Archive for the 'EU matters' Category


Germany’s inherited war-shame is in danger of eating itself

Saturday, January 9th, 2016


But the consequences of Merkel’s madness will be felt Europe-wide

Germany paid a heavy price for the world wars. Only during Angela Merkel’s chancellorship were the loans for WWI reparations finally paid off. That cost, however, pales into insignificance compared with the legacy of the second War. The human and material losses were of course disastrous but perhaps the most lasting legacy was psychological: the national shame of the past and the consequent and reflexive determination – craving, even – to be a good global citizen and atone for the sins of the grandfathers.

That impulse is the only rational explanation for Angela Merkel’s mad decision to invite a million unscreened asylum seekers and migrants into the country last year (mostly in the last six months). It’s also presumably the reason why there’s been so little heated debate within the country about it – not something that would have happened in just about any other European country.

The lack of debate can be put down to an extreme sensitivity about the mix of politics and race or culture; again, a consequence of the post-war consensus. Hence the comment from Cologne’s mayor in the wake of what appears to have been mass criminality that any suggestions that the perpetrators might have been refugees were “absolutely impermissible”. Not inappropriate, not ugly, not wrong (in either sense), not misguided: impermissible; forbidden. Or, put another way, not breaking the taboo on commenting on race is seen by her as more important than freedom of speech, even if the comment is true.

Were it just a single overly sensitive local politician, one could write it off but the comments and actions or inactions of too many others involved, apparently including police and media cover-ups, suggests that the mind-set extends well across Germany’s ruling classes.

One cannot, however, accept a million immigrants, whether refugees or migrants, in a year without expecting consequences. Tensions will arise from simple pressures on local services at one end, to the kind of culture-related problems seen across various European cities on New Year’s Eve, at the other. There will be a backlash; all the more so if establishment figures pretend it isn’t happening or blame the victims, as Cologne’s hapless mayor also did. It’s all very well to argue, rightly, that those involved were a small minority of Germany’s refugees; the fact that the disturbances and assaults happened and are directly related to the migrant policy is all that matters.

And therein lie the political consequences. The Schengen Area, one of the EU’s greatest achievements, is practically comatose. The potential consequences for Britain and the referendum debate were discussed on politicalbetting last week (after the events in Cologne and elsewhere but before the news had broken), and the analysis there remains valid. On the wider question of how to deal with the migrant crisis, Cameron has a strong case to argue that in demanding more support for the refugees in the neighbouring Middle East countries, he called it right. All the same, the question now has to be whether the consequences will be more widespread.

The answer to that is contained within a whole series of known unknowns. Will there be more episodes of disorder, particularly criminal disorder, from migrant communities? Will there be any terrorism from individuals who entered as migrants (how easy would it have been for Daesh to have sent a couple of hundred fighters into Europe awaiting orders?). From Munich to Belgium, scares and warnings have come thick and fast these last few weeks. Less dramatically, but not necessarily less significantly, how many migrants from Africa and the Middle East will 2016 bring?

And then there’s France with its presidential election next year, where National Front leader Marine Le Pen was already generally leading the first-round polling with only veteran ex-PM Alain Juppé (who may or may not beat Sarkozy to the Republicans’ nomination) giving her a run for her money. Could she go one better than her father and actually win? To even ask the question is a measure of how far the new Europe has moved, as is the fact that she’s no better than 5/1 (Ladbrokes) to win outright with the bookies. The answer ought to be ‘no’, although it’s notable that in the head-to-head against the Socialist candidates she regularly polls 40%+: she is not a wholly marmite candidate and can attract transfer support from the centre-right. But the centre-right ought to have a candidate of their own in the second round and if so, as things stand, he will win.

To state that though is to ignore the 16 months of uncertainties between now and the election; uncertainties both political and economic. I certainly wouldn’t write off the chances of a National Front president of France. And that could be the bitterly ironic legacy of Merkel’s madness.

David Herdson

p.s. I’m in the job market. If anyone knows of a writing, analysis, comment, opinion, political strategy or other like job they think I might be good at and interested in, please drop me a line at . Cheers.


British politics 2016 in one word: Europe

Saturday, January 2nd, 2016


One issue; three interlinking components

Can 2016 live up to the excitement that last year gave us? Remarkably, it could. Internationally, the extremely interesting year-long elections in the US may well produce the first female president of the United States (albeit the wife of a former president), and if not, could well put an untested populist with no political experience in the White House.

But in Britain, one issue is likely to dominate: the European referendum on David Cameron’s deal with the EU. It’s true that the referendum need not take place this year. The promise was to hold it during the first half of the parliament so any time before October 2017 would fit that pledge. However, even if the vote doesn’t take place this year, the political narrative will be framed around it, not least precisely because of that delay.

More likely is that Cameron will want to hold it this Autumn, assuming that he can produce a deal he can sell in the Spring (or, far less likely, he accepts that he can’t get a deal and calls time, so recommending Leave). Leaving it longer simply allows the issue to dominate and poison the agenda for longer.

However, that’s to look at the issue through British eyes. For people like Donald Tusk or Jean-Claude Juncker, that’s only one of several major issues in their In-tray. Two others, both of which impact on the referendum, are the still-ongoing migrant crisis and the threat it contains to the open border program, and the ever-rumbling Greek debt saga. While the intensity of the latter has diminished from the continual brinkmanship of the last two years, it remains only a vote away from a renewed crisis, while the Syriza-led government retains only a slender majority in the Greek parliament.

More pressing, and even more threatening to the future of the EU is the migrant crisis which has already put tremendous strain on the Schengen agreement as well as causing tremendous problems from countries on the migration routes. One of those so affected is Germany itself, which has already taken over a million migrants. If the flow continues, we have to ask how many more Germany can take without a serious political backlash. And the flow may well continue. Syria’s war shows no sign of ending and Syria is in any case not the only source of migration. That flow, combined with the number of Islamist terrorist scares in recent months, has the potential to produce a toxic political brew.

Which is where it links back to the UK. Without doubt, the EU could do without Cameron’s negotiations. In all probability, David Cameron would rather not be going through a process with a lot of risk for little gain – but he has no choice and the EU, in its present vulnerable state, has no choice either. If Britain were to vote to leave at a time when two of the EU’s greatest achievements – the Euro and the Schengen zone – were at risk of breaking down, the entire project could suffer a fatal check to its momentum. Eurosceptics might rejoice at that prospect but the Eurocrats ought to be equally aware of the consequences of a Leave vote, not least because there’d be a feedback mechanism. A British ‘Leave’ would embolden sceptics on the continent who are fed up with, and angry at, being effectively forced into financially and socially costly policies at the whim of spendthrift Greeks or deluded Germans.

The failure of the EU to deal with either problem – kicking one continually down the road and barely even recognising the other – is manna to Leave, offering real-world examples of both how the Union isn’t working and how taking back sovereignty could reduce Britain’s vulnerability. That the arguments might be inaccurate is beside the point (Britain already has control of its borders and that hasn’t stopped thousands camping at Calais); what matters is whether those arguments are believed.

And that’s what will be at the heart of the referendum: who will be believed most? Claim and counter-claim will be rife, with both sides making exaggerated claims about the costs should the other side win. Ultimately, the decisive factor will be which claims chime more with experience – and on that basis, if the EU isn’t to lose the UK, it really can’t afford to fail on either of the other two issues.

The problem there is that the EU is useless at resolving issues; its preferred modus operandi for problems is to muddle through, taking as long as necessary until the problem goes away. As neither the Syrian War nor debt restructuring is likely to be finally resolved this year, that means that both issues are highly likely to still be extant at the time of the referendum. And that, combined with the probability of a sizable number of cabinet ministers recommending Leave (Cameron will have no option but to suspend collective responsibility; he can’t afford that many resignations), means that Leave is best-placed to win.

And if Leave wins, Cameron will go. It might not necessarily follow constitutionally but in political terms, one follows the other. Cameron is set to go this parliament anyway; what would be the point of a two-year death rattle when the centrepiece of his manifesto had gone down in flames? So what of the odds? Leave is best at 13/8. That offers some value but not much. Far better is the Cameron Leave market, where 2016 is 8/1 and 2017 6/1, both with Ladbrokes. And his replacement? Osborne will campaign for Stay; Javid, in all probability, will not.

David Herdson


Lord Ashcroft polling is back with a 20k sample EURef survey

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

An unusual voting question approach was used so difficult to make comparisons

The past 24 hours has seen a glut of EU referendum polling with the latest, overnight, being a 20k sample online poll from Lord Ashcroft.

Lord Ashcroft’s post on the survey, linked to above, is well worth reading because it goes into far more than just referendum voting intention. On the immigration issue Lord Ashcroft notes that it is actually quite complex:

“.. Immigration will clearly be central to the debate, since it touches many of the broader themes behind the debate, including prosperity, security and identity. But the argument that only Brexit allows Britain to take full control of its borders may not be the clincher that many Outers hope: while nearly four in ten in our poll thought “we’ll never be able to bring immigration under control unless we leave the EU”, almost as many thought “we won’t be able to bring immigration under control even if we leave the EU”. For one thing, immigration from the rest of the world would be unaffected – and for another thing, a much stricter limit on the numbers coming to live in Britain sounds to many people like the kind of political promise that never quite gets delivered.. “

Given the huge polling divide on the referendum between online and phone it would be helpful if at some stage there could be an Ashcroft EU phone poll. At the moment only ComRes and Ipsos-MORI are carrying out such surveys and only intermittently.

This was from ComRes yesterday. Same pollster, same question just different fieldwork approach.

The latest thinking on referendum timing is September 2016 so not that far off.

Mike Smithson


Nick Palmer: Why Angela Merkel is going to remain as German Chancellor

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

She’s got staying power

A regular feature of PB in recent weeks has been predictions that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s position is becoming increasingly untenable and either she will need to resign or the CDU poll rating will collapse. At one level, this seems borne out by the polls – Merkel’s popularity is down to 49%, still enviable by British standards but far below her historical average. This is not just important for Germany: widely seen as Europe’s most prominent national leader, Merkel will be crucial for the terms of Cameron’s renegotiation – if she stays. Conversely, if she goes, the possibility of radical change to the EU itself becomes more likely. She is a small-c conservative, opposed to radical change to either the EU or its membership.

So I thought it might be helpful to give some background.

First, the German political scene has some unusual characteristics. It is unusually stable by British standards – months go by with barely a shift of a single point in the polls – and for obvious historical reasons Germans tend to be very wary of radicalism and keen to find an apparently nuanced and balanced position. A recent poll for the TV channel ARD was typical: people were evenly divided (50-48) on whether they were worried about the flow of refugees, in favour of setting some maximum limit (71-26), yet opposed to building a fence on the border (17-78) and opposed to preventing migrants from bringing over their families (36-56). Concern is greatest in the eastern former GDR states, where the economy is weaker and there is notably less robust confidence in the future, and this is also where the anti-immigtration Pergida demos are mostly held.

Second, the default German assumption is that they can handle problems. The near-absence of tabloids (the Bild-Zeitung is the only major exception, and a minority taste) and the sober German television coverage makes every issue seem something to ponder and deal with carefully, rather than a threat that might overwhelm the country. 70 years of steady economic growth have left their mark. Problems? They’re there to be fixed.

Third, the political equilibrium is very difficult to shift. There is currently a centre-left majority in Parliament, but you’d never guess it from the way politics is debated, because nearly 10% comes from the former communist Left Party, who are only seen as salonfaehig” (plausible candidates for government) at state level. On the right, the Eurosceptic AfD are seen as even less ready for government: the CDU view them as a dangerous nuisance, much as the Tories have regarded UKIP.

Finally, Merkel doesn’t really have serious competition. Her biggest serious critic is the head of the Bavarian sister party, the CSU, Horst Seehofer, but he has a long history of similar grumbles which never quite lead anywhere: as head of a regional party, he can only exert national influence through the CDU link.

You can an see overview of the polls here (remember that parties need 5% to get representation, with some rare exceptions):

Essentially, the CDU are 4-5 points down on the 2013 election, all of which has gone to the AfD. None of the other parties has changed significantly throughout the two-year period. If these figures led to a new election, a repeat of the grand CDU-SPD coalition would be almost inevitable: no other plausible partnership comes close to the necessary majority. If anything, the AfD rise makes it more likely, since it puts a return of the old coalition with the liberal FDP further out of reach.

Does this mean that Merkel can relax? Not exactly. Concern over migration is substantial, and the loss of votes to the AfD is large by German standards. But she isn’t under serious threat, and she remains a formidable ally or opponent for British renegotiation demands: there is unlikely to be any deal that she does not support. On the whole, this is good for Cameron, as she is too phlegmatic to share the widespread irritation in the EU with Britain’s semi-detached view. She takes us pretty much as we are.

Nick Palmer was Labour MP for Broxtowe from 1997-2010. He began posting on PB in 2004



So far punters are putting their money on an EU Referendum REMAIN

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

This is a chart that we’ll see a lot over the coming months as we get closer to the election day in the EU referendum. My plan is to update it regularly showing changes so we can see how gambling sentiment is changing.

As of 3.10 am this morning the total wagered on the Betfar Exchange was £136,420 so we are starting to observe a degree of liquidity in the market. If the Scottish IndyRef is anything to go by then the total wagered on Betfair alone could be at least £20m by the time the votes are being counted.

What was interesting about the betting markets in the run-up to that seismic political event was what happened after the famous YouGov poll with 11 days to go showing YES in the lead. Basically the betting barely moved from its strong NO position. Punters didn’t believe what turned out to be an almost isolated set of findings.

The latest EU Referendum polls

So far I’ve not been tempted to bet. My view is that things will get much more lively once the data is fixed and that might be some time. It has been suggested that if the move to extend the franchise is extended to 16 year olds then that could delay it. Clearly the electoral roll will have to be revised.

Mike Smithson


David Cameron’s popularity – the reason why we are having an EU referendum and the reason why LEAVE is likely to lose

Monday, October 12th, 2015

The reason, of course, why we are having an EU referendum is that the Conservatives had such a stunning and surprise victory in the general election. One of the key factors in that, I would argue, is the personality and popularity of David Cameron himself.

Without the “Cameron premium” then it’s likely that the Tories would not be in power and able to decide.

Just look at the polling above which was taken just before the general election. This is the regular Ipsos “like him like his party tracker” and as can be seen Cameron was enjoying a fairly big lead over the Conservatives. This is in sharp contrast at to Ed Miiband whose personal numbers were a long way behind the totals saying they liked LAB.

So whatever Cameron is doing or saying in relation to the coming referendum I believe will be absolutely crucial. If he himself is recommending acceptance then I think REMAIN will win.

Look at this other polling from YouGov of which magnifies the point. On the first question leave is 3% a head. To the second question relating to David Cameron REMAIN has a big margin.

Mike Smithson


David Herdson says the Migrant crisis has laid bare the EU’s big delusion

Saturday, September 26th, 2015

Ultimately, the Union must unite or perish

Ever closer union: three words that have caused interminable difficulty for those who wanted – those who want – a European Common Market. Three words that are now superfluous, though not for the reasons that the Marketeers would like.

The reason they’re superfluous is that the other initiatives the EU has undertaken contain an internal dynamic that supersedes any treaty rhetoric. Nowhere has that been more clearly demonstrated that with the migrant crisis afflicting southern and central Europe. A Common Market needs free movement of people, goods, services and money, and it has them. It does not need to do without internal borders altogether yet 22 of the 28 member states have done just that. All others but Ireland and the UK are obliged to do likewise.

This is gesture politics of a delusory nature; all very well in normal times but utterly inadequate in times of real need, and dangerous for that very fact. What it means in reality is that Germany’s borders are patrolled by Greece, France’s by Hungary, or Austria’s by Estonia. And under the current scale of illegal immigration, Greece is incapable of securing its borders – which is why other countries down the line have scrambled to control theirs (to be fair to Hungary, none of Serbia, Croatia or Romania are yet in Schengen – Serbia isn’t even in the EU).

Europe has wanted it both ways: to play at Union by giving up what are essential national powers without handing that power up to anyone. It has simply been lost. If a single country had a particular crisis at one border post or port or coastline, the government would deploy additional resource there in an attempt to sort it out. The EU, by contrast, cannot: there is no Union border force, no government to direct it and no money set aside to fund it. Nor, at present, is there the will to create them.

And Schengen is a microcosm of the EU’s topsy-turvy nature. Many of the powers it does hold are trivial and could easily be retained by the members; they have been handed over precisely because they are trivial. By contrast, many of the powers it needs to be able to fulfil and manage grand projects like Schengen and the Euro have been retained because to do otherwise would be to create in the EU the functions of a state despite the fact that a single currency and a borderless region are themselves features of a state.

How has it managed even so far? In the absence of a meaningful central executive, it’s the European Council – the heads of government and state – who have assumed the role. But 28 people acting collectively cannot provide leadership. In reality, it is, as it has to be, to the heads of the biggest that the rest look. Whether or not Germany and France wanted that leadership (and they do), it would be thrust on them all the same.

Which is why Merkel has come in for so much criticism over the migrant crisis and why the delusion at the heart of the EU has been exposed: her impulsive action acted not only against her own country’s interest but committed so many other member states to act against theirs too, without the opportunity to prevent it. In essence, she committed the cardinal European sin of exposing a breach of consensus; a consensus without which the EU doesn’t work.

Is there an alternative? Only if those powers-by-default are centralised at a European level. But to do so means recognising a further transfer of power to the EU. Further, a meaningful power to determine and enforce policy cannot come without the power to direct manpower and hence without a border force constituted at a European level – and that would increase the demand for the political accountability of whoever is leading that role.

To Americans, all of this might sound familiar, if ancient history. And so it is. Europe has created its own version of the Continental Convention, a body whose divisions and lack of direct powers led it to failure within a few short years of practical independence. The EU has built a more complex structure but that same power-hole lies at the centre: a lack of means to carry out the ends it is expected to achieve.

Yet if twenty-first century Europe has the advantage over eighteenth century America in institutions, in lags far behind in another way. Federalists have been on the back foot for a decade, since the rejection of the European Constitution. Some advances might be made by stealth or necessity but the fire has gone out of the belief: the public have been left behind. Not only is there no-one of the brilliance of Alexander Hamilton or James Madison to make the case, there is no-one at all to make the case.

To some extent that is entirely understandable. As well as being emotionally wedded to nation states old, new or yet to be (re-)born, citizens are cynical that the answer to every problem seems to be more power to a centre when that centre’s past demands for more have been met with today’s failures. That cynicism is to an extent misguided: the failures stem from taking on unnecessary projects without the tools for the jobs, though the stealth in the design of such projects can’t be ignored. Even so, the failure must be dealt with all the same. Some 8000 migrants are still arriving in Europe per day from Africa or Turkey: a quarter of a million per month.

But what is to be done? No doubt the leaders hope that they can muddle on through as before and perhaps for now they’re right. But the spanner that David Cameron has thrown in the EU works in the form of his hoped-for renegotiation has the potential to give the lie to ever closer union not only in theory but in brutal fact should Britain choose to leave, as is entirely possible both if the EU cannot get its act together and if it can only do so through still further unification. In fact, that treaty change he seeks ought to be an opportunity for all sides to push for necessary changes, not only for countries sceptical about union but also those needing to fill the power vacuum that the migrant crisis is exposing. On whether someone – Cameron, Merkel, Tusk, Juncker or whoever – is ready to come forward with a comprehensive and workable arrangement may well hang the future of Britain’s membership. Indeed, on that may well hang the future of the whole project.

David Herdson


The final Greek vote: YES 38.7%: NO 61.3%

Monday, July 6th, 2015


So what’s the next move? We really are moving into the unknown