Sorry British Bankers’ Association – British influence in the EU has already fallen off a cliff, and it’s not to do with staff

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Gergely Polner (@eurocrat on Twitter) normally knows his stuff about the EU. Sometime spokesperson for the Hungarian Presidency of the EU (still the best social media outreach by Presidency), then head of public affairs for the European Parliament in the UK, and now head of EU affairs for the British Bankers’ Association, he has written a piece entitled “Is British influence in Brussels about to fall off a cliff?” for Euractiv.

Sorry Gergely, but British influence in Brussels has already fallen off a cliff. And it has nothing to do with staffing. It is all to do with the political context of Britain’s EU relationship, and how that has soured since 2010, and especially since David Cameron promised an in-out referendum on the UK’s EU membership in January 2013, with the referendum to take place by 2017. Further cases, like the 2011 veto that stopped nothing, and threatening that the appointment of Juncker would hasten British exit, have not helped either.

We are starting to see this trickle down to the everyday legislative level – on matters such as data protection (see this fascinating breakdown from The Channel), and alcohol lobbying (the FT (€) interviewed a bunch of Brussels lobbyists). If you threaten to opt out of the game altogether then, surprise surprise, your influence wanes.

When you have serious newspapers in your supposed closest ally country – Germany – accusing you of blackmail then clearly your case is not being made constructively. A new foreign secretary who would vote to leave unless vague ‘reform’ is negotiated, and the Mayor of London even trying to put numbers behind a similar conclusion, contribute to the impression in Brussels that London is not engaging constructively.

If all of that were not even so, I am not altogether sure that the nationality of an official actually determines which way they will lean politically. It’s far too simplistic to assume that the door is more open for lobbyists like the BBA to speak to British officials than those of other nationalities, and that somehow the Commission as an administration will be more favourable to UK interests just because it has more Brits in it. But in comparison to the wider problems of UK-EU relations those critiques are minor.

UK-EU relations are in a sorry state, but there is no point being in denial about this, and trying to attribute it to secondary issues. The politics are poisonous, and until the threat of UK exiting the EU has receded don’t expect any improvement. If the UK were to want to leave the EU at the moment I can’t see any other country seriously trying to stop it, so the attempted blackmail sounds like an empty threat.

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