Friday, 16 October 2015

We have our answer...

One of the great pitfalls of Twitter is the lack of ability to give detailed and worthwhile replies without cluttering up blog space. Howesoever, Jon Worth has responded to my blogpost and I must respond in kind. I don't think a line by line fisking in this context is the right way to go since much of what he says is shrouded in counter rhetoric which is best ignored - and instead we'll look at the distinct arguments.

Worth says he cannot find any mention on my blog of maritime safety issues due to the lack of a search engine. The top bar does indeed have a search function, but that wouldn't have been necessary since the preceding post was in fact all about that very global governance entity, discussing this very topic. Norway's respective influence - or rather the influence we would have outside the EU.

Worth says "The European Maritime Safety Agency lists six major pieces of EU law relevant to shipping here (plus their relevant amendments) – if the UK were in the EEA then it would have to still implement all of that, and would have no say over the amendment of those laws in future.

Indeed it amuses me that the first regulation says "the International Safety Management Code providing for the safe operation of ships and for pollution prevention, hereinafter referred to as the 'ISM Code', was adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) through Assembly Resolution A.741(18) of 4 November 1993 in the presence of the Member States and, through its incorporation into the International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea 1974, will apply to ro-ro passenger vessels from 1 July 1998;"

Any such amendments in the future would merely be an adoption of further articles of the SOLAS convention, via the IMO - of which Norway is a top table participant. Meanwhile the EU has observer status which means our vote in that body is a proxy vote since we adopt the common EU position where the matter at hand is considered a core EU competence. 

So, yes, this does rather suggest that Worth is oblivious and does not even read the regulations to which he refers. He also makes mention of eAlert emergency devices. These regulations themselves are in fact the product of WP.29, The UNECE World Forum for Harmonization of Vehicle Regulations. Being that this is an area of global regulatory convergence, that makes it an exclusive EU competence - where Norway has a vote - but we don't. As a member of the EEA, we would be full participant with full national sovereignty over our vote.

Worth says that as members of the EU we have some influence in the common EU position and as a major producers of vehicles that is undoubtedly true. But my question is why settle for persuasion at the middle table when you could have an outright veto at the top? And yes, for the record Jon, the emissions regulations adopted by the EU were UNECE. They say so right here. And be under no illusions... Pick any UNECE regulations at random, such as these, and you will see that they are not by any measure some vague UN aspirational tract. They are strongly typed regulations. Laws.

And this really underscores the point that while the EU can tinker with parameters here are then to the exclusion of Norway and other EEA members, it's neither here not there when you have a veto before such measure get anywhere near the European Parliament. Having a fairly good idea of how the EU parliament is likely to tinker with regulations you would veto potentially bad ones well in advance. If you want to shape the substance of the regulation then you need to be at the top tables and you and if you want real influence then you need your bargaining power.

When it comes to bargaining power, a veto in itself is often good enough, but freedom from the EU means freedom to join coalitions at the top tables, joining forces with other global entities, alliances and nations wishing to block bad ideas. The benefit of this means we can cooperate with the EU and indeed assist it in pushing the global agenda toward addressing our own concerns, where there are advantages to doing so, but then teaming up with others when the EU has an otherwise full agenda. 

There are clear democratic advantages, there is greater influence to be had and more global agility, but Worth says "look at an intergovernmental body like the G20, or worse still the UN, to see what intergovernmentalism looks like – it means moving at the speed of the slowest. QMV within the EU might not be to everyone’s tastes democratically as it means that states can be outvoted, but it sure makes decision making more swift as unanimous agreement between 28 states is hellish slow."

Well, that's rather the point isn't it? QMV isn't to our tastes democratically in that we can be overruled. When you are talking about regulations that affect millions of people and their livelihoods, we can hardly call this democracy. Yes intergovernmentalism can often be slower, but that really depends on how you go about it. As we have already discussed on this blog, unbundling on a sector by sector basis is a great deal faster than the EU's stagnant deep and comprehensive methodology that leads to trade deals taking several years only to collapse in the final rounds.

But while intergovernmentalism can be slow, don't forget that The EU as a law-taker, is the recipient of multiple intergovernmental processes, to which it then adds additional time and complexity (and therefore delay). To cut out the EU as a "middle man" would significantly speed up the process. It's no coincidence that even Botswana had regulations on plastic carrier bags long before we did.

Notwithstanding the inherent slowness of intergovernmental processes, there is no evidence that the supranational system is any faster either, not least as it is increasingly having to act in response to international initiatives before it can initiate any action. Initiatives by member states, therefore, are significantly delayed, as they are unable to broker changes directly with international bodies, having first to work through the filter of EU institutions. Inside the EU we cannot secure changes to global conventions nor can we adequately respond to market changes without going through the motions. We lose our global agility. 

Worth, having completely neglected to examine the origins of the regulations he quotes and the context in which they were formed, maintains his original position of ignorance. "The point of my original blog entry then still stands" he says – that "the UK out of the EU and in the EEA would lose political influence and would not gain democratically, even if the economic impact were to be negligible."

Worth points out in his original post EEA membership is the means by which economic impact would be the closest to negligible, and were we to adopt the entire EU aquis as a Brexit mechanism, we can say with reasonable confidence that business would in the short to medium term struggle to notice any difference of substance. However, what we gain is influence at the top table, more democratic decision making and a shortening of the chain of accountability. If we want something we can bypass the EU, pick alliances and go right to the top. 

This however, is of no interest to Worth. He is wedded to his mantra that "Norway has no influence" - a tiresome political meme that simply won't go away. Regardless of how many times it is demonstrated to be false, the factory reset button goes off in the heads of europhiles causing them to repeat the same untruths. It is as we said - a toxic mix of ignorance and self-deception. 

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