Archive for the ‘General Politics’ Category

Did Jacek Rostowski reveal the deal?

According to a sweary leaked tape Jacek Rostowski, ex-finance minister for Poland, said:

 No Polish government could agree to Cameron’s renegotiation proposals except in return for a mountain of gold.

The whole thing is being seen simply an attack on Cameron’s judgment, but I think this might just evidence that, behind the scenes, one or more of the EU accession and/or southern states might be be prepared to strike a deal of the type I’ve set out previously:

I can’t help feeling there’s a much bigger deal to be done with other states which would actually stop migrants from the southern and accession states from coming here, if that’s what people really, really want.  Here it is:

In return for the UK and other Northern European countries getting to stop people from further away places coming over here, taking our jobs or whatever, the further away places get to put some stops on things that the Northern European keep on selling to them, so that the further away places stay poor.  In time, the further away places would be less poor, and less of their people would want to come to UK to take our jobs.

In technical terms, that would mean a temporary trade off of restrictions on freedom of movement of people for restrictions on freedom of movement of capital and goods, until an agreed point of current account convergence and/or of GDP per head were reached via a process of artificial devaluation and import substitution  – or, if you want to conceive of it thus, the creation of a massive virtual European Structural Fund aimed at the fastest possible reduction in structural disparities between all 27 EU states (and joiners).

That would be Rostowski’s mountain of gold, although there might also be a real Structural Fund deal to be done.

As I’ve made clear, none of this requires treaty change, as it’s all allowed under articles 30, 32 and 45.  It could be done quite quickly if the political will were there, and the price was right.

Now Rostowski is not in government anymore, but it might just be he knows something Cameron doesn’t.

Which isn’t hard.



Categories: General Politics

Educational achievement and the benefits of being an immigrant

Last week, Adam said that the key reason that children in  London’s schools have done much better than the rest of the country in the last 10-15 is mostly down to the “difference  [in] the quality of the schools”.

Today, in the light of a new IFS/IoE research report on this same matter, Stephen refines this position, arguing that the differential between the cities of London, Birmingham, Manchester and other areas is principally down improvements in primary schools in the late 1990s and early 2000s:

The most common explanations cited are the successes of London Challenge…..Teach First….. and the academies programme…. Also high on the list are immigration….higher per pupil funding…..and greater competition among schools (owing to London’s urban density and easy transport links).

The report painstakingly works through all these explanations and a handful of others. What it finds is that, though many of those explanations are contributory factors, they are not the main driver of why London’s schools have improved so much, so fast.

The single biggest explanation of the ‘London effect’ is… what happened in its primary schools more than a decade ago. In essence, London’s primary schools, particularly in English, achieved great success between 1999 and 2003, which – years later – fed through into improved GCSE results.

I’m not convinced.  The Stephen main thrust of Stephen’s post is less an examination of what the biggest drivers are, more an analysis of how “the correlation is not causation” rule in social science can be ignored in the face of political imperative, but I do wonder if he’s committing the same kind of error himself.

My own reading of the report suggests that the jury is still very much out on this new account of causation:

We cannot completely dismiss other potential explanations, however, such as increasing levels of school competition or unobservable changes in pupil cognitive ability or teacher quality over time. The increasing proportion of non-white pupils and those with English as an additional language may also explain part of this phenomenon. Ongoing work by Simon Burgess examines the role of these factors in more detail. More research is needed to understand whether the National Literacy and Numeracy Programmes were indeed an important source of London’s improvement p.35)

And my own partly informed hunch is that it is these (hitherto) “unobservable changes in pupil cognitive ability” that will turn out to be very important, and the cause of this heightened cognition level will be, as the report suggests it might be – immigration.  I’ll certainly be looking out for Simon’s new research.   In particular I’ll be interested to see whether there’s evidence that these purported changes in cognitive ability are actually causing the higher primary school achievements in the first place (as opposed, say, to better literacy strategies).

This hunch has two sources:  a) quite a few years of close involvement with primary and secondary education; b) some reading of the wider relevant literature about culture, cognition and achievement.

As a link governor in a secondary school for almost exclusively white working class children, one thing that has really struck me is when English teachers tell me about the main obstacle to getting  children writing creatively.  The main obstacle, they tell me, is that some children simply don’t have any experience to write about.  They live on their estate, they go to school, and they go back to their estate.

Some 15 year olds in my school have never been on holiday, never seen the sea, never done anything exciting.*  How on earth can we expect them to write interesting essays about the world around them, when that world is grey and monotonous?

Compare this to the experiences of a child who arrived in  the UK just three or four years ago, who is now both bilingual and bi-cultural, participating in the life of a school where the majority of the children have all had a rich set of experiences (though some if them may well have been traumatic), and whose current material circumstances may be poor but whose prospects just feel richer.   Is it any great surprise that these children do better, and especially in English.

This is borne out by the empirical research too.  I’ve written before of how children who have to translate for their parents actually do better at school, and reflect with pride on their status as bridge of cultures.  I’ve also written of how. at wider economic level, how it is the very meltingness of the melting pot of an immigrant city which drives economic growth and well-being.    There’s also evidence, utilizing the Bourdieu concept of habitus  as a theoretical (but heuristic) frame, that migrants’ social and cultural capital go beyond the social scale imagined on their behalf by others, in a way which may well contribute to children’s achievements, but in a way which indeed has indeed remained largely “unobservable” to date.

It’s great that the research into what actually helps children learning is now seriously underway, alongside an apparently growing consensus that the factors are many.  If my hunch does turn out to be correct, one thing I’d like to see under the (silly) fiscal-neutral plans is for the extra cash schools are given for each child with English as an Addtional Language (EAL) to be shifted towards investment in giving experiences to children who won’t otherwise get them.  To a significant extent, this will be about investment in schools like mine, where the concept of a school trip-of-a-lifetime to China or South America, now commonplace in middle-class areas, doesn’t simply seem like a pipe dream.**

In time, too, I look forward to seeing how evidence that immigration is good for us all, in ways we hadn’t spotted earlier, might be used to push the case for a more sensible immigration policy.  However, given what Stephen rightly says about political imperatives and confirmation bias, I don’t expect much movement on that soon, at least from the top (it might be different if people in small towns start demanding more immigrants to help boost their schools).


* Separately, I was astonished, in the days I helped run our local music festival, how many 15 year olds, coming three miles out into the countryside from Skelmersdale, were staying in a tent (£9.99 from Aldi) for the very first time, and for how many this was their first trip to the countryside.

** Such trips are designed for 15/16 year olds, and I recognise that the best value per educational buck may come from opening up lifetime experiences to younger children e.g. on what we used to call outward bound courses.

Categories: General Politics

The second TCF poetry competition is announced

To mark the early release from Whitehall of poet-economist Giles Wilkes, the Though Cowards Flinch board has decided to run its second poetry competition.  This follows on the highly successful inaugural competition of 2010, held prior to Wilkes’ unfortunate incarceration, and won by Tom Freeman’s masterpiece An Ode to Quantitative Easing.

QE was indeed the subject matter this time, but poetry competitions must stay relevant, and for the 2014 competition submissions must be on one of two themes:

a)  The problems with getting through the fog of political necessity with sound economic policy;

b) The extent to which the notion of public service reform has become synonymous with public sector cuts rather than way of delivering better stuff for people, and why (tip: see a) above)

As an example, Giles has kindly donated a sample of the kind of thing we’d like to see:


The SpAD to the BisSec Vince Cable

Having found out he just wasn’t able

To make anyone see

We need more NGDP

Departed the Cabinet Table


Rules for the competition:

1) Submission deadline when we feel like it but probably at the end of the world cup so people who don’t give a monkey’s about football have something else to do.

2) Any verse form allowed, apart from sonnets.  we fucking hate sonnets at TCF.

3) Submissions can be made in the comments here or at another blog with a link to here and a note on the submitting blog, saying:

Though Cowards Flinch is essential reading for people who want to get to the bottom of: a)  The problems with getting through the fog of political necessity with sound economic policy; b) The extent to which the notion of public service reform has become synonymous with public sector cuts rather than way of delivering better stuff for people, and why (tip: see a) above).

The main bloke there, Paul, should be paid quite a lot of money by a wealthy organisation or individual to allow him to focus full-time on writing with such acumen and attention to detail.


To be supplied by organisation or individual at 3) above, and worth quite a lot.

Categories: General Politics

IPPR report gets a C+

When it comes to today’s IPPR Condition of Britain report, most of the focus in the media and on social media has understandably been on the three big policy announcement from Miliband at the launch, and of those three the most controversial one has been the proposal to create a youth allowance, backed by investment in Further Education and a Future Jobs fund-style programme, at the expense of Jobseekers’ Allowance for 18-21 year olds.  For what it’s worth, I think the plans have some merit, but can only be properly assessed when we know a)  how much the youth allowance might  be;  b) what level of discretion and autonomy the newly empowered personal advisers will have.  I will come back to this, not least as I think Chris is wrong to pre-define it as managerialism rebooted, when there is still so much to play for when it comes to implementation.

But here I want to focus on the most interesting bit of the report, chapter 10 on ‘Crime and Exclusion’.

The first thing to say that this is a very bad title chapter, as it suggests that people who are excluded from the mainstream tend to be criminals.  In fact, some are, but most aren’t; they just live excluded lives.  The chapter is at is because it focuses a lot on how to develop the Coalition’s Troubled Families programme into a new Troubled Lives programme, but fails to notice that only of the four current criteria by which Troubled Families are to do with crime (the others are to do with education, work and other “costs to the public purse”).  Very poor.

But this unfortunate kowtowing to Coalition prejudice aside, there are interesting proposals.  This is the key one:

Local authorities already control some of the budgets that could contribute to a Troubled Lives programme: drug and alcohol treatment services, for instance, together with the homelessness prevention grant.91 We argue that councils should be given five-year allocations for these budgets in the next spending review. This would give them the confidence, and the financial incentives, to invest upfront in innovative  support and services to help people turn their lives around. if successful, this would enable councils to realise savings in later years that could then be reinvested in effective interventions.

This specific proposal reflects a wider one made earlier in the report:

[I]f, in the next parliament, there is to be a serious redistribution of powers and resources, it must be driven through the spending review, so that all departments and ministers are bound into it. For local areas themselves, five-year budgets, spanning the whole of the next parliament, would give local leaders and citizens more freedom to plan and invest upfront in projects and services that are likely to reduce needs or generate future savings (p51-52).

The report is unclear on the precise mechanics for this kind of upfront investment, and I am not sure that IPPR yet know how exactly, let us say, a 30%, 25%, 25%, 10%, 10% prevention-focused spend profile over a five year period can be accounted for on local authority and central government books.

Will local authorities simply be asked to use reserves, with an explicit or implicit bail out promise from the centre if the (evidence-based) relational prevention work does not realise the profiled savings?  Will there be some kind of accrual mechanism, whereby the centre accrues notional savings back onto its own national accounts (or allows local authorities to defer payment on business rates).  How will these plans be integrated with the NHS/social care integration also being planned?

Until we get the detail, we won’t know to what extent all this can actually be delivered, and the difficulty in working it all out may be why Miliband preferred to focus on three areas where there is more detail.  Understandable maybe, but not great for PR.

Nevertheless, I remain encouraged, though not as encouraged as earlier in the week.  It provides some evidence that Labour really is thinking through public service reform which produces good (preventative) public service outcomes first, and less downstream spend as a happy consequence.

The other day Rick, in responding to my earlier post on public sector reform,  said:

No, my worry about Paul’s piece is that he seems to be saying Labour’s reform programme will remove the need for tax increases and/or cuts to public services. The redesign of the state will achieve more with less – or maybe the same with less. This, of course, is just what the Coalition has been claiming for the past four years. If you can just make the public sector more efficient, then no-one needs to worry about service cuts or tax rises.

Now clearly I’ve explained myself badly*, if he thinks I was just on about efficiencies, rather than on about preventative investments reducing the need for spending on problem-solving for good (as in our detailed submission in my specialist area about how investment in locality-based family support and a return to proper  social work will create massive downstream savings on picking up pieces by courts and children’s homes).

I hope this post, and the bit of the IPPR report I refer to, clarifies what I’m on about, although I appreciate Rick won’t buy the idea that the level of savings that can be made by prevention-focused reforms can come anywhere near the overall budget reduction he says is needed. Nor can I know for sure – and I’ve nowhere suggested that such savings can match the overall ‘gap’ he projects.  Of course, if I ran IPPR (or even worked for it), I’d use its resources to find out quite quickly (and yes, that is a hint).

Of course, everything above is written in terms of the need to balance the budget.   I fundamentally dispute that on the basis that it’s a total crock of shit, but I’m working on that premise for now because it allows thinking on relational, preventative public services to proceed (and arguably for that thinking to be prioritised).

Overall, then, I give the IPPR report a C+. It can’t get an A because it fails to deal with the fundamentals of the need or not for a balanced budget so is for ever intellectually restricted. it doesn’t make a B because it makes unwarranted assumptions about ‘troubled’ families, but it pushes above a C because at least in outline it provides a roadmap for proper social investment.


* I think my main error was to be elliptic about the difference between efficiency and reforms that mean services end up simply not being needed.  I should have challenged Giles’ sarcastic deifintion of what he sees as the main obstacle to honest policy making more explicitly.

Categories: General Politics

Labour’s public service reform planning: a return to Laski

June 16, 2014 3 comments

Giles Wilkes, now out on licence from Whitehall, has compared the fiscal plans of Labour, the LibDems and the Tories.   He  finds that the LibDems and Labour’s plans are “credible”, while the Tory ones are not.  This is not a surprise, but it’s good of him to do the adding up.

What interests me more about his piece, though, is not Giles’ attempt to establish common ground for a Lib-Lab coalition, but his casual dismissal of the whole idea of public services reform:

No doubt this debate will continue to be evaded over the next few months.  Some will claim tax rises; others will claim unspecified or unrealistic benefits cuts.  Others will hope not to have to spell things out, and others will claim magic further efficiency savings (my emphasis).

So is there any hope of getting more for our money from public services?

Yes there is, and Giles is wrong.

As is Rick.  And as is Anthony.  And as is Andrew.  As is Richard.  As is Hopi.  As is Atul.  As is, utterly and totally, Janan.  All cleverer than me, all wrong.

All of them, in their own way, seek to take the moral high ground, by arguing that cuts and or tax rises are inevitable, and that Labour is either damaging itself electorally in the short term by not telling the truth and therefore not exuding economic competence (Anthony, Atul, Andrew, Hopi) acting dishonestly by avoiding that inevitability, in a way which will hurt electorally later when the cuts and taxes do come (Rick, Giles, Janan).  Meanwhile, over in the Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) corner, Richard argues that Labour are preparing to make savage cuts because they’re too cowardly and/or ignorant to get MMT.[1]

But what apparently none of them have noticed – or perhaps preferred to ignore – is that Labour is seriously committed to public services reform, and has for the past few months been carefully working up a programme for government which will deliver both desirable and affordable public service outcomes over the long-term.   I’ve already covered the main elements of this programme, which hinges on what Jon Cruddas has (now more than once and quite deliberately) referred to as “investment in preventing social problems“, a commitment to making ‘relational services’ actually happen through that investment and a mix of decentralization and innovation within the treasury which allow us to bring in the initial resources for that upfront investment, on the costed basis of huge downstream savings to the public purse.

What interests me here is not the emerging detail for that programme – and there will be more of that in the IPPR report to be released to great Labour fanfare on Thursday and then over the summer – but why and how such eminent commentators have failed to notice that the zero-based review, which is largely about departmental efficiency and is being managed by Chris Leslie, is dwarfed in importance by the policy review process being chaired by Jon Cruddas and the Decentralization Decade project being run, again, by IPPR, in conjunction with Price Waterhouse Coopers and others.

The answer is, I think, quite straighforward, and welcome.   The public service reform planning process has been set up and delivered out of sight of the myopic commentariat, who may claim to understand how Labour does or should work (I don’t include Giles here) but is in fact utterly ignorant of what’s been happening.  The Labour policy review, which has mostly been about public services [2], has been a mostly in-house affair, co-ordinated through the Your Britain website, and the many, many submissions that have been made by CLPs and other informed bodies, then weighted for support, scored, assessed and taken into account by Jon’s team, have been well below the commentariat radar.  IPPR too, who as Labour’s closest  and most capable think-tank have pulled a lot of the thinking on relational services together, have for the most part operated out of the limelight, though this will start to change this week (as above)

This is policy development as it should happen, and a refreshing change from the diktat days of New Labour.   This time around Labour has harnessed the power of the web properly, and within a clear set of parameters gone about taking on board the informed view of party members and others sympathetic enough to the cause to want to have their informed say.

Yes, I would have liked to have seen somewhat different parameters set in the first place, and that might have been the case but for the somewhat toxic legacy of In the Black Labour (to that extent I do agree with Richard Murphy and others), and yes, some of the timetable has been a bit out of kilter, with the need to draw forward some commitments before they are fully costed and agreed [3].   But with those caveats (and when we’re in power and doing public service differently, the parameters can start to shift), it’s been great to see a Labour party policy process which, more than any time in my lifetime, has had proper input from public servants in the labour movement, at the expense of those who think its their right to be told what’s going on, and who are completely flummoxed by a process which doesn’t pander to the think-tank elite, but largely bypasses them.

A return of Labour party policy to the labour  movement – who’d have thought it? I am reminded, in fact, of Harold Laski’s 1924 views on how government should be run (before the internet):

But predominantly the corrective [to posh people in Whitehall knowing bugger all about real life] is most largely to be supplied by the system of advisory committees  discussed above.  For there the official will be compelled to measure his knowledge and experience against a much wider variety than is now the case.  He will less and less draw his conclusions from reading of reports, the arguments he can think of in an office; he will more and more tend to build hem out of personal contact wiith business men trade unionists, doctors, school teachers. (p.400)

Perhaps Ralph did read the right bedtime stuff to Ed, after all.



[1] In his piece, Giles is also caustically dismissive of the MMT and similar positions, which surprises me a little:

There have been those on the Right somehow denying that there has been any austerity, and those on the Left somehow acting as if the idea of eventually bringing your budget into some sort of balance is a wicked contrived plot.  Yes, why on earth should a government inheriting a £159bn deficit be thinking at all about public spending restraint? Must be a conspiracy.

Before his Coalition SpAD sentence, he seemed a little more open to the pretty reasonable accounting identity argument now put forward by Richard and, more importantly, Chris Dillow.

All we get is a shifting balance between private and public assets and debts, in the absence of a massive international imbalance. Which means we can always afford to resolve either private or public indebtedness with a political solution, if we are brave enough.

But why exactly is 75% of GDP in public debts, owned by the private sector and paying just 4-5% interest, a problem – when the private sector needs such instruments?

That is a question Conservatives bury under the term ‘burdening our children with debts’.  It is just as much ‘providing our pensioners with assets’.

For myself, while I think the whole accounting identity argument holds water, I just think the thinking hard bit of the UK left needs to accept that we’ve lost that battle for now, and that we should focus on supporting Labour, either as activists or commentators (preferably both) to work its way towards and then sell to the electorate the kind of social investment programme I outline above, and for which I have stressed the urgent need elsewhere.  This includes arguing for social investment, through stable employment, as part of Andrew Adonis’ growth review, another bit of Labour’s  careful government programming work.

[2] I am reminded here of Janan’s pithily correct “all politics are fiscal” in his otherwise excruciatingly poorly informed attack on Ed Miliband’s and Labour’s plans.

[3]  As James Mackenzie has pointed out to me, one of the key drivers for the speeding up of the timetable for announcing Labour’s programme for government may well be the risk of a Yes vote in Scotland.  I hope, contra James, that it’s not too late.

Cruel to be kind

June 10, 2014 2 comments

There has been a twitterstorm over the weekend about the studs placed strategically in South London to stop street homeless people bedding down there.  For the most part, “barbaric”, “inhumane” etc. are winning the day.

One of the more interesting contributions, though, is from an anonymous student nurse in the capital, who has worked in the field of street homelessness. S/he defends their use:

As horrific as it must sound, sometimes you have to remove a person’s sleep site in order to engage that person. Rough sleeping is incredibly harmful, it affects a person’s physical and mental health and most importantly their personal safety. Each night you sleep rough you are risking getting a kicking because people do that to homeless people.

I guarantee that the outreach team in Southwark know about this site and have been trying to stop people rough sleeping there for some time [ as it turns out it's new and they may not do], not because they lack humanity or a sense of community but because rough sleeping kills people. On average, homeless people die 30 years earlier than the rest of the population. It’s a slow suicide. .

It’s an interesting and articulate defence, but it’s not one I agree with.

This is because the starting premise – that you have to stop people sleeping rough for their own good – is wrong.*   Equating a choice to be street homeless with suicide may be a usefully emotive way of backing the argument, but it is not valid, and shows a fundamental disrespect for someone who has chosen to stay on the street, albeit a disrespect born of decent motives.  The choice to stay on the street may, to almost everyone else, be the wrong choice, but it remains someone’s choice.  Attempting, by whatever means, to remove that choice, is always a disempowering action with negative consequences in the long term.  While it is valid to override choice in real suicide situations – on the basis that being dead is to ensure disempowerment for ever – it is not valid in all but the most extreme situations e.g. sub-zero temperatures (when in any event street homelessness does tend to lessened by dint of the instinct to survive).**

So what’s the alternative?

Well, Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach is one way forward.  This is fundamentally about valuing people’s choice over what kind of life they want to live, and supporting them as they develop the range of ‘functionings’ they need to be able to live that life.  In order to do that, it’s essential to value the functioning capabilities people already have, including, in this case, the capacity to survive on the street by finding sheltered spaces in doorways.  That’s the start of a proper engagement process, whereby further choices can be established and support provided to enable people to develop the appropriate capacities to make those choices real.

Of course, that’s hard for a homeless outreach team to stomach, not just because they know better than most how tough it is on the street, but because almost all public service provision in this country is based on the ‘cruel to be kind’ model, and that is the pervasive culture.  This is none more so than in children and family social services, where large numbers of parents (usually mothers) are actively disempowered on a a daily basis, because no-one values the fact that they cope, however imperfectly, with all the shite life throws at them.  Instead, they are defined as failures, who have made the wrong choices in life, and need to be corrected.

Putting spikes in the ground, or building benches on a slant, will not resolve the factors that driver street homelessness. Respect, and the resources that follow in the wake of respect, will.



* Here I leave aside the debate about whether or not there are enough beds for the street homeless.

**I do accept the blog author’s argument that the potential for getting a kicking may on some occasions be high enough to warrant intervention against a person’s will, if the threat is real and immediate. In these circumstances, as with suicide, there are already legal powers to take someone to a place of safety.

Categories: General Politics

Law breaking for legitimacy: the thin end of the euro-wedge

It’s beginning to look like Jean-Claude Juncker will not become President of the European Commission after all.  Paul Mason from the left seems pleased, and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard from the sane wing of conservatism will not, I think, be shedding any tears.

But Jurgen Habermas has a different view, worth listening to.  He thinks that leaders of member states coming together to block Juncker’s election as Commission President by the European Parliament is very bad news indeed.

On the whole, I agree.

This is not because I think Juncker will be a good President – on this I agree with Mason and Evans-Pritchard that he is a  member of a self-serving elite devoted to a massively counterproductive continuation of austerity.

It’s because I don’t like the idea of state leaders thinking they can ignore the rule of law as a means of bolstering their political fortunes.

Let’s be clear what’s going on here.

If a Juncker Presidency is not recommended to the European Parliament by the heads of state at the forthcoming European Council, then these heads of state will have deliberately and knowingly breached article 17 (7) of the Treaty of European Union [1], which requires that the European Council takes into account the results of the European elections.  They may be able to talk their way round it if Junker decides, as seems likely, to withdraw his candidature before the European Council as a way to save face, but this will only be a technicality.

The Spitzenkandidat process – whereby the main European parliamentary grouping have selected their preferred candidates (Juncker for the EPP, Schulz for the SPD) as their part of the implementation of the treay – has been very clear for many months now, and it is only at this very late stage that national governments have started to suggest that “taking account” of the election results, in which the EPP gained the upper hand, might involve simply discounting them in favour of ‘candidates’ who have been nowhere near the process to date.

Moreover, there is a legal mechanism within the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU (article 234) for the European Parliament to make the President and his Commission resign should they lose the confidence of the Parliament,  meaning that national governments could work with others in their political groupings to put an end to a Juncker presidency if he turned out to be the disaster they’ve suddenly worked out he might be.  Indeed, They could even persuade enough MEPs to vote against Juncker after the European Council itself has proposed him – a bit odd-looking, but perfectly legal.

But that route has been ignored in favour of a bigger states vs. European Parliament powerplay, which prefers simply to ignore the rule of law in this case. (In Cameron’s detail-lite case, he possibly simply doesn’t know, just as he probably didn’t know that by taking the Tories out of the EPP, he removed himself from any influence on which Spitzenkandidat the EPP went for at its Dublin meeting in March).

What this likely breach of law is really all about is the panic of members states at the rise of the populist anti-EU right in the recent EU parliamentary elections.   Cameron, and now it seems Merkel (I reserve judgment on Renzi) are desperate to show that they are on the side of ‘their’ peoples, and thereby bolster their own legitimacy as democratic representatives.  But breaking the law is not a good way to do that.

Of course law shouldn’t be set in stone, and Habermas is very clear [3] that there needs to be a healthy tension between legality and legitimacy, with a space for forms of civil disobedience in cases where the law loses legitimacy, in a way which creates a process for the renewal and relegitimation of law . But this is the preserve of civil society, not the existing elite.  If demonstrations erupt against a Juncker presidency, linked to a wider movement against austerity, then the European Council might have a legitimate part to play in meeting the expressed will of the people, and reforming the treaties as appropriate (though as  noted, the scope for the Council to dismiss the Commission creates a legal route to meet that will anyway).*   For national elites to seek their own legitimacy in the eyes of their people by ignoring international law  is the thin end of a very big wedge.

If the anti-Juncker plan is carried through by Merkel, Cameron and others, I do hope the European Parliament will stand its ground and vote against their recommendation for President, wohever that may be, as an act of principle.  Sadly, I can’t see it happening.

Shame the Labour party stopped me being an MEP.  I’d have stood with Jurgen for a socialist AND democratic Europe.


[1] Article 17 (7) of the Treaty of European Union reads:

Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission. This candidate shall be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members. If he does not obtain the required majority, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall within one month propose a new candidate who shall be elected by the European Parliament following the same procedure.

[2] Article 234 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union reads:

If a motion of censure on the activities of the Commission is tabled before it, the European Parliament shall not vote thereon until at least three days after the motion has been tabled and only by open vote.

If the motion of censure is carried by a two-thirds majority of the votes cast, representing a majority of the component Members of the European Parliament, the members of the Commission shall resign as a body and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall resign from duties that he or she carries out in the Commission. They shall remain in office and continue to deal with current business until they are replaced in accordance with Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union. In this case, the term of office of the members of the Commission appointed to replace them shall expire on the date on which the term of office of the members of the Commission obliged to resign as a body would have expired.


[3] Its interesting to see Habermas, in his interview with the Allgemeine Zeitung, positively welcome the rise of the populist vote in the European elections as a shock to the governing elite:

Der Rechtspopulismus erzwingt die Umstellung vom bisherigen Elitemodus auf die Beteiligung der Bürger.  Das kann dem europäischen Parlament und seinem Einfluss auf die europäische Gesetzgebung nur guttun

[Rightwing populism requires the adjustment of hitherto elite modes of governance toward citizen participation.  That can only be a good thing for rhe Europen Parliament and its influence on European lawmaking]


For further reading, see Bruce Miller’s useful post, including some useful translation of Habermas and others, and more generally Matthew G Specter’s Habermas: An intellectual biography, kindly sent my way by Chris Brooke.



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