Sunday, 1 May 2016

Why Vote Leave - Part 3: Influence

In the run up to the referendum I intend to post a blog each Sunday detailing the reasons why Britain will be better off outside the European Union. These posts will cover the following topics: the economy, influence, democracy, security, the environment, cost, and reform.

One of the main objections to leaving the EU, especially via the 'Norway option', is that it would remove our influence, both on the world stage and also over the rules that apply to the European single market. This belies an ignorance of how globalisation is affecting the formation of global regulations.

In campaigners often cry that we need to be at the top tables in order to influence the rules, and I couldn't agree more. Their error is in believing that the EU is the top table, when in fact there are a whole host of global regulatory bodies that we don't have access to because of our EU membership. When engaging on the world stage, we our bound by the 'common position' of the EU, meaning we are unable to independently present our case and protect our own interests. We do not have a seat at the biggest top table - the World Trade Organisation - because our EU membership obliges us to outsource our trade policy to the EU. The other top table, the UNECE, is the regulatory body from which the EU derives much of it's regulations. Non-aligned states as well as EFTA members all have input and influence at this level, helping shape the direction and scope of regulations before they are adopted. We, as EU members, are again obliged to adopt the common position of the EU, meaning our interests our watered down by 27 other member states before they are presented at the top table as part of a combined EU negotiating position.

Not only that, but there are times when the EU not only waters down our negotiating position on the international stage but actively undermines it. As a brief summary of one example, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) had set up a correspondence group to address the impact of environmental regulations on the yacht building industry in relation to vessels of under 500gt (gross tonnage) in size. There was concern from a number of countries and organisations that these yachts could not be built to comply with the regulations within the specified time frame, as the existing technology was not yet suitable for installation due to constraints on space, design restrictions and significant cost impact. This posed a severe threat to jobs and revenue in one of the industry's most commercially vibrant sectors. The UK, working with other European partners, produced a paper for submission to the IMO proposing to extend the deadline for the application of these regulations to vessels under 500gt by three years. The UK's proposal had the backing of several member states and the European Commission was fully aware of it's importance to those members. Here's what happened next, direct from the government's own balance of competences report:

It was at this point that the Commission claimed competency and set about requiring the UK and other Member States to withdraw all support for the proposal. From this point on the Commission refused to consider the merits of the industry’s proposal and Member States were threatened with infraction proceedings if they did not adhere to the Commission’s competency. Both the MCA and the UK’s permanent representative to the Commission worked hard to push the UK’s position, but to no avail.

The only opportunity the Commission offered to contest this decision was if the Council of Ministers voted that Member States would retain competency on this matter, knowing full well that this issue could not be brought before the Council within the timeframe prior to the MEPC65 meeting.

Owing to this decision by the Commission, the UK and its partners had to find an alternative IMO member (from outside the EU) to submit the paper on its behalf. While the UK was able to secure the support of other IMO members to undertake this submission, the Commission’s position still meant that the UK and other member states were unable to support or vote on the proposal at MEPC65. The Commission had, in effect, rendered 27 votes at IMO redundant.

So far from amplifying our voice at the global level, the EU actively undermined our position and then removed our vote. With friends like these...

Also this week, In campaigners have cited the abolition of roaming fees across the EU as a prime example of why we are better off in. Putting aside the argument that the inevitable price rises phone companies will implement to offset costs mean that those that stay at home will now be subsidising those who travel through higher phone bills, it is also inaccurate to credit the EU with this accomplishment. It owes much more, again, to global initiatives instigated by the International Telephone Users Group and the OECD - the former having published a report on the issue 17 years ago. A host of international organisations, including the WTO, set about forming policy which resulted in India committing to removing roaming charges in 2013, shortly followed by African countries and Latin America. You can read more about it here, suffice to say that the EU has been much slower to implement the abolition of roaming charges and has also had it's implementation criticised as unambitious.
Two examples then, of how regulations are increasingly made at a global level. By leaving the EU (a place where we have little to no influence, having lost the vote all 72 times we have set our face against EU policy, despite having increased our opposition to EU rules in recent times) we can cut out the increasingly superfluous middleman and wield our influence, as the 5th largest economy in the world, on the global stage.

All of this is best summed up by Article 34 of the Treaty on European Union:

1. Member States shall coordinate their action in international organisations and at international conferences. They shall uphold the Union’s positions in such forums. The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall organise this coordination.

In international organisations and at international conferences where not all the Member States participate, those which do take part shall uphold the Union’s positions.

2. In accordance with Article 24(3), Member States represented in international organisations or international conferences where not all the Member States participate shall keep the other Member States and the High Representative informed of any matter of common interest.

Member States which are also members of the United Nations Security Council will concert and keep the other Member States and the High Representative fully informed. Member States which are members of the Security Council will, in the execution of their functions, defend the positions and the interests of the Union, without prejudice to their responsibilities under the provisions of the United Nations Charter.

When the Union has defined a position on a subject which is on the United Nations Security Council agenda, those Member States which sit on the Security Council shall request that the High Representative be invited to present the Union’s position.

An enormously far reaching provision that means that on the world stage, Britain is not a sovereign nation. Obliged by it's membership of the EU to adopt the position of the Union and uphold it's interests, even if that comes at the cost of the UK's own interests. This is precisely why we will be better off voting to leave.

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