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EU Referendum: the tedium of it all

2015-12-10 06:36:26

If we hadn't already seen so many times almost the entire media corps getting it wrong, we might be a little concerned about the reporting on the forthcoming EU "summit" as they insist on calling it. Given the media track record, however, I think we'll trust our own judgement, and simply note the media's lamentable analysis

Part of the dire collective is the Financial Times, setting us up for the Christmas pantomime. Centre stage is David Cameron's plan "to renegotiate Britain's membership of the bloc". But, in what the paper is styling a "tricky" encounter, we are suffering from tedium as charade is played out.

This is the "neuralgic issue" the denial of migrant in-work benefits for four years after they arrive in this country. With a theatrical impasse dominating the headlines, we are acquainted with a "plan B", in the form of an "emergency brake" on migration. This, we are told, "would allow the UK and other member states to curb free movement in special situations on the grounds of public security or public health".

Funnily enough, this would be very similar to Articles 112-3 of the EEA Agreement, the so-called "Safeguard Measures" which permit EFTA states unilaterally to take "appropriate measures" if serious economic, societal or environmental difficulties of a sectoral or regional nature arise and are liable to persist.

But what is a routine part of the EEA Agreement and available to countries such as Norway cannot be given to the UK. It will be "hotly contested" at next week's "summit", even though, "for all the sound and fury", neither plan will alter the flow of migrants from Europe to Britain" according to Sir Stephen Nickell of the Office for Budget Responsibility.

In any event, we are told that British officials have dismissed the "emergency brake" idea as "kite-flying" and "chaff". They suspect that the option was floated to provoke other EU leaders into opposing it. Such are the games that are played.

However, those of us with memories longer than a nanosecond will recall that the "colleagues" aren't planning on reaching a resolution next week anyway. Donald Tusk has already told us that the December Council will only address "the political dilemmas related to this process". He has added: "Based on a substantive political discussion we should be able to prepare a concrete proposal to be finally adopted in February".

Therefore, we are not going to see anything resolved next week other than the totally ersatz controversy drummed up by the media to keep the plebs entertained and its idle hacks employed.

We see this tedious controversy in great measure in today's Telegraph with the Prime Minister saying that the "short term reaction" of British people to the flood of migrants entering Europe will be to think "get me out of here" and consider voting for Britain to leave the EU.

Those who might be fooled by the headline need to read Mr Cameron's comment on the "longer term". This, he says, will lead to European leaders realising that they will have to give him the reforms he is demanding as part of his renegotiation with Brussels.

So the mindless dirge plays its way through the system. The "colleagues" will see the light in February, only then to raise another hurdle. That will have the media hyperventilating for a while over the new "threat" until that too is resolved, only to be replaced by another one, and then another.

The dynamic will last us until the spring of 2017, when we will start getting the vibes about Mr Cameron's shiny new "British Model". The media can then swoon over the brilliance of it all, prior to pulling the plug on the "leave" campaign and backing continued membership of the EU. 

For the time being, though, we have the FT telling us that the "free movement of EU citizens" is "a cornerstone of the European single market". "The central question at the forthcoming referendum", is says, "will be whether the British public's angst over migration is so great that it justifies surrendering the huge economic benefit that Britain receives from being part of the bloc".

With a self-awareness not commonly found in the media, it then declares that this is not a matter that will be influenced much, if at all, by the outcome of Mr Cameron's talks in Brussels. "The sooner the country moves on to a substantive debate about the merits of EU membership the better", it concludes.

That debate, of course, is not on the agenda. The media simply isn't up to it, the campaigners don't want it and the likes of Mr Cameron simply want to rig the referendum in any way necessary to procure a win. Having a free and open debate would wreck that plan.

Instead, the Prime Minister has been meeting Guy Verhofstadt who put to him his proposals for changes to the current institutional setup of the Union. They include "greater eurozone integration and more efficient management and decision making within the Union". Yet again this is "two-tier Europe" writ large, encompassing associate membership which Mr Cameron has already labelled the "British model".

This, Verhofstadt has set out in print, reminding us that a British renegotiation "will most certainly lead to a major treaty change". This will, he says, "create a system of two types of European membership". The first type "is 'full membership' that goes all the way. It makes you part of the 'ever closer union' with one currency, one economic policy, one army and one foreign policy".

Those countries who think the full membership is not their cup of tea can apply for the second type: "associate membership". This gives access to the internal market with its free movement of goods, services, capital and people. You will only have to apply those rules and regulations that are necessary to create a level playing field in internal trade.

Obviously, that also means the UK would no longer have full representation and the corresponding voting rights at EU level.

"That's it", Verhofstadt tells us. "It is clean. It is neat. Everybody will know where they stand. No more complaints about unfair treatment, rebates or historical opt-outs. This means that the real crux of the matter is not how to clean up the European mud pool, but whether politicians everywhere in Europe can handle this kind of clear choice".

A UK referendum on the country's role in Europe is fine, he avers. No democrat could ever oppose that. The real question is: What will the referendum ask? Will it be a "yes/no" on the membership of the UK or will it mandate the newly elected Prime Minister to renegotiate the terms and conditions of the UK's membership?

If the Brits vote to stay in the union but on different terms than today, they should be prepared to accept an "associate membership" in which they will have little or no say in how these rules were decided on. That is the consequence of their choice, Verhofstadt concludes.

Actually, it's not going to be quite like that. Britain will be cast as the leader of the "outer ring" and a full member of the "trade group". We will have full representation and voting rights on anything to do with the Single Market. This is the "British Model" a claimed improvement on the "Norway option", and sold as EEA with voting rights and "influence".

There are so many signals point to this that one would think that only the blind and the terminally stupid could fail to understand what is in store for us. But, as Lost Leonardo points out, such matters are only evident among a small but growing online community. The rest are either in denial or suffering from "not invented here" syndrome.  

In time, when real people have finally tired of the shallowness of the debate and the trivial posturing of the "noisemakers", we might start breaking down the wall of stupidity that the media have erected.

In the meantime, says Lost Leonardo, if you want to make a real contribution towards Britain leaving the EU and agreeing a new relationship with our continental allies based on intergovernmental co-operation and not supranational subordination, then LeaveHQ and this blog should be your first port of call.

Until then, tedium rules. The media is a lost cause, and the high profile campaigns are not any better.