Brits in Brussels – speaking the right language?

Posted by UK in Europe on 06/03/12

By Phillip Souta

At the end of a low-key European Council meeting last week, David Cameron, the Prime Minister, said that Britain had formed an ‘unprecedented alliance’ of like-minded states focused on boosting growth through completion of the single market and other reforms. The 20 February letter co-signed by him and 11 other EU leaders including Mario Monti of Italy and Mariano Rajoy of Spain was the latest example of UK driven letter-diplomacy.

The British Brussels Network’s (BBN) second event in Brussels also took place during the European Council last week, on 1 March, and British influence was also the focus, but from a slightly different perspective.

Jonathan Faull, Director-General for Information Society and Media at the Commission, Robert Madelin, Director-General for Internal Market and Services, Richard Corbett an adviser to the newly re-appointed President Herman van Rompuy, and Michael Collins from Citibank came together to discuss the level and effectiveness of British representation in the European Union’s institutions.

Making up 12 per cent of the EU’s population, Jonathan Faull pointed out that UK nationals made up only 3.9 per cent of the Commission’s 33,033 employees in 2011. He said that whilst Brits were well represented at the senior levels – with six directors general – that was about to change as the 1972 intake heads toward retirement. Under 2 per cent of all the applicants to the last concours, the competition to become an official in the institutions, were British. He said that as a lecturer in the College of Europe, a sort of finishing school for budding officials, there wasn’t a single Brit in his class.

Robert Madelin, the other senior British-EU official on the panel, said that the “British public administration ethos adds value”, and that in order for a European public administration to work effectively, it needed the “knowledge of all member states”.

Jonathan Faull said that the “UK ethos adds quality”, but that after the veto on 9 December, he had numerous conversations in lunch queues where people of other nationalities asked “why don’t you just leave?”. He said that this problem of perception ran counter to the fact that the UK has lots of friends in Europe, in Central and Eastern Europe having pushed enlargement and with other common-law countries in the EU such as Malta and Cyprus.

Michael Collins, from Citibank and a former official in UKREP, said that “nationality isn’t a priority for a large multinational” and that there were more important criteria for his interactions with EU officials. He argued that it was more important not to be corrupt and to have “high standards of public administration”, adding that commitment to “evidence based policy making” and being “open and transparent” were also at the top of the list. He said that it was an open question as to whether UK nationals were more likely to meet those criteria.

Richard Corbett, advisor to Herman van Rompuy and a former MEP, also argued that focusing on nationality was too simple – in the same way that MEPs do not divide nationally but rather politically, he argued that it was far more likely that individuals would be more likely to approach issues of policy on a case by case basis. He argued that the climate of opinion in Britain towards the EU would make it less likely that Brits would seek out careers in its institutions.

The discussion after this initial exchange of views quickly focused on language, before moving back to the question of whether it mattered that the UK was quite significantly under represented in the EU’s institutions.

Paul Strickland, the head of unit for editing in the Directorate General for Translation said he was “surprised by the blase attitude” that he thought some of the speakers showed towards the fact of British under representation.

He pointed out that 93 per cent of English documents in the Commission are not written by English speakers, and whilst Jonathan Faull pointed out that this was inevitable, Strickland argued that the quality of written English made for bad communication from the Commission and that poor drafting would result in “bad legislation” that would get challenged in the European Court of Justice five years hence.

Everyone in the room agreed that the parlous state of language education in the UK was a significant factor in British under representation in the institutions.

A representative from Astra Zeneca spoke up to disagree with Michael Collins of Citi, arguing that UK under representation did in fact damage British business interests and furthermore that if the UK were to move to the exit of the EU, many multi-nationals which based their European operations in the UK would consider moving.

The gentleman from Astra Zeneca also argued that the Commission should be far more open to fixed or short term contracts for specific posts with more relaxed language requirements. Jonathan Faull echoed this saying his career, where he entered the Commission in his 20s and would leave it in his 60s, having not had another job, would not be so attractive for “Generation Y.”

The discussion finally turned to what the UK government should do. Tammy Reynolds from UKREP said that a lot of the Brits whom she spoke to in the institutions are “worried about career progression” and that the lack of performance related pay was also an issue.

Robert Madelin ended the event suggesting that the UK government should, “spend time back home, explaining what ‘Europe’ really brings to UK Ltd, for example, by supporting the back-to-school visits that Berlin, Rome, Paris and others actively support already” for UK nationals working in the institutions along side EU officials from other countries to give them a flavour of UK public administration.


The aims of the British Brussels Network (BBN) are to provide a platform for debate on EU issues from a British perspective; bring together Brits working in EU affairs in Brussels to network and discuss relevant issues; and provide Brits in Brussels the opportunity to engage with senior EU and UK officials. The BBN is managed by Business for New Europe, a coalition of British business leaders seeking positive reform in Europe and who believe that the UK should be fully and positively engaged in the EU. Partner organisations of the BBN include the British Chamber of Commerce in Belgium, the ICAEW and Nucleus.

Britain belongs at the centre of where decisions are made

Posted by UK in Europe on 08/02/12

By Petros Fassoulas

For a while now the rhetorical narrative of those that advocate leaving the EU has been accompanied by a variety of alternatives to EU membership. Many ideas have been put forward, some quite ‘exotic’ or outright unrealistic, but there are two paradigms that are held up as the best possible options for Britain: Norway and Switzerland.

But upon closer inspection both options fail to stand up to scrutiny. They are both very different to Britain and not an appropriate model for how a country like the UK conducts its affairs on the world stage. Both Norway and Switzerland are small and peripheral states, with specialised economies and limited aspirations for influence at the global stage.

Take Norway for example, as a member of the European Free Trade Association it is part of the European Economic Area, which does give it access to the Single Market, with all the economic advantages that come with it. But here lays the catch, to be part of the Single Market and enjoy the benefits that affords you, Norway has to abide with its rules (not to mention contribute handsomely to the EU budget). But since Norway is not a member of the European Union it does not have the right to take part in the decision-making structures that decide the rules that govern that Single Market. Not a particularly advantageous state of affairs and the Norwegian government had the following to say in a recently published report: ‘The most problematic aspect of Norway’s form of association with the EU is the fact that Norway is in practice bound to adopt EU policies and rules in a broad range of issues without being a member and without voting rights. This raises democratic problems. Norway is not represented in decision-making processes that have direct consequences for Norway, and neither do we have any significant influence on them. Moreover, our form of association with the EU dampens political engagement and debate in Norway and makes it difficult to monitor the Government and hold it accountable in its European policy’ (Outside and Inside: Norway’s agreements with the European Union).

This is a damning verdict for those that call for withdrawal of the EU. Asking to relegate the UK to such an associate membership status is catastrophic and it does an enormous disservice to Britain, limits its influence on the international stage and undermines its ability to form the decisions that have an impact on its economic wellbeing.

The case of Switzerland is no different. It has to abide by the rules that govern the Single Market if it wants its companies to trade within it but it has no representation in the institutions, the EU Council and the European Parliament, which make those rules. Perhaps this is a satisfactory situation for a country with 2% of the EU population that might have compromised with the fact that its ability to influence the things that affect it is limited.

But Britain is one of the largest EU member states, smaller only to Germany and Poland, and of similar size to France. It has considerable influence over EU policies that affect it. Its views, when argued with confidence and convincing arguments, are respected and listened to. Very rarely has Britain lost a vote on matters governed by qualified majority voting, it is always consulted by the European Commission when it comes, for example, to rule-making in financial services and it has repeatedly and successfully argued its case before the European Court of Justice, which has ruled in its favour in cases that have to do with single market issues and liberalisation of trade.

Leaving the EU would mean removing ourselves from where decisions are made. Britain’s place is not outside the room, with its face pressed against the window, watching others take decisions that affect us, without us. Britain’s place is at the heart of the decision-making structures that govern one of the biggest economies of the world.

The benefits of EU membership are numerous and have often been repeated by pro-Europeans. Britain gains both in economic terms and in terms of its standing in the world. Our ability to influence the things that affect us, like Iranian nuclear aspirations, negotiations on climate change, international trade agreements, energy security, illegal immigration, international crime is enhanced when we act together with our EU partners, using the institutions of the EU as a vehicle to pursue our common interests. Leaving the EU will remove us not just from the biggest and wealthiest common market in the world. It will set us apart from an organisation (and its institutions) that share our aspirations for a liberal and peaceful world where democracy, the rule of law, respect of human rights and environmental protection reigns. The globalisation of our world and the rising power of developing countries are both full of challenges and opportunities. Britain can either try to make the most of these challenges and opportunities by standing together with its EU partners or risk having its influence fade by standing apart from them. This is no time to contemplate leaving the EU. The EU is a platform upon which we can all stand taller. We must make the most of that platform to increase our influence in the world and promote the principles that are important to us.

Petros Fassoulas is chairman of the European Movement UK.

This article was first published in the January issue of The European

StandUp4Lobbying condemns consultation on a statutory register of lobbyists

Posted by UK in Europe on 23/01/12

The new campaign group to promote professional lobbying has condemned the UK government’s consultation on a new statutory register of lobbyists as “shameful”.

The government proposes to introduce a statutory register applying only to multi-client lobbying companies, exempting many others engaged in lobbying. The only explanation for this move given is that the clients represented by lobbyists are not included in the list of Ministerial meetings that the government publishes. However such a problem could be easily solved by requiring lobbyists to reveal the identity of their client at the start of a meeting.

Mark Adams, Director of StandUp4Lobbying, said: “This publication is a massive wasted opportunity for the government which should be working with the professional bodies already self-regulating lobbying far more rigorously than the government’s own proposals. The government had the opportunity to bring in a register for all professional lobbyists. Instead, they have chosen to focus on one relatively small section of the professional lobbying sector, those that work for multi-client consultancies.

“There is a real danger that, as a result of these proposals, companies will resign from the existing bodies that publish lobbying registers to avoid being charged twice. However the existing bodies also require members to follow a strict Code of Conduct, whereas the government will not. There is a real danger that the government’s approach will weaken lobbying regulation, not strenthen it.”

Posted on 20 January 2012 by Mark Adams at the StandUp4Lobbying blog (

Financial Transaction Tax: the EU’s Trojan horse?

Posted by UK in Europe on 17/01/12

By Darren Ennis (from MHP Communications, Brussels)

Plans for a European Union-wide Financial Transaction Tax are taking shape with battle lines drawn between member states ahead of the crunch EU leaders’ summit at the end of the month. The FTT has become the latest chapter in the bitter dispute between London and Brussels with David Cameron expected once again to lock horns with Merkozy. However, it now looks like the British Prime Minister will not be alone in opposing the so-called Tobin Tax.

Denmark, which took over the rotating EU presidency on January 1, has expressed concern. Sweden, Ireland and Poland are among the others also unhappy with the idea of taxing transactions on stocks, shares, bonds and derivatives, if for differing reasons. Even in Germany, Chancellor Merkel is facing opposition from within her own party, not to mention her coalition partner and the German banks.

“The FTT has become David Cameron’s Trojan horse,” one senior EU diplomat has told us. “After the last summit, it was all about Cameron’s and the UK’s isolation, but at least on the issue of the FTT, he seems to have made some new friends over Christmas.”

Cameron’s opposition to the so-called Tobin Tax proposal is such that he has instructed his diplomats preparing the summit to do everything in their power to stop the issue being put on the agenda of the January 29th showdown in Brussels. If it does make it on to the menu Cameron says he will veto any move to impose it on all 27 member states.

Merkel and Sarkozy on the other hand are adamant that a European FTT must be agreed, even if it is only at the level of the 17-nation Eurozone. Sarkozy even went as far as to say Paris would impose such a tax unilaterally if there is no agreement in Brussels.

But Denmark, like Britain, says an FTT will only work if it is agreed globally, while Ireland is among the Eurozone countries arguing that if a tax is agreed in Brussels it must be adopted by all EU27 and not just the Eurozone.

“FTT has become an emotive issue for just about every country and they will all have an opinion on January 29. One thing is for certain, it won’t be easy. Then again, is it ever easy when it comes to getting a deal among the 27?” another EU diplomat said.

One thing that all those supporting the plan agree on is that the current proposal put forward by the executive European Commission will have to be amended and more importantly it needs to be more robust.

That was also the general view expressed in the European Parliament’s economic affairs committee which debated the issue for the first time this week.

“It needs to be water-tight,” said Socialist MEP Anni Podimata who is tasked with writing the assembly’s legal opinion on the matter.

As expected, with the exception of the British Conservatives and their political group, there was general support in the committee for an EU financial transaction tax. Most agreed that the priority should be to aim for an EU-wide tax for 27 and if that is not achievable, then they should aim for the whole Eurozone.

Overall, the main concern of MEPs, like many member states and financial institutions, was over the so-called “Residence Principle” – taxes any trade authorised by a group that is located in the tax area such as its HQ in the EU, even if the actual transaction were executed in London, New York or Hong Kong. Many MEPs said it could lead to evasion or some companies moving jurisdiction. Although some MEPs pointed to the fact that the cost of the tax proposed was so low it would mean that it was more costly to move a company than pay the tax.

However, if France and Germany do press ahead without Britain and others, the initial Commission proposal for a tax across all 27 EU-member states will have to be amended to stop eurozone traders and banks from moving business to London and other potential transaction tax havens.

Officials said any new plan would still use the “residence principle”, but one idea is to require any financial product issued by a government or company in the transaction tax area also be subject to the levy, regardless of where the parties executing the trade are based.

Another proposal under consideration is to collect the tax via the post-trade plumbing of the financial system, through which financial transactions are cleared and settled. This could potentially allow Eurozone governments to tax euro-denominated derivatives trades, which are much harder for the taxman to capture, even when they take place between two British institutions.

However, both ideas are legally contentious and commentators say they will inevitably lead to flare-ups with Britain, particularly over how the tax is collected. So any Eurozone-only tax will certainly raise more serious legal questions than answer concerns.

By Darren Ennis

Source: MHP Communications blog (

Britain must now think through European trade options

Posted by UK in Europe on 13/01/12

By Ronald Stewart Brown

Tensions have already risen on both sides of the Channel following David Cameron’s recent rejection of any new treaty which did not give the UK reasonable safeguards against damaging new single market and financial services regulation.

These tensions can only rise further. Three years from now, a new voting system will mean the eurozone countries can caucus to outvote the UK and other non-eurozone countries in all areas of legislation governed by qualified majority voting.

That may begin to look more like subjugation than isolation.

For negotiating purposes it must make sense to know how the UK could walk away from the table. But the strange thing is that neither of the most widely canvassed ways for the UK to leave the European Union (EU) would actually work.

Some say we could just leave the EU without any new trade agreement and rely on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements to protect us.

But the immediate consequence of such unilateral withdrawal would be that UK-based car manufacturers would immediately face the same 10pc tariff on their exports to the EU as car manufacturers based in the US or Japan.

Most UK chemical exports would face EU tariffs over 5pc.

Others say we could negotiate a new free-trade agreement with the EU like Switzerland or Norway. But a free-trade agreement only provides for duty-free trade in products manufactured or partly manufactured in the area it covers.

The EU would not want cars manufactured cheaply in China imported duty-free via Norway to avoid the 10pc tariff rate with which it protects EU-based car manufacturers.

Under an EU-UK free-trade agreement all UK merchandise exports that would otherwise be subject to EU tariffs would have to be tested for compliance with what are known as “rules of origin”. These are often highly complex.

Imagine how manufacturers in Yorkshire and Lancashire would react if they were told that in future goods could only be trucked across the Pennines duty-free if they complied with the relevant rules of origin.

British and Continental manufacturers would surely react similarly to the introduction of rules of origin testing on goods they were shipping across the Channel.

There is a basic confusion here. The free movement of goods which the single market provides for, without let or hindrance, is far superior to rules of origin-based duty-free trade under a free-trade agreement.

So if the UK left the EU it would be vital to retain free movement of goods, in the best interests of both ourselves and our European trading partners.

That would mean agreeing to stay in customs union with the EU and retaining EU tariff rates on most of our imports from the rest of the world. But we would be doing this as an independent country, on an inter-governmental basis in place of the present supranational one.

Having to retain EU tariff rates would not be so bad. Average EU tariffs on manufactured goods are only 2.7pc. Few would argue for lowering UK car tariffs below the current EU level of 10pc unless other countries did the same.

We would continue to be stuck with relatively high EU tariffs for some food imports. But that would be a small price to pay for continued free movement of goods.

As the second-largest net contributor to the EU budget, the UK would surely have the whip hand in negotiation. Logistically, it would be relatively easy to switch to an inter-governmental customs union agreement. Morally, we would have the great strength of being able to say we wanted to stay in Europe for trade, which was what the British people voted for in their 1975 referendum.

We could negotiate at least as good access to other EU services markets as we have at present. We would no longer need to contribute towards the excessive levels of trade-distorting agricultural subsidy other EU member states dish out under the Common Agricultural Policy.

A huge benefit would be that we could take back from Brussels control of supervision and regulation of the City. And there would be no possibility of a new Financial Transactions Tax being forced on us.

Granted, there would be a small downside in no longer being able to participate directly in the EU’s Single Market rule-making process. But in truth there are few exclusively indigenous UK exporting industries which could be vulnerable to deliberately discriminatory regulation.

Lastly, there would be real attractions in continuing to work alongside the EU for future international trade liberalisation. The fact is that in three successive negotiating trade rounds since 1964 the EU has brought its average industrial tariff down from over 10pc to the current 2.7pc level.

The EU’s recent free-trade agreement with South Korea is genuinely trade liberalising. And it is not the EU’s fault the Doha round of WTO talks has stalled.

Most people in Britain want our EU membership to work. But if current trends continue the British government will need to consider much more radical options than it has to date.

Ronald Stewart-Brown is director of the Trade Policy Research Centre, which has recently established an office in Westminster.

This blog was originally published in The Daily Telegraph on 6 January 2012

Would EU law introduce border controls with Scotland?

Posted by UK in Europe on 12/01/12

The last time there was a formal English border with Scotland was under the Romans, although for some parts of the middle ages both England and Scotland may have wished for one. Since then, it’s pretty much been come and go as you wish. Well, that may – at least hypothetically – change soon.

This week saw the debate over Scottish independence heating up again, in turn throwing up a number of questions about whether Scotland would have to negotiate new membership terms with the EU, and if so, how this would work. Most discussions have focussed on the euro – which all EU members that don’t have an opt-out (which only the UK and Denmark have at the moment) – are required to join.

But there’s another interesting twist. You might assume that if Scotland again became independent, the current open border would continue. Well, you could be wrong. This is because while the UK has a specific opt-out from the EU’s common travel area (the Schengen agreement) under, the Amsterdam Treaty incorporated the Schengen agreement into EU law (Article 77, previously it was a stand alone agreement), meaning that whoever signs up to the full body of EU law, also signs up to Schengen. In other words, similarly to the euro, Scotland would not automatically have an opt out.

The EU considers that all states should join the borderless EU. This would pose a problem for an independent Scotland as the UK and Ireland have their own Common Travel Area and external borders – to help facilitate travel over the Northern Irish Border. If Scotland was in Schengen, England (and the rump UK and Ireland) would need to apply an external border and passport checks on the new frontier.

That is if Scotland was in the EU at all. The UK’s membership does not extend to former members. Scotland would therefore have to negotiate for itself an opt-out from Schengen as a part of its accession process from outside the EU.

In addition to a Schengen opt-put, an independent Scotland would also have to negotiate:

* Opt out from the Euro – so it could keep the English (or Scottish?) pound (the SNP says it want this option until the time is right to join the euro).

* Possibly its own budget rebate so it is not unfairly penalised

* A fair deal on fishing.

Plenty to play for in Europe, in other words, should Scotland wish to go down that path…

Source: Open Europe blog ( on 11 January 2012

Launch of the APPG for European Reform

Posted by UK in Europe on 12/01/12

I greatly welcome the publication by Open Europe of their paper on repatriating EU Social Policy. You can view the report here. It is of fundamental importance to the jobs and growth agenda in the UK, and is unique in that it quantifies the cost to the UK economy of complying with EU Social Policy at £8.6bn per year. While there are clear benefits to some social and employment law, Open Europe calculate that cutting EU regulation in this area by 50% would create 140,000 jobs in the UK. This is hugely significant at a time when economic growth remains slow.

What is also clear is that even though there is disagreement among politicians about the desirable extent of Social and Employment legislation, there is a growing consensus that decisions are better taken at a national, rather than European, level. The left may increasingly come to the view that EU legislation is not only failing to provide improved worker protection, it is in some ways undermining it, as the austerity agenda caused by the Eurozone crisis will force governments to liberalise their labour markets. The right and business leaders continue to complain about the cost of complying with EU laws.

National governments are better able to create Social Policy that suits the specific needs of their economies and citizens. And making this policy in Westminster brings politics closer to the citizens that it affects.

For these reasons, I am excited about the launch of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on European Reform, and its inaugural meeting which is to be held on 10 November. We will be discussing the issue of Employment and Social Policy and will draw on the opinions of members from all political parties, along with peers, MEPs, the Trade Union Congress (TUC), the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and other leading think tanks. I have put myself forward as Co-Chair, with Thomas Docherty MP, from the Labour intake of 2010. Other MPs who have put themselves forward as officers include Frank Field MP, Gisela Stuart MP, Mark Garnier MP, David Ruffley MP, Margot James MP, Harriett Baldwin MP, Chris Heaton-Harris MP, George Eustice MP, Karen Lumley MP, Anne-Marie Morris MP, Priti Patel MP, and Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne.

Following the launch of the APPG, I plan to work with Conservative Colleagues through the Fresh Start Project to develop specific policy proposals on the repatriation of powers.

By Andrea Leadsom MP

Source: EU Fresh Start blog ( on 10 November 2011

David Cameron’s EU treaty veto is a disaster for Britain

Posted by UK in Europe on 09/12/11

Britain is now isolated as the only EU country to walk away from negotiations to rework the Lisbon treaty in order to save the euro. Simon Hix argues that David Cameron has chosen to take a disastrous course of action that imperils both the economic health and political sustainability of the UK.

At the EU summit in Brussels Britain lived up to its century old stereotype of “perfidious albion”; which Wikipedia describes as “a pejorative phrase used within the context of international relations and diplomacy to refer to acts of duplicity, treachery and hence infidelity (with respect to promises made to or alliances formed with other nation states) by monarchs or governments of Britain (or England) in their pursuit of self-interest and the requirements of realpolitik”.

When the rest of Europe needed a deal to save the Euro, the European economy, and the global financial system, Britain whined about some petty domestic interests. Remember, most of the financial regulations the rest of the EU are talking about were actually proposed by Britain to the G20 as a way of saving the global economy. And also remember that Britain already has a “financial transactions tax” in that stamp duty is already paid on most financial transactions in the UK. So, what exactly was Cameron trying to veto? I just don’t get it, and nor does anyone outside a few crazed Europhobes on the extreme right of the British Conservative party.

So, the result is beautiful isolation, as 23 EU states set up a fiscal union. This is inevitably a slippery slope to Britain’s exit from the EU and the single market – a major victory for Merkel and Sarkozy, who called Cameron’s bluff. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Sweden will in all likelihood join the other 23 states. After all, Denmark – the only other state with an opt-out from the Euro – has already agreed. This is likely to lead within a year or two to a new treaty to replace the EU, amongst 27 states in Europe (the other 26 in the current plus Croatia). Forget the European Union, the new European agreement will be a “European Fiscal and Political Union” with only the UK, Switzerland, Iceland and Norway on the periphery – rather like Puerto Rico in relation to the United States.

If this happens – which in effect is Britain being kicked out of the EU and the single market – the consequences will not only be huge for the British economy (since over 50% of our trade is with the rest of the EU), there will be knock-on effects on British public finances, as markets turn their focus away from a more stable Eurozone to UK government debt (which is already worse than Greece), and even an effect on the sustainability of United Kingdom. Britain’s exit from Europe would be a huge boost for the campaign for Scottish independence. A majority in Scotland may well decide that it would prefer to be one state in a European federal union than be tied to a moribund and bankrupt administration in Westminster and Whitehall.

So, how stupid will Tory Eurosceptics look in 5 or 10 years time, with “Little England” outside Europe, a collapse in British exports – as a result of exclusion from the European continental market – a gradual shift in Europe’s major financial centre from London to Frankfurt, skyrocketing government debt as markets demand 5% interest on British government bonds, and an independent Scotland?

By Simon Hix

Source: London School of Ecomomics and Political Science British Politics and Policy blog ( on 9 December 2011