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June 20, 2016

Neck and neck once more

With four days to go until the UK referendum campaigning has resumed, and the polls are putting Remain and Leave at about the same level - which means the results are too close to call from a polling perspective. However, one should remember that the turnout estimates still favour the Leave camp, so Remain would need to pull ahead in the final days. What the figures below are showing is that none of the two camps is even close to approaching 50%, which tells us that the number of those who have not made up their mind remains high - and that the outcome will ultimately depend on turnout.

Note the two YouGov surveys on consecutive days yielding slightly different results. It means that the two sides are running very close - and that differences are within error margins.

The most frequently asked question has been whether the murder of Jo Cox has changed the game. We think it has. It may have contributed to ending last week's trend in favour of Leave. But since the killing was the work of a deranged individual, not a political assassination, it probably did not have the impact it could otherwise have had. Yesterday the debate had pretty much returned to the status quo ante, with the same vitriol as before. David Cameron appeared on the BBC programme Question Time, where a viewer compared him to Neville Chamberlin. And Jeremy Corbyn is getting attacked by his own party for speaking the truth - that if you remain in the EU you cannot impose an upper limit on the number of refugees - which rings familiar for anyone following the debate in Germany over the last year. The Daily Telegraph writes that his comments infuriated moderate Labour MPs, with one being quoted as saying that Corbyn didn't have a clue about life outside Islington (a prosperous North London suburb). What the article did not say is that Corbyn is right, of course. 

One of the more interesting articles on the implications of a Brexit is this one about the legal implications, which are monstrous. But more importantly, the Brexiteers will not be able to do what they are promising to do because the UK would be bound by EU law until the moment of exit. If they tried to abolish VAT on energy, for example, they would fall foul of EU laws, which are enshrined in national legislation. One of the experts quoted in the article said it would take ten years for all the legal changes to be made, given the degree of interconnection between national and EU law.

Among commentators, we are highlighting two this morning. Wolfgang Munchau defended the case for Remain on values grounds, as opposed to economics for which he says the argument is weak. He writes that European values are globally under threat from newly emerging countries, and from newly emerging bigots like Donald Trump. Munchau paraphrases these values as derivations of the French revolutionary motto of liberté, égalité, fraternité - which he transcribes as freedom and tolerance, equal opportunity, and a strong public sphere. These are not the values of China and Brazil. For all its failures, the EU is still best placed not only to protect those values, but also to project them globally. 

Chris Patten tries to draw a link between the pro-Brexit camp and the murderer of Jo Cox. No, they are not responsible, he writes, but the anti-refugee campaign has created a context for this murder. And the Leave campaigners may want to reflect on what company they keep.

And finally, a reminder of the need to beware of opinion polls. We noted this nonsensical poll by the Bertelsmann foundation which found that 54% of the people wanted the UK to stay in the EU. This is, of course, meaningless because those who do not, fall into two completely separate camps: those who are simply eurosceptic, and those who are pro-European but who feel that the UK is a drag on European integration. 

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June 20, 2016

How to defeat populism

Heather Grabbe and Stefan Lehne have a long and thoughtful article on what the EU should do to combat populism. They note that populism does, in general, not pose a threat to national democracy, but it is poisonous for European integration, and for European institutions, as the EU stands for all those things that the populist hate: shared sovereignty, supranational authority, compromise, and tolerance. They note that the previous strategies of isolation, and attempts to co-opt the populists, have failed. What the EU should try instead is to get tougher in defending the core project, and more flexible in adjusting to new policy challenges. One of the examples cited by the authors is TTIP, which is now in danger of collapsing because of a poor communication strategy - essentially no communication at all. 

Most of important of all is that the EU should focus on values: 

"...the EU institutions should not try to isolate parties that attack values but should instead seek to consolidate the consensus in European societies around tolerance, rights, and pluralism. Values surveys suggest that Europeans have not grown significantly more illiberal or xenophobic in recent years. Moreover, extremist voting does not appear to be strongly correlated with wider public attitudes. New voters are attracted to populist parties for various reasons, with electors not necessarily sharing racist views but being motivated by fears about precarious prospects for jobs and welfare states. The best defense against the politics of fear and exclusion is to appeal to Europeans’ widespread humanitarian instincts, which have been shown by the volunteer efforts of millions to help refugees during the migration crisis. Resistance to populism can also be nurtured through the defense of values and openness."

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