Wednesday, 20 January 2016

We won't get grown up EU debate from our media

LeaveHQ today picks up on some very sloppy, and disingenuous "journalism" from Jonty Bloom of the BBC. As much Bloom's empty assertion about Norway's influence is taken apart, there is a great deal more to it than that. To speak purely in terms of a veto doesn't even begin to touch on the complexity of the legislative process. In this, just from the basic duty to inform, the BBC is negligent. As usual, you have to ask a blogger if you want to know how it works.

As things stand EEA countries have a right of reservation, which means they can choose to reject a particular piece of EU legislation (Article 102 in the EEA Treaty), even if it is relevant and falls within their membership agreement, referred to as the ‘reservation right’. The consequence of exercising this right is that the EU can in theory choose to suspend any associated rights of the EEA EFTA states to linked benefits, such as market access. In practice it doesn't.

When using the reservation right the EFTA states are obliged to enter into negotiations to find a suitable solution for all parties, including investigating all other possibilities, for the agreement to be satisfactory. The investigation will last for no longer than six months after the reservation right has been used.

It is true that EEA countries have no formal say in the EU’s decision making process. But the EEA Agreement contains provisions for input from the EEA EFTA at various stages before new legislation is adopted. For instance they have observer status in most Commission committees and expert groups in the policy-shaping phase.

And this is really the crux of the matter. Influence is proportionate to the expertise we bring to the table. Our own scientific, academic and diplomatic resources are a valuable asset to the EU and avoids much duplication and thus can be used as a bartering chip. It is at the consultation stage where we see the best of international cooperation, largely to ensure that a piece of legislation is suitably workable so that it will pass a vote. In many respects, a piece of legislation blocked by the European Parliament is a failure of the consultation process.

With this in mind europhiles largely overestimate the value of having a formal vote further down the chain. What matters is our approach to the consultation, cooperating in good faith and participating in all the informing bodies that draft regulation. In this it is unimaginable that the UK would not be a leading voice from outside the EU, especially when standards bodies are not themselves EU institutions.

In this we see the involvement of British NGO's unions, consumer groups and business associations. They are among the best in the world and their competence is in no way contingent on EU membership. To view it purely in terms of the overpaid button pushers in the European Parliament is to discount 90% of the process. It's a two dimensional and rather childish interpretation.

It's not even as if any real scrutiny is applied by MEPs. Most MEPs know very little and have no real expertise. Most of them don't even know what they're voting for. They work to lists provided by their groups. They won't know whether it's ordinary legislative procedure, or whether it's first reading in response to comitology.

To them, it's just a vote that they turn up to, in order to press a button. Trying to have sensible discussions with them about what they voted for is usually a total waste of time. They don't have the knowledge and most times they don't have any real understanding of what they are doing.

As to amendments, most are for show only and get discarded. The ones that stick are the official amendments which will bring the text into synchronisation with the original text but, whatever happens, on technical standards, if they come from international sources, the details can't be changed. Very often, though, you get MEPs showboating and virtue signalling, putting in amendments for the sake of it. These are stripped out during the voting, and have no effect whatsoever.

So when it comes down to it, when europhiles say we would have no seat at the table, they just mean one particular table, way down the chain and one not actually all that important to the legislative process. This is also why evaluating MEPs on their voting record is a pointless and silly endeavour.

What matters to Britain is that we have a full voice and full vote in all those global bodies where international rules of trade are decided and on all the technical bodies that produce the substance of EU regulation from maritime affairs, pollution and standards for energy efficiency. Whatever is decided there is what will eventually be adopted by the EU. The EU's importance in that regard is overestimated and obscures the real business of global governance from view.

Undoubtedly the EU does have clout on these same bodies, and many argue that it has too much and is in fact a barrier to rapid conclusion of talks and derails efforts to bring about global standards via the WTO. In that regard, it destroys multilateralism and thus nobody has got much to lose from weakening the EU's grip. At the International Maritime Organisation, the EU is often regarded as a nuisance.

But then nobody is really suggesting we are out to damage the EU and in most instance we would cooperate if not concede to the EU position out of self-interest. The threat of not doing so is merely our leverage. The point is that we would have a choice where presently we do not. What's not to like?

In short, there is more than one way to skin a cat and leaving the EU does not in any way mean reduced influence nor does it mean an end to collaboration and cooperation. To suggest otherwise is cynical scaremongering. What we can say is that the EEA relationship at present is very much tilted in favour of the EU - however, with Britain joining Efta, we would see a much it in a much stronger position to reform the sub-optimal parts of the agreement.

By leaving the EU we put the real business of trade and foreign policy back into the hands of our own government. We are then free to initiate changes to bad regulations by way of modifying the standards that underpin them. The debate as to how many rules and regulations is neither here nor there - and to express it as a percentage as the Twitterati do is a tiresome game that ignores the substance of regulation and what it is for.

In truth, it doesn't matter a jot if we adopt all of them in that what we gain is a stronger position to reform them. Good deregulation comes from regulatory reform rather than this juvenile notion of having a "bonfire of red tape". We can do that better if we leave the EU. Staying in the EU means we have to wait our turn to set the agenda rather than dealing direct at the top tables.

The short of it is, we have a very shallow public debate on the nature of rules and regulations and how they are made. One of the great successes of the EU is to convince the public that it is the alpha and omega of regulations. With a media lacking any curiosity and inquisitiveness and a BBC with a federalist agenda, we are never likely to see a mainstream debate that brings global governance into the light.

It is precisely this misconception that the Remain campaign and the government seek to exploit. They capitalise on public ignorance to further their agenda and cloud the issues to prevent the public ever realising. For that reason alone you should vote to leave. Their game is not an honest one.

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