Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Welfare preferences and democracy in Portugal

On the 6th December Dr Mónica Brito-Vieira (Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics) spoke to the Portuguese Parliament about the effects of the crisis on the welfare preferences of the precariat and the dilemmas it poses to the Portuguese democracy.

The Portuguese Parliament is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Portuguese Constitution with a cycle of conferences about the 1976 Constitution and its legacy. The Portuguese Constitution of 1976 marked the country's transition to democracy after 48 years of dictatorship. It  includes one of the most extensive lists of social rights in the world and presents the architecture of a new universal welfare state intent on securing them. Since 1976, however, much has changed in the world and in the country. In particular, the Portuguese labour market has undergone major transformations, becoming increasingly dualized, with the labour force being now strongly divided between so-called "labour-maket insiders" and "labour-market outsiders". These correspond to "incumbent" employees, whose positions are protected by various employment-preserving devices, and workers lacking similar protection, who are either unemployed or get work only temporarily or have jobs in the "informal sector". The paper presented by Dr Brito-Vieira in Parliament, to both academics and MPs, discusses changes in the attitudes of "insiders" and "outsiders" in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. As the budget squeezed, and various cuts were announced, it was likely that the social policy negotiation came to be perceived as a zero-sum game, with the preferences of insiders and outsiders becoming more distinctive and polarized. What we witness, however, is that this did not happen. In effect outsiders became more supportive of contributory policies, primarily beneficial to insiders. What explains this seemingly paradoxical result? This was the question driving discussion in Parliament.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Diverging Capitalisms? Britain, the City of London and Europe

On 28th October Prof Lucia Quaglia will speak at the workshop  'Diverging Capitalisms, Part 2: Brexit and the new EU economic governance' at the Policy Network, London. This workshop is the second of a series of four events organised as part of the project Diverging Capitalisms? Britain, the City of London and Europe’, which is a joint venture between FEPS (Foundation for European Progressive Studies, Brussels), Policy Network, and SPERI (Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute, University of Sheffield). For more information see http://speri.dept.shef.ac.uk/events/diverging-capitalisms-part-2/.

Lucia's paper on 'European Union Financial Regulation, Banking Union, Capital Markets Union and the United Kingdom'  will examine post-crisis reforms in these policy areas by focusing on the preferences and influence of the United Kingdom (UK) in the policy process. It is argued that the UK has played a variety of roles – ‘foot-dragger’, ‘fence-sitter’ and ‘pace-setter’ - in the policies under discussion. The (at times considerable) British influence was geared towards the attainment of preferences that were shaped by domestic politics and political economy, first and foremost the interests of the financial services industry and the City of London.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Return to the Commonwealth? UK-Africa trade after Brexit

Calls for a post-Brexit return to the Commonwealth ignore the existing privileged EU-Africa trade relationship as well as the UK’s now diminished trade influence

In a speech to the Institute of Chartered Engineers in February, David Davis MP – now Secretary of State for Exiting the EU – told the audience: ‘The only Commonwealth country to enjoy a free trade agreement with the EU so far is South Africa.’ In fact, there are free trade agreements either awaiting adoption or in force between the EU and 32 Commonwealth countries. Regardless of its accuracy, Davis’s assertion reflects a broader narrative put forward by the ‘liberal leavers’ in the Brexit campaign. Their argument was that membership of the ‘protectionist’ EU constrains the UK’s ability to make trade links with the wider world – and particularly with Britain’s apparently natural partners in the Commonwealth.

One might therefore be forgiven for thinking that in the wake of the Brexit vote on 23 June we are about to witness a reinvigoration of UK trade links with Africa – the continent that is home to the largest number of Commonwealth members (18 out of 53). Yet, while the UK outside the EU may well look to maintain equivalence with existing European trade agreements in Africa, it is unlikely that these will be extended or reformed and the UK will lose the significant influence it once had in shaping EU trade policy towards Africa.

Contrary to the myth that the
UK ‘betrayed’ the Commonwealth by joining the EU in 1973, the majority of Commonwealth countries – those located in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific – were in fact incorporated into the EU’s system of trade preferences at this time. Under the 1975 Lomé Convention, this arrangement provided the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries with unilateral preferential access to the EU market, a series of lucrative commodity protocols for bananas, beef, rum and sugar and development finance through the European Development Fund. The EU’s special relationship with the ACP countries served to preserve and extend the UK’s links with this group of former colonies at a time when the Commonwealth was otherwise fractious and divided.

More recently, the EU-ACP relationship has been decisively shaped by a set of controversial negotiations for free trade agreements – known as the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) – initiated by the EU. These negotiations have led to a patchwork of trade arrangements across Africa, in which some countries have signed Economic Partnership Agreements while others make use of unilateral duty free access to the EU market under a scheme called ‘Everything but Arms’. This patchwork of arrangements is unsatisfactory for a number of reasons – not least its potentially disruptive implications for African regional integration. However, it is this reality – rather than any British allegiance to the Commonwealth countries – that will provide the starting point for the UK’s trade relations with Africa following Brexit.

Upon leaving the EU, the UK will cease to be party to EU trade agreements and third countries will lose any preferential access to the UK market that those agreements currently confer. However, there are political reasons why the UK may seek to preserve the duty and quota free access to the British market that the large majority of African countries currently enjoy. Although trade with the UK accounts for only a small proportion of total African goods exports (3.6 percent), any loss of market access would have a significant negative effect on certain industries (for example Kenya’s cut flower producers). There will therefore be pressure on the UK from African governments and UK-based development organisations to make sure that African countries do not face increased trade barriers.

The simplest way to achieve this would be to seek to mirror existing EU trade arrangements with African countries. This could be done by offering those countries that have signed an Economic Partnership Agreement a parallel trade deal with the UK on the same or similar terms and setting up an arrangement akin to the EU’s unilateral Everything but Arms scheme.
A more ambitious plan would be to seek to extend or substantially reform the relationship that the UK has with Africa under current EU arrangements. Here, there are two possible scenarios:
  1. The UK could aim to push further in its trade liberalisation with Africa (or selected African countries) by seeking agreements that include not just trade in goods – as covered by the existing EPAs – but also trade in services and a range of regulatory issues such as investment and competition rules. A similar EU agenda for the EPA negotiations met with very considerable resistance from African countries and development NGOs (as Tony Heron and myself have discussed in a recent article).
  2. The UK could seek to avoid the patchwork of arrangements currently in place between the EU and Africa by unilaterally offering duty and quota free access to its market to all African countries. This would likely meet the approval of many African governments and UK civil society organisations, but would require a waiver from the World Trade Organisation’s most favoured nation and non-discrimination provisions.
Both of these options would necessitate the investment of considerable negotiating resources on the part of the UK – either to persuade African countries of the merits of more comprehensive free trade agreements or to reach a settlement on a waiver at the WTO.

The UK seems unlikely to engage in drawn out negotiations to extend or replace existing EU-Africa trade arrangements given the severe constraints on UK trade negotiating capacity after Brexit – the UK currently has only a handful of the estimated 500750 experienced negotiators that will be needed for post-Brexit trade talks.

While a number of African economies have been amongst the fastest growing in the world in the last decade, Africa remains the destination for only 2.6 percent of UK goods exports. The UK’s trade negotiating efforts will instead be targeted, first, at reaching a satisfactory arrangement with the EU and renegotiating British membership of the World Trade Organisation. A secondary priority will be to negotiate trade deals with other key markets and partners (for example the US, Canada, India, Brazil and China). Even those leave campaigners who have extolled the virtues of a return to the Commonwealth rarely mention Africa – or do so in highly derogatory and racist terms in the case of newly appointed Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson – instead focusing their attention on Australia and New Zealand.

My hope is that Brexit will not lead to a loss of African access to the UK market – although this is not guaranteed and will require swift action from the UK government before exit from the EU is finalised. Meanwhile, the UK seems highly unlikely to launch an ambitious trade agenda of its own in Africa given its hugely constrained trade negotiating capacity. And what is certain is that following Brexit the UK will lose any influence in shaping the future of Africa’s trade relationship with the EU – still Africa’s most significant trading partner by some considerable distance. The UK will have no say in the EU’s plans to extend the Economic Partnership Agreements, in the EU’s ongoing efforts to promote regional integration in Africa, or in the future of European agricultural subsidies that continue to cause damage to African producers. In other words, there will likely be no reinvigoration of trade relations with Africa as a result of Brexit and instead the UK will lose the considerable influence that it used to wield through its EU membership.

Peg Murray-Evans, Department of Politics, University of York

Please note: this piece originally appeared on the SPERI Political Economy blog, and is re-posted here with permission.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

The EU Referendum and the UK environment: An Expert Review

Professor Neil Carter is one of the contributors to 'The EU Referendum and the UK environment: An Expert Review', which provides a detailed review of the academic evidence on how EU membership has influenced UK policies, systems of decision making and environmental quality. Containing 14 chapters and over 60,000 words, it documents how the EU has affected UK environmental policy and how, in turn, the UK has worked through the EU to shape wider, international thinking. It has been authored by 14 international experts, who have drawn on the findings of over 700 publications to offer an impartial and authoritative assessment of the evidence. Overall, the report concludes that, on balance, the net environmental benefits of EU membership have been positive. Neil Carter's contribution focuses on the impact of EU membership on the response of political parties to environmental issues.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Applicants sought - EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships

The Department is seeking applications from researchers with a PhD (or at least 4 years’ full-time research experience) to apply for an EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship. In all cases, the fellowship must involve an element of mobility (specified below).  
  • European Fellowships are held in EU Member States or Associated Countries and are open to researchers either coming to Europe or moving within Europe.  European fellowships are 12-24 months in length. To apply for a fellowship with York, you must not have been based in the UK for more 12 months of the 3 years preceding the call deadline (14/09/2016).
  • Global Fellowships are based on a secondment to a third country and a mandatory 12 month return period to a European host.  Global Fellowships are 12 to 24 months for the outgoing phase, plus 12 months for the return phase in Europe.  To apply for a fellowship with York, you must be an EU / Associated country national or have been resident in the UK for 5 years or more. You must also have spent you must not have spent more than 12 months of the 3 years preceding the call deadline (14/09/2016) in the third country.
In order to be considered, please submit the following documents to Ed Kirby (ed.kirby@york.ac.uk) by 4pm on Friday 27th May:
  • A copy of your CV (following the Marie-Curie Individual Fellowship guidelines – see p. 41 of the guide available here
  • A two page outline of the proposed research project
  • Up to 1 page on your proposed mentor, your reasons for this choice and the wider fit between your project and the Department 
It is recommended that you contact your proposed mentor in advance of applying. If you have any questions regarding the process please contact Ed Kirby.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The place of financial services in TTIP negotiations

In this policy brief commissioned by Policy Network, Lucia Quaglia examines the place of financial services in TTIP negotiations, highlighting the surprising fact that the US authorities are less keen than the EU authorities on regulatory cooperation in the field of financial services for fear of lower standards. Her paper was disseminated at an event on TTIP organised by Policy Network on 25 February in London. Several policy makers, including Commissioner Malmstrom attended the event. See here for further information: http://www.policy-network.net/news_detail.aspx?ID=4074

Professor Lucia Quaglia provides evidence to the House of Lords

In February Professor Lucia Quaglia gave evidence to the House of Lords Sub-Committee for Economic and Financial Affairs for the preparation of an inquiry on Economic and Monetary Union. The session discussed: the completion of Banking Union and in particular the setting up of a common deposit guarantee scheme and a fiscal backstop; the completion of Economic and Monetary Union and in particular the need for a mechanism for macroeconomic counter cyclical stabilisation, economic policy coordination and fiscal transfers; the external representation of the euro area; the implications of Banking Union and Economic and Monetary Union for euro area outsiders.

Further details can be found at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-select/eu-financial-affairs-subcommittee/news-parliament-2015/lilico-quaglia-marsh-evidence-session/

Wednesday, 10 February 2016


Events over the last few days should have put a spring in the step of the euro-sceptics in Britain. The recent draft paper setting out the basic parameters of David Cameron’s renegotiation deal was savaged by the press last week.[i] A YouGov poll for The Times on the weekend put the Leave campaign nine points in front (although research was carried out on line and such a methodology proved to be problematic during last year’s general election). More generally, the European Union (EU) is perceived by many to be in crisis, buffeted by the twin threats of sovereign debt default (especially in Greece) and large scale migration from the Middle East. On the face of it, it looks like a difficult time to be a supporter of Britain’s continued membership of the EU.

However, there are a number of reasons why the Remain campaign ought to be quietly confident going into a referendum campaign which looks set to take place sometime this summer. First, for all the disparagement that Cameron’s renegotiation deal has received, the details of this agreement are unlikely to remain a key feature of the debate for long. Most members of the public are probably unaware of the precise terms of this so-called ‘new settlement’, and are unlikely to be able to make an informed judgement about its merits. To make this point, is not to imply the British public is stupid. Rather, such a judgment would require extensive knowledge of the workings of the EU: knowledge that even the most diligent and conscientious person would find difficult to work up before the plebiscite. As soon as the campaign begins, it is likely to quickly default to a discussion of the costs and benefits of EU membership for Britain more generally. 

As and when this happens, the Remain camp will be on much stronger ground. Despite complaints of red tape from a bureaucratic Brussels, recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) data has demonstrated that Britain’s product markets are the second least regulated in the EU (after the Netherlands) and its labour market regulation is comparable with non-EU countries such as the US, Canada and Australia.[ii] Membership of the EU has helped Britain to increase trade in goods with those countries that are members of this organisation, while at the same time increasing its attractiveness as a destination for foreign direct investment. While much still needs to be done to complete the Single Market in services (the service sector makes up about three quarters of the UK economy) progress towards this goal is likely to be even slower if Britain leaves the EU. Euro-sceptics underestimate the difficulties of forging trade deals in a post-Brexit world. A previous enthusiasm for a multilateral approach to trade negotiations at the global level appears lately to have given way to a preference for bi-lateral deals. Britain’s economy is already comparatively open, meaning it would have relatively little leverage in such an environment.

Conversely, the Leave camp is divided concerning the best focus for their arguments. Leave.EU (supported by UKIP’s leader Nigel Farage) wants to focus on the threat of immigration from the EU. Vote Leave (a cross-party grouping supported by Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s only MP) wants to focus on the economic argument for Brexit, suggesting the UK could successfully become a Singapore style off-shore financial centre (open to capital and migration). Relations between the two groups are not good and barring the occurrence of a significant development, the chances of the two uniting behind a common campaign do not look promising. Instead, it looks increasingly likely that Vote Leave will become the group to lead the official Leave campaign.   

If the euro-sceptics are organisationally divided, they also remain unclear precisely what Brexit will mean for Britain in practice. Some support the idea that the UK should try and retain complete membership of the Single Market after Britain leaves the EU (the Norwegian option). Alternatively, London could negotiate individual agreements in preferred sectors, in a sort of ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ fashion (the Swiss Option). However, as critics have noted, if Britain wants full or even partial access to the Single Market it would still have to accept EU regulations as part of the deal, yet would now have no influence over the content of these rules. Other argue that Britain should quit the Single Market altogether and use its membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to open up trade with the EU. While the WTO has helped to bring down barriers to trade in goods, it has been much less successful when it comes to opening up international markets in services. None of these arguments seem to demonstrate convincingly that Brexit would allow Britain to gain greater control over its economic future.

Finally, while it is true that the British press has become notably more euro-sceptic since the 1990s, there are reasons to question how much influence this section of the media will have on the referendum result. Research suggests that the majority of the electorate is as likely to get their political news from the television or the radio. Of course the coverage of current affairs programmes on these media outlets can be influenced by articles in euro-sceptical newspapers.  But TV and radio journalism is constrained by a legal requirement to provide political balance. This constraint is likely to at least partially negate the impact of papers like The Sun, The Mail or The Express on public sentiment.

Of course, there is a long way to go and it would be a brave person to predict the result of the referendum this far in advance. At the time of writing, Boris Johnson has yet to declare his hand, and his support has the potential to dramatically alter the fortunes of the Leave campaign which currently lacks a really high profile leader. However, it remains the fact that the Leave campaign has to sell change. And if it is to sell change successfully it needs to be united around an alternative course of action, and clear that this alternative is better than the status quo. At the moment, it has failed to demonstrate either. Until it does so, it is likely to lose the vote when it takes place.    

Post by Dr Jim Buller

[i] See my colleague Sofia Vasilopoulou’s recent comments at: https://theconversation.com/a-deal-half-sealed-eu-plan-waters-down-some-of-britains-demands-54063 
[ii] J. Springford, S. Tilford and P. Whyte (2014) The Economic Consequences of the Leaving the EU (London: Centre for European Reform) pp. 43-44