Sunday, October 27, 2013

Piece for E!Sharp on a Brexit

Is the EU asleep as Britain sleepwalks out of the EU?

There is no shortage of analysis into what it would mean for Britain to quit the EU. But what it would mean for the EU is less than clear, something I discovered while researching the potential impact of a UK exit on the EU. The UK might be characterised as an awkward or unwilling partner, one that has delayed European integration, but it has also brought much to the EU, something largely unbeknown to its own people let alone to the rest of the EU. Whether for better or worse, losing Britain would hardly be an insignificant moment for the EU’s development. Ed Miliband, leader of the UK’s Labour Party, warned that despite the British debate, Britain risks ‘sleepwalking out of the EU’. But with debate elsewhere in the EU so limited, is the EU also asleep?
To some in the EU discussing the idea of a member state leaving is a taboo. The inclusion in the EU’s treaties of a withdrawal clause setting out how a member state might withdraw was itself resisted by some who saw it as a challenge to the founding aim of the EU creating ‘an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe.’ The idea Britain might break with this, or as Prime Minister David Cameron suggested, stay in the EU but drop the commitment to ‘ever closer union,’ is a direct challenge to that aim.
Losing a member state opens a Pandora’s Box of potential problems. Nobody is too sure how the withdrawal clause would work. The EU would have to draw up negotiating red-lines and in facing the UK hold its nerve in negotiating with a state with which it has mutually deep economic and political relations it would not want to endanger, but one it would not want to be held to ransom over either.
The remaining EU would also have to change. Institutions, budgets and policies would be open to reform. Smaller states may gain over larger states. North and West could lose out to South and East. Instead of facing the Atlantic the EU would face more towards the Mediterranean. Germany’s central position could be further enhanced. Europe could succumb to more protectionist thinking. The position of Ireland would need to be thought about. A withdrawal might connect with growing Euroscepticism elsewhere unleashing centrifugal forces unravelling the EU, especially if the Euro faced another period of crisis. It would change relations with the rest of non-EU Europe such as Norway or Turkey. Relations with the U.S. could change, as might NATO. Or perhaps a UK withdrawal will have only a limited impact on the EU’s internal dynamics, if anything freeing it of an awkward partner, making it easier to move towards ‘ever closer union’.
The rest of the EU might be forgiven for thinking this is a recurring bad dream from which it regularly awakes to find all is well. Britain has long bemoaned its EU membership. Cameron’s commitment to a referendum echoes the successful, if ultimately insignificant, renegotiation followed by an in-out referendum in 1975. It remains open to speculation whether another referendum will even happen. Instead it might appear better for the EU to wait it out and call Britain’s bluff by remaining silent.
Ignoring British demands certainly appeals to those who see Cameron’s approach as nothing short of trying to blackmail the rest of the EU. Cameron’s demand for a renegotiated relationship or Britain will likely vote to leave, rests on the idea the EU cannot say no because letting Britain go would hurt 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 the loss of the UK would probably not be lethal to European integration. Instead it is the UK who would suffer more. It’s as if Britain is threatening to shoot the EU in the foot while aiming the gun at its own head. Refusing 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 eurozone crisis poses a far greater threat. This is especially so for Germany, the country that more than any other will make the final call on relations with the UK. If anything, Britain’s attempts to try and separate itself from the eurozone crisis has provoked feelings of anger at Britain’s latest show of non-solidarity, with some feeling the loss of the UK might be necessary collateral damage for saving the euro. What this collateral damage would be, however, remains unclear.
It may be that privately parts of the EU have concluded that any renegotiation is doomed because what the EU can offer and what Britain will demand are destined to be too far apart, making a withdrawal inevitable. If so then the only strategy seems to be to remain silent and hope for the best. But this still begs the question of what the EU will look like if the UK does leave.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Book review of Zhiqun Zhu's 'New Dynamics in East Asian Politics: Security, Political Economy and Society'

Will appear in Political Studies Review, Volume 13 of the Journal, Issue 1, January 2015, available via Wiley Online Library

Zhiqun Zhu (2012) New Dynamics in East Asian Politics: Security, Political Economy and Society. London: Continuum. 337pp, £19.99 (p/b), ISBN 978 1 4411 6621 0

This wide ranging book works well as an introduction to studying the contemporary politics of East Asia. Focused on China, Japan, Taiwan and the two Koreas, the book’s interdisciplinary approach leads it to being neatly divided into three sections covering security and foreign policy, new political economy, and changing societies. As Zhu explains in the introduction, the aim of the book is to avoid a traditional approach of writing about government, institutions and processes. This is born out in the largely well-written and researched chapters which cover a wealth of topics including the media, gender, national identity and nationalism, student politics, the film industry, local politics, the changing nature of anti-Americanism, environmental issues, security and foreign policy, welfare, and political economy. Throughout the book the coverage ranges from the international and wider-regional perspective through to the national and local. The chapters use a range of theoretical approaches and research models. Each chapter draws on a good selection of sources, with the end of each chapter including further readings and useful questions for on-going discussion.

The book faces four problems, all of which it largely overcomes. First, tying together such a wide range of topics was never going to be easy. But the book manages this by allowing the reader an insight into how this area of the world is coping with globalisation, changes in technology, shifts in power, and the political expectations and outlooks of the peoples of the region. Second, it provides a balanced approach in its coverage of the five states, although clearly due to its size China receives the most attention. The USA is ever-present, understandable given its role as a major East Asian power. However, its use as the main point of reference when making comparisons meant other areas of the world such as South East Asia, Europe or the Middle East received few mentions. Third, the book successfully resists the temptation to focus solely on international relations and security, instead drawing out the incredible economic and social transformations. But it provides a good analysis of the military and political tensions that could undermine these transformations, but which are also being driven by them in part. Finally, the book’s aim to discuss contemporary developments means some chapters will date very quickly, although the overall analysis of the book will remain of interest for many years. 

Piece for the Huffington Post about the UK and TTIP

The British Problem Facing a Transatlantic Trade Deal

Posted: 10/25/2013 6:16 pm

The British Government needs a transatlantic trade deal to show the European Union works for Britain, but not only could British threats to leave the E.U. scupper the deal, a successful transatlantic deal could also weaken Britain's commitment to the EU. Britain's dilemma could weaken transatlantic relations.
For successive British governments a deal opening up further the transatlantic marketplace has proved an elusive one. With the U.S.A. and Europe as Britain's main economic partners, even a small deal could produce significant gains for Britain's economy.
Today the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T.T.I.P.) offers hopes for the U.K. For both sides of the Atlantic it promises desperately needed economic growth and a much sought after geopolitical means for the West to face the rise of new powers. Despite T.T.I.P. being the largest bilateral trade deal ever attempted, negotiations aim to conclude by the end of 2014.
But progress has already run into problems. While delays from the U.S. government shut down can be made up, other obstacles are emerging from concerns pushed by agricultural, cultural and social interest groups. The 2014 European Parliament elections look set to produce a Parliament less sympathetic to either the E.U. or a transatlantic deal. And it remains to be seen whether the U.S. Congress can sustain bipartisan support.
British Problems for T.T.I.P.
For Britain's current coalition government T.T.I.P. offers the chance to show how Britain's membership of the E.U. works for the country. For Britain the E.U. has always been more of a means to an end of trade and security, and much less so the E.U.'s founding political ideal of 'ever closer union'. By joining with the rest of the E.U. the U.K. faces the U.S.A. as an economic equal, not the junior partner in a deep and important but inherently imbalanced 'special relationship'. A trade deal also plays well with the current government's aim for export led growth.
Britain is also central to T.T.I.P., thanks not only to its large trade and investment links with both sides, but also because of its central place in transatlantic geopolitical thinking. As a country that puts great effort into maintaining close relations between the two sides of the Atlantic, T.T.I.P. would aid Britain's long-standing aim of closer relations between the two.
Despite this, T.T.I.P. negotiations are haunted by the possibility the U.K. could quit the E.U. The possibility of this happening has increased in part thanks to Prime Minister David Cameron's commitment that should his Conservative Party win the next general election it will seek a renegotiated UK membership followed by an in-out referendum.
Doubts remain as to whether the U.K. will ever face such a referendum, and even Cameron's plans would not unfold until 2015-2017. With T.T.I.P. negotiations scheduled to be wrapped up by the end of 2014 some may wonder what the problem is.
The possibility of an earlier referendum (to say nothing of implications from the September 2014 Scottish independence referendum) cannot be ruled out, especially if the 2014 European Parliament elections produce a landslide result for the deeply-Eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party. If T.T.I.P. negotiations are delayed into 2015 then they could become caught up by a British general election, also occasionally suggested as an earlier date for a referendum.
While T.T.I.P. without the U.K. would not be impossible, it would be more difficult and a lesser deal if secured. The survival of T.T.I.P. could become a bargaining chip in the U.K.'s negotiations with the E.U.
T.T.I.P. Problems for Britain
At the same time, a collapse or significant delay of T.T.I.P. negotiations caused by one or more of Britain's E.U. partners, would fuel British Eurosceptic calls for the U.K. to quit the E.U.. Eurosceptics have long argued the E.U. holds Britain back from negotiating its own trade deal with the U.S.A. and other allies.
But there's a twist. T.T.I.P. is likely to weaken Britain's economic relationship with Europe in favor of its already strong transatlantic relations. While other E.U. states would also experience this, their political commitment to European unity is not reflected in the U.K. where, at least in public debate, the economic dimension has always come first. For British Eurosceptics a weakened U.K.-E.U. economic relationship helps ease the way for a U.K. exit.
Shared Problems for the U.S.A., Europe and Britain
For the EU, T.T.I.P. could be become a bargaining chip used by the U.K. to leverage a renegotiated U.K.-E.U. relationship. At the same time, it could push further towards the exit one of its largest member states and one central to transatlantic relations.
For the U.S.A., it would be difficult to imagine a T.T.I.P. without the U.K. It would certainly make T.T.I.P. a more difficult sell to Congress. A U.K. exit from the E.U. would also leave the U.S.A. facing an E.U. changed by the disappearance of one of its most liberal, free trade members.
More damaging for all involved, especially the UK, would be the weakening - or dashing - of hopes T.T.I.P. could provide a stronger geopolitical relationship between the two core parts of the West. Weakening the two relationships it has relied so heavily upon would be a spectacular home-goal for the U.K. But can the rest of the E.U. and the U.S.A. bank on the U.K. not doing so?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Piece for the Huffington Post on US views of a Brexit

My first outing for the Huffington Post. More such pieces to follow.

A European Union Without Britain Is the Last Thing America Needs

Compared to the House of Commons vote on Syria, a British referendum vote to quit the European Union would have far more significant implications for the future of transatlantic relations.
The House of Commons decision not to support U.S. military action against Syria, along with opinion polls pointing towards growing public support to quit the E.U., has prompted warnings the U.K. risks isolating itself from both the U.S.A. and the E.U. But focusing on the implications for U.K.-U.S. and U.K.-E.U. relations distracts from the larger relationship Britain's isolationism would affect: the U.S.-European relationship.
The U.S.A. would be left facing an E.U. changed by the disappearance of one of its largest, economically liberal and outward-looking members. Europe's divisions could be deepened, the E.U. and N.A.T.O. weakened and wider transatlantic relations complicated. Alternatively, the U.S.A. could find itself facing a more united E.U., with the U.K. adrift between the two.
An EU in Flux
A British exit could plunge the E.U. into more navel gazing as it negotiates a U.K. exit, and changes its institutions, budgets and policies to reflect the U.K.'s disappearance.
Combined with changes to the Eurozone, the E.U.'s balance of power could shift. The E.U. could become more inward-looking, tending more toward protectionism. Instead of looking out to the Atlantic the union could look more towards the Mediterranean. Smaller states could gain over large states. The Franco-German axis could be unsettled, leaving a more dominant Germany. E.U. enlargement could stall in the face of unease amongst western states at Europe's center shifting further south or eastwards.
On the other hand, rid of a notoriously awkward and non-Euro member, the Eurozone could become the undisputed core of the E.U., pushing the E.U. further towards "ever closer union." Europe's social model could be freed of British attempts to weaken it. Of course, the extent to which Britain's awkwardness can slow the E.U. has been put into perspective by the Eurozone's own struggles to find solidarity and leadership.
Washington would also face a wider Europe changed by the U.K.'s post-withdrawal relationship with the E.U. If the U.K. and other non-E.U. members thrived and the Eurozone continued to struggle, then Britain's withdrawal could trigger centrifugal forces leading other member states to question their membership, in turn unravelling the E.U. But should the U.K. suffer and the Eurozone stabilise, then the U.K. could be further isolated.
Europe Further Divided
For the U.S.A. or Asia, a British withdrawal may reinforce views of Europe as riven by division and decline. There will still be no answer to "who speaks for Europe?" if the U.K. and other non-E.U. European states disagree with the E.U. Europe could become more vulnerable to divide and rule by external powers.
The disappearance from the E.U. of one of its major military powers could further strain efforts at Europe-wide defense cooperation, whether through the E.U. or N.A.T.O. Alternatively, freed of British hesitancy, E.U. defense efforts could be reinvigorated, albeit never destined to reach their full potential without the U.K.
There will be no shortage of applicants to fill London's place of claiming to be America's closest ally in the E.U. While such applicants might not offer a relationship that can claim to be as "special" as that with the U.K., for the U.S.A. they will be of increased importance thanks to Europe remaining an area of the world in which it retains considerable interests.
However, should a British exit further destabilize the E.U., complicate transatlantic relations and threaten the prospects of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership to enhance transatlantic cooperation in the face of rising powers, then it would only further dampen what hopes Washington still has for Europe to act as an effective partner.
Britain Adrift in Transatlantic Relations
The vote on Syria raised once again the debate about Britain's place in the world, but this is a debate shaped more than anything else by discussion about Britain's place in Europe. This is a debate so persistent and divisive because it goes to the heart of British identity, security and political economy. It is on the issue of Europe that rests so much of the question of what country the UK wants to be.
A decision by the British to answer this question by quitting the E.U. will still leave the U.S.A. facing a Britain struggling to come to terms with its place in the world. Some talk of a vote to quit the E.U. as the means to reclaim Britain's sovereignty, asserting Britain's independence as a "Switzerland with nukes." That those nukes would have to be carried on U.S. built and serviced missiles shows the limits of that independence.
More importantly, Britain would still struggle to assert its sovereignty in the face of a Europe where the E.U. is likely to remain the predominant political actor, and a more important actor in the daily lives of the British than any other state or international organisation, including the U.S.A.
For the U.S.A., a British exit would change both the U.K. and the E.U., forcing it to reassess the relative merits to be given to its bilateral relationship with the U.K. compared to its much larger multilateral relationship with the E.U. Navigating a course between the two is not something any U.S. Administration should relish

Comment on the UK Government's review into the balance of competences between the UK and the EU

I've been taking more and more interest in the UK Government's review into the balance of competences between the UK and the EU. It's a great case study for examining the coalition, the operation of Whitehall, UK-EU relations and how we understand the EU today. The following piece appeared on the LSE's British Politics and Policy Blog:

The government’s review of EU competences offers valuable academic insights into both Britain and the EU

Tim L OliverThe British government’s ‘Review of the Balance of Competences’ into the EU’s role in British life might be surrounded by political tensions, but as Tim Oliver argues, it offers a unique insight into the operation of British government, the politics of the UK’s coalition government, UK-EU relations, the evolution of the EU, and how today we assess what the EU is and approach arguments about what it should be.
The Coalition government’s announcement in July 2012 that, as agreed at the insistence of the Conservative Party as part of the 2010 Coalition Agreement, it was to conduct a full review of the EU’s involvement in British life, has now reached its half way stage. In July 2013 the government published six reviewshealthtaxation, the single marketanimal health and welfare and food safetydevelopment cooperation and humanitarian aid, and foreign policy. A total of 32 reviews will be published by the autumn of 2014.
Each review follows a similar format: first explaining the historical development of the area reviewed; second, assessing the current situation; third, asking what the UK’s national interest is in the area; finally exploring what options there are for going forward, such as repatriation of powers. The reviews avoid making recommendations, their intention being to inform the political decision that will follow the review. Each draws on evidence submitted in writing or taken in person at a range of meetings.
While 26 reports are still to be published, it is already clear that for academics the review can open up to analysis a variety of issues in current British and international politics.
Coalition Politics
For students of how the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition is operating, the political management of the review, its origins and eventual use offer a way of examining how the three groups that shape the government on this issue – Liberal Democrats, the strongly Eurosceptic parts of the Conservative Party, and the less Eurosceptic parts of the Conservative party – approach an issue that deeply divides them. Accusations by John Redwood, a strongly Eurosceptic Conservative MP, that the review is turning into a whitewash shows how it may be seen by some Eurosceptics. Given the depth of such tensions it remains to be seen whether the review will last the course. Nevertheless, both its political outcomes and its use as an instrument for managing such a deep political tension will be a focus for studying the operation of Britain’s first post-1945 coalition government.
Operation of Whitehall
It is, of course, nothing new for a government to use a technical, in-depth inquiry to neutralise a sensitive issue. This review, however, will have presented unique challenges for Whitehall, thanks to its implications for coalition relations, cross-governmental scope, international implications and wider domestic sensitivity. The review then offers a unique example of officialdom walking the fine line between the political and technical, with the language used in the review, indeed the very bureaucratic sounding name, intended to ensure it runs as a technical and inherently dull activity. So far the reviews published provide a wealth of technical detail. Nevertheless, despite the 390 public submissions I count so far, questions will inevitably be asked about how open, selective and thorough the process has been. If the review is to serve as a central plank to any British renegotiation then the method of the review, and thus the reliability of the approach, will come under significant political, media and academic scrutiny.
UK-EU Relations
The sheer breadth of the 32 reviews in themselves tell us something about the nature of the UK-EU relationship, something Eurosceptics will point to as what they feel is wrong. At the same time, the detail of the review, and to a lesser extent exercises such as the Conservative group ‘Fresh Start’, have provided a welcome injection of detailed evidence based analysis to the debate. This in itself is a radical change given how, as the Leveson Report on Press Regulation made clear, Britain’s media has often resorted to simply making up stories about the EU. For academic analysis, particular interest will be into how – or if – a technical review shapes final public opinion. Will politicians, the media and voters be swayed by an approach based on the opinions of experts and evidence, or will emotion, gut instinct and made-up stories prevail? And how will the narrow reviews connect to the wider cross-cutting debates about Britain’s political economy, identity, constitution, security and place in the world?
For those interested in how a state identifies its national – or European – interests, the review process opens up the British system, although much remains behind closed doors. The evidence submitted to each review lays bare the competition between private, civil society, international, political and governmental interests that so often shape a state’s views. It shows an EU member state coming to terms with how to balance sovereignty, competing national and sectoral interests, international obligations and membership of the EU.
The reviews specific purpose of informing a possible renegotiated relationship between the UK and EU, one that is to reflect the UK’s national interest, should make it a central point of reference for studying any such attempt. When the history of the 2010-2020 period of UK-EU relations is written it could well be about a renegotiation, an in-out referendum and potentially a withdrawal; events that will have defined so much of UK politics, Britain’s place in the world and an EU changed by a change in relations with one of its largest members. The review will underpin much of this, and be referred back to for guidance should the UK opt to withdraw.
Comparisons have already been made with other reviews intended to propose reforms to the EU, such as the Dutch review. The British review will take its place amongst the many studies and academic reviews of an EU in a state of flux. Academics are in a position to put aside the politics that led other member states to decline involvement in what some see as a unilateral British review. Instead we can examine and assess a review that is amongst the most extensive, well-resourced and organised of any review of EU activity since the 2001-2003 European Convention.
The Evolution of the EU
For students of international relations and European integration the review does something we rarely see: a state comprehensively cataloguing the impact on it of the international. Any reading of the reviews also shows how Europeanisation often reflects globalised pressures or wider Western multilateral efforts.
With the EU remaining an organisation of member states, the UK’s experiences can to some extent be extrapolated to other member states. Here the scale of EU involvement in British life might seem to point to some form of downloading or spill-over theory of integration, but the reviews also point to examples where Britain has successfully uploaded or cross-loaded its policy agenda. As Simon Usherwood has noted of the published reviews, that they point to a broadly appropriate balance of competences reflects the complex negotiating system of the EU.
Theoretical debates aside, with the EU in a state of flux the review serves as an exercise of taking-stock of the EU’s development, an entity which remains sui generis in international relations. That today many in the EU struggle to think of it as an international organisation, which it technically remains, is demonstrated in page after page of the published reviews.
How will academics analyse the review in several years’ time? Will we see it as a futile, politically motivated activity, subsumed into the larger political tensions of the coalition government at a time of heightened tensions between the UK and the EU? Or will we look at both the politics and beyond it to see a review, which while it has its problems, stands as a unique experience for both Britain and the EU, and a unique opportunity for the study of both?
Note:  This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of the British Politics and Policy blog, nor of the London School of Economics. Please read our comments policy before posting. 
About the Author
Tim Oliver is a Fritz Thyssen Transatlantic Post-Doctoral Fellow for International Relations and Security (TAPIR) at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Washington D.C. Educated at the University of Liverpool and the London School of Economics, he has worked in the European Parliament, the House of Lords, and taught at UCL, LSE and as a senior lecturer at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.