European Union

Sarkozy, The Constitution and Free Markets

Some people claim that Nicolas Sarkozy is France's Margaret Thatcher. Yeah, right.

To quote from the BBC report:

"A reference to 'free and undistorted competition' was pulled from the draft [Treaty that isn't the Constitutional Treaty] after French pressure late on Thursday. Instead, the treaty refers to 'social cohesion' and 'full employment'."

Sarkozy did not hide his contempt for free trade during the election. This is consistent with his position. But those who thought they were getting an economic liberal, simply because they heard someone who talked tough on immigration and liked to swing a handbag, were fools.

Anyway, two good things stem from this.

Firstly, it is clear that this is not just a tidying-up exercise, and that this goes to the heart of what Europe is about. The Government has absolutely no excuse to deny the British public a referendum, given their promises that one would be held for any significant changes.

Secondly, Jose Manual Barroso, Angela Merkel and the rest of the con-merchants can no longer argue that certain aspects, such as voting rights, ought not to be opened up again, as they have already been settled. If something as fundamental as this is still subject to change, then nothing should be off-limits. We should support the Poles in demanding that the German stitch-up on voting rights be re-examined. They were right anyway, but now there is no excuse for trying to railroad them.

Bush is right

Shock tactics to get your attention. I know it sounds unlikely. But really, he is.

He is calling for a "new framework" to replace the Kyoto Treaty (which comes to an end in 2012). David Miliband helpfully clarified on Radio 4's The World Tonight, that he didn't really mean it in the sense of a replacement for Kyoto, because he had acknowledged that the new framework would also be under the auspices of the UN. I'm sorry David - you might want to look for signs of continuity, but in no sense does this imply the continuation of Kyoto, any more than your second wife would imply continuation of your first marriage, just because you are still living in the same house.

What Bush means, in particular, is that any replacement for Kyoto must not be based on the failed cap-and-trade approach, as embodied in the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS). And it is this that he is right about. Cap-and-trade is the wrong approach, in principle and in practice. What follows is a long and technical paper I have prepared (PDF version here) explaining why it is wrong, but let me first summarise it for those of you who have got better things to do with your time.

  1. The reasons why Phase 1 failed have not gone away. The EU-ETS is failing to deliver sufficient savings from the sectors and countries covered by it to make their contribution to a target which, if achieved, might reduce temperatures by 0.06°C relative to what it would otherwise have been in 2050.
  2. Is it anyway possible to devise a rational basis for allocating emissions-rights? Looking at the current allocations, there is (presumably) method to these allocations, but not logic. This is a central-planner's wet-dream, and a libertarian's worst nightmare.
  3. One of the problems with the EU-ETS is its failure to deliver long-term price signals. It is typical hubris of politicians to imagine that they can reduce this uncertainty by declaring their intentions for a time when they will almost certainly not be in power, and for a market over which they have only partial control. It is likely that not even increased federalism would be sufficient to deliver greater certainty, and only a Napoleonic solution would suffice.
  4. Even if the EU-ETS could be made to work efficiently, fairly and on a long-term basis, it would disadvantage European nations for as long as other nations did not impose similar costs of carbon on themselves. We will be suckers in a rigged global market for hot air.
  5. The allocation of emissions rights to existing players rewards dirty incumbents and disadvantages their cleaner and newer competitors. The role of government, almost the only real role in the anti-trust/competition area, should be to prevent incumbents from erecting barriers to entry, not to institute those barriers for them.
  6. All carbon emissions have an equal impact and should be valued accordingly. Our incentives are upside down, and they are largely so because there is not a single carbon-price applying equally to large and small installations and to the fuelling of electricity, heat and transport. And the reason that we do not have such a simple, integrated pricing mechanism is largely because we fetishize a discredited cap-and-trade system that is not only wrong in principle and practice, but cannot practically be expanded to cover all sectors.
  7. Even if cap-and-trade mechanisms like the EU-ETS could be broadened to cover all emissions sources from all locations and tightened to provide meaningful savings through tight and strongly-enforced targets, they would be the wrong approach:
    1. Cap-and-trade produces an irrational, discontinuous demand curve.
    2. All current cap-and-trade schemes focus only on gross emissions, and usually only from particular sources.
    3. They apply a positive price to non-carbon rather than a negative cost to carbon, which has unavoidable ramifications for the misvaluation of the contribution of various solutions.
    4. Cap-and-trade assumes that there is any rationale for an arbitrary cap. The balance between investing in adaptation and mitigation should not be decided for us by scientists, but discovered in markets that establish people's preferences and perceptions of the balance of risks.

There is no way of adapting cap-and-trade mechanisms to satisfy these objections. We should carry through with Phase 2 of the EU-ETS, because the market had a reasonable expectation that it would be implemented. But we should agree now to put it out of its misery after that, and to use the period before 2012 to negotiate an alternative system to replace Kyoto – one that provides a more rational price, reflecting all sources and sinks, and taking account of adaptation as well as mitigation, and that is agreeable to all nations, or at least all major emitters. There are alternatives, if Europeans are prepared to open their minds.

Anyway, the full paper follows below. You might want to make yourself a cup of tea before you set to work on this.


International disinterestedness

What do the following have in common?

  • The top 16 in the Eurovision Song Contest consist of 14 former communist-block countries, plus Greece and Turkey. As usual, regional block-voting dominated the outcome.
  • Zimbabwe was elected to head the UN's Commission on Sustainable Development, thanks to the African block choosing to put African solidarity and contempt for the first-world ahead of responsibility.
  • Every member of the EU except Britain defrauds the first phase of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme by overestimating their potential emissions and setting themselves targets that are so easy to meet that they can profit from excess emissions rights without having to make serious efforts to reduce emissions. The value of carbon in EU-ETS collapses as a consequence, and no significant reductions of emissions are attributable to the first phase.
  • Concerted action on Darfur is undermined by the self-interest of countries like China, India and Malaysia.
  • Concerted action on Iran's nuclear programme is undermined by Russian self-interest.
  • Russia is trying to put together a gas cartel along the lines of OPEC, in order to control the price of gas to its mainly Western customers.
  • Progress on reform of agricultural support and protectionism at the WTO is hampered by regional blocks trying to maximise their advantage. Rich countries like France are quite prepared to sabotage the process in order to protect the profits of the 3% of their population now engaged in farming. Their old, supposedly right-wing government has refused to countenance any reduction of support under the EU Common Agricultural Policy. Their new, supposedly right-wing president has called for Europe to be more protectionist.

Don't mention the law

Yesterday the EU set a dangerous precedent. Condoning or “grossly trivialising” genocide will become a crime punishable by up to three years in prison across Europe. Now condoning genocide is a ridiculous and sick thing to do, I think most of us will agree. We don't need a law to tell us that. The act was sparked by the German presidency of the EU and maybe in Germany they have reason to implement these tough laws with their history of Nazism and the holocaust. That is their business. I do not see the need for this law to be imposed on Britain however. We already have enough laws about inciting racial hatred and violence, so why impose yet more legislation on us? Graham Watson, MEP, leader of the Liberal group in the European Parliament, said: “The EU has no business legislating on history.

Global warming balance

Last night's Dispatches report on the Great Global Warming Swindle brought some welcome balance to the climate-change debate. Not because the programme itself was balanced - it was completely one-sided in favour of the sceptics - but because the other side of the argument (the alarmists) has been given almost all of the air-time for the past few years. We are constantly told by politicians, publicists and much of the media that there is scientific consensus, that the debate is over, and that it is somehow morally wrong to question the science. Well, there is clearly not consensus, the debate is not over, and suppressing debate is a whole lot more morally contemptible than trying to raise it (stand up and take a bow, all you Royal Society representatives, for your ignoble role in the effort to suppress debate).

Having said that, some climate-change sceptics are as inclined to grasp any evidence as complete refutation of global-warming theory, as the alarmists are inclined to interpret any data as further evidence to support their beliefs. So in the interests of balance, here is a link to the best-informed article I could find that provided counter-arguments to those in the programme.

Trading favours

David Miliband has prepared (with the help of Alistair Darling and some big businesses) a manifesto for the development of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU-ETS) after 2012 (Phase 3). He has circulated it to trade associations and big business (or "British industry", as he likes to call it, forgetting as usual about the majority of smaller businesses), asking them to endorse it. The manifesto and its covering letter are attached.

His attitude to "UK business" is summed up in the following sentence from his covering letter:

"Our initial impression of the level of consensus on EU ETS was confirmed when we met some key industry figures to discuss the manifesto in November."

How can you test a level of consensus by meeting some key industry figures? Isn't the definition of consensus that it includes the many, not just the few? If the few tell you that there is consensus amongst the unconsulted many, are you a wise politician to believe them? Even if it were the view of many, should you do what is wanted by the majority (or even the consensus) amongst a particular interest-group, or what is right without reference to interests? Most of us want taxes to be lower, but his Government seems to care less about the consensus on that subject. How do they decide which consensus to listen to and which to ignore?

It used to be said that "UK business" wanted us to go in to the Euro. Now it is said that "UK business" does not want us to go in to the Euro. What is meant is that the majority of bosses of big City institutions and major corporations used to think that the Euro would be good for their businesses, and now the majority think it would be bad. That is not the same thing as the opinion of UK business (even if the Confederation of Big Industry says it is). The Government's reliance on the self-interested, vacillating, superficial assessments of this "elite" is what makes policy so inconsistent and unprincipled. The attitude to EU-ETS and their alliance to produce this manifesto is just another example.

De-accelerate! De-accelerate!

Everyday it seems we are being told what to do more and more. In the latest attempt to tackle climate change the EU are going to change the way we drive. That is to say, they are going to force us to drive exactly as they want us to. All new cars will be fitted with devices that tell drivers when to change gear, what speeds to drive at and even when to pump up their tyres. You could not make this up – even if your name was George Orwell. I don’t know how this is going to work, but I can imagine the car relentlessly nagging me like the worst back seat driver in a dalek like drone. Of course, it goes without saying that we will have to stump up an extra £2000 (on a typical family car) for the privilege.


It has emerged from a leaked proposal that the EU Commission is admitting its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) would only delay aviation emissions three to six months by 2050.  ETS would only reduce the growth of airtravel by less than 3% over a 15-year period. This shows that quotas will not deliver necessary results in tackling climate change. Airlines will be making huge profits enabling them to buy as many carbon permits as they require. ETS only promotes "business as usual" with more profits to "dirty" industries.

Capping regulation, not prices

The EU has confirmed that it will stick to it pledge to cap roaming prices after a survey found that 70% of Europeans want the EU to act to cut the cost of phone calls abroad. European Union Information Society Commissioner Viviane Reding, who put forward the idea, said that "this [high prices] hurts consumers, it hurts European industry and it hurts Europe."

9 to 5 only....

The BBC reports that the EU employment ministers are meeting this week to discuss the EU working hours law. As a EU rule, the current proposals are complicated - set normal hours, overall maximum hours and the option of opting out. If the proposal will be implemented, they will restrict labour markets. Liberal working hours promote economic growth and lowers unemployment. For example, the UK's economy has performed better than the heavily regulated French economy.

The long malign arm of the Environment Agency

As reported by the Telegraph, but strangely not available on their website, the charity Inter Care has been forced to shut down its operations by the Environment Agency (EA). Inter Care sends unused drugs from the UK to African hospitals. The EA has ordered them to suspend shipment because they may be breaching European Union regulations on waste disposal. Clinics in Africa are now running short of drugs as a result.

You can pick your enemy in this story. Maybe the fault is the European Union, for legislating in such a way that it would prevent something as beneficial as this. Or maybe it is the fault of the EA for excessive pedantry in the application of regulations. Experience of the EA would strongly suggest the latter, but experience of the EU would suggest the former. Is this the perfect confluence of two of the most sclerotic government bodies in the world? The perfect bureaucratic storm?

Age and reason

Age discrimination is self-defeating. Companies that employ less suitable people simply on the basis of their age will do worse than companies that employ the most suitable candidates regardless of age.

But that is not the same thing as saying that age and experience are not often relevant to someone's suitability for the job. Legislation trying to prevent companies from discovering the age of job applicants is not only bound to fail, but also ought to fail (Daily Telegraph, 26 Sept 2006, p. B7).