September 21, 2015

Greek businesses discover the receipt

Filed under: Business, Economics, Europe, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Megan McArdle is in Athens, where she’s finding that Greek businesses have started handing out receipts for transactions that once would have been undocumented (the better to hide revenue from the taxman):

I was last in Greece in 2006, during the twilight years of the boom that peaked during the Athens Olympics. Back then, Greece was notable to Americans for its lack of receipts. This is convenient for the shoppers, who don’t have to hunt around for somewhere to toss yet another piece of unwanted paper. But it was also convenient for vendors who wanted to underpay the tax authorities.

The inability of the Greek government to collect the taxes it is owed is one of the recurring themes of coverage of the financial crisis. This problem is sometimes exaggerated, but everyone agrees that it’s very real. And since the burden of structural adjustment is falling on fiscal reforms — rather than, say, firing unproductive members of the vast government workforce — that’s a big problem.

Widespread evasion narrows the tax base, forcing the government to set higher rates. If the evasion were spread evenly across all sectors of the economy, then these two things would roughly cancel out. Unfortunately, it’s not. Some sorts of taxes are easier to evade than others. Employment taxes are hard to evade, while self-employed professionals like doctors and lawyers have found it relatively easy to shelter most of their incomes. As a result, the cost of employing a new staff worker is quite high (especially since those workers are incredibly difficult to fire). The value-added tax here is now 23 percent, close to the EU maximum rate. (Thank God for that maximum, joked one journalist I met; otherwise, who knows how high they’d have raised it.) That’s making up for taxes that aren’t collected elsewhere.

The good news is that Greece has at least made progress on collecting sales tax. They’re hardly at the level that our Internal Revenue Service would accept, but most of the places I’ve gone have automatically given me a receipt, printed out by a cash register. The taxi drivers mostly offer printed receipts. One did ask me how much he should make it out for. (Note to boss: I told him to make it out for the amount of the fare.) I’m told that on the islands, collection is less sure. But here in Athens, they are slowly but surely improving their collection apparatus.

Greece is attempting to do in the space of a few years what other economies did over the course of decades. Most people think of a cash register primarily as a way to add up the value of the sale, but in fact, that is the least of its functions. Its most attractive feature to the merchants who adopted them back in the late 19th century was that they made it harder for clerks to steal. (That’s why old registers made a noise every time the cash drawer opened; that prevented employees from stealthily recording sales and then pocketing the money, or alternatively, giving goods to their friends without being paid.) Over time, of course, revenue authorities realized that cash register tickers were also a good way to ensure that employers gave the state its due.

September 16, 2015

The African migrants are not driven by demographic change

Filed under: Africa, Europe — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Matt Ridley explains that demography does not explain the sudden influx of refugees from Africa to the European Union:

Even the most compassionate of European liberals must wonder at times whether this year’s migration crisis is just the beginning of a 21st-century surge of poor people that will overwhelm the rich countries of our continent. With African populations growing fastest, are we glimpsing a future in which the scenes we saw on the Macedonian border, or on Kos or in the seas around Sicily last week will seem tame?

I don’t think so. The current migration crisis is being driven by war and oppression, not demography. Almost two thirds of the migrants reaching Europe by boat this year are from three small countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. These are not even densely populated countries: their combined populations come to less than England’s, let alone Britain’s, and none of them is in the top 20 for population growth rates.

Well then, perhaps that is even more ominous. If these three relatively small countries can cause such turmoil, imagine what would happen if say the more populous countries in Africa fell into similar chaos. Today Africa’s population (north and sub-Saharan) is about 50 per cent larger than Europe’s (East and West). By 2050, when — according to United Nations estimates — Africa’s population will have more than doubled from 1.1 billion to about 2.4 billion people and Europe’s will have shrunk from 740 million to about 709 million, there will be more than three Africans for every European.

Actually, demography is a poor predictor of migration. Nowhere in the world are people leaving countries specifically because of population growth or density. The population density of Germany is five times as high as that of Afghanistan or Eritrea: unlike water, people often move up population gradients. Tiny Eritrea, with only five million people, is a hell-hole for purely political reasons. It has a totalitarian government that tries to make North Korea and the old East Germany look tame: it conscripts every 17-year-old into lifelong and total service of the state. No wonder 3 per cent of its people have already left.

September 10, 2015

Europe’s welfare system or free immigration – pick one

Filed under: Europe, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

David Friedman discusses the EU’s immigration and existing welfare arrangements:

The strongest argument against free immigration, from the standpoint of supporters of the free market, is that immigrants from poor countries may come not in order to work but in order to take advantage of a rich country’s welfare system. Seen from one side it is an argument against free migration, seen from the other an argument against a welfare system. The easier it is for poor people to come to take advantage of welfare, the less attractive redistribution looks to the taxpayers paying for it, hence the less generous the system is likely to be. That may explain why levels of redistribution are generally lower in the U.S., where welfare was traditionally handled at the state level and intrastate migration was free, than in Europe, where welfare was handled at the national level and interstate migration was restricted.

Was. Within the E.U., there is now free migration. That puts pressure on national welfare systems either to reduce the level of transfers or raise redistribution to the supranational level. That pressure was limited as long as all E.U. members were relatively wealthy countries, became greater with the admission of poorer members from eastern Europe.

It is now greater still as the willingness of some European states to accept refugees and treat them generously, combined with conflicts that produce large numbers of actual refugees while making it difficult to distinguish them from voluntary migrants, is creating a flood tide of would-be residents on Europe’s southern and eastern borders

One way in which the E.U. might respond is by restricting immigration. That will be difficult when many of the would-be immigrants are fleeing real dangers, hence natural objects of sympathy. How do you distinguish real refugees from migrants seeking to take advantage of generous transfers (330 € monthly, accommodation, language courses and so on during the six months that it takes Germany to decide whether or not someone qualifies for asylum, according to a comment on a recent post here)? And immigration restriction is made more difficult by the fact that border control is done at the national level. A country with low levels of redistribution can leave its border open in the expectation that most new arrivals will promptly depart for richer fields.

August 28, 2015

Google and the (bullshit) European “right to be forgotten”

Filed under: Europe, Law, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick points and laughs at a self-described consumerist organization’s attempt to force Google to apply EU law to the rest of the world, by way of an FTC complaint:

If you want an understanding of my general philosophy on business and economics, it’s that companies should focus on serving their customers better. That’s it. It’s a very customer-centric view of capitalism. I think companies that screw over their customers and users will have it come back to bite them, and thus it’s a better strategy for everyone if companies focus on providing good products and services to consumers, without screwing them over. And, I’m super supportive of organizations that focus on holding companies’ feet to the fire when they fail to live up to that promise. Consumerist (owned by Consumer Reports) is really fantastic at this kind of thing, for example. Consumer Watchdog, on the other hand, despite its name, appears to have very little to do with actually protecting consumers’ interests. Instead, it seems like some crazy people who absolutely hate Google, and pretend that they’re “protecting” consumers from Google by attacking the company at every opportunity. If Consumer Watchdog actually had relevant points, that might be useful, but nearly every attack on Google is so ridiculous that all it does is make Consumer Watchdog look like a complete joke and undermine whatever credibility the organization might have.

In the past, we’ve covered an anti-Google video that company put out that contained so many factual errors that it was a complete joke (and was later revealed as nothing more than a stunt to sell some books). Then there was the attempt to argue that Gmail was an illegal wiretap. It’s hard to take the organization seriously when it does that kind of thing.

Its latest, however, takes the crazy to new levels. John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s resident “old man yells at cloud” impersonator, recently filed a complaint with the FTC against Google. In it, he not only argues that Google should offer the “Right to be Forgotten” in the US, but says that the failure to do that is an “unfair and deceptive practice.” Really.

As you know by now, since an EU court ruling last year, Google has been forced to enable a right to be forgotten in the EU, in which it will “delink” certain results from the searches on certain names, if the people argue that the links are no longer “relevant.” Some in the EU have been pressing Google to make that “right to be forgotten” global — which Google refuses to do, noting that it would violate the First Amendment in the US and would allow the most restrictive, anti-free speech regime in the world to censor the global internet.

But, apparently John Simpson likes censorship and supporting free speech-destroying regimes. Because he argues Google must allow such censorship in the US. How could Google’s refusal to implement “right to be forgotten” possibly be “deceptive”? Well, in Simpson’s world, it’s because Google presents itself as “being deeply committed to privacy” but then doesn’t abide by a global right to be forgotten. Really.

July 23, 2015

The breakdown state of Greece

Filed under: Economics, Europe, History, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

David Warren, earlier this month, on the slow-motion financial, economic, and political disaster that is modern-day Greece:

Now seriously, gentle reader, we are being reminded that there is truly no way out — no foreseeable practical and material escape — from the Nanny State web we have woven. Except by catastrophe, and/or miracle. My fascination with Greece is, as I have said, to see what happens as that state breaks down. Greece is unrepresentative in some ways; she never was a truly Western country, and thus even her way of abandoning the Christian faith is different from the Western. Since the West freed her from the Infidel Turk, Greece has had the luxury to pick and choose between spiritual destinies. The West offered three: the Catholic, the Protestant, and the Revolutionary. Greece chose to dress her post-Byzantine, Orthodox self in the robes of Marianne, goddess of fake Liberty. They don’t fit, can’t, and she has experienced one wardrobe malfunction after another. Whereas the French, whom she most likes to emulate, at least know how to carry off satanic modernism in style.

Notwithstanding, the material facts of Nanny State are universal, and Greece can now serve as an illustration of their consequences — for the simple reason that she has made more mistakes, faster, than any other European country.

My fondest hope was that the failure of Greece would provoke a genuine re-assessment of the European Union. My worst fear is that it would instead make Europe’s commissars circle their wagon (the EU flag unintentionally represents this), and advance the continental nannyism in the vain belief that they can somehow save it. This, I observe, is what most likely happens. Or to put this another way, for the third time in a century, Europe has embarked on a mission of self-destruction, and will not turn back.

The correct response, to my humble mind, would have been on two fronts. First, to acknowledge that Greece can’t pay, and therefore write off the debts. Let them start again from scratch, according to their lights, providing whatever humanitarian aid can be afforded, but making clear it is a gift, and therefore delivering it through visibly European (and North American) agencies. Never let anyone think he is receiving gifts by right, and thus confuse gifts with payment. But don’t kick Greece out of anything; they have as much right to use euros while unwinding as the Argentines had to use U.S. dollars through their last bankruptcy. In defiance of post-modern sentimentalism, I would say it is possible to be both charitable, and firm.

Second, to begin a peaceful disassembly of most of the pan-European scheme, including the euro currency, which doesn’t and can’t work. Restore marks, francs, lire, pesetas; but also gradually downsize the Brussels bureaucracy to what it can and did do reasonably well — as a clearing house for trade transactions. This would be sane, now the ambition of a “European nation” is proved to have been foolish in itself. It would be insane, politically, to leave it to the member countries’ respective nationalist lunatics to achieve the same end by jingo, with the violence that follows inevitably from that.

It is in this greater (political, not religious) light that I think another bailout for Greece is a horror. It means Europe’s politicians are accelerating down a blind alley — the political equivalent of “the spirit of Vatican II.”

July 19, 2015

Rising tides of anti-German feeling … in France

Filed under: Europe — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Theodore Dalrymple discusses the changing opinions about Germany within the European Union, but especially in France:

There seems to be growing anti-German feeling in France, at least if what I read is anything to go by (which it might not be, of course). For example, a book with the title Bismarck Herring (The German Poison) is on sale everywhere. It is not by an unknown person, but rather by a very well-known left-wing French politician, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

You don’t have to go far in it to discover a tone of sheer hatred. The Germans, according to him, have returned to their old arrogant ways (which, of course, they never really lost); the price of their industrial and financial success is a land of oppressed, impoverished, and fat workers who don’t want any children; their industry spreads pollution all over Europe; and, unlike the French, who purified themselves of collaborationist industrialists after the war, the Germans just went on as if nothing had happened. At the end of the book, Mélenchon says that France (and presumably only France) has the wherewithal to liberate Europe from German imperialism. In a chapter headed “Spitting Out the Poison,” he mentions that, unlike Germany, France still has considerable military capacity. The obvious implication, I am afraid, is that France could, and perhaps should, use it to occupy the Ruhr again if Germany does not change its wicked ways.

Is it not strange that such thoughts should occur to a deputy of the European Parliament? After all, the most commonly used justification for the existence of the European Union is that it ensures the peace of the continent — by which, of course, is meant the pacification of France and Germany, since Belgium was never very likely to send its troops to occupy, say, Portugal. But from the first, the EU has taken Yugoslavia as its model, and Mélenchon’s rant at least has the merit of drawing our attention to a similar possible denouement.

June 9, 2015

QotD: Politics, as practiced in Europe

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Europe, Law, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It is at first denied that any radical new plan exists; it is then conceded that it exists but ministers swear blind that it is not even on the political agenda; it is then noted that it might well be on the agenda but is not a serious proposition; it is later conceded that it is a serious proposition but that it will never be implemented; after that it is acknowledged that it will be implemented but in such a diluted form that it will make no difference to the lives of ordinary people; at some point it is finally recognised that it has made such a difference, but it was always known that it would and voters were told so from the outset.

Brian Micklethwait explains the sourcing of this quote at Samizdata: The above paragraph, originally written to describe the onward march of the European Union, is quoted by Delingpole, in his book Watermelons (p. 45), to help him explain how AGW went from crankery to globally imposed policy. Delingpole found it in The Great Deception (p. 605) by Booker and North. They got it from a Times editorial, published on August 28, 2002.

April 15, 2015

QotD: The secret weapon of the bureaucracy

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Government, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… boredom is the deadly secret weapon of the bien-pensant technocrats of the EU and the UN. “They wear outsiders down with the tedium of their arguments and the smallness of their fine print, so that by the time anyone else notices what they’re up to the damage has been done and it’s too late to do anything about it.”

James Delingpole, “Green Global Governance: How Environmentalists Have Taken Over the World”, Breitbart.com, 2014-06-25.

February 12, 2015

EU governments and GM crops

Filed under: Africa, Bureaucracy, Economics, Europe — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Last month, Matt Ridley ran down the benefits to farmers, consumers, ecologists and the environment itself that the European Union has been resisting mightily all these years:

Scientifically, the argument over GM crops is as good as over. With nearly half a billion acres growing GM crops worldwide, the facts are in. Biotech crops are on average safer, cheaper and better for the environment than conventional crops. Their benefits accrue disproportionately to farmers in poor countries. The best evidence comes in the form of a “meta-analysis” — a study of studies — carried out by two scientists at Göttingen University, in Germany.

The strength of such an analysis is that it avoids cherry-picking and anecdotal evidence. It found that GM crops have reduced the quantity of pesticide used by farmers by an average of 37 per cent and increased crop yields by 22 per cent. The greatest gains in yield and profit were in the developing world.

If Europe had adopted these crops 15 years ago: rape farmers would be spraying far less pyrethroid or neo-nicotinoid insecticides to control flea beetles, so there would be far less risk to bees; potato farmers would not need to be spraying fungicides up to 15 times a year to control blight; and wheat farmers would not be facing stagnant yields and increasing pesticide resistance among aphids, meaning farmland bird numbers would be up.

Oh, and all that nonsense about GM crops giving control of seeds to big American companies? The patent on the first GM crops has just expired, so you can grow them from your own seed if you prefer and, anyway, conventionally bred varieties are also controlled for a period by those who produce them.

African farmers have been mostly denied genetically modified crops by the machinations of the churches and the greens, aided by the European Union’s demand that imports not be transgenically improved. Otherwise, African farmers would now be better able to combat drought, pests, vitamin deficiency and toxic contamination, while not having to buy so many sprays and risk their lives applying them.

I made this point recently to a charity that works with farmers in Africa and does not oppose GM crops but has so far not dared say so. Put your head above the parapet, I urged. We cannot do that, they replied, because we have to work with other, bigger green charities and they would punish us mercilessly if we broke ranks. Is the bullying really that bad? Yes, they replied.

Yet the Green Blob realises that it has made a mistake here. Not a financial mistake — it made a fortune out of donations during the heyday of stoking alarm about GM crops in the late 1990s — but the realisation that all it has achieved is to prolong the use of sprays and delay the retreat of hunger.

November 15, 2014

Pat Condell makes a public apology

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:08

November 12, 2014

QotD: Europe’s banking trap

Filed under: Economics, Europe, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Banking is a service, […] and a service has a cost associated with it. Modern banking has all kinds of fees and charges associated with it. But depositors are often charged for keeping too low a balance in their savings or checking accounts, not too large a balance. What’s going on here?

Central banks have created this monster via the regimen of ZIRP (Zero Interest Rate Policy). This is a way of implementing Keynesian stimulus, but central banks have run up against the liquidity-trap wall: interest rates cannot fall below zero. Monetary policy stops working at the zero-interest boundary.

For central banks, the problem is that in a slow-growth economy (or actually a recessive one) a paradox arises where rational behavior on the part of savers leads to bad results: consumers save their money out of concern for the future, but the economy — starved of the cash that fuels it — slows still further. This is the argument behind Keynesian stimulus; inject more (newly-printed) money into the economy until people stop being scared and start spending freely again (with their own money and borrowed money). The danger of inflation looms, however, so central banks try to implement various regimes to keep it under control (with varying degrees of success).

This theory founders on the shoals of reality, alas. It’s rational for people to save money, particularly during bad times, because people believe their currency stock to be an appreciating (or at least a constant-value) asset. But when a sovereign inflates (devalues) its currency to solve a short term economic problem, they run the risk of damaging confidence in the currency itself. Inflation may inject some nitrous oxide into the engine of the economy for a short time, but the outcome may be a blown engine (i.e., a ruined currency, as it was during the Weimar era).

When people lose trust in a fiat currency, it’s nearly impossible to restore confidence in it. Trust is all a fiat currency has — without trust, fiat currency is just worthless paper. This is really the core of the sound-money argument: deflation is bad because it can stall an economy and make debt servicing murderously difficult, but inflation is worse because it wrecks the currency itself. Hard-money currency regimes may be somewhat prone to deflationary cycles, but at least they never go to zero value; they always retain some value. Fiat currencies can go to zero.

Monty, “DOOM: The Wrath of Draghi”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2014-11-06.

October 28, 2014

Facebook‘s UK tax picture

Filed under: Britain, Business, Economics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:17

Tim Worstall explains why it’s not a scandal that Facebook doesn’t pay more taxes in the UK:

In fact, it’s actually rather a good idea that Facebook isn’t paying UK corporation tax. For the standard economic finding (also known as optimal taxation theory) is that we shouldn’t be taxing corporations at all. Thus, as a matter of public policy we should be abolishing this tax: and also perhaps applauding those companies that take it upon themselves to do what the politicians seem not to have the courage to do, make sure that corporations aren’t paying tax.

That isn’t how most of the press sees it, of course


That’s an extremely bad piece of reporting actually, for of course Facebook UK did not have advertising revenue of £371 million last year: Facebook Ireland had advertising revenue of that amount from customers in the UK that year. And that’s something rather different: that revenue will be taxed under whatever system Ireland has in place to tax it. And this is the way that the European Union system of corporate taxation is supposed to work. Any company, based in any one of the 28 member countries, can sell entirely without hindrance into all other 27 countries. And the profits from their doing so will be taxed wherever the brass plate announcing the HQ of that company is within the EU. This really is how it was deliberately designed, how it was deliberately set up: it is public policy that it should be this way.

We could also note a few more things here. The UK company itself made a loss and that loss was because they made substantial grants of restricted stock units to the employees. And under the UK system those RSU grants are taxed as income, in full, at the moment of their being granted. Which will mean, given those average wages, at 45% or so. And we should all be able to realise that a 45% tax rate is rather higher than the 24% corporation tax rate. The total tax rate on the series of transactions is thus very much higher than if Facebook has kept its employees as paupers and just kept the profits for themselves. Further, those complaining about the tax bill tend to be those from the left side of the political aisle: which is also where we find those who insist that workers should be earning the full amount of their value to the company which is what seems to be happening here.

August 18, 2014

Worstall confirms that “the UK would lose 3 million jobs in the year it left the European Union”

Filed under: Britain, Business, Economics, Europe — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:15

There you go … proof positive that the UK cannot possibly, under any circumstances, leave the European Union. Except for the fact that the UK would lose 3 million jobs in the year even if it stayed with the EU, because that’s how many jobs it normally loses in a year:

UK Would Not Lose 3 Million Jobs If It Left The European Union

Well, of course, the UK would lose 3 million jobs in the year it left the European Union because the UK loses 3 million jobs each and every year. Roughly 10% of all jobs are destroyed in a year and the economy, generally, tends to create 3 million jobs a year as well. But that’s not the point at contention here which is the oft repeated claim that because we left the EU then therefore the UK economy would suddenly be bereft of 3 million jobs, that 10% of the workforce. And sadly this claim is a common one and it just goes to show that there’s lies, damned lies and then there’s politics.

The way we’re supposed to understand the contention is that there’s three million who make their living making things that are then exported to our partners in the European Union. And we’re then to make the leap to the idea that if we did leave the EU then absolutely none of those jobs would exist: leaving the EU would be the same as never exporting another thing to the EU. This is of course entirely nonsense as any even random reading of our mutual histories would indicate: what became the UK has been exporting to the Continent ever since there’s actually been the technology to facilitate trade. Further too: there have been finds in shipwrecks in the Eastern Mediterranean of Cornish tin dating from 1,000 BC, so it’s not just bloodthirsty and drunken louts that we’ve been exporting all these years.

July 2, 2014

EU publishers want a totally different online model for content – where they can monetize everything

Filed under: Business, Europe, Law, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:19

Glyn Moody reports on the passionate desire of EU publishing organizations to get rid of as much free content as possible and replace it with an explicit licensing regime (with them holding all the rights, of course):

For too many years, the copyright industries fought hard against the changes being wrought by the rise of the Internet and the epochal shift from analog to digital. Somewhat belatedly, most of those working in these sectors have finally accepted that this is not a passing phase, but a new world that requires new thinking in their businesses, as in many other spheres. A recent attempt to codify that thinking can be found in a publication from the European Publishers Council (EPC). “Copyright Enabled on the Network” (pdf) — subtitled “From vision to reality: Copyright, technology and practical solutions enabling the media & publishing ecosystem” — that is refreshingly honest about the group’s aims:

    Since 1991, Members [of the EPC] have worked to review the impact of proposed European legislation on the press, and then express an opinion to legislators, politicians and opinion-formers with a view to influencing the content of final regulations. The objective has always been to encourage good law-making for the media industry.

The new report is part of that, and is equally frank about what lies at the heart of the EPC’s vision — licensing:

    A thread which runs through this paper is the proliferation of ‘direct to user’ licensing by publishers and other rights owners. Powered by ubiquitous data standards, to identify works and those who have rights in those works, licensing will continue to innovate exponentially so that eventually the cost of serving a licence is close to zero. The role of technology is to make this process seamless and effective from the user’s perspective, whether that user is the end consumer or another party in the digital content supply chain.

[…] the EPS vision includes being able to pin down every single “granular” part of a mash-up, so that the rights can be checked and — of course — licensed. Call it the NSA approach to copyright: total control through total surveillance.

Last year, when the National Post started demanding a paid license to quote any part of their articles (including stories they picked up from other sources), I stopped linking to their site. I suspect most Canadian bloggers did the same, as I see very few links to the newspaper now compared to before the change in their policy. It worked from their point of view: I’m certainly not sending any traffic to their site now, and there was never a chance of me being able to afford their $150 per 100 word licensing rate. Win-win, I guess. The EPS is hoping to avoid that scenario playing out in Europe by mandating that all content use the same kind of licensing, backed up by the power of the courts (and the kind of pervasive surveillance tactics the NSA and its Anglosphere partners have honed to a very fine edge).

June 25, 2014

The British politician’s fear of being “isolated” over Europe

Filed under: Britain, Europe, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:58

In the Telegraph, Iain Martin says the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission may play out differently than the traditional “isolated Britain” scenario:

It comes straight from the British political playbook as practised by the parties and reported by the media since the mid-1980s. There is a row in the European Union. Britain is right (an inconvenient detail, usually skimmed over), although lots of other countries don’t agree with us for a host of reasons. This means that Britain is — good grief, the horror — “isolated” in Europe with only a handful of allies. Broadcasters will then brandish the “i” word in front of any minister who goes on television or radio during the row. Hasn’t UK government incompetence left us almost alone? Shouldn’t we agree with everyone else so that we might not be isolated?

Perhaps it is comforting, or even reassuring, to think of the European story in this hackneyed way. Bad old Britain, grumbling about sovereignty and trying in its stick-in-the-mud way to stop a disastrous appointment or opting out of the single currency, can be presented as the dinosaur that needs to get with the European programme. Come on, do a deal. If we do the wrong thing, at least we won’t be isolated.

This is the conventional prism through which the likely appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission might be viewed. But in reality it is much more interesting and significant than the standard diplomatic kerfuffle. His appointment, if it happens, will be a historic disaster on a grand scale which makes Britain’s exit from the European Union very likely. And I speak as someone who has been for reform and staying in the EU if possible.


Back in the here and now, as the Financial Times story this morning makes clear, Juncker would be really quite rubbish at the job. An exhausted veteran of the squalid deals which established the disastrous single currency in the 1990s, there is nothing in his record to suggest that he would even be good at the basics of administration. What he seems to be about is contempt for Eurosceptic opposition, a disregard for democracy, a resistance to reform and a relentless federalist vision of the EU which cannot accommodate a recalibrated relationship for countries such as Britain. According to opinion polls, the British want to trade, be friends and cooperate with the EU, but not immerse themselves in a country called Europe. Despite knowing this, the EU’s governments are giving the British voters the finger.

And still, most of Europe accelerates madly towards disaster as though they do not care, either ignoring British concerns on Juncker’s unsuitability, or being rude about one of the EU’s largest contributors (us) and talking now as though they want us to leave.

The bottom line is this. If Juncker gets the gig, this is the week that the door was opened to Britain’s exit from the EU.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress