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Posts tagged with: Open Europe

Time for some policy-based evidence-making – how the Jacques Delors Institut Berlin ought to work

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 12.54.15Back in my days as a civil servant one phrase dominated UK government-speak: evidence-based policy-making. The essential idea was to gather adequate evidence about a problem, and how various solutions could work, and determine a policy choice based on that. Now of course this was constrained by the ideology of the government of the time, but it should have meant that reports should not have been suppressed higher up the political chain, Theresa May style.

But a think tank is not a governmental institution. The nature of a think tank is to be partial, to push a particular agenda. Yet if anything is to separate a think tank from a pure lobby organisation is that it should have some sort of evidence for its assertions. In essence it needs to reverse the phrase above – to practice policy-based evidence-making.

This is what Open Europe has been doing in London for ages, and has more recently tried to start to do in Berlin. It has an essential line – that the EU should be more market-orientated, less regulated, and that EU-wide democracy cannot work, and that the EU must essentially be intergovernmental and based on the notional democratic accountability of its Member States. Open Europe then dream up things – reports, tables, quotes – that work towards this end, and because they style themselves as a think tank and are clever and consistent in their communications, the media – in the UK at least – laps it up. Their table about Merkel might have been inaccurate, or their recent piece for The Local Germany not exactly accurate, but they persist and they succeed nevertheless.

But now in Berlin, with a big launch event next week*, there’s a new think tank dealing with EU matters in Germany’s capital: the Jacques Delors Institut. It’s the German office of the Paris-based Notre Europe. My old friend Bernd Hüttemann tweeted that Open Europe “is not the only campaigning non-Germany think tank in town now”. I would quibble with the implication that there are even German campaigning think tanks in Berlin, but Bernd’s point that the Jacques Delors Institut could become a campaigning think tank would be very welcome. We have plenty of evidence about the problems the EU faces, but little in the way of pointed, media-savvy work to set the political agenda in a way that strengthens the EU, rather than seeking to limit or unravel it.

So what should the Jacques Delors Institut actually do?

Firstly, it needs an agenda that can stand alone, and that this agenda needs to be simple and positive. That economic integration in the EU works, and that it is a balance of free markets and regulation. That intergovernmentalism does not work. That EU-wide democracy is possible and desirable. Nothing that it should does should distract from these aims. Everything it does should be digestible for a half-knowledgeable policy maker or politician – it should not be excessively academic.

Second, unlike much of the traditional pro-European establishment, it should specifically not focus on populists, nationalists or extremists. We have plenty of critique of why UKIP / Jobbik / AfD / Grillo (delete as appropriate) are wrong. What we do not have are positive ideas for reform that come from the responsible centre. The Jacques Delors Institut needs to set its own course, not mirror or become embroiled in fights with the likes of Open Europe.

Third, it needs the very best multi-channel, multi-language communications strategy. It needs to understand the interplay between traditional and new media, and how the latter can shape the mainstream media narrative. In this context it needs to have strong characters who can shape a debate, and become known. Henrik Enderlein, the boss of the Institut, has a good academic record as far as I can tell, but his web comms leave a lot to be desired! Is he someone you can put up against Mats Persson in a debate?

So that’s how it could work. If it doesn’t do that then the Jacques Delors Institut will end up grouped together with a bunch of other pro-EU think tanks of questionable use.

[UPDATE 1425]
Christopher Howarth from Open Europe has rather delightfully proven my point with this tweet:

Screen Shot 2014-03-26 at 14.25.10


Nowhere in this blog entry do I say the pro-EU side is engaged in evidence-based policy-making, and indeed in the very first paragraph I allude to my cynicism of the whole concept anyway. So take someone’s words and twist them for your purposes – yes, that’s Open Europe.

* – I have been invited to the launch and will tweet it using the event tag #voice4eu, and know one member of staff at the Jacques Delors Institut. I have no professional affiliation with them.

Is Open Europe simply becoming too sensible for the Tory Party?

Christopher Howarth of Open Europe has written an eminently sensible* piece for Conservative Home about how David Cameron needs to get his EU policy sorted out. Howarth’s case is that Cameron should appoint a Europe Secretary – one minister in Cabinet with the responsibility for policy towards the EU. The crux of the piece is this:

Firstly it is unclear who is in charge. We have a Europe Minister, David Lidington, who is likeable and capable but not in the Cabinet, and not a part of the Number 10 decision-making circle. In Number 10, there is no one person in control of ‘Europe’; William Hague, George Osborne, Oliver Letwin, Nick Clegg and Ed Llewellyn contend with numerous other issues.

Better coordination of EU policy would mean Britain would gain greater leverage, the UK does have allies etc. – it’s just that no other EU countries know what the UK’s position actually is half of the time.

Then look at the comments underneath the piece and you see precisely why Howarth’s idea is unlikely to fly, for the idea is based on sensible engagement and a grasp of the responsibility of government that few in the Tory grassroots and even on the Tory backbenches have failed to grasp. It’s also interesting to see Open Europe’s ideas being branded as “going native”. Are they just becoming too sensible for the Tory Party I wonder?

* – Howarth’s idea is sensible if you view EU politics as an extension of international politics. If you view EU politics as an extension of domestic politics I am not convinced. I would rather departmental ministers were responsible for EU business. But that’s a debate beyond the scope of this blog entry.

Lazy Daniel Hannan MEP

I suppose drafting polemics takes time, or perhaps there is another reason for his deficiency. For Daniel Hannan MEP, European poster boy for the Tory right, seems increasingly to be neglecting the very work he is supposed to be doing – representing his constituents from South East England in the European Parliament, and playing his role as a legislator in the EU’s parliament.

First there are the records of meetings between lobbyists and Conservative members of the European Parliament, published for the period 1 January until 30 June 2010 [PDF here]. Hannan is one of only 2 MEPs (together with Robert Atkins) who states zero meetings with lobbyists. Continue Reading

Sick of “EU doesn’t sign off books, therefore corrupt / evil / useless / nasty” (delete as applicable)

Ho, ho, here we go again. A question posed in the House of Commons by Philip Davies (Con) as cited by the Open Europe blog:

Given that the accounts of the EU have not been signed off by the auditors for 15 years running, why do the Government keep giving more and more money to the EU? Surely if the Government are serious about reform of the EU budget, they should say that the EU will not get a penny more from the British Government until it gets its accounts properly audited.

Euros - CC / Flickr

Euros - CC / Flickr

This has become a familiar meme for the Tories on Europe – the EU doesn’t sign off its books, therefore this is a good reason for not cooperating with the EU, not giving it more cash, bla, bla. Cameron even mentioned it in one of his speeches at Tory Party Conference.

So here you are Mr Davies, you who claims at the top of your website to not represent ‘self-interests’, here’s why your question, and the Tory line, is a load of rubbish, and here’s also what the Tories (and indeed anyone else) should do about it.

Firstly, the European Union budget is complicated. Most of the money gets transferred from the European Commission to bodies in the Member States at national or regional level, and these bodies spend the cash. Tracing every last Euro down to every last farmer or training project is a very hard task. And don’t assume this is just something those evil ones across the Channel do – the UK experience is not good on this either.

Secondly, no equivalent budgetary sign off exists in the UK, so it’s not as if the UK is perfect and Brussels is bad. Quoting the Select Committee on European Union Fiftieth Report on the matter:

149. Sir John Bourn, Comptroller and Auditor General at the UK’s National Audit Office told us that, were he required to issue a single Statement of Assurance on the UK Government’s accounts in the same way as the Court of Auditors does for Europe’s accounts, he, like the Court, would be unable to do so (Q 192). This is because last year he issued a qualified opinion on 13 of the 500 accounts of the British Government which he audits.

In short, is the EU budget perfect? No. Is any national government any better? No, probably not, and at least the UK’s is not.

So stop using that as a stick to bash the EU.

So then Mr Davies, Open Europe, hell, even Alistair Darling – you want to do something about this? What you should do is to argue that the European Commission needs at least 1000 additional, new auditors who will spend all of their time digging around in the books of each of the Member States and their regional and local governments, digging up fraud and wrongdoing wherever they find it.

But of course if you’re a Tory you’re never going to go for this either, because then you would have a whinge that EU auditors having a look into the UK’s books would be some infringement on the UK’s national sovereignty, that they would be public sector workers and Tories want a small state etc., and ooh, of course a UK government run by that nice Mr Cameron would never do anything remotely questionable, would it now…?

EU Comms David vs. Goliath (only the stones are misdirected)

EU David and Goliath

EU David and Goliath

OK, here we go again. Open Europe having a further whine at something going on in Brussels, this time the amount of money the European Union spends on ‘propaganda’. Also not a surprise is the choice of EUObserver to carry a column from Open Europe’s Lorraine Mullally, and in Sweden Timbro is apparently trying to get the Swedish Presidency to address the ‘issue’. The gist of the message is summed up with these lines from Mullally:

With so much public money at their disposal, the EU institutions are able to propel their own vision of the future of Europe, and also begin to create a monopoly over what should be regarded as the “facts.” The institutions claim to want a wider debate on Europe, but by trying to suppress those who do not support their vision, they are stifling debate.

But is there actually any issue to deal with here? The money to which Mullally refers is a supposed sum of €2.4 billion (or about 2% of the EU budget) that is allocated to communications projects. Fair amounts of money for sure, but dwarfed by the budgets of national public sector broadcasters, a point made in reply by Richard Walker, who is also keen to point out that many of the projects are editorially independent of the EU institutions.

There are of course some legitimate complaints – some of the EU publicity materials are really over the top, and some plans are ill conceived. But is all of this any worse than the comms work of a national government? I think not.

Last but not least the EU does not have at its disposal one of the best means of political communication – elections. European Parliament elections are still essentially second order national elections – if a politician gets selected high up on a national party’s list then selection is almost certain. Essentially politicians communicate what they do when it’s in their interests to do so, essentially to secure re-election. To make such a system at European level would require more power to the parliament and, one might dare say, a federal Europe. It’s much, much harder to get any agreement on that than it is to get some politicians to part with €2.4 billion for some communications projects.

Until then Open Europe’s David can take on Wallström’s Goliath but the stones are rather misdirected.

Just a normal EU day really

radio5I like the European Parliament elections. It makes EU stuff interesting and now is one of the few times that the mainstream media is interested in EU matters. At short notice I was contacted by BBC Radio 5 Live this morning and asked to appear on the Victoria Derbyshire show commenting on MEPs’ expenses, essentially replying to this article in today’s Times. I was up against Mats Persson of Open Europe, and you can hear the debate here – 1 hour 5 minutes into the programme. Overall the debate was rather strange – the MEP pension and expenses rules are very complex and, as with the UK MP scandals, there’s no rule breaking here – it’s just that the rules are set up wrongly. Plus there is little debate about openness of expenses in out EU countries – more on that here. Anyway, a fun experience to be on UK national radio.

In EU news more generally – the stuff I would have liked to talk about – there are 2 new developments today regarding the nomination of the UK’s member of the European Commission, a matter I’ve previously posted about. Geoff Hoon has been further implicated in the UK expenses scandal today, and looks likely to be ousted in Brown’s reshuffle this week. Patricia Hewitt has also announced she is to stand down as a MP, presumably to spend more time with her consultancies family. Or is she just paving the way for a nomination as Commissioner? Overall though all the mess in Westminster means that a strong outsider is needed more than ever – come on Ken Livingstone, Brussels needs you!

What is a think tank?

Thinking - CC / Flickr

Thinking - CC / Flickr

EUObserver has an article today entitled “Think-tank blasts EU commissioners’ pensions package“. The ‘think tank’ in question is, of course, Open Europe, and the article quotes their press release on the Commissioner pay issue:

Taxpayers around Europe, whose pensions have been swallowed up in the recession, will rightly question why they are footing such an enormous bill for a handful of remote officials who they never voted for in the first place

What degree of thinking was needed to come up with that? Open Europe has a clear line – they want a looser, more intergovernmental Europe, and hence they behave like a pressure group rather than a think tank. Whatever they brand themselves is not relevant; their prime reason for existence is not the production of ideas, it is to push for a set of ideas to become reality. Of course it’s also no surprise that EUObserver falls for it hook, line and sinker.

At the opposite end of the spectrum of you have Bruegel. With Jean Pisani-Ferry, Nicolas Véron and André Sapir heading it these folks can really think. Bruegel also, as a point of principle, refuses to put its name on the EU lobby register. As reported by the Brussels Sunshine blog Matt Dann of Bruegel states “We are not lobbyists, so we will not register in a lobby register”. Bruegel is also open about its funding sources, something that’s not the case for other think tanks.

Muddying the waters still further are other Brussels players such as The Centre (Brussels’ First Think-Do Tank – so is the do actually lobbying?), the EPC that has joined the lobby register despite claiming to be a think tank, and the Friends of Europe / Forum Europe arrangement at the Bibliothèque Solvay that’s part lobby, part think tank, with a rather grey area in between.

In short all of this is a real mess. The term ‘think tank’ is banded about too readily and for the uninitiated which ones are supposed to be believed? Is a report on the telecoms market by a Brussels think tank really a think piece, or is it a quasi-academic re-hashing of Deutsche Telekom’s position?

[UPDATE – 25.03.2009]
European Tribune has more on the Open Europe issue – they have done some calculations on the ‘research’ that Open Europe released this week.

Open Europe want to have their olive oil and drink it

Oluve Oil - CC / FLickr

Olive Oil - CC / Flickr

6000 working groups during the Swedish Presidency!? What do all those meetings do? That’s the question posed by Open Europe. Undoubtedly there is a cost, and a financial burden, posed by this number of meetings but – frankly – what is the alternative? Let’s take the Working Party on Olive Oil stated by the Open Europe blog entry. I’ve never been to that particular committee but at a guess it would be advising on what the guaranteed price an olive oil farmer would be paid for a litre of olive oil in the Common Agricultural Policy, and also analysing evidence of any health or contamination issues in olive oil.

Now, Open Europe, if 27 Member States at a working group are not dealing with these things then who would take such decisions? Well, that would be the European Commission. So as Open Europe actually wants a EU better controlled by its Member States then they should actually favour the existence of bodies such as the Working Party on Olive Oil.

Now there’s the wider issue of whether the EU should be regulating olive oil or not, but if the EU is in the business of doing that then there have to be the systems to allow decisions to be taken.

But of course with Open Europe (which claims to be a ‘think tank’ – not that you would know) they first and foremost want to have a little while about bureaucracy. Forget any analysis of why there might be need for working groups, oh no, that wouldn’t fit the agenda now would it?