Monday, 9 January 2017

Serving whose interests?

Our First Minister seems to have had a nice little jaunt to Norway to see how they cope with being outside the EU but inside the Single Market.  A small oil-rich country on the fringes of the EU sounds almost similar to Wales – apart from the ‘oil-rich’ bit, which is pretty central to Norway’s economic success and is economically more important than any apparent similarities.  Oh, and the bulk of their exports to the EU consist of oil and gas delivered through pipelines rather than goods which need to be physically checked to ascertain their true origin.  Whatever, the basic model of being in the Single Market but outside the EU is certainly one deserving of some consideration, even if not immediately obviously relevant to Wales.
The response of the Tories’ leader in Wales was entirely predictable: Norway might be interesting, but what we need to concentrate on is a uniquely British solution, a unique relationship with the other EU countries of a type which no-one else enjoys.  The implication is clearly that it will be not only unique, but ‘better’ - after all, if an existing model was considered good enough, it would be a lot quicker and simpler to replicate that than to create an entirely new model.  It might even be achievable within the fabled two year timetable.
The other 27 will give the UK that unique and better deal, because …?  Well, because they’re all foreigners and the UK is unique and special.  Obviously.  And of course, countries such as Norway which have already negotiated deals will be more than happy for the UK to come along and get a better deal, because …?  Well, because they’re foreigners, not special and unique like the British, and they know their place.  Again, obviously.
I was disappointed, but not surprised, at the First Minister’s reference to retaining freedom of movement, but only to go to a pre-identified job.  (And sadly, Plaid has been making very similar noises.)  It’s as though they see freedom of movement as something which applies only to other people, forgetting – or more likely deliberately ignoring – the probable reciprocity of any such arrangement.  But in the real world constraints on ‘them’ coming ‘here’ also mean that the same constraints will apply to ‘us’ going ‘there’. 
So, in effect, politicians talking about limiting freedom of movement, in the case of nationals of other EU states, to those who have jobs to come to are also telling us that our own freedom of movement should be limited to that which primarily serves the interests of capital and employers rather than being considered as a right of ordinary people.  Yet still they claim to be ‘internationalists’, ‘socialists’, and ‘progressives’.  Their definitions of those words seem to owe more to Orwell than to Marx.


Anonymous said...

I think you might find the overall size of the UK market does rather guarantee a 'better deal' than the likes of Norway with a population of only 5 million. Size talks, especially when it comes to matters of finance and business. So yes, the UK is more special than Norway and Norway is grown-up enough to realise this and to know its place. Perhaps we in Wales should realise this too because it is so obviously only England that brings us the benefits that accrue from size. Scotland 'in or out' matters not one jot.

As for freedom of movement I don't see what your issue is. People who can afford to live anywhere will still have the opportunity to live anywhere. Almost every country in the world is happy to accept 'tax paying' non-nationals. It's only those that cannot afford to live anywhere that will suffer. And quite rightly so too. Money does have its own benefits as even those on the left have come to agree.

The people's choice is in how to spend their money. Just as it always has been.

John Dixon said...

I am struggling to find a single sentence in that with which I can even begin to agree. But thank you for so neatly expressing exactly the attitude which I have been so regularly criticising.

"Size talks, especially when it comes to matters of finance and business." This is, of course, central to the Brexiteers' argument. I'm not convinced that it's true, or that depending on being 'big' is a sensible negotiating strategy. And size is itself relative; part of the problem from my perspective is that many in that camp still seem to think that we're empire-sized rather than a middling sized collection of offshore European islands. Neither of us can know at this stage who's right on this - only time will tell. But I think that the more probable outcome is that demanding special treatment 'because we're big and you need us more than we need you' is more likely to provoke the opposite response to that desired.

"... it is so obviously only England that brings us the benefits that accrue from size" - these would presumably be the benefits of being one of the poorest regions in the EU, and the poorest part of the UK?

"It's only those that cannot afford to live anywhere that will suffer. And quite rightly so too." Few statements could better clarify the extent of the difference in perspective between us. The poor should remain poor and the rich should keep what they have. It's an ideological perspective which you support and I reject.

"Money does have its own benefits as even those on the left have come to agree." I'm not even sure what you mean by this, or who 'on the left' you're referring to. Money, as a concept, has its benefits as a means of exchange, but I suspect that what you actually mean here is that 'possession of wealth' has its benefits for those who possess it. Well, yes - that would be a truism, but it's not at all the same thing as saying that a drastically unequal distribution of wealth has wider benefits for society which is what you seem to be trying to imply.

"The people's choice is in how to spend their money." For those who possess the money, that's true. But it isn't true for those who don't. And that, again, goes to the heart of the difference in ideology between us.

Democritus said...

In terms of negotiating leverage, like sex, it's not size in itself that matters as your overall offer that the partner needs or desires to receive from you and what you seek in return. Furthermore we are not looking at a one-off negotiation here - but an ongoing relationship we are insisting on re-negotiating; more a permanent relationship than a one night stand.

Norway is about as independent a nationstate as it's possible to be in the modern era. It has on pretty much any reckonings a higher GDP per head than any EU Member State and is a NATO full member. There is next to nothing Norway actually needs from the EU which it can't obtain from elsewhere. It sells its oil in Rotterdam for convenience and buys from it's neighbours rather than further afield for the same reason. It buys very little of its food from the EU preferring to shop in the cheaper global market. Probably the most interesting aspect of Norway's relationship is the way they nevertheless co-ordinate their own fisheries policy with the CFP. This is an area that will need sorting in advance of Brexit if EU registered fishing trawlers operating in international waters are to be allowed by their own countries to continue landing their catches in Scotland rather than being required to go to the Irish Republic. Norway's fisheries policy is an example of the obvious fact that fisheries management in the North Atlantic requires unanimity and unpalatable trade-offs (if you represent Grimsby or some other historic British fishing communities from the days, barely a generation ago, when trawlers were family owned & run and rarely stayed over a week or 2 at sea between returning to harbour) between countries whether we are in the EU or out. Norway has over many decades provided big subsidies to former fishing communities to help them diversify into fish farming, nature watching and other maritime businesses based on their amazing coastline. As per Aberdeenshire & Orkney the North Sea oil industry helped too.
Although Norway exercises a permanent standing veto over any international agreement to ban whale or seal hunting which it regards as integral to Norse culture and will not lift regardless of international pressure, these species of course are mammals, not fish! The CFP is but the mechanism used for dividing the EU's fishing quotas once these are settled with the non-EU countries. Even outside the EU, although we'll return to having a UK seat at the top table we are highly unlikely to talk any of the other states (or blocks of states in the EU's case) into cutting their quota so we can raise ours - and if we catch more North Atlantic cod than our quota permits then the Americans, Canadians Green/Icelanders and Norwegians, not to mention Brussels, are going to be deeply unhappy.
(more follows due to restriction on comment length ...)

Democritus said...

(continued from earlier comment ...)
In the UK case we are inextricably tied into a vast network of intra-European commercial supply lines as well as having lots of ancillary relationships and agreements with the EU States on such matters as Airbus, the European Space Agency and so on which don't involve the EU as such but where we (or our existing partners) may question our continued participation. We do import more goods than we export overall (though counting services properly is difficult); but not in relation to every EU country equally. Our main trade deficit is with Germany. There are plenty among the other 26 with whom we have surpluses and they all have vetoes too. In services Dublin, Frankfurt and Paris will probably get some boost when passporting finally ends and banks are compelled to relocate certain operations; but the strength of British commercial law and the liquidity of the London markets will probably be largely unaffected just as our non Euro membership did not put off investors. Less tangibly still we have the second (albeit by a long way) most capable armed forces in NATO (with France a close 3rd), are one of the security council P5 and are the sole European member of 5 Eyes. Still less tangibly we have the residual English speaking cultural and global so called 'soft power' that everyone was gushing about as justification for the 2012 Olympic circus.

I do concur with the Anon that the whole free movement issue is overblown. We are probably not going to impose visa requirements for tourists from the anywhere in the EU or have universal citizen ID cards. We will have to have large swathes of sectoral and skill based dispensations for everything from the NHS & social care to advanced manufacturing & IT, not to mention the seasonal harvesting sub contracts in the farming sector, and administering this would require a vast, time consuming and expensive bureaucracy that hassles the law abiding but doesn't touch the black economy. It simply isn't going to happen in the short to medium term because it can't.

The trouble from the start of the Tory led governments has been that the UK has not really been clear about its ultimate core objectives in relation to guiding the EU's evolution. We do not want a federal EU superstate (who does?); but whilst the Thatcher government could get behind the Single Market project (even if the Lady latterly couldn't) and Major's the expansion from 15 to 28 as worthy measures that would also divert attention from political integration, the Cameron governments never identified any equivalent but let itself be dragged by the nose into calling and then losing a plebiscite, not on the adoption or not of a new treaty or currency, but the basic principle of membership itself. The consequence is that we are now following a policy course that seems most likely to lead in due course to a multi-track Europe with Britain on the far periphery and a shrunken Eurozone without the PIGS (or France if Ms Le Pen wins) centred on Germany!