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January 20, 2017

What does cherry-picking mean?

When we read the story by Alex Barker about how the EU is approaching the Brexit negotiations, we noted a couple of interesting points. One is the idea of a narrow trade deal, one that is not a mixed agreement and that could be implemented much quicker as it would not require ratification by national or regional parliaments. This would be a zero-tariff agreement, and a short transition phase during which Britain remains in the customs union. Even a narrow trade agreement is complex because it has to deal with issues such rules of origin and the scope of third-country trade agreements. But we think, too, that it is probably wise to aim for two separate agreements: a narrow one, and an extended mixed agreement that would take much longer to negotiate and ratify. 

What we do not understand is why some people argue that the UK should be subject to the jurisdiction of the ECJ during a customs union transition period, beyond the narrow legal aspects relating to the customs union itself. Turkey is a member of the customs union, and neither the EU nor Turkey accept freedom of movement. It is possible that some people fail to see the difference between the single market, the customs union, and generalised market access. Under WTO rules every country in the world has access to the EU’s market. This is also why we think the expression "single market access" is confusing. There is single market membership, and there is market access. If the European Council were to demand respect of the four freedoms during the transitional phase of customs union membership only, we would struggle to see how there can be an agreement with the UK on that basis. 

We are left with the nagging question whether some people may get caught up in their metaphor of cherry-picking, when they reject pretty much any post-membership relationship with the EU. 

Finally we noted a point raised by Andrew Duff. If the UK parliaments rejects the Article 50 agreement, this does not mean that the UK will remain a member of the EU. It simply means that the UK will leave without agreement. Or as Duff puts it, the EU will leave the UK. This is also why it makes no sense to call a referendum on the negotiation outcome. The binary opposites are not to accept the deal, or to stay in the EU; but to accept the deal, or not to accept the deal.

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January 20, 2017

Trump as Nixon

Manuel Conthe offers two parallels for Trump in his Expansión blog: Machiavelli's Prince and Richard Nixon. Machiavelli famously argued that being feared is better than being loved. But, even if not loved, a feared leader should not be hated. The Nixon comparison is the more pertinent one. Conthe recalls Nixon's decision to pull the US out of Bretton Woods, ending the dollar's gold convertibility unilaterally and without warning, at the same time imposing import tariffs and devaluing the dollar with the argument that those who bought American goods, would not see a decline in real incomes. The parallel with Trump's trade policy proposals is obvious.

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January 20, 2017

On the meaning of populism

Erik Jones offers a thoughtful discussion about the threat posed by the populists. This is not about where they stand on various aspects of European integration. It is about what they do to our political culture that is so dangerous. The damage will outlive them.

“...the real challenge comes not from populists as individuals or populism as a specific political program. It comes from the way populist politicians manipulate identity to achieve their objectives. European populists seek to divide in order to govern. Their challenge to European integration is fundamental in that respect. The issue is not what they have to say about the euro or about immigration, it is who they isolate as the target for their political messages. By separating the electorate into ‘us’ and ‘them’, populists pose an existential threat to the European project – because the more they succeed in rallying people to their message, the less space remains for Europeans to identify with ‘Europe’.”

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