Sunday, 22 November 2015

Brexit: a time to step up to the plate

This year I've gone big on the global regulatory agencies. Not just because I'm an epic nerd but also because knowledge is power and in this game, and it can be a most potent weapon. It's as exciting as it is interesting.

Because regulation is all about making things work better, faster, safer, and cleaner and working in harmony with other systems it means it is at the cutting edge of technology. Follow @BoschGlobal on Twitter. Some of what they post will (or should) blow you away when you consider the potential.

That said, it's the political dimension I find the most interesting. We often hear how corporate lobbying is deeply embedded in the regulatory process. That's not always a bad thing since they are the experts in their own fields so why would you not consult them? The last thing we want is government officials with no expertise telling them how to do their job.

Bosch is a seriously interesting one in that they are in with the WHO and UNECE working both directly and as part of lobbying coalitions. One of the major ones is a charity, Global NCAP, an umbrella for all of the major world regional NCAP programmes. They are backed by Bloomberg Philanthropies as well as the FIA Foundation and the International Consumer Research and Testing Organisation, which itself is an umbrella organisation representing most of the major global consumer organisations like Which?.

Many of them are umbrella groups, often encompassing trade guilds and smaller grassroots lobby organisations accountable largely to their own members. The influence of national governments is actually fairly minimal. Governments are only really involved when these organisations come to a formal agreement on standards and practices and need it rubber stamping as official.

In the consultation process, obviously money talks and so often the little guy is frozen out, which is why small producers and innovators are passengers when it comes to regulation. Only those nations who compel SME's to join trade guilds have half-decent representation. In the UK, the respective government ministries have sole authority over who gets to participate at the EU level and that's often as far as it ever gets.

While this process isn't inherently corrupt, it can at times be murky and half the reason for that is that virtually nobody is watching this process and it is accountable to no-one. If ever there was something considerately in need of democratisation it is the global regulatory process. Our media tends to focus on the daily biff-bam politics of Westminster which is so far down the chain as to be completely uninteresting to anyone following the real business of government.

Watching MP's debating whether schools should be teaching first aid is like watching my local parish council deciding if Filton roundabout should have new street-lamps. It's actually embarrassing to watch the mother of all parliaments reduced to this. What's depressing is that MPs can't begin to comprehend just how debased and usurped that institution is.

Were the media to cast an eye on the process, they would have the same problem I have. Knowing who to watch and where. That's the bit that takes some investigative skill - something they lack, which is why they obsess over the Westminster decoy. As Councillor Simon Cooke points out, we need pay much closer attention to the likes of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) and Bloomberg Philanthropies and follow the money from there. From vehicle manufacture to medicines and sustainable development, they are the money behind most of the organisations at the very top tables.

At no point is this process ever debated or scrutinised by anyone we elect. The only elected assembly anywhere in the process is the European Parliament. So that's a good thing right? Well, as you might expect me to say... no.

By the time any of this is encoded into law, it has already been through the consultation mill, fed up the private chain to the global top tables, embodied in international standards and practices and then spit back out in the form of global conventions. At this point, what MEPs think of it is neither here nor there. At best they can tinker with some of the variables and debate the rollout and the timetables, but it is not a powerful body in that regard.

When it comes to the signing of these global conventions. individual states sign independently, but in this we are compelled to vote for the common EU position - which is whatever the EU Commission says it is. That is why there is extensive lobbying in Brussels. They are not lobbying MEP's.

The short of it is, while regulation is clearly a necessary function in an ever globalised world, there is nothing about the process that suggests it is democratic. More importantly, because the EU is seeking to take our seat on most of these global bodies (where it hasn't already), with an eventual view to phasing out member states and converting observer status into a seat in its own right, it diminishes our own influence - more so as the EU expands.

Instead of dealing with the global bodies directly we have our own government controlling access to the consultation process by dictating who may go to the respective EU forums - and that's as high as our influence goes. As the Morning Star points out, that increasingly means we are represented by commercial lobbyists nominated by our own government and those who can buy their way in.

The only hint from the media we get that this process even exists is when there is something controversial like the TTIP "trade deal". But even that is downstream of the real business of trade deals. Last week we got a small clue in this regard with Martin Schulz calling for ILO conventions to be included in it.

This is ultimately what trade deals are now. They are agreements on regulatory harmonisation. Rather than being original material, they are an amalgam of existing conventions. Tariffs are a much less significant factor. To say then that Norway has no influence in TTIP, ignores the very real influence it has in the making of the component parts, not least through it's participation in the ILO.

It's true that agreements such as TTIP are subject to considerable scrutiny, and though the European Parliament will do a half-decent, semi-democratised job of that, it doesn't get a say in the conventions and agreements that from the components. It is not involved in the process.

These agreements essentially form the basis of what we repeatedly describe as an emerging global single market. A single market is not just an area where there are zero or common tariffs. It is a region that shares common regulatory constructs. In that regard, the single market extends well beyond the confines of the EU internal market. The EU internal market is actually the odd man out, setting itself apart from the rest.

This is why we express some alarm at Ruth Lea and Dominic Cummings and their simplistic notion that we can leave the single market - in that there is in fact no leaving the single market if you think of it in terms of a common regulatory area. For Cummings to say, as indeed we have, that we would "retake our seat" on the global bodies once we left the single market just doesn't make any sense at all since EU rules are also global single market rules. The EU mostly adopts the rules from these very bodies. So in one very calculated tweet we see the gaping chasm of ignorance that is Dominic Cummings.

The fact is, trade is done in an entirely different way and the complaints about regulations from classic eurosceptics are based on a wholly obsolete context. There is no possible way you can make a coherent argument about life outside of the EU if you haven't understood this new paradigm. Dominic Cummings clearly has not.

The future of trade is agreements between regulatory agencies forming massive regions of regulatory harmonisation. Agreements between Euro-NCAP and C-NCAP will be farther reaching than any trade deal that makes it into the media limelight and to my mind far more alarming than TTIP. Similarly, we have recently remarked on how Mexico is enjoying a certain amount of growth through trading agility, but that is done by cutting regulatory corners. A mutual recognition agreement with Mexico is most definitely something we would want to veto - yet this would be done without Britain having a veto and would scarcely be mentioned by the media.

Of course in this there is the question of proportionality. While there is no democracy in this process, should we really get worked up that a corrupt deal at the top of the chain means that it is now the law that you have to use a particular type of inspection device that only Bosch makes, or that potentially lethal cars are greenlit for import?

Well, in the grand scheme of things (not that I have seen a copy of it) I can think of other more pressing matters, and as far as the average voter is concerned, it's less of a priority than those street-lamps on the roundabout, but through standardisation for expediency of growth, bypassing democracy, there are very real risks that standards will be diluted so as to be worthless - where the real deal is little better than the counterfeiters - which negates the whole point of having standards in the first place.

The fact is, our quality of life is enhanced by buying with confidence. Being able to trust our devices and our food is a huge part of what makes the West a great place to live and it's why people would risk everything to get here. We need to ensure that our strict codes stay strict and that our markets remain closed to dangerous and fraudulent goods. To do that we need our right of veto at the top tables, we need our own voice heard and we shouldn't be going via the EU to find our voice stops there.

The bureaucracy of the EU can be exploited and the larger it grows, the more our voice is marginalised, and the less capable the EU is of making decisions in the common interest. If there is to be a global single market then it must be a community of equals where every voice is heard. It is diminished without British participation. If there is one thing we British have proven ourselves adept at it is setting the standards and showing others how to do things. This is not a trait we have lost in spite of forty years of European integration.

Brexit does not mean walking away from the table. It means walking toward a bigger one where our voice matters. Brexit means dispensing with the ideas of the last century and refocussing our attention on the global single market, dealing direct and cutting out the middleman. It means shortening the chain of accountability. It means removing the blindfold to the matrix of global governance and waking up to the new paradigm. More than that it means stepping up to plate.

Britain has always shown the world how to do democracy. Without our participation in this global governance process, democracy has taken a back seat. Once we get to the top tables, we need to be knocking a few of them over and demanding transparency and accountability where presently none exists.

This referendum is not just a Leave/Remain question. It is something more fundamental. In the new global order, are we to be a driver or a passenger? If we are subordinate to the EU at the top tables, we're sat in the back watching a Bob the Builder DVD with the kids rather than at the wheel where we belong. That would be a travesty. It would be an end to a long tradition of Britain shaping the world. Voting to remain in the EU is voting to throw in the towel - and that would be a sad thing to behold.

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