Category: Europe

Stopping in-work benefits for EU workers

It’s been widely reported (for example, in the Times, the Mail and the Sun) that Theresa May has plans to restrict in-work benefits to EU workers, putting them on the same footing as non-EU claimants.  I’ve been puzzling about what this means.  The only benefits specifically mentioned in the reported briefings are Tax Credits, which in any case are supposed to be being replaced by Universal Credit.  In most cases non-EU migrants are entitled to benefits as long as they meet the various tests – residence, presence or habitual residence,  depending on which benefit we’re talking about.  So, for example, to be entitled to Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit or Child Benefit a non-EEA migrant is expected to have lived in the UK for three months.  Refugees and family members don’t have the three month test; but both EU and UK citizens returning from abroad, who are not working, are subject to the  test.  If Ms May was saying only that there’s to be a three-month residence requirement for everyone, she wouldn’t need to wait for Brexit; it would be compatible with EU law now.

The main restriction that actively affects non-EU migrants is something quite different:  the restriction of the terms of entry on their visa, where they undertake not to be dependent on public funds and are threatened with deportation if they do.    Treating EU migrants in the same way could only happen after Brexit.  It would mean that the issue is not mainly about benefit law at all, but about the way that Britain deals with foreign citizens.  It’s only workable if we have a straightforward way of identifying who is, and who is not, a migrant, and a clear record of the terms of entry.  That could affect millions of people.

Amendment 882: preserving the fundamental rights of European citizens

The petition I submitted to the European Parliament in July has not yet been approved  for public view, but an interesting proposal has been made by a Luxembourg MEP, Charles Goerens.  The Constitutional Affairs committee is considering  the EU’s institutional arrangements, and Goerens has proposed the following amendment to their report:

Motion for a resolution, Paragraph 37a (new)

37a Advocates to insert in the Treaties a European associate citizenship for those who feel and wish to be part of the European project but are nationals of a former Member State; offers these associate citizens the rights of freedom of movement and to reside on its territory as well as being represented in the Parliament through a vote in the European elections on the European lists.

My petition, provisionally numbered 0922/2016,  had stated

As citizens of the European Union, the status of British nationals is protected by the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Citizenship is the right to have rights. If European citizenship is truly fundamental, not just a conditional privilege, no European citizen should have it withdrawn without consent or treated as if it never existed. When the UK ceases to be a Member State, the Parliament, as the guardian of Fundamental Rights, should ensure that European citizens of British nationality who wish to preserve their fundamental rights are able to retain their citizenship.

Goerens’ amendment, though it does not refer to the EU’s obligations under the Charter, is a substantive response to that.    As the amendment is framed, however, it asks for Treaty change, and it does so in relation to a document which seeks nothing less than a fundamental review of the Lisbon Treaty.  This is likely to be a slow and difficult process, if it happens at all.  In so far as the Charter of Fundamental Rights is already part of the constitution of the EU, Treaty change should not be necessary.  The EU should do what it has already undertaken to do.

Italy proposes a European Unemployment Benefit Scheme

The Italian Government has proposed the introduction of a European Unemployment Benefit Scheme, applicable to all the members of the Eurozone.  The benefit would provide 40% of previous salary for 6-8 months.  The purpose of the benefit scheme would be to provide solidarity when countries experience a surge of unemployment; the amount of benefit payable in a country would be limited to 200% of its contribution to the scheme.

I suspect the scheme is a non-starter.  The Italians have shrewdly put the proposal in a way which is not subject to treaty change or isolated vetoes, but it will be hard to get this past the presumption of subsidiarity.  Some of current arrangements within the Eurozone are based on independent and non-governmental arrangements – the Ghent system, based on trades unions, is used in Denmark, Sweden and Finland  (see this link by Clasen and Viebrock), and  the French scheme, Unédic, is administered by a ‘convention’ of employers and trades unions.   The Italian scheme is noteworthy, however, in three ways.  It shows that there is still continued interest in promoting the idea of a Social Europe.  It  reinforces the view that there is now a two-speed Europe, the Eurozone and the rest.  And it shows how very far the UK is out of step with the rest of the European Union, both in the objectives and in the level of benefit offered.

 

A petition to the European Parliament

I have prepared a petition on change.org, as the first step to presenting a petition to the European Parliament.  Here is the text.

Our European citizenship is a fundamental right. Please defend it.

We are citizens of the European Union. In the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, the Union committed itself to the principle that each and every citizen has basic rights. However, the treaties did not directly create distinct legal protections of the status of a citizen, which were considered to be sufficiently protected by the actions of Member States, and Protocol 30 specifically reserves judicial processes relating to such rights to the United Kingdom. If the United Kingdom ceases to be a Member State, British nationals may no longer additionally become European citizens.  It does not follow that the fundamental rights currently held by British nationals should be treated as if they never existed.

The EU needs now to consider how to deal both with the rights acquired by UK citizens and those acquired in the UK by citizens of other countries. Citizenship has been described as ‘the right to have rights’. If the rights of citizenship are truly fundamental, no person who currently enjoys the status of a European citizen should have their citizenship removed. No process which denies European citizens the right to have rights can be considered consistent with the Charter.

The consent of the European Parliament is required before any agreement with the departing member state can be concluded. We therefore petition the European Parliament, as the guarantor of EU citizenship, to safeguard the fundamental rights flowing from EU citizenship both for us and for those elsewhere in the EU. We ask the Parliament and the institutions of the EU to ensure that British citizens who are currently citizens of the European Community, and who wish to preserve that status, should on application be able to retain European citizenship after the UK ceases to be a Member State.

Please sign the petition by following this link.

I have had the advantage of comments and phrases from Tony Venables and Richard Upson.  The next stage will be, after signatures are in, to present this to the online petitions web-page fo the European Parliament.  It is difficult for people to register their support (it took me a day to get my first log in), which is why this is starting on change.org instead.

I’ve been asked – why start another petition, when others were off the blocks first?  The answer is (a) because this is going somewhere different – the European Parliament – and is the only one currently aimed there and (b) it refers to European principles.

Free movement demands planning: both the EU and the UK government have muddied the water on managing immigration

David Cameron has just been to an EU summit to say that the EU must accept the restriction of free movement of labour; it’s not going to happen.  I was reluctant, during the referendum campaign, to engage in debates on the subject of immigration:  every attempt to intervene on the other side only reinforced the idea that the EU referendum was really about ‘controlling our borders’.  The debate was misconceived in three ways.  First, the UK does ‘control its borders’.  In an open society, however, people cross back and forward across borders all the time, and they are routinely checked.  Routinely, of course, means not very thoroughly, but doing it thoroughly to everyone passing a border is unthinkable.   Border controls can in theory contribute to immigration control – in theory – but, as the experience of the USA shows, this is neither practical nor effective.  All it shows, not very reliably, is that some visitors overstay.

Second, what is done at the border is of very limited relevance to the control of immigration.   An ‘immigrant’ is not just a visitor; it is someone who comes to settle, which implies living, working and participate in another society.  While the UK controls visits, it does remarkably little about immigration as such, with a signal lack of intervention in employment in particular and policies for housing and urban planning that are substantially laissez-faire.

Third, restricting the flow of migration is not the same as controlling the numbers.  Restrictions limit potential numbers, because it restricts the flow, but it does not actually bring them under control.  There is no fixed quota or number that might be achieved (let alone a figure for ‘net migration’, which depends on other factors beyond the government’s control. )  The situation is made more complex because there are several different kinds of circumstances where people come to settle.  The principal categories are economic migrants (workers and families), family reunion, asylum seekers and refugees, and students. (There were 437,000 overseas students in 2014/15, including 125,000 from other EU countries.  Education is more than a service industry, but it counts as one of our major exports.)

There is a problem with migration, but it is not the problem that the UK government has been talking about. The problem is that once migration happens, as it does all the time, there needs to be some adjustment to it.  Both the UK government, and the institutions of the EU, are in the grip of a market based ideology which thinks that ‘free movement’ of money, goods, services and people is the same thing as unfettered movement.  Markets have to be structured,  regulated and facilitated.  Where they have negative effects, those need to be managed and compensated for.  When the EU was set up, the main concern was the impact of trade and specialisation on employment, and the Social Funds were set up to deal with that.  But now, the neo-liberals are in the ascendant, both in the UK and in the EU.   When it comes to the movement of people, there is no mechanism for management, at the level of the EU, the national government or local government.

Jobs need to be in places where people can live.  There have to be houses, schools, roads.  That means either that jobs are directed to those places, or that places have to be built and developed to go where the jobs are.  I prefer the first of those options, but that’s not crucial to this argument.  The point is that there is no inconsistency between the free movement of people – a fundamental principle of the European Union – and  planning to meet population change.  On the contrary, free movement depends on such planning.  If EU rules are obstructing free movement, because they prevent planning happening, they need to be changed.  But I suspect that the problem rests, not in the rules as such, as the assumption that the principle of free movement renders everyone helpless.

What happens to European citizenship?

Decisions have consequences.  Like many others, I’m deeply unhappy with the vote to leave the EU, and have had to think about the implications for myself and my family.  The first and most obvious solution is to seek to be part of a country that does want to be in the European Union.  I did not vote for Scottish independence last time; I will next time.

I have also been looking at the implications of the withdrawal of European citizenship.  Citizenship rights are part of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. (The UK did not opt out of the Charter.  The protocols on the UK say that judicial and legislative powers relating to those rights rest with the UK.)

It seems that there is no legal basis to continue to hold European citizenship when the UK leaves – which rather undermines the description of citizenship as a ‘fundamental right’ in the Charter.  (See for example comments by Steve Peers in the seventh question he addresses.)  That does not mean that there is no moral or political argument, or that the process is impossible.   In some other realignments citizens have been given options to retain citizenship on application – many people are currently taking advantage of the arrangements  in Northern Ireland.  The European Parliament has consistently pressed for European citizenship to be treated distinctly from nationality in the member states, and I am considering a petition to the Parliament on that basis.

A few things the EU has done, and a few more it could still do

There doesn’t seem to be much that’s positive in the referendum campaign.  Here are a few things that the EU has made possible for people in Britain.

  • The right to live, work or retire in Europe.  About 2.2 million Britons are doing this at present.  (The estimate is from the IPPR.  Lower figures from the House of Commons library rely on the UK Census – which does not count Britons living abroad – and unhelpfully exclude people who live in other European countries for part of the year.)  Scandalously, many of them have been denied a vote in this referendum.
  • Taking easy, safe holidays in Europe.  About 80% of all UK holidays abroad are taken in the EU.  I’m old enough to remember not being able to go on a planned holiday in Prague because of  visa restrictions.
  • Workers rights.  The EU’s record is patchy, but think about the Working Time Directive – which British governments have constantly griped about – or parental leave.
  • Gender equality.  Perhaps, again, people don’t remember the discriminatory rules for pensions or disability benefits that the EU has made us change, much to the fury of the UK government.  Housewives Non-Contributory Pension, anyone?
  • Consumer protection.  Much of this seems minor now, because we take the protections for granted – covering, for example, goods by post, customs, phone networks,  savings accounts – but there was a time when they weren’t there.
  • Environmental controls.  If, for example, you live somewhere near the coast – most of us do – you may have noticed the push to clean up the waters.  The UK can’t clean the seas or the air on its own.
  • Providing millions of jobs.  It doesn’t follow, because the UK now has large numbers of related jobs in finance,  cultural industries, education, science or that all of those jobs will be lost – but the reason those jobs are there has been our trade with Europe.
  • Infrastructure projects.  Unbridled free trade has a downside, which may mean the decline of local industries and regions.  The EU has a set of compensatory mechanisms to mitigate this – the social fund and the regional funds – and several of our regions have benefitted from them, at a time when London-based government was ready to let the market rip.
  • Security.  Again, perhaps people don’t remember the dictatorships, the wars or the Iron Curtain.  The EU was set up to stop this, and stop it it has.
  • Influence.  Britain has consistently pushed to extend EU influence in foreign policy and the effect has been to achieve things, e.g. on nuclear non-proliferation, which otherwise would not have happened.

The EU could do more:

  • controlling multinationals
  • limiting tax evasion
  • reducing the costs of currency exchange
  • creating a financial transactions tax
  • guaranteeing rights for its citizens
  • distributing its funds so as to reduce poverty
  • giving the European Parliament the power to legislate, allowing decisions of the ECJ to be set aside, and other powers to reduce the democratic deficit

However, it will only be able to do things like this if the member states let it.

They’re voting to take my rights away. And yours.

The polls have shown a marked increase in support for leaving the European Union.  The tone of the debate about Europe has been disturbingly negative.  Beyond that, it has become increasingly bitter and unpleasant.  The arguments in favour of staying have focused on the potential horrors that would visit Britain if we left; the arguments in favour of leaving in particular have plumbed new depths for untruthfulness and xenophobia. It seems likely that voting on the European referendum will be determined by people’s emotional reaction, and there is a strong possibility that this will result in secession.

If the UK leaves, UK citizens will lose their rights as European citizens.  Those rights include rights to representation within the EU, the right to move and live freely throughout the EU, reciprocal rights to public services, and consular and diplomatic protection from other EU countries when outside Europe.

There is something deeply flawed about a process that claims to be democratic but implies that a majority decision would deprive a minority of their rights.  If the vote is to leave, expect this one to come to court.

Vote Leave summarises its campaign: muddled, mendacious and offensive

The Vote Leave campaign has just offered us a referendum broadcast, which was aired on Radio 4 this evening.  Here is the full text.

“On the 23rd June there is a referendum to decide on Britain’s future membership of the EU.

This is your chance to Vote Leave and save the £350m a week we pay for Britain to be a member.

Vote Leave to spend that £350m on our priorities like the NHS.

Vote Leave to regain control of immigration and borders.

Vote Leave to stop future migrants from countries like Turkey, Serbia and Albania entering Britain freely.

Vote Leave and we can have a points based immigration system like in Australia.  It is safer and more humane.

Vote Leave to deport dangerous criminals and terrorists who threaten our safety.

Vote Leave to let Britain negotiate its own trade deals with the USA, China and India.

Vote Leave to stop British taxpayers bailing out countries like Greece.

Vote Leave to prevent unelected EU politicians passing laws for Britain.

Vote Leave to end EU law overruling British Law.

Vote Leave to stop paying corrupt expenses like £11m a year on a chauffeur service for MEPs.

Vote Leave to stop EU workers undercutting British workers.

Vote Leave to take back control.

Vote Leave on the 23rd June.”

There are thirteen claims in that list.  Four are questionable:

  1. Developed countries with open societies cannot in general control  immigration by policing the border – consider the position of the USA, which has millions of unregistered residents.
  2. Any money not spent on the EU is unlikely to be spent on the NHS; it will have to be spent on replacing the kinds of things the EU does (such as support for agriculture and promoting trade).
  3. MEPs can claim expenses for travel; this is part of the expense they incur, not corrupt practice.
  4. Isolation is not self-determination, and leaving is no  guarantee that Britain will ‘take back control’.  The UK will lose its present control over EU practice, and will have to accept EU conditions to continue trading with the EU.

Five are (more or less) true, but they might not be understood in the same light by everyone:

  1. Britain could introduce a points-based points scheme – but its current scheme for non-EU immigration suggests it is more interested in direct financial contributions.  The Australian approach to immigration favoured by UKIP is not exactly perfect  either.
  2. Britain hasn’t been faced with supporting Greece in the Euro, but that’s not the main point.  Members of the EU are committed to supporting countries in trouble, because that is implicit in solidarity, and almost every country in trouble will have been badly managed at some point.  Some of us think that mutual support is a good thing.
  3. Some EU workers can undercut UK wage rates, as the UK can undercut wage rates in much of Northern Europe.
  4. Britain could negotiate independent trade deals, given time.  Whether these would be favourable to Britain would remain to be seen.
  5. EU law can in certain circumstances trump UK law.  We’ve been required, for example, unwillingly to remove gender discrimination from our benefits and pollution from our coasts.

Four of the points made it the broadcast are just plain wrong:

  1.  Britain does not pay £350m per week to be a member.  (The figure disregards the rebate.  This is like saying that you have just spent £3 on a fizzy drink which was actually reduced to  £2, because the label included the price before the reduction.)
  2. Turkey, Serbia and Albania are not members of the EU.  Whether they become members depends on agreement of all countries, including Britain.
  3. All laws passed in the EU have to go through the Council of Ministers, all of whom represent elected governments.  That is not to say that they pass laws for Britain.  The system of regulations and directives works by asking national parliaments to introduce laws compliant with the treaties.
  4. The UK already has the power to deport dangerous criminals, European or not.

The frequent repetition of bogus claims looks like a deliberate and knowing attempt to mislead.  Add to that the snide, offensive comments on migrants, applicant countries, ‘corruption’  and the association with criminals and terrorists: Vote Leave comes over as something very unpleasant.

This is my 700th entry on this blog.

 

Europe: an update of the arguments

I promised when I first posted about this in February that I’d update the arguments as we went along, and I’ve been doing that.   This is the latest version.

Good arguments to REMAIN

(and what I see as the counter-arguments)

Good arguments to LEAVE

(and what I see as the counter-arguments)

The EU makes it possible to control things which are beyond the scope of national governments – including the environment, trade, multi-national corporations.

True, but the EU’s track record on international regulation has not been good – often because of obstruction by the British.

THE EU has a ‘democratic deficit’; it is remote from the people it serves.

More than half-true – but in the UK, the same is true of almost every tier of government, including local government.  Democracy is an argument for more engagement in the decisions that affect us, not for withdrawal from those decisions.

The EU has defined and raised  minimum standards across Europe, e.g. on the environment, transport, water quality.  Without it, standards will fall.

No counter-argument.

 

In some fields the EU has promoted a ‘race to the bottom’, undermining citizens’ rights.  Examples include the rules on public services and the bar on living wage contracts.

In any federal system there will be decisions that member states might disagree with.  The test is whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

Britain’s diplomatic influence is magnified by the EU. John Major has given a series of examples – including sanctions on nuclear development and the protection of the Kurds – where the UK took the initiative, the UK could not have done in its own right, and where the USA eventually followed suit.

Major’s specific  examples are powerful, but the EU is primarily focused on European affairs, not only foreign policy.

 


Europe is also a social project which makes life better for its citizens, for example through travel, residence abroad (more than 2 million Britons live in other European countries) and social protection.

There has long been a consistent political majority against ‘Social Europe’ and the project has stalled for many years.

Some shockingly bad decisions by the European Court of Justice (e.g. Rüffert v Niedersachsen, 2008 C‑346/06) have revealed a structural weakness – there is no obvious way to revise and correct defective federal laws without revisions of the treaties.

This could also be seen as an argument for extending the powers of the EU to facilitate the review of federal legislation.

The EU has created rights for its citizens across Europe, such as rights for workers, for women and in consumer protection.   Without it, rights will be eroded.

This is largely true, but the counter-argument is the ‘race to the bottom’: the EU has also undermined significant rights, such as the enforceability of collective wage agreements.

The free movement of people within the EU has been chaotic.  The principle has been undermined by the combination of enlargement and the abandonment of basic planning and population management to cope with social change.

This is a problem of free markets.  Social and economic development depend on establishing a common framework, not on laissez-faire.

The EU is the UK’s largest trading partner and UK industry and finance will have to comply with its conditions to maintain access.

No counter-argument.  If the UK becomes, like Norway, only a member of the EEA, it will also have to accept free mobility of labour.

 

The EU’s handling of the Greek crisis reveals a deep malaise –  narrow financial interest,  some bad behaviour on both sides of the argument, bullying of the weaker party and a disregard for the welfare of European citizens.

Without regulation and agreed procedures, the bullying will get worse.  This is an argument for stronger regulation and clearer rules, not for leaving.

Britain’s economy depends heavily on the provision of services to other countries and many of those  services (especially finance) could as effectively be provided elsewhere.  Leaving threatens an economic catastrophe for Britain which the IMF has warned could go beyond that to engulf the world economy.

The counter arguments are weak.  The defence that Britain is too big to be allowed to fail is naive, as is the emphasis on the size of the economy, which is based on book values rather than an analysis of prospects.

Bad arguments to REMAIN

(with counter-arguments)

Bad arguments to LEAVE

(with counter-arguments)

The EU has brought peace to Europe.

True, but it doesn’t follow that the UK’s presence is central to that.

The EU undermines national sovereignty.

Sovereignty is all about the authority to make laws – rules of recognition, change and adjudication.  The EU safeguards  the rule of law throughout Europe.  

The EU wants to be a superstate.

The EU aims to develop the rule of law at a different level from the nation state.  Many British politicians don’t understand that other governments don’t work the way they do: most have shared competence at different levels of government.  Other federations are not centralised.

The EU promotes liberal markets.

The EU is wedded to a model of ‘structural adjustment’ that has been discredited in other international organisations.  European markets stand in need of regulation and consideration of the consequences of collective actions.

The EU stops the UK from controlling its borders.

The UK cannot expect in a  modern, open, connected society to govern EU or non-EU migration at the frontier.   In most European countries, migration isn’t mainly controlled at the border: it’s controlled through employment, access to housing and services.

 The USA wants Britain to remain as a conduit for furthering US interests.

It’s difficult to see what’s in this for the UK or for Europe.

Leaving means that the UK will be able to act as it wishes and negotiate arrangements in its own interests.

It won’t, either with Europe or (as Obama has made clear) with America.  Negotiations will be difficult and slow.  The EU nations will favour trade in areas  where trade runs in their favour (e.g. cars) while blocking other imports (such as foodstuffs: the example is the previous French ban on British beef, blocked by the EU).

The UK can make the EU better through positive engagement.

The UK has often  made the EU worse.

 

The EU has promoted trade rules which exclude or  disadvantage developing countries.

This is a fair criticism of policy, but it is an argument for changing that policy rather than for leaving.

The EU is stopping the government doing what it would otherwise do over issues like human rights and workers’ rights.

There is a confusion here between the EU and the European Court of Human rights: but in so far as this is true, it is an excellent reason to remain.

 

There is something deeply wrong in principle with the idea that a majority can vote to extinguish rights valued by a minority.   This is particularly important for British citizens living in other EU countries.  Many British citizens who are resident in the EU are ‘under-registered’ and those who have lived in the EU for a period over 15 years are being denied a vote.  The process is flawed.