Sunday, 29 May 2016

Europhiles are on the wrong side of history

The Sixty-ninth World Health Assembly (WHA) closed this week after approving new resolutions on WHO's Framework for Engagement with Non-State Actors; the Sustainable Development Goals; the International Health Regulations; tobacco control; road traffic deaths and injuries; nutrition; HIV, hepatitis and STIs; mycetoma; research and development; access to medicines and integrated health services.

The World Health Assembly has adopted the WHO Framework of Engagement with Non-State Actors (FENSA), after more than two years of intergovernmental negotiations. FENSA represents a major step in WHO's governance reform. It provides the Organization with comprehensive policies and procedures on engaging with nongovernmental organizations, private sector entities, philanthropic foundations and academic institutions.

The Framework aims to strengthen WHO engagement with all stakeholders while protecting its work from conflicts of interest and undue influence from external actors, and is based on a standardized process of due diligence and risk assessment. FENSA also facilitates an enhanced level of transparency and accountability in WHO's engagement with non-State actors, with information on these engagements publicly available online in the WHO Register of non-State actors.

Now I could be wrong but this is mega. It very much sounds to me like the WHO is reforming along the lines of the International Maritime Organisation as a consultative technical regulatory agency - the hellmouth of all regulation. This is the future of global governance. Multilateral forums increasingly evolving as ecosystems of their own where all manner of non state actors are included, where coalitions and alliances can have votes and influence equal to that of blocs and nation states. 

And we need to have a far reaching conversation about this. What we get from the Vote Leave camp is all the usual waffle about EU regulations which is a sin in its own right because there is so much more to it than that, but it's not just the leavers who are guilty. Anyone watching the Jeremy Paxman programme the other day would have seen the BBC entirely convinced that the EU was the origin of regulation with even MEPs blissfully unaware of where the rules actually come from. The whole debate would not be more parochial if it tried. 

The Brexit debate is as much to do with our position in the world as it is our membership of the EU. It's about who makes the rules, who gets a say and whether we can say no. But to look at rule-making entirely through an EU prism is to completely ignore the elephant in the room. And it's rather a large elephant. 

And looking at the agenda items for the WHA, we see massive crossovers with other global regulatory bodies. Road traffic deaths is very much a lead concern of UNECE and Global N-CAP and works in tandem with UN Sustainable Development Goals in lesser developed countries. It would appear that India is to focus at the moment, with India rapidly striding into modernity but with roads and driving standards belonging to the 1950's. 

Whether this development is good or bad is a whole other debate. Firstly we have to establish the fact that it exists. I've been accused of being a conspiracy theorist for saying that the EU does not make its own rules and it seems entirely news to most people that the EU has for a long time been in many respects a passive recipient of rules with MEPs not having the first idea what's going on.

And as much as the regulations are adopted from elsewhere, the regulations bring international standards bodies into play, with rules agreed at the global level without any kind of democratic scrutiny and absolutely not amenable to amendments by lowly MEP plebs - assuming they even bother to read them. I happen to know that most do not.   

Regular readers will be aware of how this all ties together. Or not as is the case. We have several branches of regulatory inputs with no clear line of accountability and easily exploited by savvy players. Tobacco control is a huge area of concern ranging from health issues, marketing and counterfeiting, all of which can only be addressed at the global level.

Because there is no real injection of democracy these bodies can produce some seriously questionable and intrusive regulation. Much of the nannying fussbucketry with regard to nutrition originates from the top level largely through the particpation of NGOs and other non-state actors. It is a realm where good sense does not often prevail.

In this, as much as there are tie-ins with standards bodies and agencies of similar stature we also see Codex Alimentarius heavily involved in implementing WHO agreements and rolling them out to signatories of Codex conventions. We are seeing ever closer integration of these bodies, and they are now forging agreements of their own. Not just inter-agency agreements but also contracts with corporate alliances and super-unions. 

These are more seismic events than TTIP in that TTIP is mainly just an agreement to recognise various bodies in regulations - but there is apparently little intervention from governments in what deals they make with each other. The WTO is the governor in those transactions and that's when you start climbing deep into matters of international treaty law. Only a brave soul goes fishing in those waters. 

And then there's the International Telecoms Union. ITU, based in Geneva, Switzerland, is a member of the United Nations Development Group. It has been an intergovernmental public-private partnership organization since its inception. Its membership includes 193 Member States and around 700 public and private sector companies as well as international and regional telecommunication entities, known as Sector Members and Associates, which undertake most of the work of each Sector.

The ITU is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) that is responsible for issues that concern information and communication technologies. It coordinates the shared global use of the radio spectrum, promotes international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, works to improve telecommunication infrastructure in the developing world, and assists in the development and coordination of worldwide technical standards.

It's active in areas including broadband Internet, latest-generation wireless technologies, aeronautical and maritime navigation, radio astronomy, satellite-based meteorology, convergence in fixed-mobile phone, Internet access, data, voice, TV broadcasting, and next-generation networks.

We hear plenty of witless prattle from the EU about completing the single market by concentrating on digital services and intellectual property but the EU as a signatory of the WTO agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade has agreed to use the rules and standards set out by the ITU. So if we do want a say in the rules then this is where we need to be.

Despite EU attempts to block the natural evolution of the ITU in the same way as the IMO, the ITU is set to be the ruling power over the internet. We see repeated efforts by the EU to retain ownership of regulating and assert itself in unwelcome ways but now the WTO TBT agreement exists it has all but surrendered. The only powers it has to control the agenda is to control what member states do at the global bodies. Which serves no real purpose.

The short of it is, the EU is no longer in control of the global rules based trading system. It has been superseded and the Brussels Effect is not nearly as potent as has previously been assumed. So the question for us is whether we want to remain a supplicant of a lumbering behemoth like the EU or whether we want to have our own voice and a direct line to the top tables. Some would have it that this means going it alone, but we've put that notion to bed

Nations with intellectual assets like Britain can be leaders on global forums and wield a great deal of soft power, building coalitions which can hold the deciding vote in disputes between giants like the EU and China. Moreover, were we to join Efta, Efta then becomes the fourth largest trading bloc which can act as one but also allows member states to act independently on global bodies with a full right of opt out. 

Presently we find the EU ever keen to overrule the UK in key areas of regulation, often abusing its powers and being creative with the definitions of exclusivity. There are enough precedents to shoehorn itself in and take our vote if it wants to. In that regard it has all the power it wants and is accountable to nobody. The Commission is calling the shots. 

And while we have LSE academics bleating on about sovereignty being an outdated and stuffy concept that we primitive Brexiteers just don't understand, it is these same people who are completely oblivious to the global dimension regulation, and why it really matters that we have a voice and some control over the rules we adopt. The overpaid clueless button pushers in Strasbourg are not an effective means of scrutinising law and the chances of us blocking rules we don't want are slim indeed. Ultimately, sovereignty is retaining the power to say no. It is indivisible. You either have it or you don't. There is no pooling of sovereignty - there is only the surrender of it. 

Europhiles argue that it is a necessary sacrifice to build a European single market and nothing would function if nations did have opt outs but this is missing the point. What we are seeing as these global bodies evolve and gradually merge is the creation of a global single market.

The logic of going into the EEC was to have a real say in the rules that would govern the EU market. If that logic was correct in 1975, then it is correct now. If there is a global single market then we should join it, especially since it is one that works on the principle of multilateralism and genuine cooperation instead of supranational diktats. In fact, if the EU worked on that basis I wouldn't be proposing that we leave it. 

But the fact is the EU will never work like that. It is wedded to obsolete ideals from the last century still pursuing the goal of creating a supreme government for Europe in the assumption that the rest of the world wasn't going to catch up any time soon. Well it has, and the EU is no longer needed. The reasons we now go to war are entirely different to those of the last century. The dogmatism impedes on the pragmatism.

And that's really what this whole Brexit debate is. Competing dogmas with no reference to events in the real world. It's why I have the same contempt for the eurosceptic blob as I do ardent Europhiles. The blob insist that they want to go global, when the real business of trade is regulatory harmonisation and cooperation on standards. You can't make that case while at the same time promising sweeping deregulation - as fanciful as that is. But then the Europhiles are pretty crass too. 

Europhiles like to present themselves as enlightened internationalists bringing down borders when the the truth is far less wholesome. As much as we see the EU erecting trade barriers and physical barriers to the outside world it has an almost pathological refusal to acknowledge that anything exists over and above the EU.

Meanwhile, as Human Rights Watch reports this week, the EU is taking some pretty gruesome moral shortcuts to slow migration. Sudan under International Criminal Court suspect Bashir commits countless atrocities yet EU funds its forces to stop the flow of migrants.

The EU by nature is inward looking, isolationist, generally murderous and xenophobic in its immigration policy and routinely attempts to obstruct regulations that could benefit our exports or enhance our life quality (roaming charges for one). Yes, that's right - it's Ukipperism writ large. They are guilty of the same "going global" self-deception too. I believe the Europhile rhetoric when they say we need an internationalist approach to global problems but the EU is absolutely not the solution and represents none of the things it pretends to. 

Rounding this up, there are multiple areas where the debate could be expanded and we seriously do need to have a far reaching debate as to what shape these global bodies are going to take, but we cannot be a full participant while being a subordinate to the EU, especially if Mr Juncker gets his way. This whole referendum debate is beset by Euro-parochialism and is not getting anywhere close to the real issues. There is a whole other level of complexity to this with massively significant developments going unreported and not understood.

In this there are challenges and opportunities aplenty. There are major new avenues to explore and and wholly new techniques in international trade which have yet to be understood even by the EU. Hence why it is still locked into the mentality of big hitting bilateral deals. 

And when you mention this to economists you are met with a blank stare. They are barely aware of how standards and regulations impact trade agreements and why tariffs are not nearly as important as anybody assumes. If we can reduce transaction costs by greater sums than tariffs, then the tariffs are neither here nor there. This is why I can so casually dismiss the blather of prestigious academics offering up their myopic economic projections. They are not even close to comprehending what's going on. It is a subject matter where every answer creates ten new questions.

What we do know is that the EU is no longer the top table, it is of diminishing influence and as the EU loses influence so do well In the multilateral environment, the old narratives of having market size clout matter far less than having agility and the ability to rapidly respond to the needs of emerging industries. 

You cannot possibly do that when you have to secure the agreement of 28 states, some of which not even involved in the industries concerned. It creates scope for horse trading where bundled deals can be held up over minutia, giving way to bicycle shed syndrome. Meanwhile the rest of the world progresses incrementally, one product or sector at a time. If we do it the EU way then we are pegged to the speed of the slowest ship in the convoy and everybody loses out. 

But now you have some idea as to why the Brexiteers have such a hard time making the case. To say that it is complex is something of an understatement. We have to set out a case in great detail and overcome some deeply entrenched misconceptions about what the EU is and what it does. We hear all the empty virtue signalling rhetoric and you can see why the EU appeals to those who imagine themselves as outward looking and progressive. But it's a bogus self-deception that only prevails through ignorance.

We on the other hand, are offering up something transformative that digs Britain out of a rut and jumpstarts global trade. That is no small undertaking. It's going to require a revolution in how we do things. It's going to require that we slaughter a few sacred cows and modernise our thinking. It will take time - and first we have to get europhiles to acknowledge something outside the EU even exists.

But as much as it will enhance our economy it will also transform and reignite our democracy. That is the winning case. Brexit absolutely is the answer staring us in the face. It solves problems that most don't even know we have.

Few seem to have noticed that we have become politically disengaged from the world, largely as a result of our EU membership. We are no longer attuned to acting globally. We have lost the knack. We need to regain it. Some say that is a reason to give up and go with the flow; to resign ourselves to the dismal abyss of second rate EU membership. I disagree.

Personally I don't think we can afford to stay in. The writing is on the wall for the EU and we are increasingly going to notice over the coming years that the EU is creating more problems than it solves - and we lack the tools to adequately deal with the consequences. We will notice that voting is increasingly useless and power increasingly flows away from the people. We will see politics trivialise and toxify at an unprecedented rate. And we will see consequences. 

Politics as we know it is already a pretty sordid affair and looks as though it is in a perpetual race to the bottom, without leaders becoming ever more risible and contemptible. That's no accident. Wesminster is increasingly political displacement activity where ministers are now apologists rather than custodians of the levers of power. They have neutered themselves and so make busywork to justify their existence. We see think tanks proposing ever more elaborate tinkering with the voting systems to re-engage voters. But none of it gets to the heart of the issue. That voting rituals alone do not constitute a democracy and people without power have only protest. 

In that we will see an increasingly bewildered and dispirited public, cynical of their leaders and the processes, and the manifestation of this will be further fragmentation, more fault lines opening up, political violence and discontent. As much as there are lost opportunities in remaining in the EU I think there will be a major cultural price to pay. Staying in won't fix anything and it won't lance the boil. It will continue to fester.

And this is why Brexit is a necessity. We need to adapt to the new global order. We need a political settlement fit for this century. We need serious and deep reforms to our domestic democracy. We need to move on from this interminable Euro-parochialism and settle the argument once and for all. Nothing is going to progress until we do. 

And that is why, if there is a price to pay, we should pay it. We are nearly all agreed that Brexit will cause economic disruption. We are all agreed that politically it will be a serious shake up. But that is not a reason not to do it. That is the price we pay for the hubris of our politicians and for our own negligence in allowing them to do it. We can either step up to the plate and pay it now or we can kick the can down the road and pay a bigger price later. We can either have a peaceful revolution now or something far worse down the line. We can have meaningful change if we leave. But if we remain, we are stuck with no change at all. I think the price for that will be unimaginable. 

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