England, just as you assert (without convincingly proving) that “the UK” does to the rest of Europe.

      See, for example, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scots_law

  17. Oh right do we get one out of 27 or something ?Great; its not as if becoming a Federation is what I want anyway.
    The HRA (supposedly )only encoded the fact that Strasbourg Law was superior to UK law which was a fact anyway, just a more expensive and time consuming fact.There is of course, considerable enthusiasm in the Liberal progressive elite of the left for this and they have used the ability to place the national debate outside the national jurisdiction to ratchet UK law in their direction to the daily fury of the ordinary British man and woman. Lisbon, after all was democratic in the sense that our National government wanted to sneak it through despite having promised not to and the attitude was plain form the fact the Liberal Party was neutral in the Commons then weaved it through in the Lords when no-one was watching
    I`m not entirely convinced that Scotland is as inherently different as all that but the Union is certainly breaking up and currently places the English in an intolerable position .On the development the UK as exceptional country adjacent to Europe.I think that is clear enough but perhaps you can tell me of another country which had no national Liberal 19th century revolution with a similarly old representative assembly settled borders neither fascist or Communist ..I could go on ad infinitum. We are the only country with First Past the Post In Europe.

    No doubt its all a lot more complicated than that and I have misunderstood
    That makes the provisional answer No. The ‘Common Market’ seemed simple enough . Was that an invented name by the way its seems to have been deleted from history

  18. I am finding it hard to follow your argument Paul. What has first past the post got do do with anything?

  19. First Past the Post provides direct accountability (unlike a list system say)and heightens the importance of the manifesto.In that it accentuates the victory of the winner you end up with a mandated administration which can be dismissed at the next GE with relative ease. We have this system because our democracy grew out of feudal times with Parliament slowly taking over what was the Monarch`s power retaining direct representation.
    Most of the Continent have recently invented versions of PR which, by not producing an actual government and having only vague direct accountability place power in the hands of ruling elites.
    Given that democracy delivered extremism on the continent it is not surprise that they fear it.For us democracy being an integral part of the country delivered stability and only state strong enough to resist the Nazis whilst the little principalities Nose Monkey admires fell easily.
    .Naturally then Europe is keen to get way from popular mandates. We have a different experience.
    The complete rejection of AV then was not just that but also a rejection of managerialism /coalition government and the Internationalism of the centre Party who stood to gain. In that it was strongly identified with”Progressive” politics ( (excluding UKIP) It was also a rejection of progressivism as well.
    You can be damn certain after that we aint seeing an EU referendum any time soon .
    One of the reasons fascism did not take hold here as it did in the countries Nose Monkey feels we ought to be ruled by is that we have a strong and unique Conservative tradition for which there is no continental equivalent at all thus the left like to use the EU to dis-empower the Conservative Party.

  20. I understand what FPTP is paul, but I am still no closer to understanding your argument.

    What exactly does the AV referendum have to do with the EU? AV isn’t even a form of PR!? Although more importantly, I’m concerned that you have equated Proportional representation with the adoption of Nazism!?

  21. I said we are the only country in Europe with FPTP which is not quite true but general proportional system are common. I was trying to draw out how this is phenotypic of a genetic difference located in our contrasting pasts and why it would be that Continental Europe favours systems where the voters are at arms length from policy.
    That is because democracy in Italy and Germany,for example,failed as it did in Spain etc. (France has little to be proud of.) Part of the reasons for managerial centrist systems is a fear of popular votes. PR is a reaction to the 20th century not a cause of it but it was not our experience. Clear ?
    The same constituency who favour the EU were in favour of AV which would certainly have propelled us further into the EU but this Fabian /Liberal largely upper middle-class group found they could not control working class Labour and their supposed majority was the illusion I had always known it was.
    Most were amazed at quite how crushing the defeat turned out to be and my feeling is that this will have cemented the determination that the EU will go nowhere near a popular vote any time soon.

    • geez “Paul Newman” ….

      Where did genes decide how culture develop ? Since when do genetics explain constitutional questions and political systems ?

      Throughout all your various posts, I tried to keep focusing on the rationality of your points.
      But I can’t stand your ramblings any longer.

      Your writings are pompous and incoherent. that can be excused, no one being perfect.
      But your argumentation are based on biases and non-factual assumptions.

      Do you know how someone who keep holding to his/her beliefs, without regards to facts ? a bigot.
      Do you know how someone who used “genes” to explain hios/her reality is called ? a racist.

      when you combine both, you actually obtain a chauvinistic zealot.
      That is a person with a prejudiced belief in the superiority of his or her own kind, with a fervent (and even militant) agenda.

      in common parlance : a blockhead.

      if you were to make the same ramblings in public (and not hidden within a mob), you’d be pilloried for their fallacies and contractions.
      be glad that you can hide yourself behind an internet nickname.

      • As frustrating as attempting to decifer these purported arguments are, please do leave off the personal attacks, or else I’ll be forced to delete. That and libel are my only two grounds for censorship here.

        No matter how much we may disagree, and no matter how much we think the person we disagree with is an idiot, the least we can do is be civil. Otherwise we undermine our own case and the entire discussion gets even more tedious than it already is.


        • of course.

          my objective was not to do ad hominem attacks (I apologize if it looks like that) and I don’t pretend knowing.

          but when someone is not interested in arguing factually for their positions, they are simply on a mission to parrot/voice their delusions.
          “Paul Newman” is clearly someone educated. He/she can try to realize that some of those positions are based on perceptions and biases.

          What prevent it is not availability of information, but willingess to be challenged in his/her view of reality.

          • I’m all for challenging people’s prejudices – but from past experience, if you go for the personal attack, that’ll instantly lead them to dismiss any sensible points you have to make. The usual strategy is to home in on any minor irrelvancy that gives them an excuse to sidestep the prime point – and insults are perfect for that.

            I know what you’re trying to say, in other words, and tend to agree (especially with your last sentence in your latest comment). The way you were trying to say it earlier, though, isn’t going to get anyone anywhere.

    • I’ve realised it’s pointless to attempt to tackle every point, because you simply ignore anything that doesn’t fit with your preconceptions before setting up new irrelevancies.

      Let’s see if you can explain this one, single retort though. You say:

      “The same constituency who favour the EU were in favour of AV which would certainly have propelled us further into the EU”

      So how come Nigel Farage and UKIP were vocally campaigning in favour of AV?

  22. it’s not the topic at hand, but FPTP is a democratic system that promotes ideological blocs (usually 2), at the expenses of democratic plurality.
    it has also often been described as a “winner-takes-all”.

    in practice, it reinforces a political apparatus that is “immune” to democratic concerns. FPTP is a political system to ensure the continued grip of an establishment, the statu-quo.
    that is, whatever the party delegates that are fielded for democratic accountability (ie: elections), the agenda is set up by the top members.
    a classic example is to consider the average legimitacy of each MPs : between 30 and 40% of the electorate (and rather on the downside at each new election cycle) in every given constituency.

    to put it another way, 1/3 of the electorate don’t want the elected MP, 1/3 don’t care about the election, 1/3 voted the MP in because they absolutely rejected the other side(s).
    It might give political clarity to any party in Parliament, but what does it say about democratic representation ?

    rather poorly.
    FPTP is the government of the active minority. And since those that aren’t represented don’t have a voice, they usually get alienated.
    Either by becoming vociferous militants (think UKIP, BNP or Radicals) or by fleeing away politics.

    That doesn’t mean Proportional Representation is a “cure-it-all” system. But at the very least, it provides political representation to those segments of the population that already exist, but are disanfranchised, under a FPTP system.
    It gives them a venue to express their opinions and be held accountable for it.

    Even more importantly, it allows the political agenda to be challenged from bottom-up.
    Practicaly, any party with the largest funds, has the best fighting chance of winning elections. In a FPTP system, challenging a delegate from one of the main parties, is close to mission impossible short of a terrible scandal or already having huge name recognition.

    In PR, that is possible. Precisely because the votes are much more spread out and force coalition outcomes.
    That is, the recognition your side is not all-powerful, but needs to administer its mandate in acceptance of the other sides. And essential polity of any self-respecting democratic system.

    sure, you’ll tell me that your MP is “accountable” (ie: potentially voted out at the next election) to his/her decisions under FPTP.
    But so does any MPs under ANY systems.
    During campaigning season, they all are “honest” and “concerned” about the voters. But that disappears within party mechanics once the popular vote has been cast.
    Actually, the harder the campaign is and the less all-powerful the Parliament is, the more “local” the MP has to be. That is, he/she has to deliver more on local concerns rather than on toeing the party line.

  23. Back to topic.

    I was reading the “latest” Bruges Group (BG) report on exiting the UK to EFTA (http://www.brugesgroup.com/EFTAorTheEU.pdf).
    For some reasons, it looks as a rehashed reports, since I saw the same arguments so many time, even though it’s dated 2011.

    What strike me is how light the arguments for EFTA are. Many being in contradiction between them, others just rantings against the EU.

    1) contribution : I don’t get how the BG gets to “balance” the UK monthly trade deficit of £4b with just the yearly contribution (non-rebated). Balance of trade is not dependent on international pay-outs (or the same could be said of other organisations like UN, WTO, WB …) nor are fixed at £4b a month.
    2) job creation : the sensationalist claim is made from the amount “saved” off the contribution and instantly converted to real jobs. what strikes me is this equal to nothing more than public-subsidized jobs, whether there is a market need or not for such jobs.
    the French socialists did the same arithmetic by equating 35hrs weeks and job creation … not very sound.
    3) EU regulations : here comes the line of the “At least 50% to 70% of all new regulations originate from the EU” again. But the most interesting is the estimated GDP cost of those regulations (no links provided by BG to that “report”, though).
    regulations constrain AND enable trade.
    If UK goods and services don’t comply with EU regulations, they won’t be tradable on European markets (including non-EU countries). That sure’ll cost a lot more.
    The paper points to several costs to the UK from regulations in general, rather than just a cost-benefit analysis of regulations vs “light-touch” in general.

    I wonder if nationalising private debts because of lax regulations count as a
    “cost” or a “benefit” to that argument ?

    4) EU administration costs : €7b for 30k civil servants harmonising trade for 500m+ people in a €20tr+ regional bloc is “cheap” bargain for me (around 6% of the yearly EU budget). After all, if not shared by all at the european level, some of costs would still have to be shouldered at any national levels.
    5) The EU accounts not signed off … when was the last time UK accounts were ? every month there comes another revelation that a department over-spent or mismanaged their budget.
    6) Eastern European migration : I don’t get the argument that EU accession was a “lose” moment because 1m+ emigrated for work to the UK. On the contrary, it’s precisely that they were part of the EU that they could migrate so freely within the EU (even with border restrictions), both enriching the UK through their jobs and sending remits back home.
    If I accept the argument that this caused costs to the UK too (housing prices and social benefits), it squares badly with the general pro-business/anti-tax flavor of the other points (why depressed wages would not be business friendly ?).
    7) migration from african countries is all caused because food export used to be subsidized … really ? as if USAid was any different. Or a mercantilist China was even bothering to use aid when dumping exports.
    In addition, even taking that argument at face value, it’s precisely because of the EU (and the Dublin accords) that migrant refugees from poor countries are kept away from UK shores.
    Otherwise, I’m pretty sure Italy, Greece and Spain (and others) would be more than happy to charge the uddled masses a ticket direct to here …
    8) NATO : European countries want to harmonise their defence costs in a european structure, in collaboration with NATO, rather than within it … well, it’s along question but there are very few motivation for military spending in Europe. So, mission specialisation and spending harmonisation makes sense.
    However, I do see that this could be “horrific” for the paper’s author, if this means a dilution of the UK “special relation” with the US, because NATO becomes an empty shell.
    9) lack of competition : I don’t see how having a level-playing field means less competition, both at market and political levels. Ditto with “group-think”.
    It looks more like a rant, that the UK is losing influence when of out-of-sync with a rather EUrophile continent, in playing interests groups against each others.
    10) democracy : priceless. because more legislation is assumed coming from Brussel, MPs have less time to answer local voter concerns …. really ? I thought that a classic UKIP rant was that EU regulations were “so complex” that MPs didn’t even bother to read it and were just goign alongside their whip orders (or ganleader if “rebels”).

    • I’m glad someone’s brought up that Bruges Group paper (it was pointed out to me on Twitter the other day, and I got the email from them when it first came out, but it had slipped my mind when I wrote the post).

      I incine to your view that pretty much all the arguments put forward are at best insubstantial. Certainly their maths for how Britain would be better off are *hugely* optimistic, if not naive.

      Plus, of course, they neglect to take one other very thing into account – what makes them so sure that EFTA would want to have us as a member?

      Britain’s economy is so vastly huge, our presence as part of the club would instantly turn it into little more than a UK lobbying organisation, rather than a small group of small European countries using collective bargaining to increase their voice in the Single Market.

  24. Nigel Farrage was explicitly excluded from the AV campaign ?Did you notice ? This was huge tactical mistake but ample demonstration of who was running the yes camp.In the subsequent weeping and wailing pro AV bods have admitted as much. There were some brilliant moments, for example when he shared a platform with Tim Farron fulminating on the subject of Fathcher! UKIP voters were against .

    Thierry – You lost..badly.Leave it now (loved the first post , I`ll keep that)

    On the general subject of Political systems something I notice is that discussion of Europe ( and much else) tends to ignore the fundamental conservative insight that the explicit system is only a small part of the result. Africa is full of what are,in theory ,healthy democratic systems. Ho ho.
    Europe cannot be democratic aside from anything else because there are no European Democratic constituencies. For example the Conservative Party find themselves in a corner with assorted weird nationalists and everyone says boo hiss
    That is no the Conservative Parties fault,it is simply a demonstration of why the EU cannot deliver democracy for the English who are Conservative.
    It might not have been that way but it is . AV works well for Political Parties and clubs where the ‘least disliked’ is important .Australia with its ultra rigid Two Party system seem to be fine with it . It would not have worked for us.

    • OK – having warned Thierry on one aspect of this site’s Comments policy I’m going to warn you on the other. Should have done this days ago – but please get back on topic.

      This post was specifically about the EU vs EFTA membership argument for withdrawing. If you want to discuss the EU in its broadest possible context, you should have showed up eight years ago, as I’ve covered pretty much everything you’re talking about already.

      Get back on topic, or I will start deleting you from sheer boredom. You’re disrupting any attempt at genuine discussion of the issues. At least Thierry is now back discussing EFTA.

      And I note you *still* didn’t answer the question about why UKIP supported AV if it’s such a pro-EU electoral system…

  25. I have read back over your blog and very interesting it is(if annoying .)On the subject of EFTA ,the point I suppose, is that we joined what we thought was a Common Market and for most people,thats all we want. EFTA seems a solution
    We seem to have no influence at all in the EU so your suggestion that we would then be stuck with most of it without a vote is less impressive than you think.There would be gains of sovereignty and freedoms to trade .I could probably be persuaded either way
    You forget that much as I detest the EU as a concept actually leaving it is another matter. I am not an extremist I`d guess I was pretty typical. You are far less typical in that you seem to like it.
    UKIP- The effect of AV for UKIP would be to allow a protest vote against Conservative moderate EU policy and the rest ,and then a “Real” vote against labour.
    It would enhance UKIP as a pressure group (As we see by the UKIP higher vote in Council elections ) and possibly affect Conservative manifestos. That appeals to the leadership.
    It would dissipate UKIP as a political Party but then they have no real ambitions of that sort whatever they say (As it has the Greens in Australia )
    For the UKIP voter however the status of their leader on Question time is of somewhat less importance than the fact that AV would assist the Liberal party who are very pro EU indeed and the Primary gainer in actual seats . So they voted against it
    It is an example of a Party and its voters being at odds but UKIP were in any case shunned by the yes campaign who believed there was a “Progressive Majority”. They discovered that much of the Labour vote did not belong to it and none of the Conservative vote did. Thats a minority and that minority is the same one that agrees with you about the EU.
    The only possible majority is based around National interest and self interest but the problem with that is that we slither further and further in without the argument for its real purpose ever having been won. people can justifiable say” as Roy Hattersley remarked ” I was never asked”.

    Thats the way I see it anyway

    • First, thanks for getting back on topic.

      Sticking to EFTA, your phrasing is telling and important: “EFTA *seems* a solution” / “We *seem* to have no influence”.

      That’s the point I’m trying to make. Both of these views are common in Britain. Both are purely perceptions – just because something *seems* a certain way doesn’t mean that it is. Neither of these perceptions can be supported with evidence – but they *can* be disproved with evidence. (If, that is, the people who hold these perceptions are receptive to that evidence…)

      If we left the EU for EFTA, what currently *seems* to be the case – that we have to follow all kinds of EU rules and regulations with no influence over how they are formed – would become *actually* the case.

      Although many advocates of the UK joining EFTA come up with all kinds of cunning mathematics to show how we’d be better off – see Thierry’s link to the Bruges Group “study” above – *all* of them that I’ve seen fail to acknowledge or deal with this fundamental, extremely worrying point.

  26. Nosemonkey,

    As you pointed out, current EFTA members would most likely want to avoid becoming a lobby group for the UK :

    Lichtenstein and Switzerland for sure wouldn’t want. It’s not just that they want to retain their independance as banking havens, but also that they have no aspirations to global power politics.
    Iceland is currently debating whether/how to join the EU (fisheries and Euro are the main points), and would be similar to the 2 above (ie : neutrality)
    Norway might be the only one interested in a peripheric alliance with the UK, because of a pro-Atlantic alignment.

    However, by highlighting how EFTA works, the Bruges Group does show how “easy” its workings are.
    It was joked that, for Norway, EFTA was akin to paying a yearly contribution for market access, and receiving notice of EU regulations by fax.
    Only a few Whitehall mandarins would be necessary to “link” with their Commission counterparts, and that’s going to score well with the readership/electorate.

    Though it would likely be seen as a political humiliation by part of the establishment, the UK could still decide to negotiate a relationship with the EU that is a carbon copy of EFTA, but without being formally part of EFTA.
    That’d surely be greeted by all those who despair at the losses in sovereignty (even if action is and has always been within Parliament’s hands), while charting a middle-ground with appearances of common sense.

    It’d be a sham relationship, where one side (the UK) pretends to be a great power, negotiating on equal footing with a regional bloc at international summits, while in practice having to implement all trade regulations (incl. financial supervision), with recurrent spats of blocked borders/trades when not iomplemented fast enough.

    Incidently, many EFTA proponents also raise the Commonwealth option.
    Those countries are even more hostile to any ideas of becoming some kind of UK lobbying group. And it’s not even a trading organisation, except at the lowest common denominator (free trade on the UK market).
    On the economic side, there’d be almost no synergies between exporting countries with low-cost woorkforces (Pakistan, India) or centered around mineral wealth (Australia, Canada) and the UK.

    I strongly believe that, assuming the Euro keep structuring itself into a true union, the day France is forced to abandon its UN security council seat for an EU seat, will also be the realization for most of the UK of what awaits them now that they are out of the EU : being a today’s Spain or Italy.
    Lots of nostalgia and a world with english-speaking countries, but very little influence.

  27. I have heard it suggested that there would be a better comparative advantage with Commonwealth Countries the with other with similarly high wage European Nations.Makes sense on the face if it.I am not convinced that many of the English are especially worried about being a great power .The perception is that it has done us no good, costs a lot, we would be better off without it . International AID is loathed .
    This is key divergence between the British Conservative Tradition which has always been sceptical of political adventuring abroad and the European Right who crave a new role. Arguing that we would only be small rich and peaceful will not turn many heads here.
    The Common Market was supposed to be about Free Trade, what seems to have happened is that instead of delivering free anything it has become a Protectionist Bloc using its Economic muscle to bully its neighbours .Its hard to imagine but its was the Conservative Party who were its most enthusiastic patrons . I recall when the default position of any young -ish liberal capitalist was pro EU. Not any more .
    Its all gone horribly wrong somewhere along the line if not in reality then certainly in perception.

    • yep

      Not many people longing for Imperialism. But the same can’t be said about symbols of prestige.
      Whether it be a seat at the UN Security Council, atomic weapons, having the Queen as head of the Commonwealth or deciding to launch bombs on a far-away country are all expressions of a longing for Great Power (among others examples). They are symbols, but very impressive ones to define what “sovereignty” and “power” are in the popular mind.

      And this would be a real calculation for the political costs/benefits when leaving the EU for EFTA (which is just degrading your political committment to European integration, not cutting it).
      If exiting the EU means greatly losing the ability to influence European policymaking, then the UK looks a lot less attractive as a “privileged” diplomatic partner.
      That might not ring much if the debate is framed in terms of beans counting, but it does a lot in every political establishment. And since they are the ones to decide in the end, irrespective of whether there is any popular legitimacy …

      As far as I can see it, the EU is still mainly a trade organisation (loosely defined), with administration structures to enforce market regulations.
      It has the trappings of a federal union, but these can’t come to fruition as long as it requires the go-ahead from national politicians and they equate this as a zero-sum game.

      The current Euro crisis offers opportunities for such integration, and yet resistance from national leaders to deepen the Union are formidable obstacles. Or else we would have seen national budget deficits slashed much earlier, and transnational banks taking over busted minor national ones.

  28. I am not at all sure what the EU has to do with Bombs,troops or anything else of that sort it wants an army .Not getting one. Not now, not soon, not ever. you might just as well talk about the military reach of the Greater London Council.
    I cannot see anything helpful about grandiose dreams of that sort when a trade organisation is all that is required and when that in itself requires a great deal more democratic deficit than anyone is happy with.

    • I was talking about the practical symbols of sovereignty, of which the ability to go to war is one of the simplest to show.

      As regards to why the EU should concern itself with armed defense, the problematic should be rephrased : it’s not the EU (meaning European Parliament and Commission), but European governments that are looking for ways to cut the spending on defense without losses in capabilities, by finding regional solutions to harmonize, pool and share military assets or processes (such as weapon procurements).

      on paper, European armed forces are 2nd in size and spending value worldwide, but woefully unprepared for anything else but local defense.
      here is a quick summary : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_of_the_European_Union

      Several think tanks, whether pro-NATO or pro-EU, are making this point : defense spending is not the real problem, ressource allocations and operational capabilities are.



      And NATO is not an answer, unless you are willing to accept 2 points :
      1) to be completely dependent on a foreign power for your defense (and thus having only fig-leaf sovereignty)
      2) being forced to spend 2%+ GDP (as compared to 1%+ on the EU)

      • Here is an op-ed by late Richard Haass from a year ago about this point :

        As I said, I only mentionned military spending because it’s a strong symbol of sovereignty, which inevitably will surface whenever political integration/exclusion problematics arise. Such as whether to deepen the UK role into the EU or look after the high seas.

        And also because, as in the Bruges Group paper, the EU is often characterized by Eurosceptics, as anti-american and/or anti-NATO. Or that peace and prosperity in Europe is better achieved through NATO rather than the EU.

        A bit like arguing what of a gun or a shovel is best suited to plough a field ^^

        Best regards,

        • the news are opportune ^^


          (with some context provided http://bosco.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/06/10/was_robert_gates_right_to_bash_nato)

          A regular meme from British Eurosceptics :

          [b]QUESTION 037: [/b]

          [i]The European Union brought peace to Europe.[/i]


          [i]No; that was NATO. Since the second world war American and British forces guaranteed peace in Europe, preventing Communist takeover. (Which would also, let’s admit, have guaranteed peace!) Two major players in NATO were Turkey and Norway, exposed on the flanks of Europe, neither of them members of the EU

          Two minor players in NATO were Germany, forbidden to operate an army outside her borders, and France, going her own way and acting as if it was in charge of OTAN – sorry, NATO. Both strong in the EU.[/i]

          found at http://ukip-vs-eukip.blogspot.com/p/faqs-re-eu.html

          I find those claims ridiculous for several reasons.

          1) No one can deny that a military alliance helps defend the borders against external threats, but how does it help foster political stability and economic growth at home ?
          2) NATO is not a political forum or an economic growth multiplier. Worse, it was anti-libertarian as Portugal and Greece dictatorships were members, just like Turkey’s authoritarian secular system.
          3) they are founded on myths of British military prowess (“Dunkirk is a victory”) and atlanticist delusions : the USA and Britain had sizable forward detachments to slow the Red Tide, but the bulk of military ground/air forces were by far Germans, Italians and French. The role of the “anglo-saxons” was to provide the reinforcements [b]afterwards[/b] or to immolate western european cities rather than to let the soviets take it over completely.

          But most importantly, it completely misreads why peace was safeguarded in Europe for the last 60 years, with or without the use of a common foreign threat (which could also be “over the pond”), and why European countries were able to rebuild their economies to grow so strongly in wealth after WW2.
          European nations are historically rival competitors between themselves, but the EEC provcided the first genuine opportunity for cross-border cooperations and integrations.
          Not as part of a zero-sum game of realpolitik containment policies (think Bismarck or Louis XIV), but of [b]common development through institutional power-sharing[/b].

          let’s put it differently : did NATO removed trade barriers between its members ? or harmonized production standards ? or provided a wide-ranging political forum to discuss issues ?
          Or again, if western europe had followed a path of military dictatorships (like Portugal, Spain and Greece) just to provide asset capabilities to NATO, would it have bothered the alliance or impaired its operations ? yet, would that mean “Europe” would be safer and more prosperous … yes, really ?

          Indeed, this is something that NATO can’t, couldn’t have, and won’t ever be able to achieve, simply because its focus is too narrow-minded (military cooperation against the soviets/russia) and foreign-led (US).

  29. Re Paul Newman’s remark, “We seem to have no influence in the EU”,this is nonsense and reflects the picture of the UK as a victim portrayed in the press. In fact, the EU works on the basis of compromise. In the negotiations that go on in Brussels, no Member State has an interest in putting on over on another, and the UK does very well in getting its way because (a) it’s one of the big Member States, (b) it negotiates in its own language which is the only one which everyone else understands, (c) it has an excellent civil service actively lobbying for it in Brussels and (d) enjoys opt-ins which allow it to have the best of all possible worlds (it fully participates in negotiations and is then free to decide whether to participate or not if it likes/does not like the outcome. A further point, the reason why the Commission is unelected as that the Member States (including the UK) reject the idea.

  30. In 2005,I happened to notice the only British representative on the Commission was Peter Mandelson. I think I would rather we did not get our way under those circumstances.

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