Tag Archives: renegotiation

Corbyn forces Cameron to ‘clarify’ EU in-out negotiations

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When David Cameron woke up this morning (Tuesday), it may have been to the realisation that he said too much in response to a grilling by Jeremy Corbyn over Europe yesterday.

Cameron had been to a meeting of the Council of Europe, the regional intergovernmental organisation with 47 member states best know for its operation of the European Court of Human Rights. One of the subjects he discussed there was the UK’s attempts to renegotiate the conditions of its membership in the European Union. He said:

“On the UK’s renegotiation, I set out the four things that we need to achieve. The first is sovereignty and subsidiarity, where Britain must not be part of an “ever closer union” and where we want a greater role for national Parliaments.

“Secondly, we must ensure that the EU adds to our competitiveness, rather than detracts from it, by signing new trade deals, cutting regulation and completing the single market. We have already made considerable progress. There has been an 80 per cent reduction in new legislative proposals under the new European Commission, and we have reached important agreements on a capital markets union, on liberalising services, and on completing the digital single market. Last week the Commission published a new trade strategy that reflects the agenda that Britain has been championing for years, including vital trade deals with America, China and Japan. But more needs to be done in that area.

“Thirdly, we need to ensure that the EU works for those outside the single currency and protects the integrity of the single market, and that we face neither discrimination nor additional costs from the integration of the Eurozone.

“Fourthly, on social security, free movement and immigration, we need to tackle abuses of the right to free movement, and deliver changes that ensure that our welfare system is not an artificial draw for people to come to Britain.”

Mr Corbyn instantly drew attention to matters that the PR Prime Minister had failed to mention. Noting that full discussion of the UK’s in/out referendum had been deferred to the December European Council meeting, he said:

“I think that all of us across the House and people across the country would echo the words of Chancellor Angela Merkel when she asked the UK to ‘clarify the substance of what it is envisaging’. There have been indications from Government advisers that the Prime Minister is trying to diminish the rights of UK workers through opt-out or dilution of the social chapter and the working time directive. However, other sources say the Prime Minister has retreated on those proposals.

“Working people in Britain are losing trust in a Government who attack their trade union rights and cut their tax credits, while giving tax breaks to millionaires.

“Will the Prime Minister confirm that Britain will remain signed up to the European convention on human rights and will not repeal the Human Rights Act 1998? The lack of clarity and openness from the Prime Minister means we do not know on what basis he is negotiating. Too often, we have been guided by anonymous press briefings from his inner court.

“Does he agree with Angela Merkel, as we on the Labour Benches do, that ‘there are achievements of European integration that cannot be haggled over, for example the principle of free movement and the principle of non-discrimination’? Again, clarity from the Prime Minister on that would be welcomed not just, I suspect, by his own backbenchers but by millions of people across the country.

“We believe we need stronger transnational co-operation on environmental and climate change issues, on workers’ rights, on corporate regulation and on tax avoidance.

“We will continue the European reform agenda. Labour is for staying in a Europe that works for the people of the UK and for all the people of Europe. We will not achieve that if all we are doing is shouting from the sidelines.

“On the referendum, will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government will now accept votes at 16 for the referendum, as per the amendment in the House of Lords?”

He also told Cameron that Labour will be “on his side” to support the proposed “red card” mechanism to give national Parliaments greater powers of influence over European legislation: “In fact, it is such a good thing that it was in Labour’s manifesto at the general election.”

Now on the back foot, Cameron had to work hard to regain the initiative. He started by claiming that the discussion of the referendum had not been deferred, but that the meeting in October had always been intended as an update, with a full discussion in December.

But he went on to contradict himself on “what we were delivering for working people in Europe”. Cameron said: “We are delivering two million jobs here in Britain for working people, with tax cuts for 29 million working people. I have set out in this statement again the reforms that we are pressing for in Europe.”

But later he added: “We do need to reform free movement; it should not be free movement for criminals or for people who are benefit shopping, for example, and we are already taking steps to ensure that that is not the case.”

So, he has delivered more jobs alongside tax cuts – making the UK a more attractive location for EU residents looking to immigrate in – but he wants to bar the entrance. This looks like a lie, to make it seem that Cameron has achieved something worthwhile.

The facts are that the jobs are low-paid and the tax cuts do not make up for the amount of income that working people have lost over the last five years of Tory rule. With the forthcoming tax credits cuts, millions of working people will no longer have enough money to make ends meet. That is the shame of the Conservatives and it is understandable that Cameron would want to hide it.

His dilemma is that it is his own rhetoric about his (imagined) achievements that is making the UK attractive to EU immigrants. We know the jobs are awful and the tax system has been skewed to benefit the rich, and we also know that the social security system has been sabotaged by Iain Duncan Smith – but that is because we live here. Citizens of other EU states are not so lucky. If Cameron was honest about the mess he has made of this country, his immigration problems would evaporate. His own public relations skills have betrayed him.

And worse was to come: “Our plans for a British Bill of Rights are unchanged. We want to get rid of the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights.

“We voted in this House of Commons on votes at 16, and we voted against them, so I think we should stick to that position.” This will not please the Scots, where the voting age was lowered for their own referendum on whether to remain in the United Kingdom, and where democracy enjoyed a huge resurgence in popularity as a result.

Finally, there’s the elephant in the room. It is unfortunate that Mr Corbyn did not raise the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, one of the “vital trade deals” that Cameron mentioned. In its current form, this would mean control of workers’ rights, working conditions and the quality of products would be transferred from elected parliaments to faceless international corporations. It is the biggest threat to democracy facing us.

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Why so much hysteria over the Hellenic debt?

It's all looking a bit tense, isn't it? In fact, Alexis Tsipras could have this look on his face because he's playing a particularly tricky game of Spider Solitaire on his laptop - it's the Troika that should be scared at the moment.

It’s all looking a bit tense, isn’t it? In fact, Alexis Tsipras could have this look on his face because he’s playing a particularly tricky game of Spider Solitaire on his laptop – it’s the Troika that should be scared at the moment.

Greece defaulted on its loan from the ILF last night (Tuesday). Gosh.

The world didn’t stop turning; life went on; and if there was any mass hysteria, it was on the part of neoliberals who – it seems – will do anything to keep everyone else in line with their worldview.

The neoliberals at the IMF, ECB and EU want people to believe that Greece (and, in fact, any other country that takes out a loan from western banks) has the wherewithal to pay back its debts. Their way of life depends on it because without that belief, countries start demanding debt relief packages and the whole racket that – as Vox Political mentioned yesterday – returned around $5 for every $1 lent in 2011 will fall like the house of cards it is.

Fintan O’Toole had it right in the Irish Times: “The story must be maintained: Greece must keep punishing its people to pay back the money being borrowed to make the payments on the unpayable loans.

“In the upside-down world we inhabit, Syriza, which has called a halt to this fiction, is a bunch of mad fantasists, while the troika that goes on acting as if the fictions were real is the voice of hard-headed realism. Everything – from the lives of ordinary Greeks to the foundations of the European Union – must be sacrificed to the story.”

But nobody believes that story any more. Everyone knows that Greece doesn’t have the wherewithal to pay back its debts. In fact, increasingly harsh demands by the Troika have made the problem worse, rather than better.

Everybody knows that debt relief will have to happen.

The Guardian‘s economics editor, Larry Elliott, wrote: “Somehow or other, Greece’s debt burden will be reduced. It can happen through a deal in which Athens gets debt relief for economic reform. Or it can came through a default that would swiftly follow Greek exit from the single currency.”

Richard Murphy, of Tax Research UK, agrees: “This fact has been obvious for some time. Greece has rising debt that is well above any internationally recognised sustainable level and because of falling income, imposed on it by the EU and IMF, has not the remotest chance of paying that debt off.”

He continues: “What is left is unserviceable without radical reform of the Greek economy that permits it to grow again, and that reform is not possible unless existing debt is written off. That’s because without that write off all the money needed to invest for growth will instead go in debt servicing,” as Vox Political has also mentioned in the past.

“If Greece was a company a pre-packaged insolvency would probably solve most of its problems, in days. It is time we did the same for countries. But don’t hold your breath because bankers object to this, largely because the guarantee that countries won’t fail is what they think underpins their own risk, and the last thing they want to do is accept responsibility for that.”

But Greece has failed. It is precisely its membership of the Euro that made it inevitable. Without its own sovereign currency, Greece could not take measures to prevent that failure. So Mr Murphy is right again and the banks are wrong. Again.

Meanwhile the neoliberal attempt to rule Greece undemocratically from beyond that country’s borders continues. The current plan is to make wild claims about the purpose of the yes/no referendum on the new loan conditions, called by Alexis Tsipras, to take place on Sunday. Merkel, Hollande and Juncker want the Greek people to believe it is about whether they stay in the Euro – which is not an inevitable consequence of a ‘no’ result, and would not, in any case, be a disaster (see yesterday’s post).

They’ve already lost that one, though. You see, everybody knows what’s on the table isn’t their last offer. They already gave in on that one, several renegotiations ago. If they had pulled the plug the instant Greece started to demur, they would have had leverage when Greece came back to the table but they didn’t. Now they’re on the sliding scale. They’ve admitted they need Greece to be paying back something, which means that Greece is now in a position to decide what that something should be.

(I got the above from an episode of Doctor Who entitled Deep Breath; if someone threatens to kill you and then doesn’t, they have nothing left with which to threaten you, having foolishly gone to their most extreme option first. Good show, Doctor Who.)

Angela Merkel has said the Troika won’t negotiate on anything at all until after the referendum. This has given Mr Tsipras a chance to bring in a new offer – it doesn’t even matter what it is – making him look like the reasonable man at the table. Already Merkel is on the back foot. She can refuse, look unreasonable and face a ‘no’ vote on Sunday, or she can agree, look weak and – again – face a ‘no’ vote on Sunday.

What are the neoliberals going to do?

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Who is more worried about Greece defaulting on its debts – Tsipras or the creditors?

Alexis Tsipras.

Alexis Tsipras.

If the Greek government is holding further talks with its creditors, it is because the IMF and the Eurozone are afraid – not Alexis Tsipras.

The IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Union have a lot riding on their attempt to get Greece to give in and submit meekly to further austerity measures that are designed to keep that country in a debt-servicing economy rather than help get it back in the black.

The idea – as This Blog has reported before – was to create a debt trap, similar to that created for the so-called Developing Nations – and keep Greece in it.

Greece could continue receiving financial support if it sold off nationally-owned assets, privatised services and increased taxes – thereby insuring that it could never actually repay the loans; the profit-making facilities would all have been sold off and the tax burden on citizens would be so great that they could never pay their way out.

But Tsipras came into government on a promise to end austerity measures like this. His sticking-point, it seems, is that this may mean defaulting on the nation’s debts and dropping out of the Euro – returning to a currency unique to Greece – and the electorate doesn’t seem to want that.

Defaulting on loans isn’t as bad for a nation as it may seem. It means all those involved have to agree that the loan won’t be repaid under current conditions and new conditions must be negotiated. The Troika opposes this because its debt trap relies on presenting an illusion that the loans can be honoured. It is only an illusion; Tsipras knows that.

It seems to This Writer that he would be better-off taking a leaf out of Germany’s (history) book. When Gustav Streseman became the new Chancellor of the Republic in the 1920s, debt repayments had crippled that country. Inflation was out of control and industry had ground to a halt due to strike action.

Streseman abandoned Germany’s old currency and introduced a brand new version which was given a very high, stable starting value through the backing of US gold. Similar options are open to Greece, if it abandons the Euro.

Streseman negotiated a new, more realistic arrangement with his country’s creditors, cutting the reparations to be paid by Germany for World War I down from a wildly-punitive £2 billion to the more reasonable £50 million. He also ended the strike and ordered a full- scale return to work, making it possible to pay off this amount. This also is possible for Greece, if it refuses the austerity being proposed by the Troika.

Greece’s creditors will do everything they can to stop this from happening. They want Greece to join the Developing World countries who – as recently as 2011 – were paying back nearly $5 for every $1 lent to them by the western banks. They don’t want Greece to become another Germany; that would profit Greece – not them.

Here in the UK, it is in our interest to hope that Tsipras doesn’t blow it. He could find himself leading the way out of the neoliberal debt trap – not just for Greece, but for many other nations as well.

All that is required is the political will.

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Cameron backs down after threatening to sack ministers over EU referendum

Struggling: David Cameron today.

Struggling: David Cameron today.

David Cameron has been forced into a humiliating climbdown over his threat to sack Tory ministers if they didn’t back his deal with the European Union – whatever that deal might be.

He reckons his words were “misinterpreted”.

The Writer reckons that is very funny indeed!

Cameron told reporters yesterday: “I’ve been very clear, which is I’ve said that if you want to be part of the government, you have to take the view that we are engaged in an exercise of renegotiation to have a referendum, and that will lead to a successful outcome.” [boldings mine]

This was a repeat of what he told Andrew Marr in January: “Well, there are Conservative Members of Parliament who want the leave the European Union come what may, but if you’re part of the government, then clearly you’re part of the team that is aiming for the renegotiation.”

Asked by Marr if this meant there would not be a free vote, as Labour allowed in the 1970s, Cameron replied unequivocally:”No, I’ve set out that very clearly in the past.”

Now he’s saying that Marr interrupted him so much that his comments were not clear.

They seem clear enough to this writer!

And they’re saying that this is a Prime Minister who has talked himself into a corner.

The Sunday Times’s Tim Shipman tweeted that this issue goes back three years, to when Downing Street said ministers would be free to campaign for the UK to leave the EU – and the next day Cameron said they would not.

He’s still saying there won’t be a free vote – possibly because he sees it as a way of getting rid of his more awkward ministers.

But that will play havoc with his standing among backbenchers – especially the 50 eurosceptics who are already campaigning for a much more radical approach.

Finally, Cameron told journalists that – if they were unclear on anything – they should ask.

Fine words, from the man who has a habit of making statements and then walking away while questions fly towards his back!

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Cameron is dictating to his ministers because he can’t dictate to the EU

Kitchen table Fuhrer David Cameron has told his cabinet ministers to back any deal he makes with the European Union – or leave the government.

He wants a show of support for propaganda purposes, you see. He knows he won’t gain any meaningful concessions from the other EU countries so he needs his Cabinet to lie about them.

The move is also intentionally provocative – he knows a group of 50 Tory MPs are pushing for major reforms that he won’t be able to secure; he’s telling them they will split the Tory Party if they continue, because he isn’t going to back down.

Being cowards first and foremost, it seems probably that these rebels will back down. They are Tories, after all – being in power is more important to them than anything else.

Mr Cameron added: “I am carrying out a renegotiation in the national interest to get a result that I believe will be in the national interest. I’m confident I can get that.”

He was lying, of course. The renegotiation is in his personal interest – he wants to keep his Eurosceptic backbenchers on-side and that is the only reason for his referendum. The result, therefore, will not be in the national interest, no matter which way it goes. And he has no reason to claim he can get the result he wants, either.

There are, of course, subjects that should be renegotiated – but David Cameron won’t be touching them at all.

The vexed negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership form a very obvious example. A few European and British business leaders want this deal to go through as it currently stands, because this will give businesses the ability to make nation states pay if legislation harms their ability to make a profit. Of course, the rational way of ordering such affairs is for businesses to pay if nation states have to legislate against them because they are causing harm to the people or the environment in the name of profit.

The most probably outcome is he’ll come back lying about what he has achieved – just as George Osborne did over the EU membership surcharge last autumn.

Source: David Cameron says ministers must back any EU deal – BBC News

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Franco-German Euro pact to push UK out of the Union?

So much for David Cameron’s boast that he would renegotiate European treaties on immigration and social security.

While he’s been sabre-rattling, Germany and France have already agreed closer political union within the Eurozone (that’s the part of the EU that uses the Euro as currency), without any change to existing treaties.

Cameron knew this was likely to happen but expected it to mean the relevant treaties would be re-written, allowing room for his proposed changes.

Now his plan has been rendered unviable.

Cameron the outsider has, once again, been pushed to the fringes of the EU.

Nobody wants to talk to him. Instead of being a major player in Europe, he has turned the UK into a third-stringer.

He wanted to use ‘Brexit’ from the union as a threat; create a fear that the UK would walk out of Europe.

Now it seems clear that we are being pushed.

France and Germany have agreed a new plan for closer eurozone political union despite David Cameron’s plan to renegotiate EU treaties on welfare and immigration.

The new Franco-German agreement would see closer cooperation between the 19 countries without any change to existing EU treaties, according to a leak to France’s Le Monde newspaper.

The agreement would see cooperation in four areas “developed in the framework of the current treaties in the years ahead”.

The British government has previously accepted the need for tighter eurozone integration but has hoped that the rewriting of EU treaties to make way for it could allow Britain to make other demands about welfare and immigration.

Source: France and Germany push ahead with closer euro political union despite David Cameron – UK Politics – UK – The Independent

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Breathtaking hypocrisy: Germany owes Greece 11 billion euros in unpaid loans – Pride’s Purge

Mr Tsipras says Frau Merkel's Germany is behaving like a 'Fourth Reich', trying to use its debts to rule Greece. But will he be able to defeat Germany's powers of financial coercion?

Mr Tsipras says Frau Merkel’s Germany is behaving like a ‘Fourth Reich’, trying to use its debts to rule Greece. But will he be able to defeat Germany’s powers of financial coercion?

UPDATE July 6, 2015: Greece has decisively rejected austerity, after a referendum in which voters refused the terms of an international bailout.

“In 1943, Germany forced the Bank of Greece to lend it two loans worth 11 billion euros in today’s money. And Germany has still not paid back the debt,” writes Tom Pride.

“Which – considering the Germans have been bleating on and on and bloody on about how the Greeks should honour their present debts – is a case of breathtaking hypocrisy writ large, I’d say.”

He’s got a very good point – look at this report (from the Torygraph) of German sabre-rattling against the new Greek government, which is determined to reverse austerity measures imposed on the country and to renegotiate (read ‘cancel’) its debts:

“Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister, said Greece is legally bound by its agreements. ‘There are rules, there are agreements. New elections change nothing,’ he said.”

So the will of a country’s people counts for “nothing” then?

It seems the German government has just put its foot in its massive ministerial mouth.

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Socialist party Syriza set to win Greek election

Syriza leader (and soon-to-be Greek Prime Minister)  Alexis Tsipras waves to the crowd at a pre-election rally.

Syriza leader (and soon-to-be Greek Prime Minister) Alexis Tsipras waves to the crowd at a pre-election rally.

Here comes a major headache for the British right-wing parties.

It seems clear that Syriza, Greece’s main socialist party, will win that country’s general election.

Syriza has promised to renegotiate Greece’s debt with international creditors, writing much of it off altogether; and to reverse the many austerity measures brought in by the previous administration.

What if this is the turning-point for Greece?

What if Syriza’s policies turn out to be the right thing to do? What if the Greek economy starts expanding, contrary to all the claims of right-wing economic ‘experts’ since the financial crash of 2007-8?

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a general election taking place in the UK at the beginning of May, and the right-wing parties here must be praying that any such upturn in Greek fortunes will be delayed until after our national poll happens, otherwise they’ll be annihilated.

Alternatively, what can the right-wingers of the western world do to hobble efforts to improve the Greek economy? Should we now expect them to put those strategies into practice, simply to ensure that the socialists don’t prove them wrong?

This writer expects foul play.