Sptitzen Kandidaten, the rule of law and the EU’s CoFoE

beralaymontbuilding

Yesterday France assumed the Presidency of the European Union, as planned, in time to move forward the final recommendations of the “Conference on the Future of Europe”. In mid December, 39 recommendations were made from the Democracy and the Rule of Law panel. Most surprisingly, they do not recommend changing the means by which the President of the Commission is elected/chosen and yet, they propose the establishment or repetition of the Citizens’ Assembly approach adopted by the Conference.

In the rest of this blog article, I look at how the EU got here, and comment on some surprising and positive recommendations and the one surprising absence.

How it came to be

President Macron in 2019 called for a Conference on the Future of Europe, his plan was to have it done for the French Presidency starting on 1st Jan to allow him a big fanfare and stepping stone to the French Presidential elections. The Conference’s genesis was complex but impetus was given by the shenanigans played in the appointment/election of Von der Leyen as President of the Commission. The Parliament was unhappy that the EPP Spitzenkandidat was dumped by the EPP and an alternative proposed by initially the German Govt and latterly by the European Council. Their successful candidate, Ursula von der Leyen promised a mechanism by which the spitzenkandidat process could be reviewed and strengthened. This was probably unwise as while this would have been popular with the Parliament, it was and is unlikely to win much support within the Council which represents the member states. From this unlikely genesis, there has been a significant pressure expressed in the broader consultations, and from the platform of the plenaries to introduce direct elections for the President of Commission.

In fact, there was massive manoeuvring involved in launching what became the Conference on the Future of Europe, involving deals around its presidency, composition, and terms of reference. It now has co-presidents, the presidents of the three institutions. Most excitingly the Conference includes a number of citizen jurors, chosen randomly with sample construction balancing with reserved places for young people. The question of whether the conference is authorised to recommend changes that require treaty change is unclear; it would seem there is a clear understanding from the Council or a majority of it that they will not engage in treaty change.

The physical conference has been supplemented by a reddit or bulletin board like ‘digital platform’ where citizens and civic society organisations can make proposals which are/have been considered by the citizen’s panels. The digital platform allows comments, up/down votes and endorsements, but one has to login to the platform although it accepts the usual SSO tokens[1].

A Citizens’ Assembly

I have been tracking the Conference, since the summer of 2021 as a member of Citizens Take over Europe coalition whose key demand has been the establishment of a Citizen’s Assembly. They have been big fans of the citizen juror component of the conference but latterly have been concerned at the lack of inclusion of underrepresented groups. Their proposal on a Citizen’s Assembly is #7692 and links to their/our manifesto.

The EU’s conspicuous democratic deficit builds on the underlying crisis of representative democracy. Far from new, citizens’ mistrust towards national and European institutions, as well as towards the political elites, persists throughout the continent. It is urgent to rethink the role of the people in Europe: in times of great uncertainty, especially, citizens’ involvement in decision-making becomes paramount to strengthening our democracies. But to overcome mistrust towards the EU and address the socio-economic and environmental challenges ahead, we need more inclusive and innovative instruments of participatory democracy beyond the nation-state.

I argue that the EU should evolve at a natural pace, not at the pace of the slowest but a treaty change that forces change that the Union is not ready for would be a mistake.

Rule of Law

My feeling is that issues pertaining to what has become known as the “rule of law”, which bundles up issues of human rights and judicial independence have become important to the EU to the extent that sanctions are being built into the expenditure programmes and are being taken up by the Conference Citizen’s panel. One of the EU’s most important achievements is its commitment, via its Charter of Fundamental Rights to the European Convention on Human Rights to democracy and equality. The EU is in dispute with the Polish and Hungarian governments over the issues of judicial independence, anti-LGBT policies and in the case of Hungary corruption. As a Brit., I need to make it clear that a number of the legislative ‘reforms’ proposed and enacted by the current Tory Parliament may well have led the UK into similar disputes and if enacted may well become barriers to re-entry.

Social Programmes

My observing of the 2nd Plenary suggests to me that there is a large constituency calling for an expansion of social programmes aimed at improving and levelling up the social wage. The EU and its member states response to the coronavirus pandemic has also shown people that more can be done, and that inter-state co-operation is desirable. The demand for greater health provision co-ordination may well be an additional demand. Panel 2 has called for investment programmes for full employment, a regional Policy with an economic equality goal or baseline,  and proposes [more] corporation tax and social expenditure, which would probably be an expansion of the EU competencies, although not much and this maybe coming.

There is a widespread recognition that macro-economic policy co-ordination is weaker than desirable. The establishment of the Euro has led to the development of a highly constrained central bank. This has disguised the fact that the EU and the Germans in particular, are wedded to a quantitative money theory of inflation management which they see as the paramount goal of macro-economic policy. The Left should be arguing for sustainable growth and for income/wealth equity. The problem being that tight money causes poverty and after 13 years of loose money, we need to recognise that the historic views of the role of monetary policy and fiscal policy leave people short of the tools they need to fight poverty. I think it unlikely that this will be easily resolved; it may be one where we need the Germans and the so-called frugal four to recognise that a growing, equitable economy is more stable and peaceful. This is a political problem of the centre-right and those of the left that seek to triangulate with them.

Three Recommendations and an absence

There are three recommendations, and one absence which I shall highlight here.

They recommend renaming the Council and the Commission. The names they propose are Senate for the Council and propose to put the word Executive in front of the Commission’s name.  

To me this epitomises the at times juvenile and ill researched nature of the process. It possesses maximum offence to those states and citizens that want a slower journey to political union, and zero benefit. Even if the renaming represented the political reality, it is unnecessary. (It also to my mind is based on a misunderstanding of the role of the Commission and its President, although the monopoly on legislative initiative currently held by the Commission, might be better shared with the Parliament. This was a popular proposal on the digital platform; it’s a missed opportunity.)

The panel did not however ignore one of the most significant roadblocks to greater co-operation and recommend a greater use of qualified majority voting in the Council, and a diminution in the use of the veto. This needs to be done with sensitivity and a recognition of the sovereign integrity of the member states. Managing the veto and legislative initiative are better proposals for more effective decision making.

The big surprise to me is that there no proposals to change the way on which the President of Commission is to be appointed. It would seem that this is a disappointment to Macron and Von der Leyen, together with a number of other political party dignitaries such as Guy Verhofstat. The Commission is a collective entity, there should be no ambition to recreate the US Presidency; the EU could not survive the creation of an unrepresented minority of approaching 200m people.

The 39th and final recommendation is for the adoption of Citizen’s Assemblies. I think this is something that CTOE can get behind and while it opens the lid on issues such as intra-state subsidiarity which I believe to be necessary and the need for guarantees for stronger and more accountable regional consultations.


I recommend for more on how the EU got here, you look at Managed Expectations: EU Member States’ Views on the Conference on the Future of Europe, Minna Ålander, Nicolai von Ondarza, Sophia Russack (eds) and The Conference on the Future of Europe, Obstacles and Opportunities to a European Reform Initiative That Goes beyond Crisis Management by Nicolai von Ondarza and Minna Ålander, both of Stiftung Wissenschaft & Politik in Berlin.

The Citizens Panel 2 on Democracy and the Rule of Law have made 39 recommendations. I have made some notes which I published on my wiki.


[1] I think if non-EU resident, you have to use the SSO providers. The site offers a login ID to EU residents. …

Privacy Regulation

Privacy Regulation

I wrote a little piece on my linkedin blog on the EU Commission’s proposal to agree a data “adequacy” agreement. I point out the next set of hurdles, although I downplay the likelihood of any intervention by the CJEU but note that not was critical in striking down the original EU/US “Safe Harbour” agreement. I note that one threat to its renewal at the end of its four year live is the desire and plans of the British Govt to depart from the current legal protections which are based on the EU’s GDPR.

Issues of state surveillance, the European Council’s Convention 108 and the Human Rights act are all engaged. We’ll probably get it, but for it to be renewed, we’ll have to remain aligned with the GDPR & C108. The right to seek judicial redress by EU citizens may become important as it is a point of contention between the EU & US over the Privacy Shield.

One indicator of a desire for divergence is the advert for the role of Information Commissioner, which asks for,

The Government’s National Data Strategy sets out its ambition for the UK’s pro-growth and trusted data regime, one that helps innovators and entrepreneurs to use data responsibly and securely, without undue regulatory uncertainty or risk, …

cabinetoffice.gov.uk

This has been picked up by the Open Rights Group, who are asking people to write to their MPs, we need an independent Privacy Regulator.

The retreat from the promise of the GDPR is not just a UK phenomenon, across Europe pro-business politicians are beginning to say that it’s too onerous. It’s a shame we’re out, our voices no longer count …

How to rejoin the EU

How to rejoin the EU

This is the treaty obligation on the EU that governs entry into the EU. It’s Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union.

Any European State which respects the values referred to in Article 2 and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union. The European Parliament and national Parliaments shall be notified of this application. The applicant State shall address its application to the Council, which shall act unanimously after consulting the Commission and after receiving the consent of the European Parliament, which shall act by a majority of its component members. The conditions of eligibility agreed upon by the European Council shall be taken into account.

The conditions of admission and the adjustments to the Treaties on which the Union is founded, which such admission entails, shall be the subject of an agreement between the Member States and the applicant State. This agreement shall be submitted for ratification by all the contracting States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.

Article 49 Treaty on the EU

Might come in useful sometime soon. …

Where’s Labour on the future deal with the EU.

Where’s Labour on the future deal with the EU.

While most attention is on the Govt’s response to the pandemic, and while expecting a reimposition of the lockdown, the second part of the the triple whammy is the looming end of the Brexit Transition agreement. What are Labour doing? Certainly not making so much noise. Here’s the FT on Kier Starmer’s response, which it headlines as “Getting Brexit Done!” on the basis of his speech to the TUC. Labour’s front bench spokesperson on Brexit is Rachel Reeves, who now it seems doesn’t really want to speak about it. While Starmer seems keen to ensure a visibly effective performance in Parliament, which seems to be paying off in the polls, as Labour draws even at 40%, it requires the acquiescence of the press to break through and both Reeves and Starmer were outshone by Ed Miliband in opposing the 2nd reading of the Internal Market Bill. Too much of Labour’s parliamentary attack position is based on competence, the failure of the Tories to meet their own goals without even addressing the issues of cronyism and accountability or more importantly of a vision of how things could be better.

But then the Remain campaign has disappeared, (or the Guardian’s view if you prefer), giving some on Labour’s Left, the evidence they always wanted that the Remain campaign was an anti-corbyn trojan horse. Not for me! But Parliament has voted to allow the Govt. to negotiate the trade deals without asking Parliament to agree, and the Govt. refused to ask for a transition extension despite the CV19 pandemic. These are both opportunities missed.

If we get a deal, it’s going to be pretty shit.  …

Reasons to Remain (again)

Reasons to Remain (again)

I am arguing again with comrades in the Labour Party about Brexit and have looked at two pieces of evidence calling for Labour to become a full on Remain Party. Paul Mason has written another piece, this time in the New Statesman, “Without a transformation on Brexit, Labour’s election chances are dead”, and on statsforlefties, who writes a blog mainly on psephology. They have both changed their mind and argue that Labour must now  support Remain. Mason deals with the politics of Remain and Party unity, calls out the fractures in the Labour Parties internal coalition and the short and long-term electoral issues. statsforlefties argues about short term electoral issues. (I might write a review on Mason’s article, but it’s not long, so I suggest you read it in full; I have mirrored it here.)

I present my argument below, it was in reply to someone who had used deaths in refugee camps and the proposed appointment of Von der Leyden as President of Commission as reasons for sticking with a Leave position. I attempt as I have usually done to distinguish between true believers and those who just think ambiguity is electorally expedient.

We all accept that the EU is not perfect; if we’d done better last month, it’s possible that Timmermans would be candidate for President of the Commission and not Von der Leyen. For those for whom triangulation and winning towns in the North is key, it is getting to the position where neither Leave nor Constructive Ambiguity can enable Labour to win and that pursuing Leave seriously jeopardises our ability to be single largest party. The Party has a choice of pissing off Leavers or Remainers, and we can’t win without the Remainers, in fact it would seem that we can’t be the largest party without the Remainers.

I assume you will vote to Leave in the next referendum dreaming for the ability to build socialism in one country, thus leaving the refugees in Libya and Lesbos to the mercy of an organisation you despise and will no longer be able to influence.

I can think of nothing more I might say that will persuade you of the overwhelming justice and solidarity in the case for Remain. Leaving is a right wing project, there’s no socialism at the end of Johnson & Farage’s project and being seen to support leave looks like it will kill us before the 31st Oct, but if we are seen to facilitate it, it will kill the Labour Party and the Left in this country for a generation.

I am so tired of it, as a Party we must unite to build a better world; I am tired of the dishonesty and fantasy of true believer Lexiters. (I distinguish between those and the triangulators, but they need to make their mind up too.)

There is no economic benefit to leaving, the EU’s democracy and rule of law is superior to ours and citizenship rights inc. freedom of movement are better within the EU and this is all before we talk of building a peaceful and democratic ever closer union of peoples. But whenever we discuss this with you, you counter democracy with economics, you counter the economics with allegations of being anti-refugee, you ignore freedom of movement and migrants’ rights or even argue that migration is not in the interests of the British working class and you ignore the allegation that you are supporting the worst of the right in our country. (I have never accused you or any Lexiters of being Putin’s fools & puppets, but it’s beginning to look that way.) This is not the behaviour of comrades.

Von der Leyden is not appointed the President yet, but if she gets it, it’ll because the racists and enemies of democracy in Eastern Europe & Italy got their revenge on the man and movement that called out their racism and autocracy. He and they/we stood by the first rule of the EU, to belong you must be a democracy, with an independent rule of law. This is a fight that everyone who ignored and subverted our appeal in the European Elections (and I would include those whose behaviour corrupted the selection process) is on the wrong side of history.

  …

And in Brussels

We may get our first Socialist President of the Commission since Delors who left office in 1995. (Actually, if playing trivial pursuit, you might get bonus points for saying that that Manuel Marin of the PSOE was the last socialist President of the Commission since he played this role after the European Parliament sacked the Santer Commission in 1999.) It’s not something that you get to read about at the moment, that the EP confirms Commissioner appointments and can sack them. …

British Steel

Our minds have been distracted or mine has anyway, but British Steel became insolvent last week. Of course a huge blame game is started. Have the Chinese been ‘dumping’ steel on the rest of the world? Could the Govt. or the EU have protected it? Did the single market aid rules stop the Govt doing so?

Is China dumping? This article at the Conversation says “Yes”, big time!

This article at fullfact.org, “Is the UK calling for EU duties for Chinese steel?” deals with next three questions. The EU have raised duties but for many years the UK Government has been resisting more; they wished to avoid retaliation and for ideological reasons. There’s probably some “don’t give a shit” there too. It would seem that this is another policy area where New Labour failed to support its natural people.

The calls for renationalisation are now, rightly growing …

You might be able to vote for me

Yesterday, I applied to be one of Labour’s candidates for election as an MEP in London.

In London, we need to remain aware of London’s vote to Remain in the EU and the criticality of getting the citizenship terms in the withdrawal agreement right to meet the needs of resident EU citizens and their families. I support Labour’s policy of Remaining if the departure terms are inadequate.

I voted Remain, and have since then argued that Leaver’s should negotiate the terms of exit they think are right and then ask us again if that is what we meant. I believe that Remaining in the EU is better for the people of this country than leaving on May’s terms (or on no terms). I have argued elsewhere in this blog that leaving the EU is either Catastrophic or Pointless. I oppose austerity, racism and climate change. I am a socialist and I voted for Jeremy Corbyn as Leader in 2015 and 2016, and Dianne Abbot in 2010.

I am aware that under Labour’s rules, I am unlikely to get a place on the slate that would lead to me being elected, but I am passionate in my desire to make the case for Labour in this election.  Should I be elected, I would hope to be part of a Labour Group that argues against austerity and look to work particularly with the SPD to move Labour’s allies in Europe towards an economy that work “for the many and not the few”.

 

Our manifesto needs to address the short-term issues of whether we quit the EU or Remain, racism & immigration policy and also the longer-term issues of investment, austerity and climate change.

My professional and trade union experience are a great basis for being an MEP, which is one of the most demanding public offices that Labour seeks election to. My IT industry knowledge is applicable to many areas of EU competence as society seeks to build a democratic regulatory environment to live with the datenkraken.

From 2008 to 2009, I served on NESSI, the EU’s investment incubator for the EU’s R&D grants for internet and computing. (If elected and should we remain, I would hope to help business, education institutes and local authorities improve their bidding capability for this money.) I became one of the authors of the EU’s software industry strategy. This public service reminded me of the good that public policy can do.

I am currently a Branch President in the GMB. The bulk of my work is personal case work and acting as an accompanying rep. I am a trained workplace rep and am experienced in negotiating and have knowledge of employment law. This also requires high levels of empathy and the ability to listen. In the ’80s, I was part of a leadership of work place branch I organised strike action as part of national pay campaigns and other solidarity action with the Civil Service trade unionists derecognised at GCHQ and with the Miners.

My working time in the Civil Service taught me about how to manage and participate in the policy to execution cycle, a critical skill in public policy and service delivery.

I have an Economics degree and am a member of the Royal Economics Society.

I have lived and/or worked in London nearly all my life. I have been a member of five London CLPs over that time, both North and South of the River and in both inner and outer London. I have been a member and activist in four Unions (CPSA, SCPS, APEX & GMB), and remain an active Trade Unionist. All of this has allowed me to meet and learn from the diverse populations across London.

I am just an ordinary working person, I have worked all my life and since 1986 in the private sector, I have known the fear of unemployment and been unemployed. I have experienced the struggle to get my kids well educated and into secure work; I have been a lifelong user of the NHS.

I can represent ordinary Londoners because I am one.

ooOOOoo

Short Link: https://wp.me/p9J8FV-1MF …

A giant juke box

A giant juke box

This (European) Commission and Parliament must be the worst ever. Previous Parliaments have stopped ACTA & TTIP, previous Commissions have sanctioned Microsoft and Intel but it seems that this regime is going to commit two huge mistakes in regulating the new techno-economy.

The European Council has made the proposed Copyright Directive even worse! The link tax and the upload filters are still in place but the protections for authors and researchers have been weakened. The duties on social media sites with respect to licensing material are onerous to the extent of impossibility but then the law was always designed to transfer money from the datenkraken to legacy publishing businesses and turn the internet into a commercial jukebox. It’s so poor that despite,

As the entertainment industry representatives have said repeatedly during this fight, they are after nothing less than a fundamental reshaping of the Internet, where our ability to use networks for employment, family, civics, politics, education, collaboration, romance, and all the other purposes we put them to are subordinated to the use of the Internet as a glorified jukebox and video-on-demand service — where killing every EU competitor to U.S. Big Tech is an acceptable price to pay if it means transferring a few points to Big Content’s balance sheet. corydoctorow @eff

even the music companies now no longer want this law as it is.

The other piece of legislation is the Public Sector Information (PSI) Directive in which the Government’s have weaked the principle that public money buys public domain. For more see Glyn Moody on Tech Dirt, EU’s New ‘Open By Default’ Rules For Data Generated By Public Funding Subverted At The Last Minute.

Julia Reda, the Euro Pirate Party MEP writes on how to stop the Copyright Directive and points that the final votes in the Parliament will take place in the run-up to the Parliamentary elections. Not sure if the UK is taking part in them, or if there will be a selection for the candidates in the Labour Party, there wasn’t in 2012, they forgot, but I shall be writing to the Labour MEPs asking them to vote to support freedom of speech and a free internet.

You might want to too! …