Tag Archives: Europe

Trump and Brexit: why it’s again NOT the economy, stupid

This post was written by Professor Eric Kaufmann from Birkbeck’s Department of Politics. It was originally published on the LSE British Politics and Policy blog

As the final votes are counted, pundits and pollsters sit stunned as Donald J. Trump gets set to enter the White House. For anyone in Britain, there is a sharp tang of déjà vu in the air: this feels like the morning after the Brexit vote all over again. Eric Kaufmann explains that, as with Brexit, there’s little evidence that the vote had much to do with personal economic circumstances.

For months, commentators have flocked to diagnose the ills that have supposedly propelled Trump’s support, from the Republican primaries until now. As in Britain, many have settled on a ‘left behind’ narrative – that it is the poor, white, working-class losers from globalization that have put Trump over the top. Only a few clairvoyants – Michael Lind, Jonathan Haidt – have seen through the stereotypes.

But, as in Britain, there’s precious little evidence this vote had much to do with personal economic circumstances. Let’s look at Trump voting among white Americans from a Birkbeck College/Policy Exchange/YouGov survey I commissioned in late August. Look at the horizontal axis running along the bottom of figure 1. In the graph I have controlled for age, education and gender, with errors clustered on states. The average white American support for Trump on a 0-10 scale in the survey is 4.29.

You can see the two Trump support lines are higher among those at the highest end of the income scale (4) than the lowest (1). This is not, however, statistically significant. What is significant is the gap between the red and blue lines. A full two points in Trump support around a mean of 4.29. This huge spread reflects the difference between two groups of people giving different answers to a highly innocuous question: ‘Is it more important for a child to be considerate or well-mannered?’ The answers sound almost identical, but social psychologists know that ‘considerate’ taps other-directed emotions while ‘well-mannered’ is about respect for authority.

People’s answer to this question matters for Trump support because it taps into a cultural worldview sometimes known as Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA). Rather than RWA, which is a loaded term, I would prefer to characterise this as the difference between those who prefer order and those who seek novelty. Social psychologist Karen Stenner presciently wrote that diversity and difference tends to alarm right-wing authoritarians, who seek order and stability. This, and not class, is what cuts the electoral pie in many western countries these days. Income and material circumstances, as a recent review of research on immigration attitudes suggests, is not especially important for understanding right-wing populism.

Figure 1.


Now look at the same graph in figure 2 with exactly the same questions and controls, fielded on the same day, in Britain. The only difference is that we are substituting people’s reported Brexit vote for Trump support. This time the income slope runs the other way, with poorer White British respondents more likely to be Brexiteers than the wealthy. But income is, once again, not statistically significant. What counts is the same chasm between people who answered that it was important for children to be well-mannered or considerate. In the case of Brexit vote among White Britons, this represents a 25-point difference around a mean of 45.8 per cent (the survey undersamples Brexiteers but this does not affect this kind of analysis). When it comes to Brexit or Trump, think successful plumber, not starving artist or temporary lecturer.

Figure 2.


Some might say that even though these populist voters aren’t poor, they really, actually, surely, naturally, are concerned about their economic welfare. Well, let’s take a look at the top concerns of Trump voters in figure 3. I’ve plotted the issues where there are the biggest differences between Trump supporters and detractors on the left-hand side. We can start with inequality. Is this REALLY the driving force behind the Trump vote – all that talk about unemployment, opioid addiction and suicide? Hardly. Nearly 40 per cent of those who gave Trump 0 out of 10 (blue bar) said inequality was the #1 issue facing America. Among folks rating the Donald 10 out of 10, only 4 per cent agreed. That’s a tenfold difference. Now look at immigration: top issue for 25 per cent of white Trump backers but hardly even registering among Trump detractors. Compared to immigration, even the gap between those concerned about terrorism, around 2:1, is not very striking.

Figure 3.

3For Brexit vote, shown in figure 4, the story is much the same, with a few wrinkles. The gap on immigration and inequality is enormous. The one difference is on ‘the economy in general,’ which Trump supporters worry about more than Brexiteers. This could be because in the graph above I am comparing extreme Trump backers with extreme detractors whereas the Brexit-Bremain numbers include all voters. Still, what jumps out is how much more important immigration is for populist voters than inequality.

Figure 4.

4Why is Trump, Brexit, Höfer, Le Pen and Wilders happening now? Immigration and ethnic change. This is unsettling that portion of the white electorate that prefers cultural order over change.

The US was about 90 percent white in 1960, is 63 percent white today and over half of American babies are now from ethnic minorities. Most white Americans already think they are in the minority, and many are beginning to vote in a more ethnopolitical way. The last time the share of foreign born in America reached current levels, immigration restrictionist sentiment was off the charts and the Ku Klux Klan had 6 million members – mainly in northern states concerned about Catholic immigration.

Ethnic change can happen nationally or locally, and it matters in both Britain and America. Figure 5, which includes a series of demographic and area controls, looks at the rate of Latino increase in a white American survey respondent’s ZIP code (average population around 30,000 in this data). The share of white Americans rating Trump 10 out of 10 rises from just over 25 percent in locales with no ethnic change to almost 70 percent in places with a 30-point increase in Latino population.

The town of Arcadia in Wisconsin – fittingly a state that has flipped to Trump – profiled in a recent Wall Street Journal article, shows what can happen. Thomas Vicino has chronicled the phenomenon in other towns, such as Farmer’s Branch, Texas or Carpentersville, Illinois. There are very few ZIP codes that have seen change on this scale, hence the small sample and wide error bars toward the right. Still, this confirms what virtually all the academic research shows: rapid ethnic change leads to an increase in anti-immigration sentiment and populism, even if this subsequently fades. The news also spreads and can shape the wider climate of public opinion, even in places untouched by immigration.

Figure 5.

5Now let’s look in figure 6 at Brexit, and how White British voters in wards with fast East European growth in the 2000s voted. With similar controls, it’s the same story: when we control for the level of minorities in a ward, local ethnic change is linked with a much higher rate of Brexit voting. From under 40 percent in places with no ethnic change to over 60 percent voting Brexit in the fastest changing areas. Think Boston in Lincolnshire, which had the strongest Brexit vote in the country and where the share of East Europeans jumped from essentially zero in 2001 to the highest in the country by 2011.

Figure 6.


The Trump and Brexit votes are the opening shots which define a new political era in which the values divide between voters – especially among whites – is the main axis of politics. In a period of rapid ethnic change, this cleavage separates those who prefer cultural continuity and order from novelty-seekers open to diversity. Policymakers and pundits should face this instead of imagining that old remedies – schools, hospitals, jobs – will put the populist genie back in the bottle.


Brexit as Nostalgia for Empire

This post was contributed by Dr Nadine El-Enany, lecturer in Law at Birkbeck’s School of Law School. On 15 June 2016, Dr El-Enany presented at Law on Trial – the School’s annual public lecture series which this year focused on the EU referendum. Here, Dr El-Enany touches on the themes she explored in her talk which explored Europe’s current migration crisis.

This post was originally published on CriticalThinking.org on Sunday 19 June 2016.

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This week Jo Cox, a pro-immigration Labour MP was brutally murdered by a man who shouted Britain First as he killed her and who gave his name in court on being charged with her murder as “Death to traitors. Freedom for Britain”.

Jo Cox was killed a week before the referendum on Britain’s EU membership and following months of campaigning which has been dominated by the topic of migration. This referendum has not felt like an exercise in democracy. There is something painfully undemocratic about denying EU citizens from other Member States living in Britain a vote. The message to them is that they do not belong here. Their neighbours, co-workers, friends and family decide on their future for them. Worse still, the referendum has licensed the expression of racism and xenophobia, which has been unleashed with deadly consequences. The racist discourse that has defined the Brexit campaign must be understood in the context of Britain’s imperial legacy. The terms on which the debate around the referendum have taken place are symptomatic of a Britain struggling to conceive of its place in the world post-Empire.

In this context waiting for Lexit is to be the frog in that cautionary tale — the one that sits in boiling water until it is too late. I have taught EU law for many years and have always tried to instil in my students a healthy scepticism about the EU. I have worked to show them that it is possible to be critical of the neoliberal, capitalist, imperialist EU and not fall into the anti-migrant, sovereignty-fetishising UKIP camp. When the EU referendum was first announced, I made a Lexit argument when the topic came up.

A vote for the EU is a vote for capitalism, austerity and militarised borders, I’d say. The reality is that argument has elicited only the minutest of echoes. The Brexit campaign has been entirely dominated by the ugliest form of Euroscepticism imaginable. As Priyamvada Gopal has put it, a vote for Brexit is a vote for the “magnificent lie that exploitation, austerity, greed and impoverishment have all come to Britain from the nasty outside”. Lexit is a dream that has not been realised. Waiting for Lexit is like waiting for Godot — in more ways than one. Graham Hassell has aptly described Beckett’s play of that name as “a metaphor for… mainland Britain, where society has ever been blighted by a greedy ruling élite keeping the working classes passive and ignorant by whatever means.”

The “means” adopted by the Brexit campaign in a bid to sway voters have primarily consisted of scare-mongering on the issue of migration. Despite the rhetoric about migrants being a drain on resources, HMRC tax figures for 2013–14 show that migrants contributed £2.5 billion more than theytook out in benefits, but I will neither myth-bust around migration nor be drawn into a debate about whether or not migrants enrich the societies in which live because fundamentally that is a racist question — it erases the history of the British Empire which has set in motion the migration of today and assumes a pre-existing, static society, membership of which can only be validly determined by birthright. Migrants tend to have the least capital and so are easiest to exploit. We have seen this in the unrelenting scapegoating of migrants that has characterised the Brexit campaign, a convenient distraction from the material consequences of the current government’s austerity measures.

It is not that I expected better of Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. I merely hoped they would not succeed, as they have, aided by the British mainstream media, in drowning out the possibility for a Left movement in opposition to the EU to emerge. It is difficult to choose a low point in the Brexit campaign. Was it when Nigel Farage had the gall to say to a black woman who challenged him on the racist rhetoric of the Brexit campaign in the course of a live televised debate that he is “used to being demonised”? Or Michael Gove’s Islamophobic rant about Turkish birthrates and criminality? Or UKIP donor-funded Leave.EU’s recent tweet, “act now before we see an Orlando-style tragedy here before too long”? Or Farage’s latest poster depicting non-white refugees crossing the Croatia-Slovenia border in 2015 along with the slogan “Breaking Point”, which has been reported to the police for inciting racial hatred?

Being faced with a choice between between David Cameron and Nigel Farage is a nightmare scenario for any anti-racist and anti-capitalist. With the debate on the referendum eclipsed by the topic of migration, it is no surprise Cameron is struggling to hold the fort having spent the last five years peddling the lie that migrants are to blame for society’s ills rather than his government of millionaires and their penchant for cuts to vital public services. But if Britain votes Leave, it does so on the terms of the racist and xenophobic Brexit campaign. A Leave vote would provide a mandate for Brexit leaders to push for Fortress Britain, which already exists insofar as it can as an EU Member State. Britain is the most fortified of all EU countries. It is not part of Schengen. It has a flexible opt-out from all EU law on immigration and asylum, which it has consistently exercised to opt into restrictive measures that further strengthen its capacity to exclude and out of those aimed at enhancing protection standards.

There is no “refugee crisis” in Britain. Britain has barely increased its resettlement quota in light of the movement of so many desperate Syrians, and a similar number of asylum applications have been made in Britain this year as in 2008 unlike the higher numbers we see in other EU countries. Britain has been the strongest advocate of the EU Dublin Regulation, which sees people seeking asylum confined to Southern Europe, sometimes under conditions found to constitute inhuman and degrading treatment by the European Court of Human Rights. We will see no loosening of Britain’s borders if it leaves the EU, quite the opposite. A Leave vote would provide a validating framework for the enactment of the ugly promises the Brexit campaign has made — take their wish for an Australian style immigration system for example, an idea originally proposed by Tony Blair, inspired by Australia’s “Pacific Solution”. We know what that looks like, visas for the white and privileged while brown and black refugees self-immolate in prisons on remote Pacific islands.

Nor is there a “migration crisis” in Britain. The only crisis identifiable is that caused by a capitalist system which sees the ongoing enrichment of the few and impoverishment of the many. Capitalist and imperialist structures enable oppression on a mass scale. Leaving the EU is not going to ameliorate this. In fact, the British government was so afraid that the EU might empower British workers that it negotiated an opt-out from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights because it guarantees the right of workers to take strike action. Unlike in other EU countries, there is no right to strike in Britain. Successive governments have legislated to curtail the possibility for industrial action, the most recent assault being in the form of the Trade Union Act 2016.

The run up to the EU referendum has shown Britain for what it is. Woodwork: the washed-up bracken of the British Empire, and the ugly flotsam of its legacy of racism. From this woodwork the Brexiters have emerged. They have long romanticised the days of Empire when Britannia ruled the waves and was defined by its racial and cultural superiority. It is no coincidence that Farage has a preference for migrants from India and Australia as compared with East Europeans, and has advocated stronger ties with the Commonwealth. This referendum has not been about Europe, but about Britain and its imperial legacy. For Brexiters, turning their back on Europe and turfing out their neighbours is a step toward salvaging the shipwreck of the British Empire, which saw the exploitation of peoples, their subjugation on the basis of race, a system that was maintained through the brutal and systematic violence of the colonial authorities.

The violence in the Brexit rhetoric of “taking back control of our borders”, of excluding others for self-interested goals at a time when thousands of refugees are dying at sea, is resonant of the racism that pervaded imperial Britain at the time of the 1781 Zong massacre which saw slaves thrown overboard by their captor to save a British slave ship and in the interest of profiting from an insurance claim. If what we want is to live in a more equitable society, it is dangerous to begin by voting for an outcome which has been driven by racism. A nostalgia for empire is no starting point for emancipatory struggle based on solidarity with the oppressed.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of Birkbeck

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Europe at the Crossroads: Professor Everson comments (Part 5)

This post was contributed by Michelle Everson, Professor of Law at Birkbeck. She has written widely on European Economic and Constitutional Law and has advised the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Central Bank on matters of European Law.

Professor Everson is hosting a week long debate on ‘Europe at the Crossroads’ at Birkbeck (13-17 June). For details and to book your place, please visit the ‘European Law on Trial’ website.

Every day this week, Professor Everson writes for Birkbeck Comments, offering up her thoughts, opinions, and analysis on the EU referendum. Read part 1, part 2, part 3 and part 4 of her blog.

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European borders: a paradoxical sting in the tail?

A couple of weeks ago, as we were stuck in Rome’s eternal traffic jam, an Italian Professor friend of mine told me a story I recognised, and not without a sliver of pain. In the early 1970s, his father, also an academic, took a sabbatical year at the University of London. Subject to his parents’ irrepressibly optimistic openness to the world, my friend found himself at one of the (little-lamented) Inner London Educational Authority’s finest primary school establishments in Richmond. He did so, however, without any local cultural knowledge, or indeed, being able to speak a word of English. The well-meaning school nonetheless stepped up to the European challenge and provided my friend with mentor, a little girl of mixed Italian-British heritage who might translate. The one problem in this arrangement was the fact that up until this time the little girl had done all in her power to hide her Italian heritage from her playmates, keeping her mother away from the school gates and denying all icons of culture that were not 100% British in origin. Her mortification was absolute. My friend’s embarrassment was total.

Being of much the same age and having grown up with a German mother in Chingford, I immediately recognised the pathology, though for some perverse reason (having a French name perhaps) I always followed a reverse psychology to dealing with the inevitable issues by flaunting my Germanness. No one who didn’t grow up in those grey and xenophobic days can truly understand the frustrations of living within the imagination-stagnation of a culturally-enclosed space, and worse still of a cultural space that seemed far past its sell-by date: Sunday afternoons of interminable repeats of British war films often found me pleading with the Luftwaffe Kommandant on the television not to give Douglas Baader his legs back. At a personal level, and even though I am sometimes shocked by lawlessness of the Italian-Polish mushroom wars now playing out in Epping Forest, I am grateful beyond measure that Europe is at home in London.

Yet, by the same tokens of location and age, I am also a middle-aged Londoner and wholly aware that the xenophobia of the 1970s and 1980s was not, or was not even primarily reserved for Europeans. As successive waves of immigrants from the Caribbean, from East Africa, from the Turkish communities of Cyprus, from Vietnam and from Latin America joined my world, the ineptitude of a UK television culture which persisted in a time warp that never allowed Germans to shed their Swastikas, paled into insignificance in the face of the ready offensiveness of British society towards what was perceived as the rest of the world. Those days are not yet over, but London is at least now more globally inclusive that it has ever been.

So what of Europe, with its by now painfully apparent, increasingly rigidly-enforced and often inhumane territorial borders? Is Europe now defining itself as a stagnant, culturally-enclosed space? This question is particularly relevant for a younger generation, with a heightened global outlook that makes little or any distinction between real or virtual friends in Sydney, Warsaw or Mombasa, or between market and cultural goods created in Beijing, Budapest or Rio de Janeiro. Is a concept of Europe a sustainable or even a just one in a globalising world? Within a social theory of European integration that identifies the only possible measure of a shared European culture as being that of the philosophical universalism which originated within the European Enlightenment, the question leads to the inevitably paradoxical conclusion that Europe can only ever be defined as Europe when it has dissolved itself in the success of its own universalising mission. Equally, from the altogether more pragmatic perspective of global economic development – or of the righting of the enduring structural wrongs of historically-engendered economic inequalities – is an ideational programme of European economic ordering a retrograde step and an act of global injustice?

Professor Michelle Everson

Professor Michelle Everson

In this latter regard, I cannot overcome paradox, and can only answer within the realms of my own personal experience and outlook. For me, Europe is only an ideal and not a place. I do not belong to the Habermasian circle of democratic federalists. At the same time, I cannot but feel that, as in the case of EU Enlargement, a global market justice that is founded in the precept of competitive labour advantage, or the notion that I will correct my own disadvantaged position by working for less than you do, is not justice at all, but a recipe for the abasement of the whole of the human condition. If, in its tentative and messy mastery of the innate tensions between a human desire for economic opportunity and a human want for cultural security, the European Union manages to provide at least a hint of a new model for the globalised economy; if it reminds the world that markets must exist within rather than take dominance over society, it will have done more than we might ever have expected of it.

Law on Trial 2016: The European Union at the Crossroads, runs at Birkbeck from Monday 13 to Friday 17 June. Book a free place here.

Listen to Professor Everson on the topic of the EU referendum in the latest edition of Birkbeck Voices

This post represents the views of the author and not those of Birkbeck

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Europe at the Crossroads: Professor Everson comments (Part 4)

This post was contributed by Michelle Everson, Professor of Law at Birkbeck. She has written widely on European Economic and Constitutional Law and has advised the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Central Bank on matters of European Law.

Professor Everson is hosting a week long debate on ‘Europe at the Crossroads’ at Birkbeck (13-17 June). For details and to book your place, please visit the ‘European Law on Trial’ website.

Every day this week, Professor Everson writes for Birkbeck Comments, offering up her thoughts, opinions, and analysis on the EU referendum. Read part 1, part 2 and part 3 of her blog.

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More order, but less Europe

My vote for Europe is not a vote for its current malaise of totalising economic rationalism, for its political, legal and intellectual abdication, or for its heedlessness for the dispossessed of Athens or Lisbon. It is a vote for the European Union qua its status as institution; an institution unique within a global mass of bilateral trade agreements that is bestridden, at the point of its judicial application, by the disembedded economic thinking of a culturally-denuded World Trade Organisation. However imperfectly, the EU, qua institution, is open to the voices of cultural and social self-determination and also to the voices of economic value that are not simply disregarded, but also traduced within dominant economic rationality. Hobbes is very long dead: In their rush to resurrect the dusty fairy tale of national sovereignty, Brexit campaigners, would have us abdicate at the global level, all potential for the re-establishment of political and social self-determination over the economy. We, by contrast, should take our fight for the soul of economic liberalism to Europe.

Norman Tebbit tells an interesting tale of his own disenchantment with the European project. As an airline pilot, working together with colleagues from other European nations in order to ensure airline safety, he was seized by the commonality of his lived experience with the European group, excited and liberated by the ease of communication between pilot-experts who sought to solve common technical problems. Only later did he worry that this technocratic group, in all of its shared enthusiasm, had become divorced from the masses still locked in more generalist national cultural discourse. To this I answer, yes, you are right ‘Norman’ (I’m from Chingford, I can), but only insofar as you are utterly wrong. In academic jargon, ‘epistemic communities’ of shared expertise are major culprits within democracy-denuding technocratisation processes, as well as within the near collapse of the global financial system: why did no one see it coming? Yet, cross-European meetings of like minds can also produce visionary rationalities; and I count myself blessed to be able to sometimes join the first generations of Eurocrats in toasts to their retirements. But, also in the medium of day-to-day, Ryanair-facilitated movement around Europe, in the Europeanisation of media discourse (German television transmitted the Farage-Cameron debate live and in full), in the Europeanisation of consumer, environmentalist, and economic pressure groups, the far broader conversation amongst European peoples can be heard, and is similarly exciting for its commonalities, rather than made discordant by its differences.

What do the peoples of Europe want? They want what we all want: economic and political autonomy, welfare and an effective means of their realisation. In a globalised age that is as unsettling as it is exciting, people want an order of opportunity and of security; and therein lies the common ‘European’ cause for those of the left and of the right. Here, we can identify the joint project for those with tradition and for those who wish to break free from their own cultural confines, the shared programme for those who wish to make use of their new opportunities and for those who prefer their own four stone walls. Yet, this want will never be satisfied, this order will never be created, where we continue to sacrifice ourselves to the totalising and socially-disembedding powers of a dominant economic rationality that is as socially-amoral as it is delusional.

By contrast, our first sacrificial victim in the effort to save economic liberalism within Europe, or to re-establish civilised EU order, must be the notion of economic efficiency, the founding myth of bastardised capitalism. Who on the streets of Athens believes that the unbearable pain of insecurity, of myriad ruined, even curtailed lives can in some way be made good in the maybe never-to-be fulfilled promise of future riches? Also, and perhaps more significantly so, what price the economic opportunities of the farmer or the supplier forced out of business by the price-cutting imperatives of ‘perfectly-efficient’ competition between ever more fast concentrations of economic power? The second sacrifice follows from the first, and for the foreseeable future at least must be given in a commitment to less rather than more Europe.

Professor Michelle Everson

Professor Michelle Everson

Certainly, in European economic constitutionalist mode we can create circumscribed rights of cross-border economic opportunity and can similarly seek to reverse the sad surrender of a once economically-decentralising European competition policy to the efficiency demands of the globally-dominant Chicago School of economics. Yet, by the same ordered token, where the primary locus of social, cultural and emotional attachment remains local, regional or national we must curtail European regulatory impulses, however attractive they might occasionally appear. The complex of ordo-liberal, (Christian) corporatist and social-democratic interests that still, to a certain extent, defines life in Bochum would go down like a lead balloon in Birmingham. Vice versa: the National Health Service, the one major survivor of Britain’s post-war universalist welfare tradition is still met with as much incomprehension in continental Europe as it is in the United States. It is certainly possible that, with time, Europe will find its own way to cultural unity and will embed a European economy within a European society.

In the meantime, however, in the manner of European federalism, this is all just a very pretty dream. The remnants of our national economic traditions left to us are perhaps sometimes irritatingly quaint, but they are still the greatest expression of ‘independent state action in a framework of respect for the economic and political autonomy of citizens,’ and we must all defend them determinedly within the institutions of the European Union, within its law, within its Parliament and within its source of executive competence (the European Council).

Law on Trial 2016: The European Union at the Crossroads, runs at Birkbeck from Monday 13 to Friday 17 June. Book a free place here.

Listen to Professor Everson on the topic of the EU referendum in the latest edition of Birkbeck Voices

This post represents the views of the author and not those of Birkbeck

Find out more



Europe at the Crossroads: Professor Everson comments (Part 3)

This post was contributed by Michelle Everson, Professor of Law at Birkbeck. She has written widely on European Economic and Constitutional Law and has advised the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Central Bank on matters of European Law.

Professor Everson is hosting a week long debate on ‘Europe at the Crossroads’ at Birkbeck (13-17 June). For details and to book your place, please visit the ‘European Law on Trial’ website.

Every day this week, Professor Everson writes for Birkbeck Comments, offering up her thoughts, opinions, and analysis on the EU referendum. Read part 1 and part 2 of her blog.

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The crisis in economic liberalism: A common ground for the fight?

To confirm the worst suspicions of Eurosceptics, I once met Gisella Stewart, acceptable face of the Brexit campaign, on a bit of junket in Vienna. Maybe I did fly Ryanair (into Bratislava), but I admit that I was also a touch squiffy on a sparking little Zweigelt when, in the hotel lobby, she voiced to me her concerns about the democratic futures of the Union. It was the time of the European Convention and ‘Gisella’ (if I may) was a UK parliamentary delegate to conferences preparing for the birth and unveiling of a shiny Constitution for the Peoples of Europe. Being then as now of a cynical frame of mind I was more relieved than upset by the eventual failure of the European Constitution and the subsequently functionalist approach taken by the European Commission and the member states in the redrafting of the constitutional draft as the Lisbon Treaty.

On the one hand, the sight of past leaders of France and Italy, Valerie Giscard D’Estaing and Guliano Amato (betimes in their battle bus) suborning the peoples of Europe to join them in a glorious democratic future, induced in me only a vaguely Brechtian feeling of alienation. On the other, in my travels around Europe, the only committed federalists I have ever met have been members of the Federalist party (go figure), and some (but definitely not all) EU employees.

In Puglia, Carla looks to the Regione when her vines fail, in Manchester, Martha collects plates of royal weddings, in North Germany, Christian rejoices when Werder Bremen avoids relegation. The daily experience of the vast majority of people in Europe is one of political, cultural and emotional attachment to the local, regional or national level. Although the visions of a democratically-federal Europe proposed, amongst others by great minds such as Jürgen Habermas, offer an obvious and immediate solution to problems of democratic deficit within Europe, the precipitate federalisation of the prisoner’s dilemma would only de-legitimate itself. Bismarck and Garibaldi are long dead: today, the only sustainable European federalisation would be one that felt in the soul as strongly as it is born in conviction.

Nevertheless, Gisella Stewart now makes a telling point. For the left, or so she argues, the European Union is a lost cause. The majority of European governments are formed by right wing or Christian Democratic parties, the European Parliament voted to be led by Claude Juncker, not by Martin Schultz. Fazit: the left can never defeat the dominant economic rationality of the right within the Union. Now, this is all perhaps true, but vitally so, only insofar as the dominant economic rationality that now governs the EU, as it does the globe, is a natural appendage to the right. And here, returning slowly to our much-maligned German ordo-liberals, we might state that all is not as it seems, or that Gisella Stewart is wrong to dismiss the potential for revolution within EU institutions. To the contrary: She is wrong because she has yet to understand the depth of a current crisis that is not simply a crisis of capitalism, but is rather a crisis that challenges the entire political-social edifice of economic liberalism. Seen in this light, the left might yet have common cause with the right within the European Union.

In the years since financial crisis, I have found myself with some strange debating bedfellows; not just the usual cast of well-meaning Germans and culturally-exhausted Italians, but rather also chairs of global insurance companies, heads of compliance within multi-national banking corporations, Christian Democrats of many national hues, community organisers, small-scale entrepreneurs and anxiously-overburdened technocrats. Our shared ground, however, has been a desire to consign the rhetorical usage of the catch-all-hate-term ‘neo-liberalism’, to the dustbin: blindly hating capitalism, or those facets of capitalism we feel are bad does little to extricate us from economic malaise.

Contemporary crisis has its roots in very many distinct movements, not just in unbridled and unprincipled rent-seeking on the part of private actors, but also – in a term coined by the political scientist, Colin Crouch – within a ‘privatised Keynsianism’ promoted by Governments of the left and of the right across the globe, which is predicated on substitution of a putatively endless supply of self-generating private capital for the fiscally-engendered revenues of the now economically-castrated nation state; a process which still continues, albeit now subject to Central Bank oversight of private money creation within a new, but still very vaguely-defined, technocratic function of macro-prudential supervision. Neo-liberalism, when used to denote a rampant and uncontrolled state of market nature, first misses the immediate point that the systemic failure of capitalism is not only being overseen, but is also being promoted, within an exponential growth of regulatory oversight that is dedicated to the service of the chimera of efficiently-perfected competition. Secondly, however, and far more importantly it also misplaces the fatal underlying alienation of all of our dominant economic rationalities from our political and social mores.

If one thing unites the disparate strands of our dominant economic rationality, it is their social amorality, or a denuded worldview that is exhibited either in their belief that man is no more than an economic animal (homo economicus) flourishing or failing in a state of market nature in which not even God finds a place, or in their contrary reification of ‘scientifically-constructed’ and market-fostering regulation, and concomitant denial of any (Hayekian) uncertainty in the affairs of the market or of man: ‘if only we can identify the right logarithms, Capital will always beget more Capital, Amen.’

This is all so very far from a first incarnation of the term neo-liberalism in 1930s Paris as a moral response to the communist and fascist challenge then being made not simply to free markets, but also to the liberal framework of social constitution within which classical economic liberalism had always suspended them. It is also light years away from a first and enduring clarification of this defensive liberalism in the Berlin of 1938. It is a world away from the rebirth of a cornered but still battling economic liberalism by the (anti-) heroes of German ordo-liberalism who sought to secure an ordered, economic constitutionalism within the nation’s highest laws. It is a travesty of the work of academics, steeped in Lutheran tradition, such as, the economists Alexander Rüstow and Walter Eucken, the latter of whom, also bravely resisted Martin Heidegger’s determined attempts to Nazify the University of Heidelberg, as well as the lawyer, Franz Böhm.

For clarity’s sake, I am of the left, and consequently cannot but disagree with vast tracts of ordo-liberal writing. Reading this work often sends me screaming into the garden. Nonetheless, it is not the individual precepts of ordo-liberalism that are at issue here, but rather its idealised view of the economy within society, a model more recently enunciated by one last living link with the beginnings of the movement, the Hamburg Law Professor, Ernst-Joachim-Mestmäcker.

The Economic Constitution:

‘constitutes the political potency of the economic realm … but not with an eye to offering up this realm to the democratic regime; instead, it does so in order to place the democratic regime in a position from which it might disinterestedly achieve its tasks of securing justice and social welfare. The role of the Economic Constitution is not one of securing the priority of the economic realm. Instead, its role is one of enabling the exercise of independent state action in a framework of respect for the economic and political autonomy of citizens.’

In his very final lectures at the Collège de France, Michèl Foucault distinguished ordo-liberal thinkers from what he termed ‘anarcho-liberals’ (read Milton Friedman). Ordo-liberals, so he argued, had an abiding fear of social forces and hence sought to suppress all revolution and reaction by means of their pre-emption within a constraining narrative of constitutionalised freedom. And, indeed, for a radical or collectivist left, this distinction must inevitably mutate into a critique of the forces of conservatism with a small ‘c’ which would similarly deny socialist governments the full use of the political potency of the economic realm.

Professor Michelle Everson

Professor Michelle Everson

Yet, today, in the face of socially- and politically-alienating economic rationalities that have simply forgotten, or choose to ignore the fact that the market exists within society, the painful irony of the left enjoining in a battle to overcome the crisis within economic liberalism is perhaps ameliorated. In its ordo-liberal form, the moral language of economic liberalism is one that we can recognise and engage with. Far more importantly, it is a moral language of political self-restraint which has proven itself accommodating to the demands of counter-posing forces of social tradition and of the left. The success and stability of Germany’s post war economy – and social settlement – was not the work of ordo-liberals alone, but rather the graft of ordo-liberals who fought with but similarly adapted themselves to other world views.

The reforming economic zeal of Ludwig Erhard was open to its tempering within the traditional politics of (Catholic) corporatism pursued by Germany’s first post-war Chancellor, Konrad Adenauer. In turn, the forces of social democracy, embodied by Willi Brandt and Helmut Schmidt, also shaped a now sadly-unravelling composite variety of German capitalism – a sometimes frustrating, but always democratic, culturally-rooted and socially-embedded capitalism.

Law on Trial 2016: The European Union at the Crossroads, runs at Birkbeck from Monday 13 to Friday 17 June. Book a free place here.

Listen to Professor Everson on the topic of the EU referendum in the latest edition of Birkbeck Voices

This post represents the views of the author and not those of Birkbeck

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Europe at the Crossroads: Professor Everson comments (Part 2)

This post was contributed by Michelle Everson, Professor of Law at Birkbeck. She has written widely on European Economic and Constitutional Law and has advised the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Central Bank on matters of European Law.

Professor Everson is hosting a week long debate on ‘Europe at the Crossroads’ at Birkbeck (13-17 June). For details and to book your place, please visit the ‘European Law on Trial’ website.

Every day this week, Professor Everson writes for Birkbeck Comments, offering up her thoughts, opinions, and analysis on the EU referendum. Read part 1 of her blog here.

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What can we learn from European malaise?

In my time, I have been patronised by the very best of them, including in the late 1990s, Horst Krenzler, an eminence grise of the founding European Commission and, at that time, Chair of a working group on the Eastern Enlargement of the EU. Acting as Rapporteur for a mixed group of functionaries and academics, my frustrations with the – to me – all-too-perverse implications of sealing the liberated futures of newly re-instated nations by requiring them to submit wholesale to the established (and already vast) EU economic rule book, boiled over into the high-pitched question: ‘Why can’t we just give them a Marshall Plan?’ An outburst of general laughter followed, and then, ‘Young lady [I was young then], no-one will pay for it!’

A perception that latter-day surrender of the Union to economic rationalities of market utility dates to, and was precipitated by the unforeseen geopolitical earthquake that followed the fall of the Berlin wall, has much to recommend it. The final surrender of the Deutschmark to long-resisted plans to create a European currency within the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992 was the price that the Federal Republic had to pay for German reunification. By the same token, the EU’s decision to alter the rules of the game of accession to the Union by requiring the nations of Eastern Europe to adopt all European market regulation prior to beginning membership negotiations, cemented the enduring paradigm, whereby Eastern Europe is required to compete itself to economic parity with Western European States.

Not for Poland or Hungary, the long process of adaptation to European rules afforded to the privileged post-dictatorial nations of Portugal and Spain; a break with tradition that also has as its flip-side in an inevitable pressure on wages and social provision in Western Europe, as Eastern workers make full use of their competitive labour advantage. And finally, as Germany – under pressure both from unfavourable Eurozone interest rates and from the financial burdens of reunification  emerged in the early 2000s as the sick man of Europe, economic conditionality first made itself felt when the then socialist Government bequeathed to us all the first lodestone of subsequent austerity regimes in its brutal curtailment of national welfare provision and simultaneous establishment of a debt brake on national expenditure.

If full truth be told, however, the destructive potentialities of economic rationality had already begun to afflict the European Economic Community a decade earlier as the rhetorical dominance of Thatcherism and Reagnomics extended throughout the Continent, colonising market integration logics to lever out distinct varieties of European capitalism from complex national patterns of sometimes corporatist, and sometimes welfarist economic-political organisation.

Campaigners for Brexit are obsessed to the point of absurdity with the safeguarding of a national sovereignty that is a simple chimera in our contemporary world of global economic interdependence. They pay little if any attention to the historical paradox that, whilst the then European Court of Justice had established its doctrine of the limitation of national sovereignty as early as the 1960s (in the now legendary cases of Van Gend en Loos and Costa v ENEL), a palpable loss of national territorial control only emerged with the success – originating at national level – of programmes of new economic liberalism in the 1980s. Far more than the Single European Act of 1986, establishing majority voting in the Council of Ministers for measures creating the Single European Market, it was this new predominance of the liberalising economic-political mind that created a beginning of the end of human self-determination, be that self-determination national, European or global.

That markets are never simply markets became very clear to me with regard to my then field of study: the integration of private insurance and finance markets. Comparing German with UK provision, I was left disquieted by the happy coincidence between demands for the capital-generating efficiency promised by a single European finance market and the concomitant integrative unravelling through legislation and case law of decades-long schemes of regulation with all of their underlying interest accommodations between consumers, industry and national economic policy. Certainly, in this case the already-liberal UK was not to be an immediate looser as the axe fell instead upon a largely stagnant scheme of German financial regulation, which had escaped the reformist zeal of the Federal Republic’s economically-liberalising post-war Finance Minister, Ludwig Erhard, and which seemed instead to serve more corporatist interests within a controlled economic policy of inward investment.

Yet, as the 1980s progressed into the 1990s, which also brought with them a sea-change in European competition policy away from range of market offer and towards economic efficiency, with its concomitant prising out of Germany’s local investment banks (Landesbanken) from their restrictively-controlled role of (state-supported) structural financing, we were all soon to pay a very high price indeed for the rolling out of a level competitive field by means of the flattening of distinct, nationally-embedded economies.

The example of insurance and finance markets may be a small one, but it was replicated across the Single Market, and also gains in vital significance when seen in the light of sovereign debt crisis and the EU’s own austerity regime imposed in order to shore up the Euro. A powerful analysis squarely lays the blame for the anti-democratic and economically self-defeating regime of New Economic Governance within the Eurozone on the shoulders of a German theory and ideal of ‘ordo-liberalism’. Working with the powerful mantra of ‘never again’, ordo-liberalism, it is said, seeks still, in its unfortunately-displaced act of memory politics, to fight the bogey of hyper-inflation experienced in Germany in the wake of the 1929 Wall Street crash, asserting its supreme goal of the constitutionalisation of monetary stability throughout the Eurozone within new European technocratic crisis law.

Contrary to the explicit terms of the European treaties, financial succour may be given to the debtor nations of the Eurozone, but – with the full blessing of the Court of European Justice (Pringle) – will necessarily be subject to the imposed brutality of an economic conditionality which makes even the International Monetary Fund think again. The hands of the European Central Bank will be tied by the constitutionalised principle of monetary stability, such that it cannot engage in the inflationary policies that might save the Eurozone without imposing unbearable pain upon its weakest members.

Finally, the air of permanent austerity is cemented within the Eurozone and far beyond as its members are required to constitutionalise a debt brake, and its non-members, or their politicians, seize on the rhetorical powers of financially self-restraining government to garner votes from a public bludgeoned in to believing that there is simply no alternative. Germany reaps and Greece weeps: German history, its painful remembrances, dictate the rules of the Eurozone game such that all Greeks – and with them all Europeans – who dream of a different way of doing things are left bereft, devoid of political voice in their vain battering against a tight mesh of legal and technocratic inevitability.

So far so German, but a slightly more nuanced tale may also be told: ‘Zutiefst unDeutsch’ is my ungrammatical and increasingly exasperated cry each time I stagger out of a Ryanair flight in Berlin, Frankfurt or Munich. This is all so unGerman. All those things that used to irritate me as much as I prized them: the ridiculously restricted shopping hours nonetheless balanced by service from an assistant who knew, after years of apprenticeship, exactly which vegetable peeler I might need to tackle my slightly woody asparagus; the sense of innovative ambition frustrated by centuries of craft and guild tradition counter-posed in equal measure by continuity and security.

All gone, or going, in the blink of an eye, or in the 30 years of an equalising and disembedding bastardisation of capitalism that has seen German financial institutions ejected from their drearily-constructive roles of fostering engineering enterprises in Dresden, Dortmund and Detmold and unpreparedly-launched instead upon a global financial market ruled by a myth as insane as it an opiate for the masses who have been ejected from their economic vocations, to now flit instead from zero-hours contract to zero-hours contract: Capital will beget Capital, world without end, Amen. Take a look at the destructive role played by WestLB, once the proudest and most constant donators of venture capital to Wolfgang in Wuppertal, in the Irish housing, and ask yourself this: did Germanness or unGermanness cause financial crisis in the first place?

Professor Michelle Everson

Professor Michelle Everson

So what have we learned from Europe? That it is bad, or that it is good? In its ideological substance, it is neither, but it has been held captive for the past 30 years by an economic rationality that was born and nurtured at national level, is now dominant on a global stage, and is often seized upon by equalising institutions as a short cut to European integration. Yet, within the EU, we do at least have institutions – institutions that have betimes resisted bastardised capitalism, the extraordinarily measured European Court of Justice of the 1980s being a case in point. It is this that distinguishes Europe from the still-uncivilised global stage; meanwhile, European institutions provide us with the best framework within which we can begin the fight back.

Brexit campaigners would have us believe that with its sovereignty restored, the UK will bestride a global stage, operating autonomously and serenely within the World Trade Organisation here, and calmly concluding bilateral trade agreements there. The delusion is absolute: neither the WTO, nor international treaties possess ameliorating institutions; the Investor Protection principle – now being successfully resisted by the institution of the European Parliament within bilateral trade negotiations between the EU and the US (TTIP) – is not only the sine qua non of all existing bilateral trade agreements, but also the final bonfire of the vanity of national sovereignty, establishing the absolute primacy of all trade interests and requiring signatory states to compensate economic forces who have been so sadly inconvenienced by their (social as well as economic) regulatory protections.

Law on Trial 2016: The European Union at the Crossroads, runs at Birkbeck from Monday 13 to Friday 17 June. Book a free place here.

Listen to Professor Everson on the topic of the EU referendum in the latest edition of Birkbeck Voices


This post represents the views of the author and not those of Birkbeck

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Europe at the Crossroads: Professor Everson comments (Part 1)

This post was contributed by Michelle Everson, Professor of Law at Birkbeck. She has written widely on European Economic and Constitutional Law and has advised the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Central Bank on matters of European Law.

Professor Everson is hosting a week long debate on ‘Europe at the Crossroads’ at Birkbeck (13-17 June). For details and to book your place, please visit the ‘European Law on Trial’ website.

Every day this week, Professor Everson writes for Birkbeck Comments, offering up her thoughts, opinions, and analysis on the EU referendum.

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Order in chaos

Assaulted on all sides by a vilely-tempered and wholly ill-informed Brexit ‘debate’, I ask myself daily why I am going to Vote Remain. I may be known as a Professor of European economic and constitutional law, but do not belong to the ordinarily-rapturous academic fan base for the European Union. Quite the country, the determination of all-too-many of my colleagues to view the EU only through rose-tinted lenses confounds me, and always has done. From the 1980s onwards, when, as a PhD student, I discovered in my own research that European integration was synonymous with a process of the disintegration of intricate historical-political accommodations, social mores and economic interest-balancing at the national level, my default appreciation of the Union has been one of suspicion. In the meantime, as the EU has been engulfed in financial and sovereign debt crisis and has been unable to respond coherently to migration crisis, my critique of the current deeds of the Union makes many a Brexit campaigner look moderate.

From the destruction of political choices within the regime of economic austerity constructed in the effort to contain sovereign debt crisis (European Stability Mechanism and Fiscal Compact), to the reduction of Greece to the colonial status of dumping-ground within a punitive migration regime that is as dysfunctional as it is immoral, the EU has been found wholly wanting. Worse still, as the normally-sustaining European rule of law has collapsed within politically-expedient judicial law-making to sustain the Eurozone through constitutionalised imposition of economic conditionality (Thomas Pringle, heard by the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2012), the very ideal of Europe as a continent of justice, democracy and solidarity has itself been traduced.

Yet, the European Union, even, and perhaps especially so in its flawed current incarnation remains one of the most ambitious political projects ever conceived. Far beyond its original pragmatically-ideational roots within the post-war desire to bind national economies so tightly to one another that any future conflict would be an impossibility, and outside the delusional realm of federalist dreams (we, the people, simply do not want one), the Union also embodies an old-new ideal of order in chaos, or of self-determination beyond the self-referential reaches of territorial sovereignties. This is its inspirational strength, but perhaps also its real-world tragedy as it is caught up in the self-same paradoxes of all such universalising projects – be they of might (colonial), or of the mind (religious) – as it equalises differences between its constituent parts, and creates its own self-referential communitarianism through the seemingly inescapable definition of its own territorial boundaries.

The Brexit debate has been dominated by a fight about facts. In the one corner, those determined to catapult the UK out of the Union have been evermore inventive (read mendacious) in their pursuit of figures that putatively demonstrate the unbearable strains of integration upon UK population numbers and the Exchequer. In the other corner, Vote Remain’s assertion that a no vote will lead to economic shock is better backed up by reputable research, but the campaign is nonetheless careless in failing to highlight that all economic prognoses contain their own uncertainties. The debate has been sadly misdirected as each side seeks to present a ‘truth’ of statistics. By contrast, little or no attention is paid in to visions of how the global world, the EU and the UK within it, might be ordered for the good. Yet, while cost-benefit analysis of EU membership will, in any objective analysis, simply falter within the complexities of the balancing of trade or social benefits against their regulatory costs, our age of economic globalisation is urgently demanding our conceptual attention: what are its challenges, how can we tame economic powers that ignore national boundaries, is there a common good within this global world and, if so, how might we defend it?

For a present-day generation of people living within Europe, a generation long distanced from the absolute moral certainty of a post-war generation determined never again to break the peace, and, in its youthful global outlook, even less inclined to commit to a culturally-foreclosing European federalism, there is only one possible ideational vision of Europe to which they might commit: the search for an order in chaos, for a form of governing beyond closed national communities; an order which defies the inequalities created by unconstrained markets and capital, and an order which seeks also to establish justice, democracy and solidarity outside the certainties of a once-sustaining but now illusionary territorial (national) sovereignty. The European Union of 2016 is not the European Economic Communities of 1958, having morphed from an international community of market building into a supranational body of ever closer Union between its peoples. Nor is the European Union of 2016 a happy or uncontroversial one, as efforts to save the Euro feed the pressure for ‘more Europe’, but simultaneously undermine the political and social values that must always be a part of the European project.

Michelle Everson

Professor Michelle Everson

Yet, throughout its history and still today, the European project has been the drawing board for a sustainable ideal of civilised internationalism. That Europe is and always will be beset by its own contradictions of equalisation and boundary-drawing, or that it seems, currently, to be complicit within rather than controlling of the economic forces that are globally threatening to overwhelm all human (non-economic) self-determination, are happenings that simply cannot be denied. At the same time, however, Europe’s current malaise cannot and should not be taken as reason to walk away from the best enunciated and most practised iteration of the search for order in chaos offered by any post-national organisation now operating on the global stage. Instead, we must learn from Europe’s failures in order to fight within the EU for all of the advantages of order in chaos; for opportunities of human innovation on the one hand (rights of engagement within markets), and for the securities of self-determination on the other (rights of control over markets).

Law on Trial 2016: The European Union at the Crossroads, runs at Birkbeck from Monday 13 to Friday 17 June. Book a free place here.

Listen to Professor Everson on the topic of the EU referendum in the latest edition of Birkbeck Voices

This post represents the views of the author and not those of Birkbeck

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Brexit – is it even possible?

Law on Trial 2016This post was contributed by Professor Erik O. Eriksen, Director of ARENA Centre for European Studies at the University of Oslo, who will be participating in a panel discussion on Friday 17 June as part of this year’s Law on Trial events. Law on Trial is the School of Law’s annual week-long programme of free-to-attend public lectures and panel discussions and this year puts the European Union on trial – one week before the EU referendum in the UK.

Can the Brits actually decide if they want out of the EU on the 23rd of June?

There have been quite a few moments of truth in the British debate about leaving the European Union. Increasingly it has become evident how deeply involved the country is in the EU, and how dependent the Brits are on European cooperation. The debate has highlighted the importance of the financial industry, whereby London City would be threatened by the replacement of Frankfurt as a leading European finance centre. Then there is the issue of agriculture, which would be left without subsidies from the EU. Business in general is dependent on immigration. The same goes for healthcare. Leaving the EU is said to have consequences for staff, waiting lists and the quality of treatment in British hospitals.

And also soccer, a major industry with a turnover of billions that relies on free movement, would be affected. There are currently 332 soccer players from the EU playing in the top league in England and Scotland. These players, however, do not fulfill the criteria for working permits for citizens from non-EU (member) states. Surely such matters can be arranged, but what will withdrawal mean for the rights of Britons that live and work in the EU? And how will the relationship of the UK with third countries look after a withdrawal from the EU?

The situation of the UK in the EU illustrates a general point about an integrated Europe. Much sovereignty has been delegated, interdependence has increased. Integration has affected the very nature of nation states. Many laws will have to be rewritten if the country leaves the Union. This should however not come as a surprise. The EU is known to be more than an intergovernmental organisation, where states can easily withdraw.

The EU makes its own laws that are binding on the members. And the internal market is much more than a free trade zone. The Union abolishes differences in laws and standards and develops new rules and regulations that all members have to accept. This uniform regulatory framework provides legal certainty for market participants. Within the EU cases can be brought before a supranational court. Rules shall be interpreted, enforced and complied in the same way. The European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement that Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein have with the EU, makes this apparent. EEA law has no material substance in and of itself, but obliges Norway to accept existing and future EU law.  It should therefore not be seen as EEA law, but rather EU law.

Right to sign out?

There is a right to withdrawal from the Treaty, but how does this work in practice? First of all, the conditions for withdrawal need to be negotiated. These negotiations can take up to several years.  At present there is no majority in the House of Commons on any option for withdrawal. Some want to negotiate first, others want to use the withdrawal-clause immediately, and then there are those undecided. The problem is that the country has to get rid of complex regulations, covering different policy areas. New policy has to be created to replace abolished EU regulation.

Second, the future relationship with the EU needs to be renegotiated. All, including EU-sceptics, acknowledge that they cannot manage without some kind of agreement with the EU. In particular, the Union represents the world’s largest market with its 500 million inhabitants. The Brits are dependent on an agreement with the EU in areas of common interest.

The example of Switzerland, a country that has 120 bilateral agreements with the EU, shows how complex such a relationship can be. Neither do we know what the political climate will be after a possible ‘no’ in the British referendum. It is difficult to first withdraw from the Union and from the incurred commitments, and then start negotiating good terms for continued cooperation. Divorces are seldom pleasant.

Third, bilateral trade agreements with third countries have to be established, to replace those that have been signed with the EU. This creates many uncertainties, especially because large trade agreements are at present negotiated between blocks of countries, where the great powers China, the USA and EU dominate. From an economic perspective, there is a risk of an economic downturn in the UK after withdrawal. Financial markets already signal unrest over a possible turbulent economic situation in the future.

These factors can lead to a legal nightmare and years of negotiations and uncertainty. One thing is for sure: leaving the Union would change the UK’s trade relations with the EU and the rest of the world significantly.

Unclear consequences

Furthermore, a whole list of other problems arises if the UK decides to leave the Union. What about the rights of the almost two million Brits that live in other EU member states, and make use of the rights they have as EU citizens? British pensioners living in Spain, for example, have access to Spanish healthcare.

The UK has also considerable clout in the foreign policy of the EU. It is therefore unclear what role the country will be able to play outside the EU. The UK will become less important to the USA and many argue that as a former empire, the country will have difficulty in being regarded a neutral broker.

Even areas where Brits enjoy opt-outs from the EU’s laws, as in asylum and immigration policy, are affected by EU decision making. If for example the Dublin Regulations in which member states are responsible for examining the application of asylum seekers is abolished, the UK will not be able to deport them.

Withdrawal is risky also because Great Britain’s unity is at stake. Scotland might withdraw from the United Kingdom.

Problems attached to the withdrawal seem insurmountable, but in a referendum it is not always the rational arguments that prevail. Often voters vote on other things, often external factors and trust in present powerholders play a decisive role. This referendum is particularly interesting for two reasons.

The fiction of alternatives

First, the referendum forces those in favour of continued EU membership to be on pitch. They have to clearly state why the EU is important, and dismantle wrong information and falsely-grounded ideas about what a country in ‘splendid isolation’ could achieve. We rarely hear Brits talk about the EU in positive terms.

Secondly, ‘Brexiters’ have to propose a realistic alternative. Those in favour of withdrawal have to present a credible alternative to EU membership. Responsible politicians have to make evident how a United Kingdom outside the EU would be able to cope in an increasingly interdependent world.

There is no current agreement on what a United Kingdom outside the EU would look like, and how relations with other countries are going to be upheld. Some argue that Britain only needs a customs union with the EU; others argue that they can expand their cooperation with the Commonwealth, and yet others look to Norway’s EEA Agreement and Switzerland’s bilateral agreements. But are any of these models realistic alternatives?

A customs union with the EU – with free market entrance – is only possible if the other 27 EU countries agree, as it requires Treaty amendment. An agreement will not be acceptable without significant contributions from the United Kingdom. Agreements with Commonwealth nations, which can be difficult enough since they now have strong relationships with other countries, would not compensate for the loss of the EU market.

Both the EEA model and the Swiss bilateral model would entail getting access to the internal market by accepting EU law and regulations. The Brits would then be no better off than today with regard to sovereignty, quite the contrary. By adopting any of these models, the United Kingdom would become partially EU member, but without being able to influence EU decision-making.

British EU sceptics want to roll back integration and return sovereignty to national institutions. They frequently reject an affiliation like the Norwegian one because it would mean even more EU dominance. Norway has abstained from having influence, but not from being affected by the EU’s decisions. The core of EU scepticism lies in the experience of being governed by others, which is the reality in the EEA. The Norwegian loss of sovereignty is not compensated by co-decision in the European Parliament and Council, as is the case for Great Britain. Power is not the same as sovereignty. The ceding of sovereignty increases power when it gives actors decision-making power in supranational bodies.

It is not obvious that the UK can actually fully withdraw from the EU. It will be difficult to avoid ending up in a similar situation to that of Norway or Switzerland, where EU laws are accepted in exchange for access to the internal market.

There is, as far as I can see, no realistic alternative to (a reformed) EU, while the fiction about an alternative is what motivates British EU sceptics. This very same fiction underpins the continued legitimation of technocratic EU adaptation made by the opponents to Norwegian EU membership. But what is a plain fact in Norway is the ultimate horror for many Brits.


Three Reasons Why Boris Doesn’t Matter

This post was contributed by Dr Benjamin Worthy, lecturer in Birkbeck’s Department of Politics. This blog was originally posted on the 10 Gower Street blog on 23 February 2016.


On Sunday evening, Boris Johnson, with the zeal of a convert or the scheming of a Machiavellian, has decided to join the ‘Outers’. Here’s 3 reasons why it doesn’t matter:

Reason 1: Boris isn’t that popular. Remember, Heineken isn’t that strong. I’m intrigued by the poll in the Evening Standard that claimed ‘he could be a game-changer in the historic vote’ as ‘one in three people regard him as “important” to deciding whether they vote In or Out’. Putting aside exactly what ‘important’ means, the statistics are revealing. 32 % of those asked said Boris could be ‘important’ but a full 28 % said Theresa May’s and George Osborne’s views were important-only 4 % points behind Boris (and 23 %, by the way, identified Stuart Rose as ‘important’ too). So if, as the report claimed, Boris could ‘partly’ cancel out Cameron’s influence, presumably May and Osbourne could do the same to Johnson? Boris’ position as ‘the most popular politician’ is often cited though his reach to UKIP voters is probablyrather unnecessary– and it looks like Nicola Sturgeon pipped Boris in the popularity stakes at least once.

Reason 2: Boris doesn’t do arguments. As Janan Ganesh argues in the FT‘voters like Mr Johnson. But they like Judi Dench too. Liking someone and deferring to their judgment on a serious question are different things’. As a number of people have argued, what the Leave campaign needs, above all, is a serious alternative vision, equivalent to the Scottish YES campaign’s positive, mobilising narrative. Boris hangs hilariously from aerial slides but he doesn’t really do ideas or arguments, just quips and ‘mishaps’. Cameron’s speech last night in Parliament was perhaps a taste of the gravitas, clarity and seriousness the Remain campaign will deploy. Judging by his question in Parliament, Boris’ re-joiner will be about ‘soveregnity’ a word not even constitutional lawyers agree on. And there is no nuance or wriggle room in a vote to leave.

Reason 3: Boris doesn’t do teams and messages. Being the Mayor of London is (or was) the perfect job for Boris, where he can be a maverick, a loose cannon and is able to rail against everyone and everything. His record when part of an organised group e.g. in the shadow cabinet, is much less glittering given his tendency to be rather egocentric or, as one unkind review put it, a gold medal egomaniac. How will he fare as part of an organised group with a message and a ‘line to take’?

Boris cites his great hero Winston Churchill. However, for most of the 1930s Churchill, a


similarly gold medal level egotist, entangled himself in a series of failed and doomed campaigns, from the cross-party ‘arms and the covenant’ rearmament initiative (which he almost wrecked), to supporting Edward the VIII and a bizarre solo effort to stop Indian independence. Churchill was very much, and very often, on the wrong side of history, and only his later struggle against appeasement saved him.

Last night, Michael Crick quoted an unhappy MP who spoke of another Churchill, Winston Churchill’s dad, Randolph (above). He was also a famous politician, gifted, witty and talked about as a future Prime Minister in the 1880s and 1890s. Randolph had, as Winston wrote of his father, ‘the showman’s knack of drawing public attention to everything he said or did’. Why did his career end? Boris take note-he gambled and took sides against his own party and leader on a fundamental debate in British politics. And lost, never to return.

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The State of Europe

This post was contributed by Professor Martin Conway for the college’s Reluctant Internationalists project. This first appeared on the project’s blog on 4 January 2016

When will the historians of twentieth-century Europe accept that their century has ended? The violent attacks in Paris on the night of 13 November serve to confirm what we should already have known: that the populations of Europe have moved on from the politics of the twentieth century, and it is time for the historians to do so too.

Read the original article on the Reluctant Internationalists

Read the original article on the Reluctant Internationalists blog

Of course, in the aftermath of traumatic events, historians delve rapidly into their store-cupboard of analogies and precedents. And there are many which can be drawn upon for such purposes. Violence by small militant groups composed predominantly of immigrants from specific ethnic backgrounds has, after all, a considerable lineage in twentieth-century Europe. The various revolutionary and counter-revolutionary movements that proliferated in the former territories of the Habsburg and Tsarist empires at the end of the First World War, the militant Jewish Communist groups who played such a role in the anti-fascist movements and the wartime Resistance groups in the 1930s and 1940s, and the FLN militants of Algerian origin who were active in France in the 1950s and 1960s, are all examples of how political violence has often been generated in Europe by marginalized ethnic and religious minorities, who derived their legitimation from the perceived repression by state authorities.

And yet none of these models really has much purchase for understanding the various incidents which, from the train bombings of Madrid in 2004 to the events in Paris, have become part of Europe’s contemporary present. In part, of course, this is because European history is no longer, if it ever was, self-contained: this violence draws its inspiration from elsewhere, and from different histories. But there is also a broader and more disconcerting reality. The radicalized militants who have generated this violence feel no affinity with these precedents. Indeed, one suspects that they know little or nothing (and care even less) about Europe’s past history.

This is a cause for some modesty on the part of historians. We inhabit a present which owes little to “our” past. The twentieth-century history of Europe has come to an end. Everybody can choose their terminus date of preference, be it the reunification of Europe after 1989, the impact of the neo-liberal reforms of the 1990s, or the attacks on the Twin Towers on 9/11 and their subsequent imitators in Europe. But, wherever you choose to stick the frontier post between past and present, it is impossible to ignore the sense that European history has not so much ended as turned into a new configuration. For contemporary historians, to misquote J.P. Hartley, the present is another country, and they do things differently there.

Quite why that should be so is a question which probably demands an answer on a rather grand scale. But the more immediate challenge for historians of Europe is to develop frameworks for understanding the evolutions of the present, which are more relevant than reworkings of our all-too-familiar stories of the crises of the 1930s and 1940s. The history of the twenty-first century has to start somewhere, and the events of the last year have given us plenty of raw material to work from. War in Ukraine, the rise of new populist forces of right and left (or both), the demands for revision of national sovereignty, the arrival of large numbers of migrants fleeing war and economic deprivation, and the impact of new forms of political violence constitute a formidable agenda which demands a response more substantial than the overused language of crisis.


27 October 2015, Migrants are led by German Fedeal Police to an emergency accommodation centre in Wegscheid, southern Germany (Armin Weigel/ dpa via AP)

Crisis is of course a term that historians conventionally deploy to describe the demise of the old and the difficult birth of the new. The first is certainly highly visible in present events, as manifested by the collapse of a certain way of managing Europe, as well as the retreat of pre-existing political elites in the face of economic pressures and the demands of angry and exasperated voters. Of course, they will not go quietly. The logics of austerity economics and of national security justified by the supposed internal and external threats to European populations provide plenty of means for state authorities to seek to impose their discipline on their populations. But state authority is not what it used to be. One of the more tangible consequences of the last twenty years has been the hollowing out of much of the former trappings of state power and of national politics. In an era when communication has become primarily electronic, and national borders have become largely notional, state authority no longer has the same centrality in the history of twenty-first century Europe.

Part of the challenge of a history of the present is therefore to appreciate, if not fully to understand, the fluidity of boundaries of any kind. We inhabit a new cosmopolitanism, as reflected in the global character of many of Europe’s major cities, but also in the flexibility of identities, be they national, political, ethnic, or indeed religious. Journalists investigating the backgrounds of the authors of the Paris attacks have appeared surprised to discover that they were products of the banlieux of Paris and of Strasbourg, who amidst the chaotic years of their early adulthood travelled without any great sense of purpose to Syria, from where they returned equipped with a cocktail of animus, bravado and perhaps a superficial understanding of some elements of Islam. And yet that surely is what one would expect: militants are made not born, and the manner of their making well illustrates the fluidity of identities among those many Europeans whose lives have been rendered fragile by economic changes, the dislocation of social structures, and the retreat of structures of state provision.

In order to understand this, the most appropriate template is not the twentieth century, with its explosion in state power and totalizing ideological visions, but its predecessor. Looking at Europe’s present-day cities, one cannot but be reminded of the chaotic immigrant cities of Europe in the nineteenth century, and their worlds of neighbourhoods, ethnic self-help structures, and an almost total absence of state authority. Zola, it seems, has never been so topical; but other aspects of Europe’s present-day history seem also to recall the Europe of the mid-nineteenth century. The impact of vast economic forces beyond the control of any public authority, the pressure of migrant masses on a pre-existing population, and sudden surges of political support for charismatic individuals or for rhetorics of national liberation (and of xenophobia) smells much more akin to the Europe of the 1840s and the 1850s, than it does to the Europe of Adenauer, de Gaulle, Thatcher, Kohl and Mitterrand.

However, to replace one set of analogies with another borrowed from the previous century is not sufficient. A history of Europe’s twenty-first century has to identify the building blocks of the new. Some elements of this are incontrovertible: the new precariousness of living standards caused by economic change and untrammelled market forces, and the consequent replacement of the disciplined interaction of socio-economic interest groups by a new and much more volatile politics of economic opportunity and grievance. But other elements appear much less clear-cut. Is Europe moving left or right? Will the migrants of 2015 be integrated into a new and more multi-cultural Central Europe, or will they provoke a descent into forms of ethnic essentialism?

Above all, where, in the end, will state authority be discovered to reside? One of the most striking features of Europe since the final decades of the twentieth century has been the demise of those hierarchical organizational charts of government which used to characterise political-science textbooks. Power is now more dispersed and also more opaque, shared between a plethora of regional, national and supra-national institutions, but also secreted away in institutions such as central banks and security structures that are impervious to democratic control or even public scrutiny. None of that means that we are about to experience new forms of authoritarianism; the populations of Europe have, one suspects, moved beyond the stage when they would submit to the disciplines of states of emergency and military coups. Moreover, for all of the seriousness with which leaders have gathered to consider Europe’s overlapping current crises, one of the most striking features of their discussions has been the relative absence of effective tools of power. Military force – other than the spectacular acts of aerial bombing in Libya, Iraq and Syria – has almost disappeared; national economic policy-making has been transferred to central banks and the power of the markets; and even the routine ability to keep track of the movements of populations appears to have been largely eroded.

From the streets of Molenbeek to the beaches of Lesbos, it is the limits of the capacity of the state which has been more apparent than its strength. Perhaps that presages a new 1848, but more significant is the way that the state has lost, or surrendered, its twentieth-century role as the grand manager of European life. What will replace it forms part of the still uncertain nature of the history of the European present.

The Reluctant Internationalists project inspects the history of international collaboration and ambitions of medical professionals, politicians, generals, diplomats and policy-makers in twentieth century Europe. This four-year project, funded by Birkbeck researcher Dr Jessica Reinisch’s Wellcome Trust Investigator Award, examines the origins of such policies, consequences and lasting legacies.

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