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Cameron’s “proper choice” in the EU referendum ought to mean there’s a third option on the ballot paper

Screen Shot 2015-05-22 at 10.40.04So Cameron is in Riga, trying to charm fellow EU leaders that British exceptionalism a reformed EU is possible. News about it here. But one phrase particularly struck me from Cameron’s words – we’re going to give the people a “proper choice” he says.

The choice Cameron proposes is his negotiated, amended, weakened relationship between the UK and the EU, or Britain should leave altogether. This is no “proper choice” for people like me who, at the very least, would prefer no watering down of the UK’s relationship with the European Union, let alone no option for those who would actually advocate further integration between the UK and the EU (a point made by PolitiCrumb and Ralf Grahn on Twitter). There are rumblings from some on the left – the GMB Trade Union for example – that may switch to advocate a No vote if Cameron’s renegotiations are too harsh on workers’ rights (see this in the Indy about the different pro and anti camps).

So then, here is an idea for a “proper choice” in the referendum. Put two questions on the ballot paper – same style as was used in 1997 to establish the Scottish Parliament. Here’s some suggested wording:

Q1: Do you want the United Kingdom to remain a Member State of the European Union?
[ ] YES     [ ] NO

Q2: Do you support the renegotiated settlement proposed by HM Government?
[ ] YES     [ ] NO

A No to Q2 would simply leave Britain’s relationship with the EU as it is. Now I am aware that a renegotiated settlement is probably likely to be more popular (the “in but grumpy” option as Edmund Edgar rightly calls it), but at least a two-question referendum would allow a voter to separate EU membership (or not) from the way that Cameron plans to taint things with his assault on freedom of movement.

What Labour’s leadership hopefuls ought to say about the EU

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 17.09.14So the Labour Party has another leadership election. Unlike in 2010, when I was still a Labour Party member and heavily involved in the process*, this time I have no vote (having quit Labour to join the German Grüne as I now live in Berlin). However that doesn’t mean I have no interest in the process, or who may win – not least because with an EU referendum on the horizon in the UK, my EU citizenship rights could be in jeopardy due to what happens in the UK.

What then, I wonder, should the leadership hopefuls, say about Labour’s position on the European Union? Here is a kind of annotated speech one of them could give.

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What precisely is this EU “red tape” that JCB speaks of?

jcb-volvoThe construction vehicles pictured above are a JCB 3CX (on the left), manufactured in Rocester, UK, and  two Volvo Construction Equipment machines (on the right), a L120F and L120E, both manufactured in Arvika, Sweden.

My point of course – in light of comments yesterday by Chief Executive of JCB, Graeme MacDonald – is that in the future the Arvika Volvo plant might be still in the European Union, and JCB’s Rocester plant would not.

MacDonald confirmed that EU countries are an important export market for JCB, but said this:

What is needed is a lot less red tape and bureaucracy. Some of it is costly for us and quite frankly ridiculous. Whether that means renegotiating or exiting, I don’t think it can carry on as it is. It’s a burden on our business and it’s easier selling to North America than to Europe sometimes.

Now let’s think of the machines pictured above. Everything from the emissions standards from the engines, to the chemicals that are (or are not) allowed in the paint on the machines, through to the coolants permitted in the machines’ radiators is determined by EU law within the EU. If the UK were to leave the European Union that would make no difference whatsoever to any of these standards, and JCB – if it wanted to export to the European Union – would have to respect every single one of those standards anyway.

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What happens if David Cameron switches to the No side in the EU referendum?

(note: this is a counterfactual – just in case you’re reading it after October 2015!)

cameron-redIt is Wednesday 21st November 2015, and David Cameron has called a press conference at Downing Street. With his face going rather puce, the anger showing in the edge to his voice, he delivers the news that pro-EU campaigners in the UK had feared: that he has changed his mind and switched to the NO side in Britain’s in-or-out of the EU referendum.

The final straw had been the European Council of 15th/16th October 2015 in Brussels. Cameron had announced the referendum would take place in September 2016 just a few weeks after his May 7th election victory, yet he had then prevaricated when it came to making concrete demands about the UK’s renegotiation of its EU membership since the 25th/26th June 2015 European Council, and at the October summit overplayed his hand. A demand for fundamental changes to EU freedom of movement had been rejected by the other 27 Heads of State and Government, and Cameron stormed out of negotiations at 1am and had refused to speak to the press. Sources close to the UK Permanent Representation (UKRep) had told the Financial Times that Cameron had been briefed on what the other Member States would accept, but had persevered regardless.

European Council President Donald Tusk, looking tetchy and strained, had told the cameras lined up in Brussels that negotiations had been “difficult” but had refused to be drawn on what should happen. Merkel, Hollande and Renzi in their separate press conferences gave very similar messages. No country should be allowed to blackmail the rest of the EU they said.

The FTSE opened 200 points lower on Monday 19th October, and in the hours before Cameron’s announcement hit its lowest point in five years.

(end of counterfactual)

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The Aarhus EU Twitter Top 30

I gave a speech about EU online communications at Danmarks Medie- og Journalisthøjskole in Aarhus last year, and yesterday John Frølich – one of the professors there – e-mailed me to ask if I could suggest 20 to 30 EU Twitter accounts that his students ought to follow. So rather than just e-mail back some names, I have made a Twitter list of the 30 accounts, and I explain my rationale for including each of them here.

My emphasis here is on friendly and engaging people – the sorts of Twitter users who, if you ask them a question, they will reply, and people who do not use Twitter just to try to show how important they are. The list could easily have been twice as long, so apologies to those who did not make it. I have also included only personal accounts, and tried to achieve some sort of institutional balance.

So who are the 30?

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Why I am not going back to the UK to campaign in the EU referendum

9152848988_09518c389e_zDavid Cameron’s victory in the UK election presents me with a personal problem: he promises to hold an in-or-out of the EU referendum. If the UK leaves the EU I have a major headache – I live in Germany and I need freedom of movement within the EU more than I need anything else that a British passport currently confers me. What movement rights Brits would still have if the UK left cannot yet be known, but for sure it will not become easier. I will qualify for a German passport in 2019 – I will apply for that passport the very first day I am eligible for it. By my reckoning if Britain’s referendum is in 2017 then it will take 2 years to negotiate exit, so by 2019 I should be OK.

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Parameters for the UK’s in-or-out EU referendum

uk-eu-flagsThe prospect of the UK holding an in-or-out of the EU referendum fills me with dread, but debate of the merits of holding this vote, and how each side might frame its messages are topics for blog entries in future. What voting no would mean is outlined in this blog entry; the comments there are also worth a look.

The point of this blog entry is to look at what the parameters for the referendum are, and what decisions about these might mean for the UK and the rest of the EU.

David Cameron re-iterated his determination to hold the referendum in his victory speech, and Cameron has repeatedly stated he wishes to “re-negotiate” Britain’s relationship with the European Union. Continue Reading

Struggling to come to terms with the establishment

republicaTomorrow at re:publica, the annual tech and politics gathering in Berlin, Tobias Schwarz (from Fistful of Euros) and I will talk about 12 years of blogging about European Politics and the EU. Fistful has been around a little longer than my own blog; I’ve been writing here since July 2005.

The biggest thing I’ve ever done – the Atheist Bus Campaign – brought me to re:publica in the first place, in 2009 (pic is from my speech that day). The Atheist Bus Campaign worked because it had edge, and we did it at the peak of Facebook hype. Facebook was booming back then. Meanwhile much of the networking for the early stages of the campaign took place among independent bloggers in the summer of 2008. Bloggers without editorial teams or production budgets still had a role; they do not to the same extent now.

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