Comment on CETA (radio)

monocleIn October, Belgium held back the EU from signing CETA, the tentative Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada. A deal was eventually reached among Belgian regional authorities on 27 October, and the CETA was signed on 30 October. I discussed this episode twice on Monocle 24 radio.


The French ‘maximalist’ view on Social Europe

Article first published by Clingendael in June 2016. 

Since the early days of European integration, French policy-makers and commentators have held maximalist views on Social Europe. In 1989, François Mitterrand famously said: “Europe will be social, or will not be”. The dominant picture is one of fear of foreign competition and accusations of heartless neighbours. The French like to think they are the only ones to defend the human face of European integration. Crucially, there is little recognition of and reflection on the German and Norther European lack of trust in their Southern partners. France’s approach to Social Europe can be categorised in three groups of claims and demands.
Upward harmonisation of social conditions
The first set dates back to the negotiations of the Rome Treaty, during which the French government secured a social policy chapter. They did so under the pressure of French employers’ federations who feared labour cost competition from other member states. The idea that market integration brings about unfair competition and ultimately leads to a social race to the bottom, or ‘social dumping’, is very present in the French view on Europe and globalisation despite only patchy evidence. The development of EU social standards in employment and working conditions was seen by Jacques Delors as instrumental to winning French support for further market integration. The 2005 referendum on the EU’s Constitutional treaty was lost partly on the perception that the EU was a market that left ordinary people unprotected.

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Le Brexit ouvre un débat utile pour l’Europe

Article publié par le Monde le 20 juin 2016.

La possibilité d’un Brexit se dessinant chaque jour un peu plus, on peut déjà tirer des enseignements du référendum britannique du 23 juin. Quel qu’en soit le résultat, le succès de la campagne en faveur du « Leave » doit conduire les pro-Européens à s’interroger sur ce rejet et ne pas reproduire les erreurs du passé. La réaction au Brexit ou à une victoire étriquée du « Remain » ne saurait passer par davantage d’intégration, mais par une remise en question sur le mode de fonctionnement de l’Europe.

Première leçon, le camp du Brexit surfe avec brio sur la vague de contestation d’élites qui ne sont plus considérées comme représentatives. En promettant de restaurer la démocratie et la souveraineté dans leur pureté, les anti-européens s’attribuent le monopole de l’idéal démocratique. Ce faisant, ils gagnent non seulement en respectabilité, mais touchent du doigt un immense défi : celui de réconcilier ouverture et intégration européenne avec démocratie. La réponse traditionnelle, qui a consisté à renforcer le caractère démocratique des institutions européennes, n’a pas eu l’efficacité escomptée. Les raisons n’en ont pas été suffisamment analysées. Force est de constater que toutes les institutions, qu’elles soient nationales ou européennes, politiques ou économiques, sont aujourd’hui suspectées de ne chercher que le renforcement de leur propre pouvoir.

Deuxième leçon, le camp du Brexit propose un changement concret dans la vie des Britanniques : une diminution de l’immigration intra-européenne en mettant fin à la liberté de circulation des personnes. Le caractère potentiellement toxique de ce message – initialement porté exclusivement par le leader du UKIP Nigel Farage, mais depuis relayé par des personnalités plus modérées – a été largement atténué par la proposition de mettre en place un système d’immigration à points, comme en Australie et au Canada. Le slogan « reprendre le contrôle » (« Take back control ») y trouve une traduction bien réelle, là où les chiffres avancés par les pro-Européens sur les bénéfices économiques supposés de l’intégration européenne se heurtent à un mur de scepticisme.

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Europe 2.0? The EU after the British referendum

Article first published by Policy Network on 24 May 2016.

At a Policy Network seminar on 12 May, plausible post-referendum scenarios were discussed. Brexit or not, one thing is certain: there will be no EU superstate in the future

For Brexiters, history is already written: the EU is on course to become a superstate. Britain had better jump off the train before it happens, and other enlightened nations would be well advised follow suit. Those who have studied European integration in recent years know that this claim is not just gross exaggeration – it is completely misleading. Rigorous understanding of what the EU is today and what ‘integration’ has meant in the recent past is crucial to dispel this myth. It also helps to make an informed judgement on how the UK referendum is likely to impact on the EU, whatever the result.

No federal Europe: the new intergovernmentalism

Most Remainers and Brexiters share one particular assumption: that the crisis in the euro area will force integration in a core group of EU member states and redesign the European project. Little has changed in the British perception since Osborne’s famous suggestion that the eurozone should embrace the “remorseless logic” of monetary integration in 2011. The assumption is largely correct, but there is confusion as to the timeframe and what is meant by ‘integration’. Six years after the beginning of the debt crises, it has become clear that there is a significant share of ‘reluctant Europeans’ not only in the UK, but spread across the euro area. The currency union has not taken giant steps towards a fiscal union and more central institutions. The short-term firefighting on display relies on member states’ one-off contributions, conditional collective loans, intrusive peer surveillance and fiscal policy through the monetary backdoor. More radical decisions, such as debt mutualisation, the setting-up of automatic transfers or simply debt reliefs, have been methodically avoided so far. Creditor countries have resisted pressures to depart from the Maastricht surveillance-based architecture.

Such reluctance to supranational and solidarity mechanisms is best understood in the light of the shift from the ‘permissive consensus’ of the early years of European integration to the ‘constraining dissensus’ characterising EU policymaking today. While the first decades were driven by business interests far away from a relatively indifferent public, the expansion of the EU’s reach to core state powers (such as money and border management) has led to politicisation, mostly in negative terms. The public’s reluctance to fully transfer resources and state powers to the EU has brought about the paradox of intergovernmental integration. The ‘new intergovernmentalism’ theory has formulated a number of hypotheses on this new integration course, such as the informal rule of deliberative decision-making (by opposition to the formal possibility of majority voting) and the multiplication of ‘de novo’ agencies with member states representatives – such as the European External Action Service (EEAS), the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) and Frontex – to the detriment of the genuinely supranational European commission.

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Beyond Brexit: can the EU operate as a platform?

Article first published by Policy Network on 03 May 2016.

Can the concept of ‘platform’ offer a new way of thinking about how the EU can effectively operate?

Whatever the outcome on 23 June, the British referendum has already left a deep mark on the European Union (EU). The Brexit debate is taking place against the background of numerous serious crises directly questioning the EU’s relevance, with all leading to different conclusions. While British leaders have been criticising the EU for its regulatory and institutional overreach – “something that is done to people rather than acting on their behalf”, as David Cameron put it atBloomberg in January 2013 – most voices on the continent have deplored the EU’s lack of clout and ability to impact on ‘big things’ such as immigration, socioeconomic divergences and security. This very paradox is likely to cast a long shadow on the EU’s future: some nations like it as soft as possible, while others see no other way than a political union.

Yet does it make sense to hold the EU together in the presence of such diverging projects, and can it work? In this piece I argue that the concept of ‘platform’ offers some interesting insights on how the EU could operate in the future, in a digitised world where the thirst for bottom-up initiative goes alongside the need for collaboration, data-sharing and resource-pooling.


A world celebrating autonomy and innovation

Let us start where the leave campaign want to take us in the UK. Despite their unconvincing economic argument, advocates of Brexit have done a good job of asking essential questions about democracy and global success in the twenty first century. Michael Gove has put “democratic self-government” at the top of the Brexit rationale, a perfectly reasonable principle. The leavers often take ‘small’, agile democratic nations such as Switzerland, Israel, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as evidence of the possibility to flourish outside larger ensembles. They doubt the EU’s legal and institutional architecture is necessary for European nations to manage their interdependence. Why wouldn’t intergovernmental co-operation and free trade be enough?

Europeans have long answered this question. Back in the 1950s, creating a common market and embedding co-operation within supra-national institutions was seen as a condition for success and instrumental to installing peace. European nations voluntarily locked themselves in the same house and could not escape from the task of building it. After getting in, Britain did a lot to prevent the European house from aiming too high, or building the walls too thick. Instead, it promoted the idea of a large, open tent.

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Three reality checks for leavers and remainers


Both camps must understand there is a difference between Europe and EU institutions if they are to mount effective referendum campaigns. (Article first published by openDemocracy on 07/03/2016)

Ahead of Britain’s in/out referendum, there is much to ponder about looking at past referendum episodes and dissecting ongoing public ambivalence vis-à-vis the EU. The history of European integration has been a bumpy and risky journey but, deep down, Europeans have never really stopped questioning the EU’s existence. Since the EU is not a state supported by a constituting demos– it never had its ‘we, the people’ moment – it has only survived by being given the benefit of the doubt. Still, the EU has proven very resilient. French and Dutch voters may have voted down the constitutional treaty in 2005, and the Greeks may have recently experienced the irony of sending a resounding ‘no’ to Brussels – but the EU continues to stand on its feet, even in the current “polycrisis”, to use Jean-Claude Juncker’s words.

Three important lessons can be drawn from the intrinsically fragile yet enduring character of the EU, which campaigners from both sides need to integrate into their campaign narratives. Continue reading “Three reality checks for leavers and remainers”

After the UK-EU deal: the referendum campaign viewed from the rest of Europe

On 24 February, a few days after David Cameron had secured an agreement between the
UK and EU governments to ‘reset’ Britain’s relationship with the EU, I was interviewed live by Tyler Brûlé on Monocle Radio.

Listen here from 4′