The rationale for sacrificing national sovereignty at the altar of European reform is eroding. Photo: Getty
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As Europe's economy slowly recovers, popular support for EU reform is falling

The time available to achieve European reform looks to be running out.

Many people think that Europe’s governing classes, the people who formulate so many of the laws and regulations that govern our everyday lives, don’t know and don’t care what we, the governed, think. The perceived disconnect between us and the "bureaucrats in Brussels" is, I suspect, one of the big reasons for the miserably low turnout at European elections (43.1 per cent across Europe last May).

But as a matter of fact they actually have a pretty good idea what we think (whether they care is a question I will leave to others). Twice a year, the Eurobarometer survey is conducted at vast expense by the European Commission to gauge public opinion across Europe. A random sample of around 30,000 citizens is asked for views on everything from whether the EU generates too much red tape (Yes - 73 per cent) to whether we trust political parties (No – 78 per cent). It’s an extraordinary resource, full of informational gifts, and it usually garners no attention whatsoever. This may be because it consists of over 100 excel-unfriendly tables, I don’t know. The data for the most recent edition was published at the end of July, as usual to a barely audible grunt of disinterest from the press. But this is a window into the mind of Europe, and there was one potentially unsettling story that emerged:

Europe’s citizens increasingly believe that the worst of the euro crisis is behind them. For the first time since the euro crisis began, a larger number of Europeans, 47 per cent, think the impact of the crisis on jobs has peaked than the 44 per cent who think the worst is still to come. That may be good news for consumer confidence, but there is a sting in the tail. As the euro crisis has receded, the rationale for sacrificing national sovereignty at the altar of European reform is eroding too. Modest economic improvements and a grinding familiarity with crisis conditions look to be in danger of breeding complacency. The need for European reform appears to be getting gradually forgotten.

This summer’s survey included questions on five specific suggestions for future European integration: financial services regulation; EU approval of member states’ national budgets; banking union; a financial transactions tax; and finally Eurobonds. Support for all has declined significantly since the same questions were posed back in November.

 

Support for Eurobonds down across the eurozone:

(Click on chart to enlarge)

Opinion on the introduction of Eurobonds remains roughly split along creditor-debtor lines: the Core strongly opposed, while electorates in the likes of Spain, France and Italy remain, on balance, in favour, though expressing far weaker support than even nine months ago. Notably the weighted average for the whole EU is now in negative territory for the first time.

Net support for a financial transactions tax across the EU has fallen from 35 per cent to less than 10 per cent since November. Even among the eleven countries that have signed up for it support is dropping, with four now showing a negative net balance. Where previously the priority was to counter the threat of financial catastrophe, now it appears to have shifted towards reclaiming fiscal autonomy.

 

Support for a financial transactions tax also down:

(Click on chart to enlarge)

One chink of light for European reformers is the broad support that still exists for Europe’s most recent reform - banking union - though that too has drifted somewhat.

 

Support for banking union down but still high:

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The sobering lesson from the latest Eurobarometer is that the time available to achieve European reform looks to be running out. May’s European elections, which saw an influx of eurosceptics to the European Parliament, were perhaps the most visible example of the falling appetite among European electorates for parties advocating a more integrated Europe. At the current rate, the focussing of minds required to reform Europe in order to avert the next crisis may fail to happen until the next crisis is upon us.

Richard Mylles is a political analyst at Absolute Strategy Research, an independent investment consultancy

Richard Mylles is a political analyst at Absolute Strategy Research, an independent consultancy based in London.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.