Monday, 8 February 2016

Friends of the Earth are no friend of democracy

You know I hate fisking so I'll make this quick. Writing in the Independent, Samuel Lowe argues that Brexit doesn't mean we can protect ourselves from TTIP. I'll have to make this a fisk piece to set the context properly. Firstly Lowe starts out with the usual preamble.
Much of the pro-Brexit camp is promising victory parties lit by bonfires of so called ‘red tape’. For many of them, the EU’s high environmental and consumer standards have long been seen as a drag on competitiveness, and an explicit reason to leave. (Remember: all that matters is that companies are allowed to produce products cheaply. Your desire to breath clean air, drink clean water and consume safe products is irrelevant.) In this context, we should be under no illusion that maintaining and enforcing environmental, health and social protection would remain a priority without EU guidance and enforcement. The UK has long been one of the biggest drivers of deregulation within the EU. Those who use TTIP to justify leaving should be careful what they wish for.
This is usual greenie leftie fluff. Big bad spooky corporates can't wait for Brexit so they can reroute all their toxic waste pipes into the sea. All those fat white mean in pinstripe suits smoking cigars will be rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of Brexit.

Meh. This is actually why I find most greens utterly risible. There are a few things to take issue with here. One of the main reasons there is such infighting within the leave camps is that there are those who do want to see a slash and burn of regulation and then there are those of us who live on planet Earth. Deregulation is just not going to happen. If we want to export to the world we have to conform to global standards and that is the minimum required for the export of goods and services to the EU.

It will therefore be in nobody's business interests to seek divergence. It is a fantasy of the "free market" Hannanite right that Brexit means deregulation. It's land of the dinosaurs stuff. More to the point, the chances of them having their way are next to nil since there is virtually zero likelihood that we will be leaving the single market as well as the EU. It's difficult to achieve and not even our Tory government wants it. There are few, if any advantages.

Secondly, to take shipping as an example, there is a massive industry oversupply in the container sector, and what better way, if you are the owner of nice spangly new ships with the very latest compliant engines, to shaft your competition than to demand that your base level of compliance becomes the law?

In this Maersk Line have been very vocal in the regulatory process, demanding all those old and dirty ships be gradually phased out. In this they won't be lobbying the EU. They will be in at the top tables working with the UNEP and the IMO. It's only really the peripheral variables and the time-scales that are set by the EU and if  Maersk and the likes do any lobbying in Brussels it will be for a faster uptake of the new global rules. However, other shipping associations will also be lobbying influential national governments to lodge their veto. In most instances, the big boys win out.

As to being drivers of deregulation, very little is ever deregulated per se. We get tinkering with the variables such as to parts per million of pollutants - which is largely all decided at the global level with only consultative involvement of the EU. So really, British membership of the EU is neither here nor there. Lowe can produce examples where thresholds have been lowered and I can play that same cherry-picking game too, but the point is, the EU middleman is not where the action happens - and that is the future trend. Lowe continues.
Some of the more enlightened Brexiteers acknowledge that it would still be in the UK’s best interest to remain part of the European Single Market. Colloquially known as the ‘Norway option’, this would involve the UK continuing to apply many of the rules of the EU while accepting a much reduced ability to shape and steer them. Under this scenario, the UK would still have to implement all of the changes in EU legislation that derive from TTIP. Yet, we would have a much reduced ability to influence its negotiation.
Yep. You guessed it. The "fax democracy" meme. Leaving aside that Efta states do have a veto that EU member states do not, Norway is a huge participant on all the global regulatory and standards bodies - Codex and the IMO especially. They play a large part in shaping the conventions and regulations before they are handed down to the EU - and no, they don't adopt most of the rules.

The reason that's important is because TTIP, at the very centre is less a case of establishing new conventions and regulations as it is hammering our agreements on regulatory convergence using existing global conventions. In this, Norway and New Zealand and other non-EU states have a direct line to the various committees where member states do not. I would rather have Norway's influence than our own when it comes to regulation since we are depressingly obliged to go through the EU middleman that often blocks our access or refuses our agenda.

But then it's in Lowe's written submission to the EU, exalting the virtues of the Habitats Directive and the Bathing Water Directive do we really see what Lowe's problem is.
EU membership has had a profound impact on UK environmental policy. In the 1970s and 80s the UK earned the unattractive reputation for being the ‘Dirty Man of Europe’. We had the highest sulphur emissions in the EU and our seas were characterised as open sewers. The policies pursued by environmentally progressive countries such as Germany and Denmark have driven up standards in the EU as well as acting to prevent the weakening of environmental policies by less progressive states, such as the UK. Today, many of the most important UK environmental policies and priorities are those that have emerged via the EU.
Now this is fascinating. Because not only are both sides of the Brexit debate trapped the past, and with Labour recently regressing into 1980's politics, we also see the FoE is stuck in a timewarp too. We're not in the 1970's anymore. There is no going back. We are a much more environmentally aware country now.

Those ghastly hippie chicks I remember from my student days with traces of ketamine caked round their noises at Brigton psy-trance events all now hold various environmental degrees and work of many of these global NGOs and lobby groups. Britain has had a cultural revolution that makes us one of the most environmentally progressive nations on earth.

More to the point, Lowe does his own organisation down in that FoE UK has been influential for as long as I can remember. To say that the British did not lobby for beach clean ups themselves is patronising and historically inaccurate.

Moreover, the main reason our seas have cleaned up is largely due to the complete obliteration of heavy industry in the UK. We don't mine coal, we don't build ships, we don't make steel, the UK oil industry in most respects is cleaner than it's ever been and is under unprecedented scrutiny.

But let's not forget that stricter environmental regulations also come at a great environmental and human cost. We used to break our own ships in the UK. Now we don't because it's costly and the methodical disposal of hazardous materials makes the economic of recovering raw materials scarcely worth the effort. Consequently we now send ships to Bangladesh and elsewhere to be beached - where there is little enforcement of spartan regulations and zero health and safety along with no workers rights. Slow clap for the Greenies!

It is only in recent years we have seen a global effort to ban the practice of beaching, paying much closer attention to the rights of workers in the industry. In fact, the new regulatory codes are developed by the ILO and the IMO, with the original proposal coming from... ...Norway. They who "have no influence". And let's not get into that whole Ballast Water Management initiative.

Moreover, when it comes to clean air is very much a major agenda item of UNECE, not least in driving vehicle emissions standards. In this we see global efforts to drive harmonisation, where agreements happen not between blocs and nations but between regulators and standards bodies - as we have outlined several instances of.

Now I'm not going to say the EU has not added value in the drive for EU standards, but as previously demonstrated EU enforcement is often found wanting and as much as the EU is gradually becoming  ever more of a law taker, the international bodies are increasingly becoming regulatory larcenists themselves, incorporating EU standards into global regulations. We get them in or out of the EU.

What ultimately does more for the environment is liberal democracy where we see a more educated population who make stronger demands for progressive policies. Were there to be this fictional scenario of deregulation we would see outrage from dog walkers, surfers and the likes who would cause outrage. Put simply, there's no going back to where we were and to suggest that the EU underpins it all is offensive. 

Moreover, on balance with the EU's CFP that has seen species driven to the brink of extinction (with little prospect of reform) and dodgy trade policies decimating the seas of West Africa, the EUs own reputation is not quite as green fingered as our Mr Lowe would have it.

In the final analysis, I'm actually a lot less bothered about TTIP than I was this time last year. We have seen it stall many times, with more and more measures dropped until what is finally delivered will be far less invasive and impressive than that which was originally proposed. If anything, TTIP is a decoy that distracts us from the much larger nexus of regulation which is far more pivotal to the substance of TTIP than any of the bickering that goes on between EU officials and their US counterparts.

So it really comes down to your own estimation of the bigger picture. Lowe has it that the EU is pretty much the be all and end all of environmental regulation, and that the EU can take the credit for the UK's current standards. I don't think that's true, and nor do I share the pessimistic miserablism that without the EU we could or necessarily would see our standards slide.

It speaks to a paternalistic  authoritarianism that so typifies the left in assuming that Britain will not uphold standards unless the EU boot is on our face. We have already seen this pathology extends to other areas of policy, where the left wing message is "If we leave the EU, the Tories might...". In this we find that wooing the left on matters of democracy is largely fruitless because those on the left who understand what it is, despise it.

The fact of the matter is that the stronger our environmental regulations, the greater the displacement of pollution, which is partially why China is polluting itself into oblivion. In this we should be seeking to improve and democratise the global rule-making nexus, and increasing the UK's participation in it, not least as a means to hold the corporates to account, who presently abuse the standards making processes to steer regulations for their own ends, in ways that even the EU has not fully comprehended.

It comes down to whether you believe the Brits are progressive, environmentally minded, conscientious global citizens who will assert themselves n the global stage, working with all partners (including Friends of the Earth) to drive better environmental standards, and will lead by example. I think we are. I believe that, like Norway, we are better served by having greater access to the global bodies and by having more democratic control over the laws we incorporate.

I reject the little Europe mentality and I utterly reject the pessimistic miserablism of nannying authoritarians. I place my faith in people and democracy. More to the point, if we do not have democracy then, I don't care about the environment. States where people are not free make for a passive, politically disengaged public which has consequences of its own, ultimately leading to a breakdown in civil functions and ultimately war - which is not known for being kind to anyone's environment. In all such estimations, people have to come first. That's why when it comes to the referendum, I'll be telling these bunny huggers to get lost.

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