Archive for the ‘European politics’ Category

Avoiding a nuclear meltdown: how we might resolve the Euratom question

David Davis admitted last Tuesday that although there is no ‘systematic impact assessment’ of Britain leaving the European Union he did claim that the government had produced a ‘sectoral analysis’ of several industries. One sector that it would be wise to examine the impacts of leaving without any negotiated arrangement would be the nuclear power industry as the UK leaves Euratom. Through examining the UK’s relationship with Euratom before it joined in 1973, Joshua McMullan highlights some potential foundations for a future agreement between the two.

As Britain leaves the European Union through the Article 50 process, it also signalled that it would leave Euratom, the European nuclear regulator, when it leaves in March 2019. However, several MPs and prominent Vote Leave officials, such as Dominic Cummings, have criticised the government’s plans to leave the organisation as a ‘huge misjudgement.’ The government have responded to these claims by producing the Nuclear materials and safeguards issues position paper. However, the position paper does not set out any of the details by which the UK government will ensure the ‘smooth transition to a UK nuclear safeguards regime, with no interruption in safeguards arrangements’. In fact, it does little more than set out why the UK government believes it is within the interest of both parties to continue co-operation – something that has not satisfied those objecting to Britain’s exit from Euratom. Perhaps it is worth noting that this highly technical policy sector was a salient concern for remainers and leavers alike, but highlights how complex and multifaceted the process of disengaging from the EU, and its various associated institutions is. Yet there are solutions outside of the narrow mindsets of vague position papers and membership of Euratom, people just need to look back into the past relationship between Euratom and the UK.

Image: U.S Government, (Flickr), Public Domain.

Most of the discourse so far has centred around the possibility of an association agreement between the UK and Euratom, a solution which many believe will provide the stability and certainty that the industry so desperately needs. However, as Dan Phinnemore and Stuart Butler rightly point out in their respective articles, this is not a credible solution. Firstly, there is currently no such thing as Associate Membership of Euratom. There are ‘Co-operation Agreements’ that exist between Switzerland and Euratom and Article 342 of the Ukraine Association Agreement that provides for extensive co-operation. Nonetheless, these are not association agreements and would not cover the level of co-operation that the UK requires. It would also potentially mean the involvement of the ECJ, a red line in the Brexit negotiations. Then there is the issue of history, I am referring to the difficult and complicated nature of negotiating with the Community, exemplified best by the rejection of UK EEC membership twice and the difficulty in renegotiating membership as David Cameron found out in 2016. Yet, despite this complication, an answer may yet lie in the agreements signed after 1959 leading up to the UK becoming a full member of Euratom in 1973.

Too often do politicians and commentators on all sides forget to study their history. In this case, it would be prudent for UK officials seeking to find an answer to this problem to examine the 1959 Agreement between the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) for Co-operation in the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy. This agreement stated the ‘mutual desire for close co-operation in the peaceful uses of atomic energy’, and this was before the UK applied to join Euratom formally in 1962. The agreement covers several areas, including research as covered by Article I through to VIII. As well as Articles IX through to XII, that deal with the supply and use of materials and fuel needed for the research and production of nuclear energy. Although this treaty alone is not sufficient to just copy and paste to the present, it does show two vital points. First, it is a historical precedent for UK-Euratom relations which does not involve the UK being a part of Euratom. Secondly and most crucially, it can provide the foundations for future negotiations with Euratom.

Indeed, there are three other such UK-Euratom agreements between 1963 and 1973, these all show the potential for continued and fruitful relations between the two. The first in March 1963, two months after the British application to join the EEC was vetoed by France, was a contract which saw Britain supply France, the same country that two months before vetoed the UK’s entry into the EEC with plutonium oxide. In November 1964, another contract was signed for the UK to supply France with 45kg of plutonium. Finally, in March 1965, the UK Atomic Authority signed an agreement with Euratom on the full exchange of information in the field of fast reactor physics. These contracts and agreements, made in a time of strained relations between the UK and primarily France, show that not only is nuclear co-operation with the continent outside of Euratom possible, it is also advisable for both parties to make such arrangements. The same is true today with the UK still being the major reprocessing centre for nuclear waste across the continent.

Of course, these treaties alone are not the basis for our future relationship with Euratom; the world we live in today is vastly different to what it was in the 1960s and our nuclear industry is not the size it once was. These old agreements do not cover medical isotopes at all, or nuclear safety regulations to the extent it is now. However, the very existence of these old treaties shows that new agreements that would include medical isotopes can be made. The time between the original 1959 agreement, the suspension of the application to Euratom and then the new contracts shows that such agreements can take place if the political will is present. This is before we even begin to consider the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency has with nuclear power station inspections or the Nuclear Energy Agency, formerly the European Atomic Energy Agency, has in ensuring the safe running of nuclear reactors and the spread of research to member states. There is also something to be said for the role of private industry in finding practical solutions to the continued safety and commercial success of Britain’s nuclear power industry.

It is politically unfeasible for the government to withdraw the Article 106a notification, without it raising questions about the possibility of withdrawing the notification of Article 50 due it being mentioned in the Article 50 letter of notification. Furthermore, ECJ jurisdiction over Euratom, something that crosses one of the Prime Ministers “red lines”, regardless of whether this is right or wrong, would mean that the government would still seek to leave Euratom even if it was possible to withdraw Article 106a. Rather than continue this endless circle of debate, let’s put pressure on Parliament, not just the negotiators to use historical inspiration to be inventive, and resolve this crisis. The 1959 agreement alone would be a strong foundation, something that can be built on over time.

Finding a solution to this problem is vital for the industry. Euratom is part of the global network of agencies which seek to maintain the effectiveness of nuclear power to provide energy for the future, particularly in the climate of reducing our dependency on fossil fuels. Regardless of how the UK government eventually resolves this, perhaps self-inflicted dilemma, negotiators and officials would do well to read up on their history. Not only would it help with Euratom, it could just help David Davis with his impact assessments by understanding what the situation was before joining the Community in 1973. It might just save them a whole lot of trouble.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the LSE Brexit blog, nor the LSE.

Joshua McMullan is an AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership student at the University of Leicester and the National Archives, researching Britain’s civil nuclear power programme and public communication and inclusion in the twentieth century. 

Britain’s insistence on impact assessments helped wrap Brussels in red tape

chris kendallThe much-anticipated Brexit impact assessments are rather less detailed than many expected them to be. Chris Kendall contrasts the Brexit secretary’s admission that he is ‘not a fan’ of them with the stringent approach the European Commission now takes to financial accountability. Indeed, it was the UK’s insistence on thorough impact assessments that helped to create a culture of propriety in Brussels. 

On 6 December 2017, David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, told a House of Commons Select Committee that he is “not a fan” of impact assessments. To appreciate quite how shocking it is to hear this coming from the mouth of a senior British government minister, I’ll need to fill you in on some background.

As a fresh-faced graduate in the early 1990s, I joined the UK’s Department of Trade and Industry as a member of the newly-minted European Fast Stream, a programme designed to place more Brits in the Brussels institutions having first funnelled them through what Peter Hennessy memorably called Whitehall’s “velvet drainpipe”. My first posting was as a member of the team renegotiating the European Structural Funds, the funds delivering support to the EU’s less developed regions. Every Sunday evening, in those pre-Eurostar days, we would fly across the Channel and spend Monday in negotiations in the Council’s former home, the old Charlemagne building. When he wasn’t sending me up to the bar on the 14th floor to refresh his whisky tumbler and cigar case (yes, that’s how it was only 25 short years ago), my boss, the Assistant Secretary, would harangue the Commission and the other 11 Member State delegations with his insistence on “ex-ante evaluation” and “thorough prior appraisal”. I typed those phrases so often in briefings that my fingers still retain the muscle memory. I would watch the eyes roll around the table. “Here they go again.”

berlaymont interpreters

EU interpreters explain how their booth works at an open day at Berlaymont, May 2017. Photo: European Commission DG Humanitarian Affairs via a CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence

The UK is – perhaps was – notorious within the EU for banging on and on (and on) about impact assessments. We were like a broken record. It’s not as if we were pushing against a closed door – no-one disputed the need, and they’ve long been a requirement. One senses that the British were more interested in virtue signalling back home than in delivering meaningful reform to what were already tight rules.

I don’t doubt that there was a time when things were too lax. But that time has long passed. Shortly after I joined the European Commission, in 1999, the College of Commissioners led by Jacques Santer resigned en masse following a financial scandal involving the French Commissioner Edith Cresson. Santer’s move was, I believe, an honourable one that was intended to demonstrate that the Commission was serious about financial propriety. Unfortunately, the gesture fed the widespread popular myth of the EU as a financially irresponsible gravy train – a myth fed by national politicians and the popular press, and not just in the UK. The European Parliament, the EU’s Budgetary Authority, also saw it as an opportunity to exert and extend its power and influence, and it took that opportunity.

The sweeping and stringent financial reforms that followed the Santer démission have changed the European Commission’s culture. What was once a more nimble organisation now labours under burdensome red tape imposed by the Council and Parliament. It’s hard to spend money, which it should be, but perhaps not quite so hard. In 2010 I returned to Whitehall on temporary loan and I was struck by how easy it is, relatively speaking, to spend taxpayers’ money as a British civil servant. If I had to travel somewhere, I took my departmental credit card and went online and booked a ticket. I made sure to keep a paper trail, and would need to justify the travel to my manager if asked, and I could of course have found myself subject to an audit at the end of the year, but the process couldn’t have been more simple. By contrast, as an EU official, booking travel involves jumping through a host of hoops.

I’m conscious that I may be at risk of losing your sympathy, dear reader. Eurocrats wailing about how hard it is to spend your money on plane tickets won’t melt your heartstrings. My point is that the culture of the EU institutions is quite unlike its popular spendthrift image, and that is due in no small part to generations of British politicians and civil servants who have helped to shape Brussels in their own image. Or rather, what they project as their own image. How accurate that image is must be questioned when a senior government minister from the country synonymous with impact assessments tells his parliament that he is “not a fan”.

As a practitioner, I can tell David Davis that I’m not a great fan of impact assessments either, but I accept that they are a necessary part of good government. Impact assessments are what stand between wild, ideologically-motivated proposals and actual legislation affecting people’s lives. One has to ask, why isn’t David Davis a fan of impact assessments, and in particular why does he not see a need for impact assessments when it comes to ripping the UK out of the European Union?

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Brexit blog, nor the LSE.

Chris Kendall is an EU official and former British civil servant who blogs in a personal capacity on subjects ranging from knitting to Brexit – but mostly about Brexit. He can be found on Twitter as @ottocrat.

Going it alone on trade is like bringing a chocolate spoon to a knife fight

German Social Democrat Schulz called for United States of Europe

United States of Europe until 2025 and strong integration within the European Union (EU), said Martin Schulz, who was re-elected as leader of the German Social Democrats on Thursday. According to him, if one of the member countries refuses to join and refuses to accept the new conditions and standards for the protection of civil society, it has to leave the EU.

In his words, "Europe is our life insurance". He exemplified Poland, where European values ​​were "deeply undermined," and Hungary was increasingly moving away from the community.

Schulz also has a mandate to negotiate with Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats to get out from the political crisis.

Brexit Border Deal Possible in ‘Hours’ as Talks Go Down to the Wire

The United Kingdom and Ireland could reach agreement in hours on how to run their post-Brexit Irish land border, paving the way for a deal that would remove the last obstacle to opening free trade talks with the European Union,Reuters reports.
A carefully choreographed attempt to showcase the progress of Brexit talks collapsed at the last minute on Dec. 4 when the Northern Irish party which props up Prime Minister Theresa May’s government vetoed a draft deal already agreed with Ireland. 

Since then, May has been scrambling to clinch a deal on the new UK-EU land border in Ireland that is acceptable to the European Union, Dublin, her own lawmakers and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which keeps her government in power. 

May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker could meet early on Friday to seal a border deal, the European Commission’s chief spokesman said. 

Poland Ready to Defend Migration Stance in EU Top Court

Poland is ready to defend its decision in the European Union’s top court to refuse to accept migrants from Africa and the Middle East under an EU plan to redistribute them, Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski said, reported by Reuters. 

He spoke after the EU executive sued Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic in the European Court of Justice on Thursday for their refusal to host these migrants.

“Poland is ready to defend its position in the Court,” Szymanski told state news agency PAP. “No one will lift the duty of providing public safety from the Polish government.”

The government of Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party has said it will not admit migrants, citing security concerns amid deadly Islamist attacks in western Europe and problems with ascertaining the identify of migrants.

The Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday it had signed a deal with the European Investment Bank to give 50 million euros to help countries and territories affected by the migration crisis, mainly Lebanon, Jordan and the West Bank.

Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said that Poland - a country of 38 million - is already hosting migrants as it had issued more than a million work permits for people from neighboring Ukraine last year alone.

The World Bank gives up to USD 200 Million in the Western Balkans

"We are ready to finance a trade and transport project in the Western Balkans region of up to USD 200 million", World Bank Executive Director Kristalina Georgieva said at a meeting of the leaders of the Western Balkans in Sofia, reports actualno

I thank Prime Minister Boyko Borisov for bringing us together and leading our region to greater integration, Georgieva added. She noted that there is an enormous potential in the integration of the Western Balkans and with the assumption of the EU presidency, Bulgaria has the opportunity to contribute and realize this potential.

Illegal Migrants in the EU are 63% less in 2017

The European Commission today reported a 63 percent decrease in the number of migrants illegally entering the EU compared to last year's data, 24chasa reports.

The Commission today presented a proposal to reach a comprehensive agreement by June next year to achieve a sustainable migration policy. Europe is emerging from the crisis management period, so it is necessary to agree on a stable and future-oriented EU migration and asylum policy in the long run, the EC notes.

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