Monday, September 23, 2013

Selected FP spots from 16-22 September 2013

  1. UK and South Africa: A Relationship Worth Maintaining
    Alex Vines of Chatham House and Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, Chief Executive, South African Institute of International Affairs, remind us of the close relations between South Africa and the UK, especially relevant when the FCO is pushing for stronger relations with African states. 
  2. 64% of Brits have a favourable view of the UN
    Pew Research shows global views of the UN
  3. Tony Blair nearly destroyed the Foreign Office. William Hague is rebuilding it
    Peter Oborne's short piece notes an important step forward - or back to the future - for the FCO: the re-opening of its language school. 
  4. UK should use competence review as a constructive exerciseMichael Emerson of the Centre  for European Policy Studies looks at how the Balance of Competences Review could work for the UK. Despite ongoing concerns about the political neutrality review, it looks to be on course to provide a wide-ranging review - the first of its type in the EU - of the role the EU plays in the UK.
  5. Hand-waving as renegotiation: The UK’s (and EU’s) limited option
    Meanwhile Simon Ushwerwood considers some of the options Britain faces should the Balance of Competences Review need to be used in a renegotiation. 
  6. Labour should 'be prepared to use military force as a last resort
    Labour still wrestling with the fallout from the Syria vote.
  7. Foreign aid: transparency will help African nations prosper
    The Observer's editorial makes a valid, if perhaps obvious point.
  8. Transatlantic Trends 2013
    More to come from this regular survey, but the basics are here. 
  9. Green Standard 2013
    The Green Alliance review how the three UK wide parties green credentials compare on the economy, communities, nature and international leadership.
  10. Trident and the Liberal Democrats
    There was plenty of analysis of the Lib Dem decision to back a 'Trident-Lite' system. This BASIC review is neat and to the point. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

A piece for the LSE's EUROPP blog.

A piece for the LSE's EUROPP blog about whether the EU's unwillingness to discuss the possibility of a 'Brexit' is playing into the hands of Eurosceptics.

The EU’s unwillingness to discuss the possibility of a ‘Brexit’ is playing into the hands of Eurosceptics

British Prime Minister David Cameron has made a commitment to hold a referendum on the UK’s EU membership, should his party win the next general election. Tim Oliver writes that while the possibility of a ‘Brexit’ has been much discussed in the UK context, across the rest of the EU the issue has largely been downplayed or avoided. He argues that if EU leaders continue to remain silent on the topic it may add momentum to the arguments of British Eurosceptics.

In Britain the idea of quitting the European Union provokes lively debate about its desirability, likelihood and what it could mean. But as I recently discovered while researching the potential impact of a UK exit on the EU, debate elsewhere in the EU is limited. Yet it would be a significant moment for the EU if a country of 63 million Europeans voted to leave. So why, when the possibility has become more real than ever before, has debate elsewhere been so limited?

First, discussing the idea of a withdrawal from the EU has long been a taboo. Under international law there is nothing to prevent a member state exercising the right to leave, exactly what the UK would have done had it voted to leave in its 1975 referendum. Yet it was not until the advent of the European Constitution in 2004 that the right was clearly stated. Even then the idea faced opposition. Amendments were tabled to remove the article outlining a process of withdrawal, now known as Article 50 TEU.

As the Dutch Government made clear in justifying an amendment to delete the article: ‘facilitating the possibility to withdraw from the Union is contrary to the idea of European integration as set out in the preamble of the TEU: “Resolved to continue the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”.’ The idea Britain might break with this, or as David Cameron has suggested, seek to stay in the EU but drop the commitment to ‘ever closer union,’ questions the EU’s founding ideas. No wonder it provokes an uncomfortable silence from elsewhere.

Feeding this taboo is a concern that triggering Article 50 would open a Pandora’s Box the rest of the EU might prefer was kept firmly shut and best not thought about. Questions overhang how the process set out in Article 50 is to be enacted. What negotiating red lines should the EU set down? What type of post-withdrawal relationship should be offered to the UK?

Then there is the prospect of shifts in the balance of power within the EU brought about from reorganising its institutions, budgets and policies to make up for the absence of the British. Would small states gain over large states? Would north and west lose out to south and east? Would Europe become less open and more protectionist, and what hopes would there be for EU foreign and security cooperation? What would happen to relations with other non-EU European states, NATO, and the United States? Might other member states be tempted to threaten withdrawal to get their way or, alternatively, could the EU become more willing to threaten the expulsion of a difficult member state? Could the withdrawal be blamed on British Euroscepticism, or would it reflect and connect with growing Euroscepticism elsewhere? Could the withdrawal unleash centrifugal forces that begin the unravelling of the EU, or could the EU, rid of an awkward member, find it easier to move towards ‘ever closer union’?

The rest of the EU could also be forgiven for thinking we’ve been here before. The current debate has strong echoes of the successful, if ultimately insignificant, renegotiation followed by an in-out referendum in 1975. Then there’s the never ending series of complaints and snipes the EU has been subjected to in the UK political debate. Again, the rest of the EU could be forgiven for thinking this is just another example of the British threatening to throw their toys out of the pram. Even in Britain few are certain whether the British will ever follow through on the commitment to hold an EU referendum, everything hanging on developments between now and a general election due by 2015. So why should the rest of the EU pre-empt such a move by confronting the issue? It might appear better to wait it out and call Britain’s bluff by remaining silent.

Ignoring British demands, or refusing to take them seriously, certainly appeals to those who see the approach adopted by David Cameron in his January 2013 speech as nothing short of trying to blackmailthe rest of the EU. Cameron’s demand for a renegotiated relationship or Britain will likely vote to leave, rests on the idea the EU can’t say no because letting Britain go would damage the EU. The potential disruption and damage to the EU is not something to be overlooked, but from the perspective of the rest of the EU it is the UK who would suffer the far bigger consequences. It’s as if Britain is threatening to shoot the EU in the foot while aiming the gun at its own head. A refusal to discuss a Brexit therefore stems in part from a view of Cameron’s strategy as self-defeating, illogical and just plain bonkers.

More than anything the rest of the EU has largely ignored the issue because of the far greater damage the collapse of the euro could bring. This is especially so for Germany, the country that more than any other will make the final call on negotiations with the UK. But this week’s federal election means Germany is not interested right now. If anything, for members of the Eurozone Britain’s attempts to try and separate itself have provoked only feelings of anger at what they see as Britain’s latest show of non-solidarity. Not only has the crisis in the Eurozone therefore left little room to debate the British question, it has if anything provoked some feelings that losing the UK might be necessary collateral damage for saving the euro. What this collateral damage would be, however, is unclear.

How long then can the rest of the EU avoid discussing the issue of a Brexit? There remains a chance a referendum could be triggered sooner than many think. More likely the EU would have to face the issue after 2015. If a newly elected British government pursued a renegotiation and referendum, then it will be difficult for the EU to ignore the possibility of discussing a withdrawal. The British public and the rest of the EU will need to know what will happen should the British say no to any renegotiated relationship and opt to leave.

If anything, the rest of the EU’s silence could add to the momentum for Britain to leave by playing into the hands of Eurosceptics – who would then be left to argue either that the rest of the EU doesn’t care about the UK, or doesn’t want to admit how much it needs it. Here the EU needs to realise that if it were to remain silent and do little to keep Britain in, then a Brexit could end up looking like a passive expulsion. Just as confrontation with an unwanted guest at a party can be avoided by making them feel so uncomfortable and isolated that they leave, so too might it be easier to make things suitably uncomfortable that Britain leaves of its own accord. But it still leaves the unanswered question of what type of party the rest of the EU will then be left with.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Selected FP spots 9-15 September 2013

Every day I spend time clearing Feedly of the close to 500 feeds I've asked it to follow, most connected to British politics, Britain's international relations or international relations in general. Feedly, and before it Google Reader, have long been the way I follow the news, announcements by government, the work of Parliament, think tank publications, events, blogs, and any websites that catch my eye.

Sometimes I miss clearing it for 2-3 days, in which case I face the chore of clearing a backlog of several thousand unread articles. Whether it's a night's worth of feeds or a backlog from a bank holiday weekend, I'll end up skimming most of the articles headlines or summaries. As with skimming a newspaper, only a small proportion of the articles I skim over will interest me. Often a lot of will be repeated in several feeds, the product of that day's news. But everyday articles are fed through that don't fit that day's news summaries. Often they can be reports from think tanks, publications by government, or the work of Parliament.

Once I've read an article that interests me it usually follows the thousands I skimmed over by being stamped 'marked as read', most never to be seen again. But sometimes an article sticks in my mind that I want to do more with. Some end up saved, then perhaps entered into Zotero. The lucky ones even make it into articles and research. But I've long wanted to try and do more with them than this. So each week I'm going to flag up ten articles I've found of interest, specifically those relating to the UK's international relations. My criteria for interesting? They don't fit the daily news agenda, or if they do they stand out as they say something different.

This is going to take some time to refine, and this week's entry isn't helped by how it was only on Wednesday that I thought I should start doing this, by which time half the week's feeds were marked as read. That, and the lack of a paywall, explains the number of Guardian pieces. That said, here's a first attempt...

1. The Guardian reports on life on the distant remnant of empire that is Ascension Island where inhabitants fear they may be headed the same way as the original inhabitants of Diego Garcia.
2. Mats Persson writes in the Guardian about what the Swedish 2003 Euro referendum can teach us about any UK in-out referendum on the EU. I've argued the way Britain is approaching the issue won't work, and in his piece Mats Persson makes a contribution which goes some way beyond the shallow way an in-out referendum is debated in the UK. 
3. Writing in the Conversation, Michael Galsworthy and Michael Browne make a case for the UK to remain in the EU for the benefits it brings for scientific research. Meanwhile elsewhere on The Conversation John Bryson argues a skills shortage in engineering is undermining Britain's chance of global success. 
4. Writing in the Guardian, Michael White draws out what the German elections could mean for UK-EU relations. 
5. International Affairs September issue has a series of articles on the UK, covering everything from the UK's strategic choices in the face of a US pivoting towards Asia, through to Britain's diaspora links providing new links for its place in the world. There's even a book review by a one Tim Oliver... 
6. The Guardian's map of the UK's arms trade offers a reminder of how local this issue is.
7. The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs looks back at the effects on Britain's place in the world of HM the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympic and Paralympic Games.
8. The House of Commons Library has updated its Commons Library Standard Note on Parliamentary approval for deploying the armed forces. 
9. The Syria vote continues to provoke debate. Nick Cohen has little time for Ed Miliband's position. Meanwhile, as the Guardian reports, several senior politicians signed a letter drafted by Save the Children, urging the UK not to forget its humanitarian responsibilities. 
10. Tim Street, writing on the BASIC blog, explores the democratic and legal background to Britain's nuclear weapon system, a topic often overlooked in a debate too often narrowed to one of cost. 

On Tuesday the Liberal Democrat conference will see debates and votes on Europe and Trident. I'll therefore leave until next week any articles examining the Liberal Democrat approach to these issues.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Europe Without Britain: Assessing the Impact on the EU of a British Withdrawal

The Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik - the German Institute for International and Security Affairs - Berlin, has published my research paper analysing the impact on the EU of a British withdrawal. You can access it here

I don't support a British withdrawal – a Brexit – from the EU. Nor do I support the way the Prime Minister has approached the idea of a renegotiation of the UK's membership. And while I think the possibility  the British will vote to withdraw is still open to debate, the possibility has clearly increased. What has not increased is debate elsewhere in the EU as to what this might mean for it. Over the next few days I'll outline why this is the case in some comment pieces elsewhere and linked here. 

If this research paper argues one thing more than any other, it is that there needs to be more argument about this issue. A British withdrawal could change the EU quite profoundly, for better or worse. But as things stand most analysis of this is based on very shallow speculation. 

Without setting out the detail of the paper – read it! - I do end the report with 10 questions the EU needs to ask itself about a Brexit:
  1. Should the EU refuse to discuss the idea of a British withdrawal until a vote to withdraw actually happens?
  2. Should the issue of withdrawal be discussed as part of any renegotiation of Britain’s relationship inside the EU?
  3. What red-lines should the EU set down for any discussion of withdrawal, either in any renegotiation or during a withdrawal negotiation? 
  4. How is Britain’s part in European integration – both positive and negative – to be assessed?
  5. To what extent would a UK withdrawal help solve the problems with the Eurozone and make possible further progress towards ‘ever closer union’?
  6. What would a UK withdrawal mean for the EU’s international standing and security?
  7. What type of relationship would the EU like to have with a UK that has left the EU, and how would this fit with, or change, the EU’s relationships with other non-EU parts of Europe?
  8. Should further written clarification be prepared about Article 50 TEU, and if so who is to do this?
  9. What processes should the EU follow to manage the internal changes to the EU brought about by a UK withdrawal?
  10. How would a UK withdrawal shift the balance of power in the EU and the direction of European integration?