Friday, 30 November 2012

Relaunching Europe: Nottingham Event Tomorrow

Tomorrow I'll be at the Relaunching Europe event on Youth Unemployment in Nottingham, to see the Relaunching Europe project of the Socialists and Democrats Group in practice.

I've previously posted on the PES's Congress here (and the S&D Activity Report) and on Relaunching Europe here, with an article on questions for Relaunching Europe here.

I've also written about UK Labour and the EU earlier this week.

If there's anything you want me to look out for, or if you've any questions or arguments on youth unemployment, I'd be interested to read them (either comments below or you can Tweet me @EuropeanCitizen), and I'll try to Tweet and Blog about the event on Saturday/Monday - internet willing.

And let me know if you'll be at the event too!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Return of the Currency Commissioner?

The Commission has just launched a blueprint for Economic and Monetary Union (PDF). I haven't had time to read it yet, but from the EUObserver article, it looks like the idea of a Currency Commissioner has returned:

"This time frame would also see "further budgetary coordination (including the possibility to require amendments to national budgets or to veto them)," says the paper.


Other steps to consider would be giving "clear competence for the EU level to harmonise national budgetary laws and to have recourse to the Court of Justice in case of non-compliance." Final steps to full economic and monetary union would only be taken in the "longer term" and would require "major treaty reform" suggests the paper.

This would likely include a possibly large central budget with stabilisers – meaning money would be transferred to member states in trouble.

“As a final destination it would involve a political union with a central budget as its own fiscal capacity and a means of imposing budgetary and economic decisions on its members.”"

Back in October Germany's Finance Minister, Schaeuble came up with the idea of a currency commissioner that would be able to veto national budgets. It was wrong then, and it's wrong now - federalism does not mean this sort of centralisation. As I wrote last month:

"You cannot "depoliticise" the fundamental matter of national budgets, because you cannot pretend that budgets and economic issues are simply matters of technical wizardry, with expert options being implemented for desired outcomes - desired outcomes are political matters, and deserve a meaningful airing in a publically accountable body: the national parliament. While there is an argument for certain budgetary contraints on Eurozone Member States to ensure the functioning of the common currency - in exchange for solidarity between Member States, it should be stressed - at the end of the day Member States should be able to set their own budgets.

Rather than trying to come up with tighter and more rigid and better enforced rules for the Eurozone, we should be working to divorce banks from the sovereigns to make banking a European matter within the Eurozone, and creating a system where Member States can go bankrupt, without endangering the system and with some support for recovery after bankruptcy. A flexible and politically accountable system would work much better than Schaeuble's approach - there needs to be political accountability for national budgets at the national level, and at the European level for those elements of European solidarity."

This idea should be killed off, and killed off quickly.

Blairite Europe

Yesterday former British PM Tony Blair made his big speech on Britain and the EU at the Business for New Europe event. You can read the speech in full here. So after writing at length about Labour and the EU on Monday, is there anything in the Blairite vision of the EU?


On the Eurocrisis, I partly agree with him.

"...the flagship policy of Europe is listing dangerously. As I have said before, to save it, I believe, requires a kind of ‘Grand Bargain’ approach rather than incremental steps, in which Germany agrees, effectively, to some form of mutualisation of debt; the debtor countries carry out profound structural reform; and the ECB stands fully behind the bargain. There are some signs this may happen. But even if it does, Europe will suffer for some time to come."

There have been calls for some form of debt mutualisation for a while now (and some Parliamentary amendments pushing for it), and it's hard to see how the current bailouts - which in Greece's case have led to the country's debt ballooning to 190% GDP rather than falling - actually help solve the fundamental problems of the Eurozone rather than  helping the balance sheets of creditors.


Blair pushed for a change in the narrative away from peace towards power:

"...the truth is the rationale for Europe today is stronger not weaker than it was back 66 years ago when the project began. But it is different. Then the rationale was peace. Today it is power. Then it was about a continent ravaged by war in which Germany had been the aggressor and Britain the victor. Today it is about a world in which global geo-politics is undergoing its biggest change for centuries. Power is shifting West to East. China has emerged, with its economy opening up, one which will grow eventually to be the world’s largest. Its population is three times that of the whole of the EU. India has over a billion people. Brazil is two times the size of the largest European country, Indonesia three times and there are a host of countries including Russia, Turkey, Mexico, Vietnam, the Philippines and Egypt larger today than any single EU nation.

What is more, as technology and capital become globally mobile, in time there will be a re-alignment of GDP and population i.e. the larger your population, the bigger your economy. The USA remains extraordinarily strong, its military easily the largest and best equipped but the time when it has been the world’s only superpower, is passing."

The speech was clearly intended as an argument for Britain's membership of the EU, and as an attack on Euroscepticism in the UK, so the speech doesn't offer much in terms of the direction that Britain should go within the EU. He restated the case for membership based on economic advantage and global power. In a sense I agree - on Monday I was arguing that collective European decision-making should give the people and the Member States more opportunity to decide their economic and social future - but Blair's vision is almost completely dominated by the terms of international power relations.

It's a vision with some truth to it, but little appeal. Most Britons aren't as concerned with Britain's global position as Blair is - indeed, Blair's premiership isn't exactly an encouragement for British global involvement. The message, without much on sharing the economic and social power democratically among citizens, and the messenger, who comes across as being more concerned with the power of great office-holders than anything else, does not make a convincing narrative and is not really one that the left should or could adopt.


If it doesn't quite live up to being a bankable European narrative, it is good to have a public figure talk publicly about the advantages of EU membership, although many pro-Europeans on the left, myself included, will not enthusiastically welcome a Blairite vision of Europe. When it comes to the EU, there needs to be a place for political families of the right, left and centre. The pro-European voices from these families will inevitably conflict, but the Eurosceptic voices from the same families will have their own arguments and will need to be engaged with on their own terms. Yesterday Blair couched his argument in terms of the national interest, and the basic pro-European argument may need to be made there, but it's limited in providing a narrative that goes beyond the balance sheet approach.

Tony Blair for president?

There's been some speculation about whether Blair still wants to get a position in the EU, and he launched a Twitter account yesterday dedicated to his views and work on Europe. (There was also an unconnected website (mockingly) advocating him for the European Council presidency). I wasn't a fan of the idea the first time 'round...

Monday, 26 November 2012

UK Labour and the EU

In Britain, Labour is in a curious spot. After it allied with Eurosceptic Tory rebels to defeat the government on a non-binding motion on the EU budget, Labour Leader Ed Miliband tried to outline a sort of pro-European realism (interview with The Telegraph here), which has managed to convince neither the Eurosceptic Telegraph or pro-European Jon Worth. Jon Worth argues:

"Would Labour dare say it has a “hard-headed” approach to schools or hospitals? No it would not, because being seen to be harsh on such issues is at odds with the values of the party, the values that we are all better off if we work together to achieve collective goals.

Labour’s rhetoric should be that to achieve what we need to achieve in the UK, we also need the European Union. An unrestrained free market, with Britain outside the EU, would mean less social protection, more of a race to the bottom on tax, harsher conditions for workers. The social systems of countries across the European Union should be an inspiration for the UK. Labour has made noises saying the German social model is to be admired; the means to achieve it is at EU level."

Leaving aside the tactical issues with Labour trying to present itself as an option for those who want to be tough on the EU (see Jon's post for more), the central issue for Labour when it comes to the EU is that it finds it almost impossible to articulate a centre-left vision on Europe. Occasionally there are noises on the left that leaving the EU would lead to a more deregulated (and unequal) Britain, with less economic and political clout. But such a basic idea is hard to express, since the major narrative in Britain on the EU is of the internal market as an indisputably good, but fundamentally technical, arrangement that has been cluttered up by the EU "extras" of social, environmental and home affairs policy. (I have previously argued that as the trade-off for opening up and giving up national controls, Member States projected parts of their social contract [parental leave, etc] on to the European level to balance the socially negative parts of market liberalisation out, as a kind of quasi-European Social Contract).

Labour, while realising that the internal market is political when it comes to employment rights and the social impact of competition across Member States, mainly accepts this narrative - at least in general - and only occasionally defends established benefits won at the European level. This basically means that Labour agrees that the EU is just an intergovernmental deal-making machine, but the UK happens to come out of the cost-benefit analysis a bit better than the right thinks. This argument isn't a credible position because it doesn't deal with Euroscepticism either in general or on the left - that the EU goes too far in the technocratic imposition of free-market policy - and it says nothing of the issues of democratic deficit or even suggest a vision for the reform.

Also, the idea that the EU's credibility problem could be solved with a few reforms - and vague and undefined reforms at that, because apparently just demonstrating the ability of the UK win any reform will prove the EU's credibility - is a patently tokenistic approach. It focuses too much on bringing trophies back from EU summits: a short-term and shallow way of conducting politics that will not make a convincing EU policy.

So what should Labour do? It may seem academic at first, but Labour needs to look at it's values, and build up from there. It needs to say why, from a centre-left perspective, (a) a European level of governance is a good thing to be a part of, and (b) what participating in that means in terms of reforming the EU, and what Labour stands for in the EU.

A Social Democratic/Labour vision for Europe

I've already written about the failings of the intergovernmental argument for the EU - the basic peace argument and a simple cost-benefit analysis of membership doesn't answer the pressing questions of representation and participation. Earlier this month, the Guardian/Observer outlined a harsh anti-vision to parallel that of the Eurosceptic press in Britain: that withdrawal will mean less economic sovereignty and more deregulation - essentially that the UK will have less power to steer itself through the global economy. A more positive vision from the centre-left would be to articulate a vision where participation in the EU enhances not just the UK's position as a Member State, but allows the people to participate in economic decision-making to a greater degree than if the UK wasn't a member. Implicit in the concern on the left that withdrawal will lead to deregulation and rising inequality is that the EU, by building the richest market in the world, gives the UK a share in the economic power needed to maintain its social contract.

When it comes to the internal market, it should not just be accepted that the internal market is a good technocratic arrangement - the left doesn't think that the market at home is an unalloyed good or that it's unpolitical, so why should it be accepted on the European level? The idea of the internal market not just being about free markets, but fair markets would reconnect Labour's Europe policy with its values, and give it something to stand for during the European elections. At the moment, Labour can hardly be said to be giving people a choice at elections, or thinking much about why it wants seats in the European Parliament at all. What connection does budget cuts on a European level have with Labour's domestic mantra that more investment in the economy is needed? What connection does Labour's rejection of a European Financial Transaction Tax have with its position on the financial sector? What's Labour's position in the Socialists and Democrats Group in the EP compared to the Tories' ECR on the internal market?

This also speaks to the type of reforms that would matter at the EU. Trophies won at EU summits have a short political shelf-life and exclude people from power, rather than opening up the EU to democratic participation. It may be argued that being part of the EU gives the UK more influence, but what use is that to people if the power is wielded more by diplomats than democrats? The national interest does not define everyone, and people should be able to participate in the opportunities that pro-Europeans argue being a member opens up for the Member States. Reconnecting Europe policy with centre-left values would link up questions of economic regulation, social justice and democratic representation and participation in a way that lends itself more to a credible and coherent vision.

Labour and the EU

Of course, my opinions on the left and Europe are far from representative of the UK Labour party, so you couldn't just turn Labour around into advocating that the EU becomes more democratic and less intergovernmental. But looking again at Labour's values when it comes to market regulation and social justice should be the starting point when formulating its position on the EU. It needs to ask itself if it thinks that being part of the EU means that the UK is more able to construct the kind of social and economic future that Labour would be in favour of,* and what kind of future does Labour want to articulate.

This doesn't mean that Labour politicians should ramble on about Labour values and the EU any time it comes up - this is more about knowing where you're coming from so you can be credible in where you're going. For example, when employment rights and the EU comes up, Labour could talk about being for the internal market, but that it needs to be fair (e.g. protect parental leave across the EU so a minimum standard cannot be undercut), and that the rights of all workers should be protected. Labour could also say how they want the internal market to be more effective or fairer, and contrast its position with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. (Having examples of what Labour is doing in the European Parliament would be a help too).

Being able to say what you're for and what you want to change is, obviously, an essential part of being a political party. If Labour can't say what it's for based on its claimed values, then it shouldn't draw attention to its lack of ideas on Europe.

*The right could do just as well politically in the EU, however.

Postscript: UK Europhiles

Jon Worth also made a good argument about the bad position of UK Europhiles, though I disagreed with him on having a "let a thousand flowers bloom" approach to winning referendums:

"I don’t think the “letting a thousand flowers bloom” model is a viable one for a pro-[anything] side in a referendum. A strong case – and persuasive narrative – needs to be built around the rationale for the EU, single market, etc., if it’s to win support. Pick and mix when challenging the status quo (which is the UK’s mindset towards the EU no matter how established the EU institutions may be) will not work. Personally the lesson I’ve learnt from referendums in Ireland is that political parties are simply not designed to fight them properly, and that civil society groups win referendums."

While I stick to that, if Labour, and other pro-Europeans on the right and centre, articulated their own narratives for why EU membership is good, that would strengthen the pro-European position. It would supplement the core argument by giving people of different political backgrounds a path to buy in to the core argument. However, for a referendum, the core argument of a campaign for something would need to be pretty coherent for it to win.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Veto of Diminishing Returns

Back in 2010 I wrote about the then Dutch government's approach to the EU, and noted that it wasn't particularly fond of vetoes, despite the perception that they're better for smaller Member States to protect their interests. This is because when there must be unanimity, the bigger states can rely on their greater power to get a greater say since they don't have to be afraid of being outvoted. However the UK's veto policy is showing that the value of waving the veto around - the nuclear option in EU politics - doesn't really work for the big states either, and that use devalues the veto heavily.

But it's not just the use of the veto, it's how it's being used. It's ridiculous to announce the circumstances of when you'll use the veto before  negotiations, because if you declare yourself to be uncompromising, then it will be harder to find allies to hammer out a winning position - that process inherently means compromising. Aggressive use of the veto means that the UK becomes less attractive as a negotiating partner, and the focus will switch to building a majority with the rest. Which potential ally could be sure that a British PM could get their minor compromise through the British Parliament - would it not be better to spend time on building a majority that would be more useful in the annual budgets after the UK wields its veto? The majority position after the veto will probably be the basis for any final deal when it comes to finally hammering out the multiannual financial framework, so why waste time on an unreliable partner like the UK?

With officials considering just using the back-up annual budget procedures, which are decided by qualified majority voting, there's talk of EU officials trying to "find a way" around the British veto. It's not trying to find a way around it - the annual procedure is what happens when there isn't agreement and the vetoes are used. If a Member State walks in with hardline conditions and little room for compromise no wonder everyone else in the club turns to what the follow-up will be.

And this brings us back to pre-vetoing (or should that be premature veto-casting?): vetoes are their most effective when at the end of a negotiating process, at the early hours of the night, when everyone else is invested in getting things done that particular way. By pre-announcing the veto and giving the other negotiators time to get used to the back up procedures and situation - maybe even turning to negotiate on that basis - you effectively devalue the veto before you even get to use it.

The veto will also be devalued back at home. The hardliners who cheer every time the veto is used won't be long in complaining that it has no discernible effect whatsoever. This veto policy is not only ineffective for the British government on the European stage, but is poisonous to its European policy generally - it will lead to more paranoia that the UK is not listened to within the EU institutions, and grow more disillusioned by its lack of allies, all while missing the fact that negotiations are not simply about other people listening to you.

In any case, this blogger supports the rise in the EU budget, since there wasn't enough money for the last one, and the policy commitments made by the Member States need to be paid for.

Monday, 19 November 2012

The Politics of Appointing Borg

The European Parliament has to decide whether or not to confirm Tonio Borg as the new Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy after John Dalli was controversially brought down by an OLAF investigation. Borg has met with opposition in the EP for his conservative views, particularly on divorce, abortion and cohabiting couples. The Greens, ALDE, United Left and Socialists and Democrats have concerns over Borg suitability and might reject him. Although Borg performed well in last week's hearing, saying that he will stick within the treaties and Charter of Fundamental Rights, these concerns remain, and the Parliament has released a check-list for consenting to his appointment:

"[Borg] should publicly commit to the following:
  • The delivery of the legislative proposal on tobacco products by January 2013;
  • The adoption of legislative proposals on animal cloning and novel food by mid-2013;
  • The full respect of the March 2013 deadline for the ban of animal testing for cosmetics;
  • Better enforcement of EU law on animal transport;
  • Full respect of the EU Charter on Fundamental rights, in particular of Article 21, as well as of EU anti-discrimination legislation and case-law;
  • Recognising the innate dignity of all citizens of the EU, regardless of their sexual orientations, actively working to address health inequalities and to acting against stigmatisation of people with HIV and AIDS;
  • Actively supporting EU policies with regard to women’s rights."

There seems to be some confusion over the concerns these political groups have over Borg's appointment and  their connection to his prospective portfolio. While the battle over values echoes that of Rocco Buttiglione's rejection, the wider ideological battle is less obvious because the EP isn't electing the Commission en bloc, but is deciding on a replacement Commissioner, so the debate within the EP has been a bit more focused on the specific portfolio, so critics have been linking his conservatives views to the area of health, despite the EU's lack of power in this area. As Martin Holterman writes in his great article on how political Commissioner appointments could/should be:

"Judging, for example, from the headline of this opinion article on Public Service Europe, Mr. Borg’s critics seem to consider their objections to concern his “suitability” for the Health and Consumer Affairs portfolio in particular. They are not worried about the ideological balance of power in the College of Commissioners, and they are not even necessarily worried about ideology in general, but rather they seem to argue that his ideology will get in the way of his job performance in concrete ways. The author of this opinion article,Monika Kosiñska from the the European Public Health Alliance, for example, lists the candidate’s views on abortion, homosexuality and immigration as being particularly problematic. This is particularly curious because I’m not entirely sure how the Health and Consumer Affairs portfolio touches on these fields."

But while the views of the candidate and his or her specific competence are important, the general ideological  views of the candidate and the political make-up of the Commission does matter and is an important political issue. Commissioners vote on draft proposals before they are put to the Council and the Parliament, so the political viewpoints of each Commissioner matters for all areas of Commission policy, not just his or her own portfolio. Just this week Commissioner Reding introduced a watered-down version of her boardroom quotas law - watered down due to opposition that included fellow Commissioners who could vote to block the proposal.

This collective responsibility of the College of Commissioners means that its political make-up is a valid issue for the Parliament in deciding on new Commissioners. The fact that respect for women's rights is included on the list, and that the Commission is putting forward draft legislation in this area, shows that the ideology of the candidate is a relevant and live issue, and MEPs in the centre-ground and on the left should make it clear that the Commission should reflect the political make-up of the Parliament (or, better yet, the majority in Parliament). How will he influence policies in the areas of employment, social affairs, or justice and home affairs? For the political groups on the left, they should not vote for a candidate who holds such emphatically opposing political views unless something is won by way of coalition or concession.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Police Commissioner Elections and Devolution

Yesterday I voted in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England and Wales. The Police and Crime Commissioners will take over the role of the police authorities, through which local council members and independent members. The PCCs will control the budget of the police force and be able to hire/fire the chief constable. They will also set local policing priorities.

The idea for PCCs was presumably partly inspired by the de facto firing of chief constable Ian Blair in London by London mayor Boris Johnson, and the desire to bring the police under local democratic control. While I think there should be democratic oversight of the police, it's wrong to politicise policing so directly - it would be better for democratically elected councils with several responsibilities to hold the police accountable rather than a directly elected individual to do the job.

The campaign hasn't grabbed the national imagination - or the local for that matter - and in general the candidates have stressed that policing will stay independent, so there hasn't been the politicisation of policing that opponents to the plan, like me, feared. But with the powers of the office limited to setting the overall vision of the police, deciding on the chief constable, and making budgetary decisions where the PCC has little control beyond allocating the resources given to him/her, in the future the PCCs are likely going to turn into super-powered elected lobbyists for their policing region, lobbying for more money for more police. To some extent this has happened with the position of London Mayor, so it seems more likely to happen to this smaller office.

It would be better for local democracy to decide on the size of the area that's best suited to bringing decision-making in general closer to people without it being too far removed. If bigger local councils or regional assemblies could decide on matters such as policing and also have some control over the purse strings, then it would give people more control and responsibility over how to approach policing locally. This could be part of a more general devolution of power locally, though this runs up against the unpopularity of regionalisation in England.

Empowering local democracy is a good aim, and some lobbying for the local area is a good thing - after all, MPs are supposed to represent their constituency in the national debate on issues and bat for it - but it needs to have some rational structure that allows people to engage fully with what the priorities across several local issues should be. Proper devolution would create bodies big enough to take on responsibility for their areas and have the power to make substantive decisions, without being too far removed (a tough balance). This would open up a more engaged local debate and boost turnout, rather than creating a English and Welsh political landscape that's littered with elected offices of varying sizes with little rhyme or reason as to how they join up to make streamlined, effective and accountable local government.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Abortion in Ireland: X Case Revisited Again

Ireland has become a much more liberal country over the last few years - for example, around 73% of people support same sex marriage - but abortion is still a bitterly fought issue. In referendums in 1992 and 2002, the Irish people voted for abortion to be permitted where the mother's life is at risk, but no such legislation has been passed in the 20 years since the X Case that prompted the debate. Tragically a woman has recently died after a miscarriage, sparking an intense debate over the law and reproductive rights in Ireland.

From the Irish Times:

" campaigners have called on the Government to legislate for abortion when the mother’s life is at risk, following the death of Savita Halappanavar after she miscarried at University College Galway last month.

Ms Halappanavar (31) was 17 weeks pregnant when she presented with back pain at the hospital on October 21st. Her husband Praveen Halappanavar claims she was denied a termination despite asking for one several times following her miscarriage diagnosis because the foetal heartbeat was still present.

She spent two days "in agony" until the foetal heartbeat stopped and surgery was carried out to remove the dead foetus. She died of septicaemia on the 28th."

I've blogged in 2010 about the A, B and C case decided by the ECHR in Strasbourg, which ruled that Ireland had breached the convention by not legislating to make right to abortion as described under its own laws accessible to women. Note that this ruling did not change the law on abortion in Ireland, but rather stated that not giving effect to rights decided on nationally breached the convention. The current rules on abortion are very strict, and there is a danger of a chilling affect on doctors, making them afraid of breaking a law that is uncertain, or perhaps even allowing them to refuse abortions by using the legal uncertainty as cover.

While the government has called for people not to prejudge the result of inquiries into Savita Halappanavar's death, it is clearly an on-going scandal that there is no clear law in this area despite two referendums and human rights rulings. There is no excuse for the lack of legislation on this 20 year old issue, and the government needs to act to bring clarity to the law, as voted for democratically and in compliance with the courts. There must be no more hiding behind inquiry after inquiry and report after committee report: it's long past the time for action.

The Council of Minister of the Council of Europe, which oversees compliance with ECHR rulings, will report on Ireland's compliance with the A, B and C ruling at the start of December.

Monday, 12 November 2012

A quick thought on the Electoral College

Last week President Obama was re-elected in the US under the electoral college system. It's been described as "arcane" on this side of the Atlantic, which got me thinking about the possibility of a directly elected Commission President in the EU.

I've discussed in more detail here why I think a parliamentary system would be better for the EU than a directly elected President (or indirectly in the US case). But if we introduced a "directly" elected president in the EU, could we do it without weighting the votes to protect the smaller Member States? I don't think so: a simple majority vote would render campaigning in the small(er) Member States less useful and there would be fewer incentives for candidates to overcome language barriers.

And if we would need an electoral college, why not just have a parliamentary system, with the European Parliament acting as that electoral college?

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Labour and the Commons vote on the EU Budget

The UK government was defeated in a non-binding vote in the House of Commons yesterday, with rebel Tories being joined by the opposition Labour Party to call for a real terms cut in the EU Budget (307 votes for, 294 votes against). Though David Cameron signalled support for a budget cut at yesterday's Prime Minister's Questions, it's clear that he doesn't think that anything more than a real terms freeze can be negotiated.

The debate over the EU Budget is depressing. There is no discussion of what the spending priorities should be, so the argument for cuts seems to have crystallised into a moralistic tale of mutual cuts, rather than a rational debate focused on what our priorities and values should be and what our capacity to find them is. As Olaf Camme in The Guardian wrote:

"The size of the EU's budget is not the actual problem and its reform will require more than opportunistic lip service and national point-scoring. At the very least, it will need to involve governments and opposition parties alike entering a serious debate about where Europe can add value and what kind of financial governance can best provide for it. Both dimensions are somewhat found wanting in the British debate, on the right and the left. Yet failure to do this would only underline the saying, often attributed to Henry Kissinger and paraphrased here: the politics (around the EU budget) are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small."

Labour's decision to side with the anti-EU wing of the Tory party to attack David Cameron is crass party politics.  Labour argues that the EU should cut its budget when EU Member States are implementing austerity flies in the face of their rationale for slower cuts and more investment in growth and job creation. Earlier this month it was revealed that an emergency budget is needed to plug the gap in the Globalisation Fund that is directed to helping workers retrain so they can find employment. What does Labour say about the various EU programmes to help boost growth and competitiveness in the poorer regions of the EU? Even if the UK is a net contributor, how often have we heard over the past two years that the lack of growth in the EU has hurt the UK economy? Should supporting recovery in the UK's main export market not be part of its recovery strategy? (Though the health of the UK economy is mostly in the UK government's hands).

Again: the gap for the Globalisation Fund was €10 billion, and the proposed increase in the EU budget is €9 billion. There needs to be a practical debate for how we shape the EU budget to best serve us during the recession and strengthen everyone's position in the single market. And this needs to be done as part of a negotiated solution - remember, every Member State has a veto! Supporting massive cuts in the absence of any reasoned debate beyond a "austerity for all" mantra does not make a credible budget policy.