Here is a good piece by Tony E about that grim Newsnight programme on Monday:
Charles Crawford is a former diplomat, noted for his work in the Eastern Bloc both before and after the fall of Soviet Union. He knows a thing or two about negotiations, was a senior figure for British diplomacy in the work to end Apartheid in South Africa, and in the transition to democracy of the former Eastern Bloc nations.
This is what he said on the idea of suddenly isolating ourselves as a result of the negotiation process:
There’s a big omelet here..and we are not going to be able to turn it into 28 eggs…so we are going to have negotiate transitional arrangements… and we are going to have to stay in Europe in some way…
Simply put, splendid isolation is not a likely outcome, and he recognises that Brexit would be a process, not a single step: “Transitional Arrangements” will be sought.
Among the many poor things in the way Newsnight set about organising this discussion and presenting the issues, by far the worst was this long horrible video of former diplomat and top Blair adviser Jonathan Powell supposedly negotiating with the EU after a Brexit vote.
I joined the FCO back in September 1979 with a youthful J Powell. It is professionally embarrassing to see him taking a leading role in this crass high-profile manipulation. Watch it and weep:
I plan to use this clip in my Negotiation masterclasses to show all sorts of points of clueless technique.
- the whole operational negotiating assumption here is dishonest. The UK would not dash to the Commission to explore options as they are the prim but nervous unelected guardians of the status quo and have very reason to throw up problems.
- rather we would engage with the key national capitals and above all Angela Merkel: the EU’s national leaders have voters and understand politics, so they will want to look creatively at options for making the best of what is clearly a difficult and messy/unwelcome situation that nonetheless maybe offers some interesting ways forward
- the video at least explains honestly that the Commission will not want any more ‘reform contagion’ and so will push hard against any UK ideas for change – imagine how bad it would be for the EU ideal and all those fat salaries and perks if other countries’ mere voters started wanting a bit of what the UK has voted for!
- In professional negotiating technique terms, J Powell fails completely here: he allows the Commission to ‘frame’ what the issue is about, then offers up a list of options and then meekly backs down in the face of each Commission objection
- Note that to show the world his professional negotiation credentials he waves the BATNA card towards the end. BATNA is Harvard negotiation theory jargon for Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement – almost no-one watching this clip will have had the faintest idea what he was talking about, nor did the clip itself develop the thought
- What he omitted to mention or (crucially) use was the most basic Negotiation Skills idea of all: Positions, Interests and Needs (PIN). When presenting the issues like that even to the smirking Commission it all becomes very different. Instead of exploring shared Interests and Needs, he put forward a number of Positions then promptly collapsed each time the Commission objected
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What’s the Big Picture here?
The EU is like one of those cartoon characters that strides purposefully out from the edge of a cliff and walks along comfortably and confidently in thin air for a while before abruptly plummeting to doom. In particular, the Eurozone phenomenon creates contradictions and uncertainties that are unsustainable without something like a single central ‘superstate’ authority to manage the whole EZ space. But no-one sane or elected in (say) Germany or France or Poland wants to give Brussels the power to raise taxes in their respective countries and transfer the money to (say) Greece and Italy to keep the EZ space stable. Hence the grim contortions we see now.
The problems and contradictions of the Eurozone were there from the start. The whole basis on which it was sold to the German public was dishonest:
Germany’s leaders and experts took these concerns seriously. They toured Germany to address public meetings to assure the public that under the robust rules of the eurozone the euro would be just as strong as the Deutsche Mark. Verily, they proclaimed that the rules were so tough that the whole project slowly but surely would make less disciplined EU member states cast aside their idle ways and become more like Germany!
Here’s something very few people know. That wasn’t true.
As the Greek eurozone crisis started to accelerate, one of the German officials right at the policy heart of the eurozone project, and who had taken part in these public meetings, glumly told me a dirty secret.
The eurozone architects had devised strict economic criteria for countries to join the eurozone, to make sure that the currency was launched on a rock-solid basis. To their dismay, they had discovered that Belgium did not meet all these criteria. Yet it was unthinkable that the euro be launched without Belgium as an EU founding member and Brussels as Europe’s symbolic capital. So a furtive fudge was done to allow Belgium to join. Hurrah!
In other words, right from the outset the eurozone was constructed on false promises. Should the Greeks be blamed for sensing these ambiguities and pushing their luck by lying about their public finances when they joined the eurozone some years later? Who can say? But here we are today, with one impossibly expensive and acrimonious existential crisis after another.
The human and economic consequences of the EZ for southern Europe are astonishing. Italy was richer than us when it joined the EZ – now it has fallen notably behind. Millions of young southern Europeans are having their whole lives blighted as ‘austerity’ and crushing national debt problems drag on indefinitely. The noisiest people now hooting that the UK faces ruin if we leave the EU (including Lord Ashdown) were among the loudest voices clamouring for the UK to join this madness.
This is more of the same. It’s not working.
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Therefore what in Brexit terms?
The natural and potentially stable outcome for Europe is now Europe 2.0 – two European unions in effect who live together nicely. Eurozone Europe, bringing together those relatively few countries that are willing to share sovereignty and effectively merge into a single political/economic space. And Wider Europe, countries who are not in the EZ but agree wide-ranging free trade arrangements among themselves and with Eurozone Europe. These two phenomena are bound together by treaty and agree not to fight. Wider Europe would have its own light-touch coordinating arrangements but all done by national governments – no shared Parliament or permanent bureaucracy.
The huge advantage of this set-up is that it simplifies things for everyone. The Eurozone Europeans can integrate deeply as they see fit, and not have the current incoherent confusion of countries like Poland being formally committed to EZ membership but with no intention of ever joining it. Some countries currently within the EZ might leave it as the burdens are unsustainable? Good!
Plus it allows Turkey, Ukraine and maybe even Russia to join the Wider Europe free trade team as the ‘depth’ of integration required is much less intrusive and rigid.
A Leave vote by the UK accelerates the rationalisation Europe needs on something like the above lines. The UK would approach Berlin, Paris, Madrid, Rome and Warsaw with an invitation to be bold – to treat Brexit as the opportunity strategically to resolve all sorts of contractions and potentially ruinous anomalies. They would take a deep breath, but be open to looking at the idea as it in fact offers a new way of looking at Europe’s Interests and Needs.
The ensuing haggling would take some years to sort out, but with a clear better plan in place the uncertainty would be mitigated for everyone. The fact that the Commission in its current arrogant form would be hugely diminished in the lives of Wider Europe would please everyone, except the Commission.
Specifically this would mean the UK invoking TEU Article 50 and moving to join the European Economic Area as a transitional arrangement while the Wider Europe idea was sorted out.
What’s wrong with this? Nothing at all, except that EEA membership and continued cooperation with the current EU Single Market does not give the UK a quick fix on stopping forthwith ‘EU migration’.
But that’s in fact an advantage, as it is realistic: unscrambling the fact that millions of EU citizens are in the UK while millions of UK citizens are elsewhere in the EU is not going to happen and need not happen. Plus there is nothing wrong with negotiating easy access to the UK for Wider Europe’s citizens as part of sensible reciprocal arrangements among countries that trust themselves to manage neutral migration securely and fairly.
The point I tried to make in the few seconds given to me on Newsnight is that we have to lift our eyes away from footling issues of immediate regulation and think about a far wider bigger picture. We in the UK have entangled ourselves in EU processes for decades now. Moving away from that will be slow and complex if all sorts of serious new problems are to be avoided, but it can be done in a series of principled sensible steps. The brilliant work of Roland Smith looks at all this in great detail.
In short, the Remain lamentations of David Cameron and Co are startlingly dishonest and annoying in key respects, but even a clock that’s not working properly gets the time right twice a day. Leave does have risks. And Leave have been reluctant to say what exactly they want, as they fear that offers to plump a target and seem to think that their negotiating goals need to be secret now to allow maximum flexibility with the EU after a Leave vote.
But the glaring downside of having no clear plan is that you sound as if you don’t know what you’re doing and/or are divided/defensive on really basic issues. This just doesn’t work in presentational terms, as the Newsnight programme itself showed.
Europe 2.0 is that plan. It’s what we should have done when the Cold War ended, but failed to do. Better late than never.
As Jean Monnet famously said: “If a problem seems insoluble, widen the context“. If we all get smart, Brexit can be a huge step back by the UK and the EU alike from that cartoon cliff and towards a solid wide road of creative principled hope.