Fly on the wall at Brexit talks

There are 3 sources I look to for real news on Brexit:

Jennifer Rankin@  Guardian, Peter Ludlow @ Eurocomment, and the  FT.

 Mr Ludlow has produced another pre-summit Briefing gem.

Some interesting observations for me are:
  • The UK-EU trade agreement will be ready the mid 2020s at the earliest.
  • By which time, many of those currently involved in the process in London and in EU 27 will be politically, if not physically, long since dead.
  • Germany and France are united and take a hawkish position.
  • The UK has to comply with the EU Trade Policy for the 2 year transition (so no new trade deals for 2 years)
  • Phase 2 can only start when the UK provides clear guidance on the post transition relationship.
  • Negotiations in the second phase can only progress as long as all commitments undertaken during the first phase are respected in full and translated faithfully into legal terms as quickly as possible.

Let’s hope that David Davis starts to negotiate in good faith and read his papers.


Forces of open law making strike again in the EU


Open Law Making Wins Again

Yesterday evening, 1st Vice-President Frans Timmermans, struck another blow for open law making.

Until today,  the process for adopting delegated acts was a secretive affair. Today, you can track the development, adoption and scrutiny of delegated acts.

You can find out how to here.


This is important because most legislation in the EU – estimates argue between 97% to 99% – is secondary legislation. The important secondary legislation is often delegated acts.

For members of the public the whole process has been more or less secret. I think that the people should be able to monitor their governments law making. These changes make it easier for the people to see what is being done in their name

Today’s  system is a vast improvement. It gives a good summary of the status of where a piece of delegated legislation is. You can track the progress from the comfort of your own armchair.

The spirit  of Better Law Making has not yet filtered down to all Commission Departments. The idea of making up legal proposals on a whim, whatever or despite the evidence, still has many adherents within the Commission and in  too many governments.  Better Regulation, championed by Commissioner Timmermans, forces his colleagues to meet some basic standards  of good law making before coming up with new laws. I know many officials do not like it.

I think a lot of lobbyists won’t like it. Anything that makes the system less complex is bad for billable hours.

The EU is not the place to have policy and political decision making by way of political derogation. Following the Better Regulation Guidelines and Toolbox for bother ordinary and secondary law making is one of the greatest incentives Europe has to offer business doing business here.

I think that the positive lasting legacy of the Juncker Commission will be the step by step opening up of law making to public scrutiny and improved and better law making.


Next Steps?

There are  some improvements that could be made.

First, they could hyperlink to the actual text being considered.

Second, they could integrate creaking online system for Implementing Acts and measures adopted under Regulatory Procedure into this easier to use system.

Third, they could list the civil servants who attend the Committee. They are meeting as law makers.  It is usual for law makers to be recognised when they vote. The meetings could be online.

All these changes could be made quickly.


Dank U


Commissioner Timmermans and his team have worked around the clock to deliver on the  13 April 2016 Better Law-Making Interinstutional Agreement*. The system works.

* para 29: The three Institutions commit to set up, at the latest by the end of 2017 and in close cooperation, a joint functional register of delegated acts, providing information in a well-structured and user-friendly way, in order to enhance transparency, facilitate planning and enable traceability of all the different stages in the lifecycle of a delegated act.



20 ways to win negotiations in Brussels – John Gummer reveals the answers

John Gummer’s article in today in the Guardian shows a master negotiators hand.

Britain got its way in the EU when it mattered – I know, I was there


For ease of reference I have pasted it below.

I have known John Gummer since my school days in a Roman Catholic school in Suffolk, UK. John Gummer bravely converted to Catholicism in the 1980s. He came to my school to give a talk on the famous covert, Cardinal John Henry Newman. He also gave me the Politics Department Prize.

I have bumped into him when working in DG Environment and WWF. He is an honourable and decent man. I don’t hold the same party card as him, but I knew him as a most able British Minister, who won many victories in EU talks for the UK.

Negotiating is good

The simple truth is that negotiation is the best solution to getting a good deal. Some people tell me it is sign of weakness.  I think chest beating like a gorilla makes your position look deranged.

Now, I’ll admit as a Roman Catholic from N.Ireland I probably have some issues about alternatives to negotiation. But, as the Good Friday Agreement shows, it’s the best way for people to settle their differences.

In my experience of passing laws in Brussels, especially in the DG Environment and working for Labour politicians in the European Parliament, I came across the strange tactic of the US Government intervening, in Brussels or national capitals, to try and stop an EU environmental measure.

I say strange because every time I encountered it, it always led to a lot more votes switching over to my side than I could ever have hoped for. In fact, I landed up hoping the USTR would start lobbying against the law I was working on, as it meant getting it past was made a sure thing.


20 Rules for Negotiating in the EU

  1. Fight your corner fairly
  2. Have a reputation as an informed and committed negotiator
  3. Don’t lecture
  4. Have strong relationships with those your are negotiating with
  5. Develop friendships with those you are negotiating with
  6. Be honest about your political needs
  7. Be trusted
  8. Debate with proof and respond with proof
  9. Act consensually
  10. Act in your national interest when you need to
  11. Look for a solution
  12. Lead with solutions
  13. Bring the science
  14. Work the room
  15. Never pretend
  16. Always turn up
  17. Know everyones positions
  18. Work very hard
  19. Avoid easy silly political wins
  20. My favourite “Listening, arguing, explaining and showing we believed in the system and wanted to learn as well as teach – that made all the difference.”




Britain got its way in the EU when it mattered – I know, I was there

We are unravelling the greatest peacetime project of our lives because Brexiteers insist we’ve lost control. But it’s simply not true

John Gummer served as environment secretary in John Major’s Conservative government between 1993 and 1997

‘In a single market, the UK’s refusal to allow the export of live horses for food was clearly illegal but politically essential.’ Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

Acontinuing refrain of the Brexiteers is that Britain has always lost out to the rest of Europe in negotiations. This derives partly from the way successive governments have portrayed the EU as a battleground in which there is room only for victory or defeat. It is also explained by the tendency of politicians to blame “Europe” for everything – often to divert attention from their own shortcomings.

In fact, the UK has led Europe in a remarkable way, and has rarely failed to gain its major objectives. However the process is one of debate and argument, proof and counter-argument, rather than demanding that the rest of EU should immediately see the sense in our position and give way without question. It is this assumption of always being right that has bedevilled our relationships with our neighbours.

When I first went into the Department of the Environment (DoE) on a Monday in 1993 I looked at my diary. Fresh from four years as minister of agriculture, I knew that there was a two-day meeting of the European Council of Environment Ministers ahead, yet there seemed nothing in the diary. “Why,” I asked. “Oh,” said the civil servant, “the secretary of state doesn’t go to Brussels unless we have something to tell them to do.”

That changed there and then, and I sat at the council table the following Thursday. Facing the first controversial discussion, I asked my adviser what the Spanish position was. “Well,” came the reply, “we haven’t spoken to them since Christmas, so I’m not sure.” Similarly semi-detached attitudes were revealed throughout that first session.

It came as a real shock after my long period at Agriculture, where the UK had built a reputation for informed and committed negotiation. My predecessors there, Michael Jopling and John MacGregor, had built strong relationships with their fellow EU ministers. They trusted us and we trusted most of them. They knew that we would act consensually wherever possible, would try to understand their political drivers, and would be absolutely honest about our own political needs. As a result none of us lost a vote that really mattered – even when the logic was wholly against the British position.


One example suffices. In a single market, the UK’s refusal to allow the export of live horses for food was clearly illegal but politically essential. All the odds were stacked against us, Belgium was becoming increasingly insistent, and a vote was looming. We had one strong card: our relationships. We had helped others in parallel positions, helping to find ways for the EU to meet its common objectives while recognising national differences.

My very effective minister of state, David Curry, and I had formed friendships and we took trouble to maintain them. Many of our fellow ministers had come to Britain and stayed at our homes. Above all, we had never pretended. They all knew that if we said something was really important to the UK, we weren’t bluffing.

We were always communautaire – but in the national interest. When the relatively new French minister, a socialist, in a very restricted session, without his key advisers, had agreed to something that would have been very difficult for France, I slipped round the table and pointed the problem out. He was able to retrieve the situation, the council was saved interminable recriminations, and Britain had a firm friend. Working as a team, clearly putting our national interest first but ensuring we got the best out of the EU, meant that when it mattered we won. I don’t suggest that my counterparts ever really understood the peculiar British view that it’s all right to eat beef but not horse, but they accepted it was a political reality and knew the UK would help when they had to explain their own national singularities.

Mind you, you had to work at it. My first meeting of EU environment ministers was decidedly frosty, as I sought to defend the government’s support for Shell’s decision to dump the Brent Spar oil facility in the North Sea, to a council dominated by the leftwing Danish minister, Svend Auken. Lecturing them would have fitted the British stereotype but done us no favours. Listening, arguing, explaining and showing we believed in the system and wanted to learn as well as teach – that made all the difference.


I learned too that the Department of the Environment’s previous way of working in Europe was shared by other British government departments. Yet, once we got a more constructive attitude to prevail, we found we achieved a better result. And the success for Britain was manifest. The BSE crisis could have destroyed the British meat industry. In the event, solidarity won over the temptation for easy political wins from our continental competitors. They knew that they, too, could have problems that only solidarity and commitment to the science would solve. They knew, too, that in those circumstances we wouldn’t take advantage, although we’d fight our corner as toughly as any.

And active, supportive membership helped us win battles back at home. In 1993 we were still seen as the dirty man of Europe. We were fighting to keep universal landfill; we had sewage on our beaches; and our water quality left much to be desired. EU environment rules made us put all that right. We became leaders on environmental agriculture and on climate change, but we learned as well as led. We were not semi-detached but committed to the EU – the greatest peacetime project of our lives, which through arrogance and poisonous self-regard we now seek to undo.

John Gummer, Lord Deben, is a Conservative peer who served in John Major’s government as secretary of state for the environment between 1993 and 1997



The Columnists I Always Read

I want insight and humour. I read to be informed, entertained, and in the current madness, reminded that sanity is still out there.

I am repulsed by blowhards and fools.  There is too much choice if you want poor drag acts holding themselves as providing informed comment.

EuroComment’s Peter Ludlow gives a fly on the wall, blow by blow account of the meetings of the European Council. He writes with wit and masterful insight. My only regret, is that in only gets published 6-9 times a year.

The Financial Times – FT – gives me nearly all I need. It’s got two of the best columnists out there. Lucy Kellaway shoots down fools and ijiats.  Wolfgang Munchau provides a welcome non-Anglo-American perspective. I regret I am confined to a Anglo-American viewpoint.

Jennifer Rankin at the Guardian does a great job on reporting on the great British Brexit train wreck. One looks forward to her next tale of incompetence.

The Daily Telegraph’s Christopher Booker and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard seem like refugees from a bygone era when the Telegraph saw itself as a serious journal of record. Today, it seems sadly desperate to sell itself off to “friends of Nigel” and peddling there ever delusional vision of “Acorn tea and rat stew” paradise of Brexit Britain. I enjoy reading a different perspective than my own.

Brussels is well served by Politico. It has the freshest leaks – how many sanctioned is never clear – and has a stable of talented and insightful readers. Their reporting on negotiations is timely, accurate and well written.
On a weekly basis, I have a flashback and remind myself that excellent writing, civility, and free trade where once the order of the day. The Economist  provides an hour or two of welcome decency and fine writing.

Every Friday I catch up with Chemical Watch – for work-  and rediscover that complex subjects can be crafted into clear and plain writing in the hands of a talented writer.