IPR Blog

Expert analysis, debates and comments on topical policy-relevant issues

Posts By: Amy Thompson

Macron’s daunting to-do list: unite a nation, form a government, reform Europe

📥  Brexit, EU membership, EU Referendum, EU renegotiation, France, political parties, The far right

Dr Nick Startin, Head of Department, PoLIS

The French presidential election campaign delivered as many twists and turns as a soap opera. But it ended with an air of predictability. Emmanuel Macron polled two thirds of votes cast compared to Marine Le Pen’s one third. There was no late surge from Le Pen. Her performance in the only television debate between the two rounds illustrated how difficult it is for radical right leaders to move from being the anti-system candidate to serious contender.


Le Pen and her entourage will take some solace from the fact that she polled around 11m votes in the second-round run-off – 3.4m more than in the first – but the result will nevertheless be perceived by some in the Front National inner circle as disappointing. Given the ongoing difficulties in the eurozone, France’s high unemployment rate (particularly among the under 25s), the refugee crisis, the terrorist security threat, Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in the US, the prevailing demand-side conditions could not have been more favourable for the Front National. This is, after all, a party whose whole campaign was built around the notion of a perceived cleavage between globalists (as represented by Macron) and patriots (as represented by Le Pen).

Although Front National strategists such as Florian Philippot have always had one eye on the long-term game and the possibility of victory in 2022, it’s not a given that the Front National can continue to grow in electoral terms if the demand-side conditions do not remain as favourable. The party has worked tirelessly to detoxify its image over the past decade but doubts remain as to whether an historically anti-system, radical-right party is capable of positioning itself as a party of government.

Govern and unite

Much will of course depend on whether Macron can heal the divisions in France that were so evident during the campaign. His first priorities will be logistical. He must choose a prime minister and seek a mandate at next month’s legislative elections.

Given that a majority of his voters in the second round would have preferred to back an alternative candidate, securing a majority for his fledgling movement, En Marche! (just renamed La République en Marche), in the National Assembly will be far from straightforward. Macron may well be forced to reach out to sympathetic socialists and centre-right républicains to obtain a working majority in the lower chamber. The latter, following the defeat of candidate François Fillon in the first round, will be looking to re-establish themselves as the biggest party in the National Assembly.

The logistical problems of obtaining a working majority to fulfil his campaign pledges will be just the start of the challenges facing Macron’s administration. While his campaign (and others for that matter) have demonstrated a dilution of the traditional French left-right cleavage, the result has only served to underline the social fracture that exists in France. This is well illustrated by the distribution of the Macron vote. It’s no coincidence that around nine out of ten voters backed Macron in London and Paris. How he reaches out to those citizens who remain static in their social mobility, many of whom feel disconnected from and alienated by globalisation, will be crucial.

In his manifesto, the new president emphasised educational and economic reform as a means of generating social and economic mobility. But the stark reality is that such reforms may prove difficult to implement in a country often hostile to major structural change.

The European question

One of the strategic problems facing Macron, and one central to the so-called “globalist versus patriot” tension, is how to pitch the European question. Although the French electorate doesn’t seem ready to jettison the euro, it has become increasingly sceptical about the role of the European Union. Macron (a self-proclaimed europhile) was not scared to wrap his campaign in the European flag. He even played Beethoven’s Ode to Joy (the EU anthem) as he delivered his victory speech.

Le Pen has, in contrast, increasingly used opposition to the EU as a strategic driver in an attempt to widen the party’s electoral base. This has been a particularly successful tactic in the north of France, where post-industrial unemployment makes it difficult for many to see economic globalisation in a positive light.

How Macron deals with the European question will be crucial to the success of his presidency. He has stated that strengthening the Franco-German axis is central to his project – something which most of the electorate are likely, at least for the time being, to tolerate. However, Macron will also need to convince his doubters, including some of the 12% who either spoiled their ballot papers or failed to mark them, not to mention the quarter of the registered electorate who did not vote in the second round. To help win them over, he must demonstrate that he is prepared to fully embrace the reform agenda which the EU has often tried to dodge.

Solidifying the eurozone and developing the EU’s defence and security arm are obvious directions of travel but Macron will also need to demonstrate that he is prepared to visit more contentious issues if he is to keep the electorate on board. In talks with EU leaders, he shouldn’t shy away from re-examining the Schengen area and developing a more robust EU-wide response to the EU’s horribly high levels of youth unemployment.

And while it would take a bold French president to seek radical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, perhaps now is the time for boldness. France has a historic, protective stance on the CAP, but it continues to gobble up nearly 40% of the EU budget. Diverting those funds into tackling social problems in EU nation states remains something of a pipe dream.

Failure to fully embrace the reform agenda within the EU could soon damage Macron’s popularity ratings. France is at a crossroads. The direction it takes under Macron will have a massive baring not only on the future of the nation, but also on the future of the EU.



Trumpism 101: The Outsider, Ignored For Years. No longer

📥  future, International relations, Trump, Uncategorised

Janine R. Wedel, a social anthropologist in the Schar School of Government and Policy at George Mason University and Global Policy Chair at the University of Bath, is the author of Unaccountable: How the Establishment Corrupted Our Finances, Freedom, and Politics and Created an Outsider Class (Pegasus, 2014), now out in paperback.

A version of this article was published in the Huffington Post (“Trumpism 101: The Outsider, Ignored For Years. No longer,” Oct. 27, 2016)

Hundreds, if not thousands, of pundits the world over have written about the various them­es that have come to life in the most extraordinary and alarming election year in modern history. But I daresay only a handful of thinkers can rightfully claim they examined these themes and warned about a coming revolt years ago. I am one of the few, a social anthropologist studying power and influence, first in Central and Eastern Europe before and after communism and, more recently, in the United States. I began addressing anti-establishment rage with Shadow Elite in 2009 and then further in 2014’s Unaccountable: How the Establishment Corrupted Our Freedom, Finances, and Politics and Created an Outsider Class, now out in paperback.



The rhetoric this year has been disturbing to me, not just as a person who values civility in discourse, but also as a scholar. Complex topics I have studied for decades—elite power and influence, corruption, political rigging—have now been hijacked by a demagogue. There is thus a big risk of burying a sober and much-needed discussion of these important, complicated issues. I hope to address them here.

Let’s begin with the defining feature of the 2016 revolt: outsiderism. Increasingly, people identify themselves as outsiders, and look to leaders who claim to do the same. Digital technology, of course, enables these outsiders to mass together in ways never before possible. Wholesale alienation was in evidence long before 2016.

Two years ago, I wrote this in Unaccountable:

How is it that ordinary people have an instinctual grasp of the real nature of corruption and the inequality that often results, while many experts are still wedded to the idea that corruption happens somewhere out there? Witness the Occupy protests that began on Wall Street in 2011 and the Tea Party movement that helped grind the U.S. government to a halt in the fall of 2013. They may otherwise have little in common, but they share a resounding refrain: that the system is gamed by the powerful.

When I wrote those words, President-elect Donald Trump was just a middling, blustering reality television star and self-aggrandising real estate mogul. Senator Bernie Sanders was a distant third on the list of famous Vermonters, well behind Ben and Jerry, of ice cream fortune. More than two years later, I’ve heard these revolutionary figures and a parade of their supporters agree wholeheartedly that the system is rigged.

Since 2014, I have watched with distress, though not much surprise, as the arguments I made sprang to full flower in massive anti-establishment movements in the United States and Europe. My lack of surprise is because I come at this issue from a perspective and history few others have. I am an American who began her career as a young scholar overseas in the waning years of communism. On both sides of the Atlantic I have since been studying elites who wield power and influence, how they operate in new and insidious ways, and the seismic changes that spawned them. The result is that ordinary people now have little meaningful voice in making and shaping the policies that affect their lives and livelihoods. I have sought to redefine corruption as actions that violate the public trust, even if they are not technically illegal. Most, if not all, of this “new corruption,” as I call it, is fully legal, even if most of us would consider it unethical.

Over the past two years, the populist, anti-elite movements erupting around the world showed that regular people were starting to grasp at a primal level the contours of the new corruption, because indeed they were living with it. Now this is a stone-cold reality. The public knows full well that this new corruption is flourishing, though the culprits that are usually mentioned—money in politics, greedy banks, or the simple revolving door—tell a story that’s dangerously incomplete. Many elites, by contrast, have been blind-sided. The media, too, have been caught off guard by insurgencies from both right and left. So have most pundits and scholars.

That is because, to quote from Unaccountable:

…..more and more we feel like we’re excluded from a system we used to know how to negotiate but no longer quite do. Figuring things out is not as straightforward as in the past. We‘re subject to new ways of influencing and organizing influence that are not as obvious as they were just twenty-five—or even five—years ago... [W]e sense a division between outsiders and insiders and that the insiders are working on their own behalf, even as they purport to have us, the public, in mind. The rest of us are left on the outside, knocking to get in.

This rigged system does exist. The sense that something huge is amiss has driven millions of Americans to seek leaders they perceive as outside of the system—the most successful being Trump, Bernie Sanders, and a motley collection of third party candidates. In fact, as I argue, the new corruption of Hillary Clinton and many, many elite players of all stripes has paved the way for the likes of Trump and Sanders. Clinton’s byzantine family foundation is not merely a right-wing talking point. Serious concerns about the conflicts of interest embedded there should give pause to citizens of any political persuasion. And her use of a private email system while secretary of State exemplifies a classic characteristic of this Unaccountable era—boundary-pushing elites subverting the standard bureaucracy in self-interested ways that make transparency difficult, if not impossible. It is unfortunate that Trump has so sullied the discourse that these very real issues cannot be discussed dispassionately; rather, people, even family members, are coming to blows on social media. Sometimes this election season, we’re talking about actual blows. And now the President-elect seems to be blithely disinterested or uninformed about the very corruption he decried in speech after speech. Aside from blatantly violating norms and dismissing questions about his own vast conflicts-of-interest, he is surrounding himself with some of the very people who practice the more subtle but very insidious form of new corruption, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

Trump, it is important to note, is not one of the elites I study who shape policy. He is actually useful in making the distinction about who I am talking about. Trump is a wealthy celebrity who until Election Day was not involved himself in any major way in Washington-style policy manipulation. (That in no way absolves him from his many other alleged abuses: of the tax code, of sound and fair business practices, of standards of civility, and of women.)

Trump is what happens when elites in the establishment game the system to their advantage, widening income inequalities, and crippling trust in civic institutions. These developments have left regular people disillusioned and looking for a savior in a demagogue like him.

Sanders, of course, never exhibited the alarming authoritarianism that Trump does, but his followers are equally anti-establishment and anti-elite. To Sanders’s supporters, Clinton represents the unholy alliance between Democrats and Wall Street, and the corruption of a political system awash in mystery money from corporations and even foreign governments. These followers have solid points to make, if not always pragmatic plans for fixing the enormous challenges they lay out.

Americans are not the only people experiencing an epidemic of outsiderism. Such disaffection from the establishment and resulting populist movements are by no means limited to the United States. I have witnessed them first-hand in Europe, where I spent the year from September 2015 through August 2016 conducting research and teaching in several cities across the continent, in part as a Fulbright scholar (my analysis here is entirely my own, not that of the Fulbright program.) In Germany, I saw the continued rise of the right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD), founded only in 2013. The AfD scored strongly, earning votes in the double digits in three German states during elections in spring 2016 and, in September 2016, even beating the party of Chancellor Angela Merkel in her home state. I watched German news coverage of France, where terror attacks have been feeding xenophobic support for Marine Le Pen and her far right-wing National Front party. In June, from Ukraine, I watched coverage of how voters in the United Kingdom shocked elites there and around the world by voting to Brexit the European Union. The far right (some would say fascist) did suffer a defeat in December in Austria’s presidential elections, where, for the first time since World War II, neither establishment party (Social Democrats and Austrian People’s) saw their candidate appear in the top spot.

Whether from the right or the left, these candidates and movements have one hugely salient attribute in common: They are profoundly and aggressively anti-elite, anti-establishment, and anti-system. They seek to abolish the system without any real or viable plan for replacing it.

The result is President-elect Trump, whose actions thus far to “drain the swamp” suggests only one thing: that he had no idea who the swamp-dwellers were in the first place.







No Utopian solution for future funding, but partnership offers a fighting chance

📥  funding, future, research

Professor Chick Wilson, Department of Chemistry

There is no point in hiding from the truth; an already difficult and complex situation for research funding became significantly more complicated following the Brexit vote in June. We must not lose track of the fact that the pre-Brexit funding landscape had been complicated not only by successive settlements which, while protecting science from the worst of the fiscal reductions evident elsewhere in Government, introduced new strings to much of the effective flat cash settlements with which the research community have made only tentative steps in being able to appreciate to date. It is to the credit of the previous Chancellor that, relatively speaking, he did protect research from cuts that would have severely hampered the ability of the UK to continue punching above its weight in research delivery and impact. However, this was achieved through a series of compromises that became increasingly severe as time proceeded through his Chancellorship. Having seen major research funding within the ring-fence earmarked for major investments that made for eye-catching announcements, the culmination of what some may regard as a dilution of core research funding was the establishment of the Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF), which will ramp up to account for a total spend of £1.5 billion by 2021. This protects research funding but only by coupling it strongly with resource that can be accounted towards the UK commitment to 0.7% ear-marking of government spend for international development efforts, through DfID. The latter government department plays arguably an unexpected central role in the UK research environment; embracing and understanding that partnership will be both key and a significant challenge for the research community, particularly those not historically tuned into the international development agenda.


The history of the GCRF is interesting in itself. Rumours of a “Grand Challenge Fund” were around in 2015 both prior to and immediately following the General Election in that year. Rumoured to be a “top-slicing” of funding from the budgets of each of the seven research councils (and this idea is likely still to form part of the future landscape), there was significant engagement between the research councils and their communities, with each identifying key Challenges that could be addressed by such a fund, of order £100M per annum. Taking advantage of this opportunity would have been a challenge in itself, requiring new interdisciplinary approaches to research and targeting if existing efforts towards the unified priority areas. The GCRF that emerged as part of the CSR2015 statement was, to most of the community, surprising in the extent to which it is targeted at delivering research that focuses on producing solutions that are relevant in development contexts.  It is new, it is different, it challenges our thinking as researchers but also, crucially, challenges our funders in the Research Councils. It is obvious from the response to the modest funding available through GCRF in 2016/17 that the Councils have dramatically different views on how and where this fund could best be targeted; these differences in views will become crucial when the non-earmarked finds kick in from 2017/18 onwards. Here is where partnership with our funders will become increasingly crucial. Engaging with RCUK colleagues will enable the research community to influence approaches to the GCRF, not only to ensure that it continues to meet the needs of UK research as well as its targeted beneficiaries in the developing world. Moreover, and more of this below, such partnership can also help reinforce the case made for the importance, relevance, adaptability and impact of the UK research base, to ensure that the full extent of the GCRF can still be delivered in the post-Brexit landscape.

Of course the new elephant in this room, as is true of other funding streams for UK research, is the inevitable alteration of the landscape for EU funding into the UK. For researchers this primarily presents as the funding distributed by the European Research Council, through a wide range of often complex streams held within the Horizon 2020 framework. The UK is a substantial contributor to the ERC budget, but as is well rehearsed, is also a major beneficiary from these research funds, with funding wins for UK researchers consistently outstripping the contribution made. A situation of such “juste retour plus” is to be, and has been, celebrated and is a core element of the UK research funding landscape. The announcement by the new Chancellor on 13 August that EU funds awarded to UK researchers prior to Brexit will be underwritten by the Treasury is welcome, positive and may well have broader implications for the place of research in the new administration’s thinking.  However, this guarantee is of course limited to the pre-Brexit period, and it goes without saying that the post-Brexit destination of this funding is critical to sustaining our research; once the imperative to respect these prior commitments has been removed, it will be important not to rely on some of the more optimistic, naïve hopes and expectations about this funding. Many cling to the commitments to repatriate EU contributions “in full” to UK needs post-Brexit, of whatever true value they represent, but of the priorities for this advanced in securing the plurality for Leave in the Referendum, just think where research funding might sit with respect to the NHS, regional development, agriculture and others. Some believe that we can lobby the Government to fill the European funding gap in its entirety, and even to make the case to deliver in the future not only the UK contribution but the juste retour-plus bonus also. We can say it, but how will we make such a possibility realistic or even possible? As we move to make the case for this next stage of the argument, we must be realistic and robust in our engagement and influencing of policy, setting out the case without falling into the trap of seeking funding to be maintained “because it is what we have now” and instead make the case within the frame of the critical importance of the research base for the UK economically and societally. We must do this in partnership with those fighting the same battle, including our RCUK partners; this is also relevant to the arguably more fundamental question of what our broader relationship with EU research funding will be in future.

Assuming the new post-Brexit administration maintains continuity of approach to research funding, we in the research community have clear challenges, some of which have been noted above but also including the establishment of the unified funding body UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Our response must be positive but not Utopian. We must work with both existing and evolving partners in fighting for the next settlement for UK research, in particular as part of Brexit negotiations and in renewing our lobbying and influencing prior to the autumn financial statement. A recent UUK meeting was addressed by one of these partners, Nicola Blackwood, Chair of the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee.  As with our RCUK partners and the GCRF, it is clear that the S&T Select Committee needs the mature engagement of research community in undertaking its important work in protecting and promoting UK research and the importance of its adequate funding. Another partnership with which we must work, offering well-reasoned but again realistic and non-naïve inputs to its consultations and evidence sessions. Being confronted with a research community that refuses to accept reality and wishes to envisage solutions that pretend that major perturbations have not occurred will do none of us any good. We will not be able to exert our influence unless we are robust, realistic and creative in our views, and produce viable alternatives that can form part of a real policy delate rather than presenting unachievable pipe-dreams.

In this, the research community must show itself to be increasingly sophisticated in engaging with those with whom we share common cause. Likewise with RCUK as it moves towards the establishment of UKRI. Long gone are the days when we could consider our relationships with the Research Councils and their committed staff as “them and us”; this relationship has changed out of all recognition in the last decade or more, and we must utilise these increasingly important partnerships to secure our funding future.



The under 30s in the UK: A generation used to not getting what they voted for

📥  Brexit, voting, young people

Dr Benjamin Bowman, Teaching Fellow in Comparative Politics, Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies

The EU Referendum underlined a clear disconnect between the ruling elites and the electorate, writes Benjamin Bowman. Disappointment with political choices is particularly marked among the younger generation, whose disaffection exemplifies a deeper depolitisation. Much can be learned from recent episodes such as the Iraq War and the increase in tuition fees if we are to prevent a further failure of the transmission belt between constituents and government. Bowman suggests a mainstreaming of youth politics, for instance by including youth branches within party lists.

young people

Britain voted to leave the EU, but now little is certain in British politics, except that more uncertainty beckons. Whether you voted Leave or Remain, you are likely disappointed with this situation. For young people the experience of disappointment and disaffection is nothing new. Britain is currently on the cusp of constitutional change: we must, seize this opportunity to rebuild the connection between everyday people and institutional politics in our modern democracy. The way recent political choices have impacted the way younger generations perceive politics offers some lessons in this sense.

Brexit, like the Iraq War and the increase in tuition fees, risks alienating the young

Our political moment is a deeply elitist one, despite the hullaballoo of the democratic mandate of the 52%, or the call to “take back control” at a national level. The referendum was criticized as a “media circus of exaggerated claim and counter claim” in which voters were called to muster into opposing camps by elite actors, rather than having the capability to make fully informed decisions. both campaigns were cursed by male-dominated (and indeed, white male-dominated) politics, as Professor Jacqueline Rose wrote last month.

Young voters may feel that “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”: the more things change, the more things stay the same. Brexit is another episode in a long political soap opera for young people, in which the vote represents the dissolution of complex individual concerns, needs, experiences and feelings into a binary (and non-binding) vote for one elite group or another, whether between Remain or Leave, between David Cameron or Boris Johnson, between Nick Clegg or Nigel Farage, none of whom are generally perceived to be seeking to represent voters’ needs, but simply to be hunting a democratic mandate for a plan that has already been settled.

As in the case of the Iraq War, or the Liberal Democrats short-lived pledge to oppose tuition fees, the shortening of the odds that Brexit will ever actually happen will be familiar to young people as a process of voting for one thing and getting another, a failure of the democratic transmission belt between everyday life and the representatives selected to organize it.

Young people will also likely feel that the representation of older generations has been fortified at the expense of the young. Young turnout was reportedly high with a 75% majority among 18-24s voting to remain. This, of course, didn’t stop a tidal wave of criticism aimed at young people who didn’t bother to vote (largely based on a discredited estimate tweeted by Sky, which was based on data from the 2015 General Election and had nothing do to with the Referendum itself).

Blaming young people for their own marginalization has become commonplace, to the point that the words “they should bother to vote if they care that much” is a kneejerk reaction happening all too often. The stacking of the deck against young people is thus blamed on young people themselves, while it is easily forgotten that there is now a whole generation whose experience of voting is largely that you don’t get what you voted for. On a deeper level, this represents an uncoupling of politics from governance, a failure of the transmission belt between constituents and government. The alienation of young people is just one symptom of broader depoliticisation.

All about the money: why young people are abandoning politics and vice versa

As part of a recent research project, I was working with teenagers in a small town in rural England. We discussed how they saw themselves fitting into British society and politics. The participants in the group had a good working knowledge of how the local council functioned and what the big issues in their community were. They were also very clear about the reality for everyday people who needed local government to take action: “I know what the answer will be”, said one participant, a 15-year-old girl, “it’ll be: well, we ain’t got the money”.

Young people’s experience of politics in our austerity era is a complicated relationship between citizens and everyday lives, and elite-level governance. As such, rather than a single political arena, we actually have two sets of politics in Britain – the everyday and the elite. The relationship between the two, in the words of this participant, is a question of not having the money. It is about blaming the inability to transmit popular voice into popular power due to budget constraints or the need to privatize the tools of government. This could be called a failure of the transmission belt between constituents and their representatives. “Well, we ain’t got the money” is a keen observation of the main political event of our time for the young: the breakdown of the transmission belt between the everyday and the elite level.

Everyday politics is a remarkably vibrant and accessible field for young people, who are more educated in citizenship and in methods for making a difference than ever before. They are connected to the world around them, informed about current events from the local to the world stage, and trained in tools from fundraising and volunteering to petitioning at a remarkably young age. The everyday level is about celebrating young power and raising the volume of young voices.

On the other hand, the elite level – the level at which governance is performed – is largely geared against the young participation that is so celebrated at an everyday level. Political parties continue to keep youth wings in policy silos, using them to float youth-specific policy, or as foot soldiers for handing out pamphlets, but little else. The hallmark of young politics is diverse participatory acts, and we celebrate diverse ways to give young people a voice, but mostly fail to transmit that voice into effective power. And it is not just the young who feel disheartened by British politics. We know from the decades of post-war data that there is a growing distance, distrust and even hatred that citizens perceive towards politicians. Where do we go from here?

We need broadband democracy for a broadband age

We must fix the transmission belt between everyday politics and elite governance. There is no better time than now, and no better group to bring into the heart of the process than the young. The Referendum was politics done wrong. Though we are voters with a world of information at our fingertips, we were subject to a circus of exaggerated and (at best) poorly explained claims. Though we have a wealth of tools for communication, our needs, voices and actions were boiled down into a simple In or Out decision.

The UK’s EU Referendum was thus Morse code politics in a broadband age. For young people, especially, this was a poisonous experience, since the modes of democratic activity the young most value – direct participation – were the least represented in a campaign led at a distance by male, aging elites and dominated by grandiose economic, political and social claims rather than by clear connections to everyday life. The Brexit era provides us with the opportunity for a fuller democratic relationship between everyday and elite, institutional politics.

We need to upgrade the transmission of democratic power from the everyday level to the institutional. Young people need direct avenues for participation. Practically speaking, political parties could strengthen the representation of young people directly in their Party structures: not just in segregated youth wings, but at the heart of policymaking, and on Party lists. As long as local politics was able to get things done – which, granted, may be a larger, budgetary issue – this would be especially valuable at local level where young people would be best able to make direct contact with representatives. For the same reason, MPs should be working to get young people into contact and into their surgeries.

A voice for young people must also mean effective power, and there are practical ways to do this too. Unions need to be reaching out to the young: both the working young and those out of work or on insecure contracts. Like Party youth wings, Unions can be a transmission belt by which young people can make a difference on the way society is run at an institutional level, and perceive the effects of those institutions on everyday life. The same could be true of public consultations. For one example, the LSE’s project for The People’s Constitution could teach us a lot about the value and potential for popular participation in upcoming constitutional reform.

We have a new Prime Minister, a new Government, and we are looking at a period of constitutional reform even to the possible extent of Scottish independence and the dissolution of the Union. An era of political change is on the cards. Involving young people at the heart of that change is not only practical, it is essential if we are to rebuild the connection between everyday people and the institutions that serve them.


After the Referendum: Picking up the bits, by Professor Graham Room

📥  Brexit, EU Referendum, policymaking


What have we learned from this referendum campaign, the passions and fears that it unleashed?  Were the electorate truly energised by the question, to leave or remain, or were they asking quite other questions than that on the ballot paper?  Was this a national – and rational - debate about our membership of the European Union - or a mix of quite different hopes and especially fears, using this referendum as a brief opportunity to express themselves?

These questions arise most fundamentally for Labour, as they sense the gap that has opened up, between the internationalism of their London-based elite and their traditional supporters in the Midlands and the North.  If Cameron, with his divided party, was forced to look Left for some hope, Labour was itself forced to look to its progressive middle class and younger supporters.

How did we get to this situation?  How in particular did immigration divide Labour from its base?

Immigration into the UK over the last decade has been 5.77 million.  Many have gone into areas of low-cost accommodation, alongside the working class households from whom Labour traditionally drew its support. True, there has been emigration of 3.48 million (meaning net immigration has been 2.49 million) but not necessarily out of those same localities.  During the same period, austerity and recession have meant cuts in public services, in jobs and in benefits, which have hit those same areas particularly hard.  Is it so surprising that established residents should infer a causal connection?  And is it surprising that they should feel insecure and abandoned?

In such a situation, it is incumbent on political leaders to unpick a complex mix of problems and offer policies which unite and build resilience.  This both major parties have failed to do.  Labour assured us that immigration was a good thing: those who said otherwise were bigoted or misguided.  After all, had not immigration been accompanied by some growth in GDP? (Maybe so, but real wages for households on average incomes stagnated).  And did not immigrants contribute more in terms of social security contributions than they took out in benefits? (Maybe so, but in localities receiving large numbers, policies of austerity meant there was little if any financial support for the extra services needed.)

In the mid-20th Century, Tawney and Titmuss and T H Marshall provided an account of the development of UK social policy strongly related to national identity and solidarity. It set the fraternity and mutual interdependence of citizenship against the divisions and inequalities of class and against the turbulence and insecurity of an urban-industrial society. It was a solidarity that would welcome the stranger - but this generosity depended on that foundation of solidarity. When other writers – Rimlinger and Esping-Andersen for example - wrote the comparative history of social policy in other countries, it was similarly in terms of the solidarity and resilience of local and national communities.

We might also go back to those sociologists who described the changes that came to working class urban communities in the mid-20th Century. Wilmott and Young described the move from the close-knit relationships of Bethnal Green to the nuclear families of Debden.  Richard Hoggart described the ways in which rising levels of material consumption, while welcome in themselves, left those solidaristic links to atrophy.  By the end of the century, New Labour was able to bring consumerist aspiration and choice in public services to the centre of its electoral promise. The question was reduced to how well ordinary citizens would deal with this cornucopia, and how much a benign government would need to nudge them, if they were to exercise those choices wisely.

Such optimism for the new century was understandable.  The economic crisis following 2008 - and the programme of austerity that followed - changed all that. Solidarity failed: all but the wealthiest suffered: Labour’s natural constituency suffered most of all. The referendum provided an opportunity for them to give vent to their sense of abandonment. It is this that we as a nation must now address.

The need is for positive action to rebuild our solidarity and creativity as a nation.  Austerity has not worked and is intellectually bankrupt, having played a major part in producing the disaster we now face.   Something different is needed.

Re-Building Solidarity

The recent direction of UK social policies has been to push as many as possible into the market place, narrowing public generosity towards those who remain. The burden of austerity has fallen on the most disadvantaged, multiplying the uncertainties to which they are exposed.  This is the politics of fear - and of surrender to the global market.

In contrast, the post-war social contract between State and citizen, across the western world, involved a pooling of risks and uncertainties through systems of social security. The same period saw governments confronting the economic instability of capitalist society. This has sometimes been characterised as a consensual process, the benign fruit of economic progress. Nevertheless, as T H Marshall warned: ‘in the twentieth century, citizenship and the capitalist class system have been at war’. [1]  It was only out of that struggle that institutions of shared security emerged.

If the social changes of the 21st Century are to be managed successfully and with public consent, they need a new social contract to underpin them. We need to mobilise the energies and talents of all sections of society: and we are more likely to pull together if the distribution of rewards is less unequal.  Such a contract would need to include several interrelated elements, going well beyond traditional welfare systems:

·       Individual security against risks of income interruption: the heartland of traditional welfare states, albeit in the last half century on the defensive, across much of the industrialised world, in face of neo-liberal hostility to State welfare;

·       Investment in everyone’s capabilities, not just in those with parental wealth: what many have referred to as the ‘social investment state’. There is good evidence that for a given financial outlay, it is investment in the lowest-skilled that can produce the greatest benefit for national productivity; [2]

·       The rebalancing of our economies to provide ‘decent jobs’ which make use of everyone’s capabilities;

·       Investment in vibrant local communities, as loci of education, learning and creativity for all: in particular for disadvantaged communities, which are often poorly connected to the community at large;

·       Involvement of all in the governance of social, political and economic institutions, with active citizenship and scrutiny of public policies, and of the corporate interests which might otherwise detract from such a contract.

These are complementary elements of development.  Such a contract would involve a broad range of policies of relevance to all citizens, rather than focussing just on society’s casualties. It would need to go far beyond the notion of a basic income, which in various guises has again reared its head across the political spectrum. It would limit the risks of poverty but also promote economic growth; promote individual security but also collective resilience and adaptability. It would also go far beyond the extension of choice in public services, with the citizen seen primarily as a consumer.  It would involve rebuilding local and national communities, as points where these different policies can be connected up.  It would leave the market where it belongs, as the servant of the community not its master.

This would also re-shape the debate on immigration.  First, by investing in the skills and creativity of our own population, we reduce the need for employers to look elsewhere – for nurses, for IT specialists and others - in ways that denude poorer countries of those in whom they have invested their slender national resources.  Second, by taking collective responsibility for the infrastructures of those communities to which large numbers of immigrants come, rather than ‘devolving’ this burden to the local areas in question, we reduce the risk that those communities will see immigrants as a threat.

The main political parties cluster around a narrow agenda of neo-liberal policies with low political risk. Nevertheless, the 2008 crisis produced enormous discontent and a loss of legitimacy for major social and political institutions.  It is to that discontent that the rise of the SNP, the election of Jeremy Corbyn and the victory of the Leave campaign have now variously given expression.  It must be collectively addressed.

Away from Austerity

The EU referendum was remarkable in bringing together the leaders of all the major political parties in defence of Remain.  Concealing as it did their dramatically different visions of social and economic policy – and by extension their vision of the UK’s future within Europe – this subterfuge only underlined the artificial nature of the referendum debate.  The latter instead served as a distorting mirror, in front of which the electorate struggled to make sense of the futures paraded before them.

Central to this strange tableau was the Chancellor George Osborne, whose austerity policies have been so wantonly destructive of our social fabric and who thus - no less than the Leave campaigners themselves – was the reckless co-architect of their victory. It is to the wholesale replacement of those austerity policies that any effective response to the referendum must now be geared.  Just as the near-defeat of the British establishment in the Scottish referendum forced some recognition of Scotland’s grievances, so also this more dramatic defeat requires a clear re-engagement with the have-nots of the country, if these deep divisions are to be healed.

Austerity insists that reduction of the public sector deficit must be the principal economic goal, pursued mainly through cuts in public expenditure.  Shrinkage of the public sector is meant not just to reduce the deficit, but also to stimulate the private sector.  Underlying this view is the assumption that the market, left to itself, will automatically adjust, and produce investment, full employment and economic growth.  Government only gets in the way.

There is an alternative and very different analysis of the modern economy: one which aligns with the foregoing argument for a new social contract. This recognises that Government must play a leading role, in maintaining the general buoyancy of the economy, and in using public investment to build its long-term capacity. Viewed from this standpoint, to make reduction of the deficit the top short-term priority has been unnecessary and unhelpful. If government expenditure is continually cut back, the economy is likely to stagnate: business investment will remain low, the growth in the underlying capacity of the country will be slow, and tax receipts will be flat or falling. And, as we have seen, the most vulnerable communities disproportionately bear the costs. It is like the medieval practice of blood-letting, overlooking that this only weakens the patient and reduces the likelihood – or at least the speed – of recovery.

Whether a new government dominated by Brexiteers will offer such a vigorous re-orientation of economic policy is rather doubtful. The immediate response by the public authorities to the economic uncertainties created by the referendum has been to promise new rounds of ‘quantitative easing’ by the Bank of England. Such measures lower the interest rate and, it is argued, make it easier for businesses to borrow money and invest. Keynes however showed that if those businesses lack confidence in the future level of economic activity, then no matter how cheaply money can be borrowed, they will not invest in new programmes of activity.

What the successive rounds of QE over recent years did do was to channel money not into investment in the real economy, but into equities, very much to the advantage of the already wealthy. It is perhaps not surprising therefore that the announcement of new rounds of QE in recent days has sent the FTSE soaring, after the falls immediately after the referendum.  Whether the working class communities, who voted in large numbers for Brexit, will take similar delight from the announcement, is more doubtful.

Re-Building Europe 

The Brexit victory demonstrates deep disaffection with the European project across broad swathes of the UK – including areas which have benefitted from EU regional support. This disaffection must be addressed, if some new and positive involvement by the UK is to be possible.  It will not be enough to tell those who voted to leave that they should be less xenophobic: nor that the City of London needs to be part of the single market.

How can those who believe in a shared European future now recast the European project, so that it encompasses first and foremost the sorts of communities that brought Brexit its triumph?

In the Eurozone, as in the UK, economic orthodoxy demands balanced budgets and constraints on public spending.  This ignores the interconnections of the European crisis.  On the one hand, German industry has enjoyed a ‘virtuous circle’ of exports, investment and productivity growth: a process which has however weakened the economies of the European periphery. Meanwhile, austerity and unemployment in that periphery have prompted the migration of skilled workers to the job markets of the north, with a transfer of human capital paid for by the home countries.

Recent decades have seen vigorous calls for public and private investment in Europe’s knowledge economy, in the social cohesion of its diverse peoples and the solidarity of its regions, whatever their different stages of social and economic development. In the Eurozone however, these calls have been trumped by austerity.   The resulting stagnation is politically destabilising: and the effects spill far beyond the Eurozone proper.

It will therefore be necessary to confront the toxic austerity regime that Berlin has imposed on much of Europe and that sends a clear message of disregard to communities which are being left behind.  This will mean working with reform groups in other European countries.

In 1919 the Treaty of Versailles imposed heavy reparations on Germany and restrictions on how it might re-build its industrial base. Keynes famously condemned the Treaty in The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919). [3]  This was in part on grounds of justice - and the need to build a peace in which the new and democratic Germany would feel included. It was also because a Germany without a thriving economy would hardly be in a position to pay the reparations that were being exacted.  It was however primarily in relation to the rebuilding of the European economy as a whole that Keynes advanced his case. Europe involved highly interdependent national economies: within this, the German economy was central: restoring prosperity to Europe would be impossible if Germany remained devastated.

For modern Germany, the dominant economic power in Europe, it is no less important that these interconnections today are fully recognised; and that Germany takes a major responsibility for building a sustainable Europe for all of its communities. How Germany does this will in large measure shape Europe through much of this century: no only its economy, but its cohesion, its democratic institutions and its global influence.   What this will require is much more than a single market, a single currency and a single labour market: and adding further levels of political union will also not suffice. What is also needed is a European-wide social contract, with investment in the       social and economic security of communities across the Continent - and in their active citizenship, confidently in charge of their own destinies, and with none feeling left behind.

It is still possible for the UK to be part of this grand re-working of the European project. The referendum was a collective decision: and responsible citizens, individually and collectively, are able to change their minds.  The dialogue between citizens and their political representatives need not and should not be confined to a single visit to the polling booth.   We are collectively free to choose an alternative to Brexit.

[1] T H Marshall (1950), Citizenship and Social Class, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
[2] S Coulombe, J-F Tremblay and S Marchand (2004), Literacy Score, Human Capital and Growth across Fourteen OECD Countries, Ottawa: Statistics Canada
[3] J M Keynes (1919), The Economic Consequences of the Peace, New York: Skyhorse Publishing


"It ain't over till it's over."

📥  Brexit, EU membership, EU Referendum, Euroscepticism, future

the great unknown

Professor Graham Room, Director of Research, Professor of Social Policy, Department of Social & Policy Sciences

The people have spoken: they want out.  It is now incumbent on Parliament and Government to implement this decision: incumbent in a political – if not in a constitutional - sense.

It won’t be immediate: nor indeed will it be over by Christmas.  We will probably remain members of the EU through 2017 and 2018.  This is because we are members of the EU by international treaty and that treaty includes a specific procedure (Article 50 of the 2009 Lisbon treaty) for a member state wishing to leave.  This allows a country two years to negotiate the terms of its exit, from the moment it notifies the EU of its intention to leave. But once that notification is triggered, the clock begins ticking.  Negotiations cannot extend beyond the two-year notice period, unless all remaining EU member states agree.

What terms of exit are likely to be agreed? That will depend partly on what we say we want, but also on what the other EU countries are prepared to offer.

Stephen Kinnock has suggested that the pro-European majority in the Commons will want us to have EEA status, so that we retain access to the single market, and with it free movement and ECJ competence. That runs contrary to the Brexit campaign's twin themes of "restoring" sovereignty and ending free movement.  So what will Parliament decide?  But maybe that question will not arise, at least until the terms of exit have been agreed, between the EU and whatever UK government is then in office. After all, last winter Parliament had no role in endorsing the terms on which the PM sought to negotiate reforms with Brussels, nor was it asked to give its blessing to the deal he brought back and commended to the electorate.  So maybe Parliament will again be marginalised, in deciding our terms of exit.

What will the EU members be prepared to offer?  The Brexit campaigners argue that it will be in the interests of the EU to agree an early and generous exit agreement with the UK.  That is not self-evident.  Many expect the EU to negotiate a hard bargain, if only to discourage others who might think of heading for the exit, and in order to counter the right-wing nationalist elements which many of them face within their own countries.

There is however an additional reason to expect a hard bargain – in particular from our friends, who will most regret our departure.

The key question is this: will the UK Parliament and Government feel themselves obliged to persist with exit, no matter how hard the terms which the EU offers?  Or will they take the view that under those conditions they would have no alternative but to put those terms to a new referendum?  Nothing in the EU Treaty would prevent the UK government from doing this: and then allowing the result of that second referendum to abort the withdrawal process.

Is it not therefore possible that an informal alliance may now develop between the pro-European elites within the UK and their counterparts across Europe – aimed at ensuring that the deal which the EU offers is indeed meagre: in the knowledge that such a deal will oblige the government to put the terms on offer to a new referendum?  It is those terms on offer in 2018 that will thus prove far more important in the long run than those which Cameron brought back from Brussels to launch the referendum campaign.

True, that may sour the British public even more than it is at the moment: but that mood may turn against the Brexiteers rather than against the EU itself.  After all, by that stage the Brexiteers may well be prominent – if not dominant – within a post-Cameron Conservative government: facing a perfect storm of a deteriorating economy, renewed calls for Scottish independence and a public increasingly weary of their Euro-antics.   What a mess!!!

Universal income or universal divide

📥  Economy, EU Referendum, Finland, labour market, Switzerland, universal basic income

Dr Luke Martinelli, Research Associate

Interest in universal basic income has been intensifying lately, with a discernible proliferation of opinion pieces in the mainstream press. While the reasons for the increased awareness are up for debate, it has surely been fuelled by an increasingly precarious global economic outlook, with rising inequality, the growth of in-work poverty alongside worklessness and underemployment, and the impending claimed obsolescence of labour due to automation all posited as problems with which existing welfare state institutions are ill-equipped to cope. The idea, popular among social democrats and libertarian thinkers alike, is simply to provide everyone with an unconditional income, without intrusive means-testing and work requirements: to provide, in the words of basic income’s long-standing advocate Philippe Van Parijs, “a floor on which [people] can stand, because it can be combined with earnings, rather than a net in which they can easily get stuck”.

In any case, basic income – for decades an abstract idea at the margins of the welfare debate – may soon become reality in a number of European countries. Finland and the Netherlands have already opted to trial basic income schemes in the coming years, and this Sunday, Switzerland will hold a national referendum on whether to introduce legislation to pay each of its citizens a proposed 2500 SFr. per month.

At the IPR, as part of a project assessing the case for a universal basic income in the UK context, we are following these developments keenly. This week we were delighted to welcome Jurgen De Wispelaere, a member of the working group advising the Finnish government on the upcoming experiment, to share his considerable expertise in an informal seminar. view Jurgen’s presentation.



Dr Emma Carmel: 'Migration and EU membership'

📥  Brexit, David Cameron, employment, EU membership, EU migrants, EU Referendum, labour market, migration, Uncategorised

Dr Emma Carmel, Senior Lecturer, Department of Social & Policy Sciences

The political arguments around EU membership and migration have the qualities of children’s playdough: eye-catchingly bright, highly malleable, and good to keep us busy for a while. Unfortunately, also like children’s playdough, they turn dull and crusty, and have a tendency to fall to bits if left out in the air too long.

From 2014-2015 David Cameron and his Eurosceptic Work & Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan-Smith, pursued a strategy of restricting benefits to EU migrants. In its first phase, this was a ‘domestic’ strategy: it focused on changing UK benefit regulations for EU migrants. Accordingly, there were 11 changes to benefit administration rules from January 2014 to the end of 2015, all designed to make it difficult for EU migrants to access social benefits. None of these measures required new legislation, and they were entirely in accordance with EU law and regulations.  No-one from the EU had ever stopped the UK from introducing these regulations, and restricting access to benefits for migrants was not something that had been high on voters’ agendas.



So how did the agenda get there and what purpose was served by these measures?

Well, the topic of migration was on voters’ agendas. Cameron and IDS chose to make a rather spurious and inflammatory, but politically convenient argument: that high levels of benefit (not true) and easy access to benefit (not true) in the UK made it uniquely attractive as a destination for EU migrants (not true). They then showed that the government ‘was doing something’ to restrict EU migration by restricting access to benefits.

Yet the changes in regulations, and the arguments justifying them, achieved a number of other things too. They added an easy rhetorical boost to the government’s wider anti-welfare agenda, which assumes that people in receipt of benefits (unless they are pensioners) are frequently fraudulent, and need punitive treatment. In doing so, they enhanced the generalised fictitious division of society into ‘hard-working families’ and ‘welfare scroungers’. This is important because the identity of ‘hard-working families’ is so central to the Conservatives’ political positioning. (The division is fictitious because many ‘hard-working families’ are also in receipt of social benefits for disability, care, or by virtue of being in low-paid jobs and overpriced housing markets. Their family members also experience spells of time without work.) The benefit regulation changes also dovetailed neatly with demands for budget cuts, especially to housing benefit, which is paid out by severely cash-strapped local authorities.

So it turns out that the argument about ‘migration and benefits’ was only partly about EU migrants. They in any case tend to have higher employment rates than UK citizens, making them more ‘hard-working families’ than ‘welfare scroungers’. However, it set up the context for Cameron’s campaign to ‘re-negotiate’ the UK’s membership of the EU in the run-up to the referendum.

This campaign, which really got underway in 2015, developed a new theme: restricting access to in-work benefits (formerly known as tax credits). The negotiations eventually garnered agreement that member states can invoke an ‘emergency brake’ on the rights of free-moving workers. What this means in practice is that the UK can argue that it faces problems from the migration of EU citizens to the UK, for example with pressure on housing or public services. If such a case is acknowledged by other member states, it can restrict new entrants’ access to tax credits. It still cannot restrict EU citizens’ right to enter, reside and work in the UK. However, this is a very unsavoury political agreement. Let’s see why.

By excluding new EU migrants from tax credits for four years, those same ‘hard-working’ migrants who were previously distinguished from the ‘welfare scroungers’, are corralled into a (more) subordinate position in the UK labour market, along with 18-24 year-olds. New EU migrants in low-paid employment will end up with lower household income than equivalent UK workers and already-resident EU nationals. The number of migrants to the UK will only be affected at the margins, if at all[1]. EU migrants come to the UK for many reasons, but those in low-paid jobs – i.e. those of concern to the government – take up such employment in a labour market that thrives on the availability of lower-paid and flexible workers. Excluding new migrants from tax credits makes no difference to these wider conditions. Except that now those new migrant workers will have to work even more hours to stay above the poverty line. The planned gradual increases to the minimum wage for over-25s will eventually raise such EU workers’ incomes, but it is clear that the ‘emergency brake’ was more about benefits and public expenditure cuts than it was about reducing incentives for migration.

For the Bremain camp, the ‘emergency brake’ satisfies, as it needed to, the foundational requirement in the EU for free movement of workers. This requirement was in place before the UK even joined the EU, and it has been more highly specified over the years, as a key attribute of ‘barrier-free’ trade and the single market. Yet it is precisely this requirement that exposes the contradictory position loudly pursued by the Brexit camp, mostly, but not only, from the right.

Such Brexiteers want to restrict migration from the EU, and reject the brake as inadequate. Yet they also want access to ‘barrier-free’ trade and the single market. Without free movement of workers, however, there is no barrier-free trade. Of course, any outcome of a leave vote is deeply uncertain, because it is subject to negotiation with the other 27 members of the Union. However, no other state with access to the single market has negotiated out of the requirement for free movement of workers. The terms of a looser trade agreement would permit restrictions on migration, although the terms of such an agreement are, if anything, more uncertain.

It seems that the malleable political arguments about migration and the EU are, in the end, rather straightforward. They are, broadly speaking: how can we restrict migration from the EU versus how can we claim to be restricting migration from the EU (by cutting benefits)?

Migrants to the UK, whether from the EU or elsewhere, contribute to its social life and its public services, as well as to its economy, as doctors, dentists, nurses, carers, cleaners, coffee-shop staff, beauticians, factory workers, farm workers, pharmacists, restaurant staff, academics, bus and delivery drivers, warehouse packers, teaching assistants, oh yes – and plumbers. There are, of course, real challenges to public services when faced with a growing population and public budget cuts. There are challenges for the UK economy faced with growing its employment through precarious, low-paid and low-skill work. There are challenges for workers and communities facing such job opportunities, from school leavers to debt-burdened graduates. But these challenges are not caused by migrants from the EU. They are shared by migrants from the EU. They are also shared by many EU citizens in their home countries. It is time to put the playdough political debate about migration behind us and retrieve a more honest political analysis of the underlying challenges facing the UK, in or out of the Union.

This blog post is part of a new IPR Series – all related to the BREXIT debate and the EU Referendum. This collection of commissioned blog posts will be published as an IPR Policy Brief in May 2016. Sign up to the IPR blog to get the latest blog posts, or to join our mailing list to receive invitations to our events and copies of our Policy Briefs.
[1] Portes, J. (2016) ‘Immigration, free movement and the EU referendum’, National Institute Economic Review 236 p. 14-22


Dr Alim Baluch: 'Germany vs Brexit – The Reluctant Hegemon is not amused'

📥  Brexit, David Cameron, EU membership, EU Referendum, EU renegotiation, Euroscepticism, Germany

Dr Alim Baluch, Teaching Fellow, Dept of Politics, Languages & International Studies

The German government and the German media are watching the Brexit debate very closely and Germany is taking it personally. There are, of course, many different German perspectives, but Germany is a special case. This can be traced back not only to its role as the dominant driver of European integration but also to a traditionally Europhile population.

This piece seeks to shed light on the German perspective on Brexit and, in doing so, examine the very awkward relationship between the two ruling conservative parties in Germany and the UK. Here it will be argued that an EU without Britain makes it harder for Germany to conceal its hegemony (a hegemony it is not quite comfortable with) and that even a “Bremain” will trigger further disintegration.

Britain kidnapping Europa. Germans watch in despair.

Britain kidnapping Europa. Germans watch in despair.

All the major European integration projects have been designed or strongly endorsed by Germany whether it is the Single European Act, the Schengen Zone, the Economic and Monetary Union or enlargement. The European Central Bank (ECB) has been designed using the German Federal Bank as its role model.

Ever since Germany’s attempts to impose its will on the rest of the continent by force had failed, its main successor, the Federal Republic, avoided any discourse alluding to national interest, emphasising European interests instead. The Europeanisation of discourse and the trans-nationalisation of policy goals helped to re-socialise Germany after World War II. In this manner, the Federal Republic was able to pursue its interests by shaping European integration in ways that met its export-oriented needs.

Following the financial crisis of 2007/08, which affected Germany far less than other countries of the EU, Germany’s economic dominance is more pronounced than ever before, leaving German governments more exposed to meet leadership expectations from the United States and its European partners. Thus, the EU is at risk of being perceived as a German-led bloc, an impression which Germany is all too eager to avoid.

Whenever a crisis hits the EU, the German government will face increased expectations but, moreover, the opposition will blame the government for its flawed leadership of the EU. When the EU takes a hit, Berlin takes a hit as well.

The European debt crisis exposed Germany’s (reluctant) leadership role. While the British media followed the unfolding disaster of the currency union with some degree of Schadenfreude, Germany was expected to lead, yet it took the government quite a while to craft a coherent narrative which would allow it to effectively bail out Greek’s debtors (i.e. banks like Hypo Real Estate), whilst appeasing the German taxpayers. This narrative portrayed Greece as a culprit who needed to be taught a lesson in fiscal discipline, a lesson which would ultimately crush private domestic demand in Greece and impoverish large parts of society.

This new aggressive side of Germany may come as a surprise given the country’s history of post-World War II reservations when it comes to leadership aspirations or even formulating German interests. However, Germany’s new confidence had already manifested itself in its flawed diplomatic handling of the transition from the New Labour government to the current Cameron administration. The alienation between the two conservative parties started long before Cameron became Prime Minister and both parties have been incapable of establishing a constructive partnership ever since.

A significant proportion of the isolation felt by the Tories in Europe has to be seen in correlation with a change of course in the European Parliament, i.e. Cameron’s decision that his party was to leave the European People’s Party (EPP), which came despite several warnings by other European conservatives that such a step would not be without consequences.

This process was triggered in 2005 when Cameron, as the new leader of the British Conservatives, did not attend the traditional EPP gathering in Brussels. In a letter to David Cameron, Angela Merkel made clear that the partnership between the two conservative parties should rest upon the affiliation in the EPP:

"I look forward to good and intensive co-operation with you, in particular within the framework of the EPP-ED as a clear base for our bilateral dialogue as partners."[1]

The wording seemed admonishing and unlike the typical German understatement in international politics.

The leader of the EPP group and Merkel compatriot Hans-Gert Pöttering was even more direct:

"If Mr Cameron forces [the British conservatives] out of the EPP, he cannot expect high level contacts with the EPP. If someone intends to leave, this creates a clear distance."[2]

While British Europhiles can be quick to criticise Cameron’s clumsy diplomacy, the German response was not helpful either. On the domestic front, party leader Cameron was not only trying to keep UKIP small but was also under pressure from influential Eurosceptic groups in his own party. Publicly threatening him to reconsider his course of action made it almost impossible for him to adjust his position without losing face.

The Tories were faced with a choice: either leave the party group of the most influential pro-European conservatives, or seek new alliances among Eurosceptic conservatives, many of whom are largely branded as right-wing populists.

It took the Tories another four years to leave the EPP, and in 2009 they established an alternative party group; the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). Once a tolerated pariah in the EPP, the Tories have since reinvented themselves as the most prominent and influential member of the smaller ECR. Leaving the EPP was considered an affront by the German Christian Democrats and the fact that the Tories were now working together with the Polish right-wing party Law and Justice (PiS) made matters even worse. PiS chairman Kaczyński raised eyebrows in Berlin after insinuating that Merkel became Chancellor with the help of a network of former East German spies and that “Merkel belongs to a generation of German politicians that would like to reinstate Germany's imperial power.”[3]

After Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010, Britain’s isolation became increasingly obvious and reached a climax during the EU summit of December 2011. Cameron was unable to reach concessions that would exempt Britain from a revision of the Lisbon Treaty, which - during the height of the European debt crisis – would affect financial regulations. The British government was unable to gather support among other EU members. Its isolation became apparent when it voted against the treaty revision while all other member states supported it.[4]

German-British relations were further strained when the German right-wing populists of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) joined the ECR in summer 2014.

The AfD explicitly endorses David Cameron’s position on the EU which they consider a role model for Germany, i.e. pro membership but against the currency union in its current form and demanding more democracy and a transfer of sovereignty back to the national parliaments.

The Tories found themselves in the camp of right-wing populists and fierce Merkel critics which further strained German-British relations in a time when Cameron needed Berlin in order to come up with a credible prospect of the promised renegotiation of aspects of the EU Treaty.

In February 2016, Germany helped broker a deal for the British government that indicated sufficient consensus for curtailing benefits for EU migrants, leading David Cameron to announce the date for a referendum. In the case of Brexit, the UK withdrawal from the EU was to happen on the basis of Art. 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which requires member states to agree on the terms of the withdrawal.

Shortly after – and likely as part of a deal with Merkel - (purely speculation on my part), ECR chairman Syed Kamall (British Conservative) asked the AfD members to leave the party group. There was considerable unease with the AfD members over a meeting with the far-right Freedom Party of Austria FPÖ and remarks that using firearms was a legitimate way of protecting borders against refugees.[5] The AfD members refused to leave and suspected Merkel’s influence behind this move. Their refusal to leave did not save them from being expelled a few weeks later.

Despite the strained British-German relations with regard to centre and right-wing parties, a poll from early April 2014 suggests that the overwhelming majority of Germans want Britain to stay in the EU.[6] The polling institute infratest dimap had asked 1,023 federal citizens (18 years or older) of which 78% expressed their appreciation of British membership in the EU.

For German governments of the future, Brexit would mean the loss of the second largest economy within the EU. The historically problematic picture of German domination in Europe would be even more difficult to conceal. In an interview with the New Statesman Michael Heseltine, melodramatically portrayed as the one of the last great Tory Europhiles, conjured a picture of a teutonic post-Brexit EU: “It would leave Europe exposed to a dominance of Germany that Germany doesn’t want and no one else wants.”[7]

From a German perspective, Merkel’s handling of the EU will be extolled against the long shadow of history. Her impact will be compared to Willy Brandt’s vision for Europe, whose short Chancellorship managed to change gears from East-West confrontation to “change through rapprochement” (Wandel durch Annäherung), a slogan that was followed by treaties with the countries of the Warsaw Pact and which helped to improve East-West relations and de-escalated the Cold War.

Under Brandt’s watch, Britain joined the European Community. His successors, Schmidt, Kohl and Schröder, successfully endorsed further far-reaching integration and enlargement projects. It may very well seem that under Merkel’s watch the EU went one step too far as seen in the Treaty of Lisbon which gave the EU a legal personality, a supranational diplomatic service and a Common Security and Defence Policy. While it is worthwhile remembering that nobody forced the British Parliament to ratify the Treaty of Maastricht, the Treaty of Amsterdam, the Treaty of Nice and the Treaty of Lisbon, none of this matters anymore when Britain votes on 23 June. Brexit would be another setback for Merkel with the Schengen Zone and the Eurozone already disintegrating.

While it would be misleading to blame the current disintegration processes on Germany, the Chancellor knows all too well how superficially Chancellors have been judged by the media, leaving Helmut Kohl as the “Chancellor of [German] unification”, an achievement which very much came down to being the German Chancellor at the right time in history.

Much more important than the perception of Merkel’s legacy is the dire prospect for Europe. Even if the UK bremains, a disintegrative momentum has been set in motion. Cameron will be expected to renegotiate the agreement from February and other Eurosceptic parties can use this example as leverage in election campaigns. What many European voters may perceive as the carrot can, in a Hegelian twist, very well be Merkel’s stick.

Finally, another German nightmare looms on the horizon: Geert Wilders’ Party for Freedom (who is leading the polls in the Netherlands ten months ahead of the next general election) is not only running on an anti-Islam but also on a hard Eurosceptic platform. Brexit or even just the example set by the British referendum can boost the Nexit camp. The European integration project has been kidnapped by a disintegrative process which may prove difficult to contain.


This blog post is part of a new IPR Series – all related to the BREXIT debate and the EU Referendum. This collection of commissioned blog posts will be published as an IPR Policy Brief in May 2016. Sign up to the IPR blog to get the latest blog posts, or to our mailing list to receive invitations to our events and copies of our Policy Briefs.

[1] Euobserver.com. 16,12. 2005.Merkel urges Tories to stay in EPP group https://euobserver.com/political/20572.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Spiegel.de/international. 05.10. 2011. Polish Opposition Leader: Kaczynski Warns of Germany's 'Imperial' Ambitions. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/polish-opposition-leader-kaczynski-warns-of-germany-s-imperial-ambitions-a-790034.html .
[4] Guardian.com. 09.12.2011. David Cameron blocks EU treaty with veto, casting Britain adrift in Europe http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/dec/09/david-cameron-blocks-eu-treaty.
[5] Euobserver.com. 09.03. 2016. EU parliament group tells German AfD party to leave.  https://euobserver.com/political/132619 .
[6] Dw.com. 16.04. 2016. SW-Umfrage: Mehrheit der Deutschen ist gegen einen Brexit. http://www.dw.com/de/dw-umfrage-mehrheit-der-deutschen-ist-gegen-einen-brexit/a-19186450 .
[7] New Statesman, “They have swallowed their own propaganda.” 29 April – 5 May 2016, p. 26.


Dr Paul Kennedy: Brexit: The View from Spain

📥  Brexit, EU membership, EU Referendum, Euroscepticism, Spain

Dr Paul Kennedy, Lecturer in Spanish and European Studies, Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies.

With no government in place since the general election held on 20th December 2015, and successive rounds of negotiations failing to prevent another general election on 26th June this year, the Spanish people might be forgiven for having their minds on that date rather than on the UK Brexit referendum, which will be held just three days before. The possibility of Brexit has nevertheless stimulated considerable debate within Spanish society, with the media and academic commentators expressing concern at the prospect of a UK withdrawal from the EU and the possible consequences for Spain. Since joining what was then the European Community in 1986, Spain has been one of the most Euro-enthusiastic member states, and not without reason. Although economic integration with the rest of the continent made significant progress during the latter half of Franco’s 40-year dictatorship, the nature of his regime effectively barred the country from EU membership. It is within this context that Spaniards were socialised into equating European integration with democracy, peace and progress, as famously encapsulated by the philosopher, José Ortega y Gasset, a century ago: ‘if Spain is the problem, Europe is the solution.’ Although enthusiasm for European integration has inevitably waxed and waned during the three decades of Spain’s EU membership, it nevertheless remains the case that no major political party currently considers it advantageous to adopt a stance of outright opposition to the European project, much less advocate actual withdrawal from the EU. Even the anti-austerity Podemos (‘We Can’) has confined its criticisms to particular aspects of integration, such as the need for a reform of the European Central Bank’s (ECB’s) statutes and more lenient deadlines for public debt and deficit repayment. Neither ‘Spexit’ nor withdrawal from the euro are advocated by Podemos, nor, indeed, by any major political party. It might also be noted that the current Catalan government, which comprises a number of nationalist parties which are in favour of the region obtaining its independence from Spain, is equally wedded to remaining within the EU. Whether the EU would be prepared to accept an independent Catalonia is another matter.

Given this context of overwhelming support for the European ‘project’, debate within Spain on the deal reached by David Cameron at the European Council meeting in Brussels in February, and his decision to submit the issue to a referendum, has been characterised by unease as regards what Spain – and the EU more generally – might lose in the event of the UK electorate voting in favour of Brexit on 23rd June.

In articles produced for the prestigious Madrid-based think tank, the Real Instituto Elcano, Salvador Llaudes and Ignacio Molina indicate that Brexit would deprive the EU of an original, influential member state with a robust capacity to challenge Brussels decision-making.[1] Moreover, they argue that the UK strengthens the EU with respect to its profile on the world stage and an economic flexibility which contrasts favourably with the statist approach of the other two leading member states, France and Germany. Notwithstanding its reputation as the ‘Awkward Partner’, the UK has been adept at negotiating advantages and opt-outs in key areas including the country’s budget contribution, monetary policy and its exclusion from the Schengen area. The authors nevertheless draw attention to the fact that with regard to Cameron’s negotiations in Brussels, the centre-right Popular Party government has concerns about several areas, including its unease at the possibility that that any deal might constrain euro zone members’ right to advance towards greater economic and political union; that reference to an ever-closer union should be maintained in the treaties; that changes to the EU’s legislative procedures should not make them even more complex; finally, as regards immigration, the Spanish government continues to give its full support to the principle of free movement of people within the EU, whilst nevertheless adopting a muted approach concerning the UK, given that there are many more UK citizens resident in Spain than there are Spaniards in the UK, and the Spanish government has been keen not to draw attention at the domestic level to the growing number of Spaniards moving to the UK in search of job opportunities which simply do not exist at home. In essence, Spain backed the EU’s efforts to assist David Cameron’s efforts to obtain a deal which would contribute towards a rejection of Brexit at the June referendum with the proviso that key EU principles would not be sacrificed in seeking to accommodate the UK. From the viewpoint of Madrid, boosting the prospect of the UK remaining within the EU ultimately merited the EU’s relative generosity towards Cameron in agreeing a deal.

spanish flag


As has been noted, the number of Spaniards living and working in the UK has increased over recent years, exacerbating concerns within Spain about the implications of Brexit. In a report published in April 2016 by the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford entitled, Pulling Power: Why are EU citizens migrating to the UK?, the number of people born in Spain and living in the UK more than doubled between 2011 and 2015 from 63,000 to 137,000.[2] With Spain’s unemployment rate remaining above 20 % (and marginally below 50% for under 25s) – going some way to explaining the chief ’push’ factor for those opting to leave the country – the report indicates that the UK’s flexible labour market is thought to have contributed to the relative ease with which migrant workers have been able to find jobs in the UK, particularly when compared with countries with stricter labour market regulation. Here, it should be noted that despite a major reform of the Spanish labour market in February 2012[AT1] , the country still has some way to go in terms of tackling the disparity in working conditions between the three-quarters of the working population on permanent contracts and the remaining quarter employed on short-term contracts. There is no one single ‘pull’ factor that attracts migrants from the EU to the UK, but a combination of economic and social factors does appear to have made the UK an attractive destination. The report concludes that ‘Job growth in the UK and the strength of the economic recovery in southern European countries in the short to medium term… are all likely to influence the pressure for EU citizens to migrate to the UK.’

The concern of many within Spain at the prospect of a vote in favour of Brexit at the referendum was conveyed by José Manuel García-Margallo, the country’s acting Foreign Minister, in an interview published in El País on 18th April, in which he draws attention to the referendum being held at a particularly delicate moment for the EU, with Greece’s bailout and the refugee crisis remaining unresolved, and member states reluctant to share sensitive information in the fight against jihadi terrorism. He concludes, ‘If Cameron’s domestic problems are added to the above concerns, there is a genuine risk that a no vote might prevail. And that really worries the Spanish government’.[3] The Popular Party government’s unease at the possible consequences of Brexit is linked to its wish not to lose a key ally in the promotion of market-friendly economic policies throughout the EU. Concern that a vote in favour of Brexit at the June referendum might spark off turmoil within the financial and bond markets will also concern the Popular Party government; it only narrowly avoided having to request the kind of EU bailout required by Greece, Ireland and Portugal just months after entering office towards the end of 2011. Although the Spanish economy has recently been enjoying the highest average rate of growth in the euro zone, there are fears that recovery is starting to show signs of running out of steam, a development which has not been helped by the country’s protracted political stalemate. These concerns are shared by the centre-right Ciudadanos (Citizens), which may well have a decisive role to play in the formation of a coalition government following the general election in June. The socialist PSOE also supported the decision of acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to support the deal reached between David Cameron and the EU at the Brussels Council meeting in February, indicating that the agreement was necessary in order to reduce the possibility of a vote in favour of Brexit at the June referendum. The anti-austerity Podemos nevertheless recommended that Rajoy should refuse to back the agreement. Pablo Bustinduy, Podemos’s spokesperson on the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that the EU’s proposal to avoid Brexit set a ‘terrible legal and political precedent’ given that it discriminated between EU workers on the basis of their country of origin.[4]

As noted at the beginning of this piece, Spain is currently in a period of political limbo, and parties’ failure to strike a deal on the formation of a stable coalition government has hardly endeared them to the Spanish electorate, who will have to vote again six months after the last general election. Should its UK equivalent vote in favour of withdrawal from the EU days before that election, Spaniards will at least go to the polls in the knowledge that the level of uncertainty in the immediate aftermath – no matter what the result – will be as nothing compared to that of the UK following the referendum.


This blog post is part of a new IPR Series – all related to the BREXIT debate and the EU Referendum. This collection of commissioned blog posts will be published as an IPR Policy Brief in May 2016. Sign up to the IPR blog to get the latest blog posts, or to our mailing list to receive invitations to our events and copies of our Policy Briefs.
[1] ¿Merece Reino Unido un nuevo acomodo en Europa?: http://www.realinstitutoelcano.org/wps/portal/web/rielcano_es/contenido?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/elcano/elcano_es/zonas_es/molina-llaudes-merece-reino-unido-nuevo-acomodo-europa/&utm_source=Newsletter188&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feb2016

and, Spain’s stance on Cameron’s negotiations: http://www.realinstitutoelcano.org/wps/portal/web/rielcano_es/contenido?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/elcano/elcano_in/zonas_in/ARI24-2016-Llaudes-Molina-Spain-stance-Cameron-negotiations

[2] http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/commentary/pulling-power-why-are-eu-citizens-migrating-uk
[3] Entrevista con el ministro de Asuntos Exteriores en funciones, José Manuel García-Margallo, http://politica.elpais.com/politica/2016/04/15/actualidad/1460744154_168408.html
[4] Para evitar "un mal mayor": El PSOE asume que Rajoy debe firmar el acuerdo para evitar el 'Brexit', http://www.europapress.es/nacional/noticia-psoe-asume-rajoy-debe-firmar-acuerdo-evitar-brexit-20160214125945.html