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:

(Click on chart to enlarge)

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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Labour is launching a stealthy Scottish comeback - thanks to Jeremy Corbyn and the Daily Mail

The Scottish Labour strategy is paying off - and hard evidence that it works may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017

When I suggested to a senior Scottish Labour figure earlier this year that the party was a car crash, he rejected my assertion.

“We’re past that,” he said gloomily. “Now we’re the burnt-out wreck in a field that no-one even notices anymore.”

And yet, just as the election campaign has seen Jeremy Corbyn transformed from an outdated jalopy into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang magically soaring in the polls, Scottish Labour is beginning to look roadworthy again.

And it’s all down to two apparently contradictory forces – Corbyn and The Daily Mail.

Kezia Dugdale’s decision to hire Alan Roden, then the Scottish Daily Mail’s political editor, as her spin doctor in chief last summer was said to have lost her some party members. It may win her some new members of parliament just nine months later.

Roden’s undoubted nose for a story and nous in driving the news agenda, learned in his years at the Mail, has seen Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly forced to defend her government record on health and education in recent weeks, even though her Holyrood administration is not up for election next month.

On ITV’s leaders debate she confessed that, despite 10 years in power, the Scottish education system is in need of some attention. And a few days later she was taken to task during a BBC debate involving the Scottish leaders by a nurse who told her she had to visit a food bank to get by. The subsequent SNP attempt to smear that nurse was a pathetic mis-step by the party that suggested their media operation had gone awry.

It’s not the Tories putting Sturgeon on the defence. They, like the SNP, are happy to contend the general election on constitutional issues in the hope of corralling the unionist vote or even just the votes of those that don’t yet want a second independence referendum. It is Labour who are spotting the opportunities and maximising them.

However, that would not be enough alone. For although folk like Dugdale as a person – as evidenced in Lord Ashcroft’s latest polling - she lacks the policy chops to build on that. Witness her dopey proposal ahead of the last Holyrood election to raise income tax.

Dugdale may be a self-confessed Blairite but what’s powering Scottish Labour just now is Jeremy Corbyn’s more left-wing policy platform.

For as Brexit has dropped down the agenda at this election, and bread and butter stuff like health and education has moved centre stage, Scots are seeing that for all the SNP’s left wing rhetoric, after 10 years in power in Holyrood, there’s not a lot of progressive policy to show for it.

Corbyn’s manifesto, even though huge chunks of it won’t apply in Scotland, is progressive. The evidence is anecdotal at the moment, but it seems some Scots voters find it more attractive than the timid managerialism of the SNP. This is particularly the case with another independence referendum looking very unlikely before the 2020s, on either the nationalists' or the Conservatives' timetable.

Evidence that the Scottish Labour strategy has worked may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017. The polls, albeit with small sample sizes so best approached with caution, have Ian Murray streets ahead in the battle to defend Edinburgh South. There’s a lot of optimism in East Lothian where Labour won the council earlier in May and MSP Iain Gray increased his majority at the Scottish election last year. Labour have chosen their local candidate well in local teacher Martin Whitfield, and if the unionist vote swings behind him he could overhaul sitting MP George Kerevan’s 7,000 majority. (As we learned in 2015, apparently safe majorities mean nothing in the face of larger electoral forces). In East Renfrewshire, Labour's Blair McDougall, the man who led Better Together in 2014, can out-unionist the Tory candidate.

But, while in April, it was suggested that these three seats would be the sole focus of the Scottish Labour campaign, that attitude has changed after the local elections. Labour lost Glasgow but did not implode. In chunks of their former west of Scotland heartlands there was signs of life.

Mhairi Black’s a media darling, but her reputation as a local MP rather than a local celebrity is not great. Labour would love to unseat her, in what would be a huge upset, or perhaps more realistically go after Gavin Newlands in the neighbouring Paisley seat.

They are also sniffing Glasgow East. With Natalie McGarry’s stint as MP ending in tears – a police investigation, voting in her wedding dress and fainting in the chamber sums up her two years in Westminster – Labour ought to be in with a chance in the deprived neighbourhoods of Glasgow’s east end.

Labour in Scotland doesn’t feel like such a wreck anymore. Alan Roden’s Daily Mail-honed media nous has grabbed attention. Corbyn’s progressive policies have put fuel in the tank.

After polling day, the party will be able to fit all its Scottish MPs comfortably in a small hatchback, compared to the double decker bus necessary just a few years back.

But this general election could give the party the necessary shove to get on to the long road back.

James Millar is a political journalist and founder of the Political Yeti's Politics Podcast. He is co-author of The Gender Agenda, which will be published July 21 by Jessica Kingsley Publishing.

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