Tag Archive: Government By Fax

When will this lie stop?

John Cridland, current Director-General of the CBI, has an article in The Times (£), the sub-headline of which caught my attention and which forced me to purchase the print edition of the paper. That sub-headline read: “Norway and Switzerland pay the cost of membership with no say over EU law”. I will return to the subject of Cridland and his article shortly, but first let us go back to December last year and January of this year.

Open Europe, that renowned Cameron/Conservative supporting think tank, was taken to task by four bloggers and others over exactly the same assertion as that being made by Cridland. Cameron raised this “inexactitude” back in December 2012 and shortly thereafter Newsnight aired a programme which included the same accusation – only this time one member of the discusion panel disputed said accusation and making known that Norway has the power of a veto where implementation of EU law is concerned.

There is an initial point to be made here regarding the wall of silence where “matters EU” and the truth is concerned. Both Open Europe, Newsnight  and blogs attract the attention of the media, politicians and political commentators – yet, to my knowledge, there was no mention by the media, politicians or political commentators of this spat that developed over the “government by fax” meme.

It is this wall of silence that allows those, such as Cridland, to continue spouting inexactitudes and thus misleading – and brainwashing – the British electorate. Nowhere in Cridland’s article is there any acknowledgement of the part played by Norway’s membership of Codex Alimentarius, UNECE, or the WTO. Nowhere is there any acknowledgement that, as Richard North writes:

“At no stage, therefore, can it be said that Norway is simply the passive receiver of rules from Brussels. His country, says Knudtsen, has been involved at every step of the process from inception to the final formulation of the rules. Brussels then adds the EEA “packaging”, before passing it on, but the substantive issues have been agreed long before the standard formally reaches the EU. In no way, and at no time, does Norway ever feel that the rules have been imposed on it.”

Cridland opens his article with a quote by Norwegian Conservative MP, Nikolai Astrup, but not mentioning the fact that the Norwegian Conservatives are so eager to join the EU that they will say virtually anything to further their aims:

“…if you want to run Europe, you must be in Europe. If you want to be run by Europe, feel free to join Norway in the European Economic Area.”

Later in his article, while accepting that the Swiss, through their bi-lateral agreements, appear to have much greater flexibility, he also notes that it took many  years to reach that position, continuing that were the UK to follow that route would mean a period of uncertainty for business. Cridland obviously has not bothered to read the recent House of Commons Library Research Paper (13/42) or he would know that a possible alternative form of membership is possible.

Cridland also writes that paying to have rules foisted on us is not his idea of democracy – to which I would counter that neither is the situation of politicians and bureaucrats deliberately misleading and lying to us, my idea of democracy. The irony of the situation whereby Cridland bases his article on falsehoods yet demands that MPs must consider the UK’s future relationship with the EU using hard facts and objective analysis, not emotion or hollow rhetoric, obviously escapes him.

Cridland requests that the challenge for those arguing for “in” or “out” should come up with a clear evidence-based exit vision for the future. If Cridland removed his blinkers and widened his reading material, in respect of “out” he would know that such an exit vision for the future is available.

One final observation if Cridland has no grasp of facts, just what the hell is he doing occupying the position of Director-General of the CBI?

Just asking……….


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2013
01/22

Category:
David's Musings

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Not a lot of people know that…….

The Kingdom of Norway is listed as having 166 Treaties – both bi-lateral and multi-lateral, which has been agreed between Norway and which involve the European Union.

And the Kingdom of Norway is “governed by fax” – especially when looking through the subject matter of these treaties?

You were saying, Mr. Cameron?

 


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What was all that about ‘government by fax’?

Recently Dr Martin Zbinden, Head of Free Trade Agreements/EFTA in the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO was interviewed by Current Concerns. By way of explanation, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO is the Swiss Confederation’s competence centre for all core issues relating to economic policy, while Current Concerns, based in Zurich, is an international journal for independent thought, ethical standards, moral responsibility, and for the promotion and respect of public international law, human rights and humanitarian law. The interview is another nail in the ‘government by fax’ coffin, while the first question about whether there should be more discussion about EFTA and information about its way of working is particularly relevant today.

Current Concerns: The bigger the difficulties in the euro zone become, the louder the reflection about possible alternatives is perceived in the whole of Europe. The “civilian coalition” in Germany decidedly pleads for the “Europe of nations” to be worked for. Thus sovereign countries could and would have to take up their own responsibilities again and regulate their concerns on a free basis. For this, the EFTA would be the appropriate context, and this is what was imagined for a co-operation in Europe after the Second World War.

Mr Zbinden, should there not be more talk about the EFTA and information about its way of working?

Martin Zbinden: The EFTA itself has three main areas of activity which firstly include the EFTA Convention, which provides the free trade relations between the EFTA States. Secondly EFTA membership implies observer status in the EEA, which is useful because it permanently provides us with so-to-speak first-hand information, especially on the further development of EU law and EEA law. For Switzerland, the most important aspect certainly is the EFTA as a platform for joint negotiations of free trade agreements, and in this respect the EFTA is, as you say, very successful. Cooperation between the EFTA states is generally very good. Of course there are some differences. It is clear that Norway and Switzerland do not have the same economic structure, for example, there is Norway’s huge oil and gas sector, since we have nothing comparable, and fish exports are very important for Norway and Iceland, too, which, so to speak, is less important for Switzerland. We have strengths in other areas, such as the chemical industry, pharmaceutical and engineering industries and in services, including financial services. So there are differences between the EFTA states, but when it comes to trade policy, we are very much alike in our focus on free trade, and therefore the cooperation on the whole is very good.

Another similarity is certainly agricultural policy. All four EFTA members are net importers in the field of agriculture, yet for all four EFTA states border protection in agriculture is very important. Therefore we also work together in terms of agricultural policies in the WTO, in the group of the G-10 countries.

So together with the other three EFTA states?

Exactly. The group of G-10 countries consists of nine members, including all four EFTA members.

If I am correctly informed, agricultural policies were one of the reasons why Federal Councillor Wahlen pushed the idea of EFTA very vigorously at that time, in order to stay independent in this area. For states with different interests, the EFTA seems to provide the opportunity to cooperate in those areas where they want to, instead of having to lump everything together.

Yes, one can certainly say that. When the EFTA was founded, it was actually a counter-project to the European Economic Community. It was not a customs union, and in this sense the sovereignty in trade policy was respected, while trade policy within the EEC was communalised as a customs union.

Switzerland regarded this as incompatible with neutrality. We are talking about the time of the late fifties, early sixties. At that time the EFTA really was a sort of a counter-project to the European Economic Community, with the idea that you only cooperated in selected areas and did not create supranational institutions, but simply cooperated in what areas you wanted on the basis of a free trade area, but retained sovereignty in all other economically or politically relevant areas.

Looking at the development of the EFTA, it must be said that it has been a success story in many ways. Do you agree with that?

Here we must distinguish. Regarding the number of members it was, of course, vastly reduced. Finland left the EFTA for the EU, just as Sweden, and also Austria left and has gone over to the EU. Thus you have to say it has become a very small organisation. It was successful with free trade relations. Since the early nineties, the EFTA has been able to build up a relatively large network of free trade agreements, and it has certainly done that very successfully. At first, always more in alignment with the EU – that is, so to speak, a step behind the EU with the countries with which the EU had concluded agreements. The first time that the EFTA started such negotiations without the EU in mind was in 1999 with Canada. Since then it has considerably extended this policy.

So in principle, the EFTA is an organisation that independently initiates and concludes negotiations wherever it appears interesting and worthwhile for its member states as sovereign countries?

Absolutely. In its specificity it was sometimes a step behind the EU, but conversely, the EFTA was far ahead in Korea for example. The EU has only just concluded a treaty, which came into effect on July 1st, while that of the EFTA states has been in force for five years. And we signed the agreement before the EU had even spoken about taking up negotiations. So, there are both: with Mexico and Chile, we were behind the EU, with Korea and Singapore we were ahead. We have now concluded a treaty with the Ukraine – the EU is still in negotiations. With the Gulf Cooperation Council, the EU started negotiations ahead of us, but we were finished much earlier. It varies – depending on the partner.

Where do you see the difference in the negotiating positions?

In most cases, the EU negotiates not only free trade agreements but also association agreements, which cover much wider policy areas including a policy dialogue, seeking some harmonisation in certain fields of the law. That’s not what the EFTA does. We limit ourselves to traditional comprehensive free trade agreements, i.e. liberalisation in the trade in goods, liberalisation and legal certainty in trade and services. Investment is partly covered, intellectual property is covered, public procurement and certain competition rules are contained in the agreement, with the latest agreement including certain regulations on trade and sustainable development. But a political dialogue or comprehensive cooperations, for example, in energy or transportation policy, which the EU often has in its agreements, are things that the EFTA does not have.

The possibility of free economic cooperation, while respecting sovereignty obviously corresponds to a need in many countries.

As I said, the EFTA as an organisation is very small. But the free trade agreements we conclude – they are very attractive for many states. It is not only the way how the EFTA negotiates free trade agreements. I think the free trade agreement instrument in itself is something that is currently very successful. That is, of course, partly also connected to the difficulties the WTO has.

Despite your emphasis on the smallness of the EFTA, it shows that for a free economic co-operation it is not necessary to establish a centralised superpower organisation that stifles the freedom and responsibility of the participating countries.

Yes. I think the instrument of free trade agreements is an economically and commercially attractive instrument. One must not, however, set this in opposition to the WTO. The WTO provides so to speak the basic rules governing the world trading system and free trade agreements build on it.

To another point: A very impressive aspect of of the EFTA is the lean administration – only 90 staff, which is nowadays proof of an excellent performance.

Yes, that’s certainly an advantage of the EFTA. Of course we are only a few member states, only four, we have only one working language, the official language is English. In comparison with the Commission, which has a lot more responsibilities and which works in I do not know how many languages and for 27 countries and has, to some extent, also regulatory functions. This is, of course, not comparable to the EFTA Secretariat. This is effectively a secretariat, which means that the main work is done by the member states …

… as part of their foreign policy …

Yes, the free trade agreements are trade policy. The negotiations for free trade agreements are always conducted by the member states. The EFTA Secretariat serves to assist member states by preparing texts, ensuring that texts are exchanged with the negotiating partners – these are the things that are organised by the EFTA Secretariat. But the real work, wording the texts in terms of contents, is done by the Member States. Therefore, the EFTA Secretariat is a genuine secretariat, which guides and supports the process, but the process itself remains in the hands of the member states.

Thank you for your time.

An interesting postscript to this interview is excerpts from an interview with Prof Dr Rolf Weder, University of Basel:

“If a country is not a member of the EU, it can act on its own in other organisations, such as the WTO or the EFTA, and directly introduce its concerns there. This is an opportunity that Switzerland should use even more in the future, I believe. […]

The EEA, however, contains aspects that include parts of the political integration. Actually it is a vehicle that will ultimately take over EU law and partly also future EU law. This is exactly the point where Switzerland I think is sceptical, with good reason. EFTA is an alternative form of integration, it is rather a vehicle for cooperation among countries in Europe. Thus, this organisation actually contains a form of integration that goes less far. […]

I think the EFTA is an interesting alternative to the EU. Because the EFTA cares about maintaining the economic integration, and it could even be more deepened. This means that at the moment the goods trade among EFTA members is free. Switzerland could once again breathe some more life into this organisation. I can imagine that it might admit new members from Europe. About half of the countries of Europe are not members of the EU, for example Russia, Turkey. Why not try to include these countries in the EFTA? That would be an example. Another one would be that you also slightly expand the EFTA. You could decide whether to extend the EFTA on the trade in services. Here, you have an organiation that one could increasingly use for further economic integration, I believe.”

The foregoing poses the question to Cameron, Gilligan, Mats Persson, Open Europe et all: what was all that about government by fax? Well?

 


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Government by fax – really?

On Wednesday the Newsnight programme, chaired by Jeremy Paxman, was devoted entirely to the question of this country’s membership of the European Union (note this link is ‘time-limited’ where availability is concerned). During the course of this programme a statement was made by Helle Hagenau – who is actually from Denmark and worked as Secretary General in Norway’s “No to EU” in 2001 – that caused not one ripple of interest among the panelists among the anti-EU side while all Jeremy Paxman could do was make what could be considered a sneering remark. It should be noted that while this programme was hailed as ‘tv not to be missed” by those on twitter, there were some among us, besides me, that were not that impressed – but I digress.

In answer to the accusation that Norway suffered from ‘government by fax’ from Brussels, Hagenau said (starts 32:12):

“No, we are not governed by fax because the European agreement, the single market agreement, that has a clause when we can veto a directive if we don’t like it; and we have done that.”

This promptly set the bloodhound in me off in full pursuit, nose to the ground. With the aid of Richard North, The Boiling Frog and further sifting of the internet by me, some interesting results were found.

First, from Richard North, comes the EFTA Bulletin “The European Economic Area and the Single Market 20 years on”, September 2012 and from pages 13-14 we read:

“Despite the equality of the EU and EEA EFTA in the formal institutional framework of the EEA Agreement, it has always been clear that the EU is the leading partner. As a result, the automatic implementation of EU legislation is rarely discussed in the Icelandic parliament. According to many legal scholars, however, this harmonised legal framework is in violation of the Icelandic constitution. When Iceland does try to deviate from the EU rules, the EFTA Surveillance Authority (ESA) intervenes. More than a dozen times, the Authority has taken direct action or issued formal infringement procedures against Iceland before the EFTA Court for being in violation of EU law. The number of cases against Iceland increased substantially after the 2008 economic crash. Even though EEA legislation needs to be passed through the Icelandic Parliament, it has increasingly become evident that the EEA EFTA Member States cannot refuse EU legislation without threatening the
whole arrangement. If this were to happen, it would go against the overall aim of the EEA Agreement, which is to ensure legal homogeneity in the Single Market, and it would be in the hands of the European Commission to decide whether or not to suspend the part of the EEA Agreement that refers to vetoed legislation. Vetoing EU legislation could lead to withdrawal from the EEA Agreement, not only for the individual Member State, but also for its two other EEA EFTA partners. Often referred to as the “thermonuclear clause”, the formal veto right could be effective, but it might not be to anyone’s benefit if it was used. On a few occasions, however, EU directives (the directives on electricity providers and sewers and, most recently, the service directive) have, however, been disputed to the extent that they have prompted a general political debate over the veto right.
Recently the Norwegian Parliament refused to implement the amended directive on postal services. The Icelandic Government is of course following that process with interest.” (Emphasis mine)

This fact is confirmed by the UNI Post and Logistics Global Union who state (page 12):

“As a result of an extensive campaign run by the union and supported by UNI Post & Logistics, history was made in April 2011 when the Norwegian Government decided it would not implement the Directive.”

Courtesy of The Boiling Frog we then find this from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the pertinent section is 6.1.4. The right of veto, from which:

“According to the principle of unanimity applied in the EEA Joint Committee, all the EFTA states must agree in order for new EU legislation to be integrated into the EEA Agreement and for it to apply to cooperation between the EFTA states and the EU. If one EFTA state opposes integration, this also affects the other EFTA states in that the rules will not apply to them either, neither in the individual states nor between the EFTA states themselves nor in their relations with the EU. This possibility that each EFTA state has to object to new rules that lie within the scope of the EEA Agreement becoming applicable to the EFTA pillar is often referred to as these parties’ right of veto.”

Bearing in mind this section of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs information document appears to have been written before April 2011, it goes on to state that the importance of the EFTA pillar as a market for the EU and as a common market for the EFTA states has been significantly reduced. If problems should arise between Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein on the one hand and the EU on the other in connection with the integration of new EU legislation into the EEA Agreement, the natural balance will therefore have shifted in the EFTA pillar’s disfavour and makes the point that this trend will be exacerbated by future enlargements of the EU to include new member states.

Again courtesy of Richard North (and Google), we find this, from which:

“The most direct means the Storting has for influencing EU legislation is through Art. 103 of the EEA Agreement which gives the national parliaments veto power over the decisions of the EEA Committee. This Article was introduced to accommodate constitutional requirements in the EFTA states, and reflects the fact that formally the agreement is only an ordinary international treaty. Under Art. 26 of the Norwegian Constitution, new international obligations of particular importance must be accepted by the Storting before they can be ratified.”

What the foregoing shows is that there are a number of points that need to be made and made quite forcibly.

  • That are those supposed ‘eurosceptics’ fighting for withdrawal from the EU ‘up to the job’ and do they actually know what they are talking about? For a statement to be made, such as that by Hagenau, not to be immediately ‘picked up’ by a ‘leading light’ of the eurosceptic movement – Farage – (apologies for any hint of sarcasm) beggars belief.
  • For Cameron to repeat what is obviously a lie can only lay him open to the charge of misleading the British public and begs the question whether he has the right to continue to be addressed with a title which includes the word ‘Honourable’.
  • Were any referendum to be held in this country on membership of the EU, how can we be sure that we will be presented with all the facts when politicians, such as Cameron and others are, shall we say, “economical with the actualité”?
  • Why has our “informative” media not informed us of the fact that membership of the EEA provides a means of applying a veto to EU Directives? Why have the media not exposed Cameron and other politicians as not quite telling the truth and in so doing propagating what are lies about ‘government by fax’?
  • If and when (God forbid) Cameron does go to Brussels to ‘renegotiate a new agreement’, why does a sense of foreboding come over me? How can we trust one who is a proven liar where ‘matters EU’ are concerned and who obviously knows not of that on which he intends negotiating?
  • That we need a few clauses added to our non-existent written Constitution.
  • And that when we do redefine our arrangements with the EU we need a bloody good lawyer.

Just saying………………

Update: Courtesy of PurpleRevolution on twitter, who ‘feeds’ me info comes the latest Norwegian Committee’s review of Norway’s Arrangements with the EU.


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