It has become an unspoken known that the 2015 general election would rely purely on which party had the strongest economic policy. However, Labour at its party conference in Brighton has tried to turn the tables and turn the clamour for power into a debate on childcare and living standards. De ja vu perhaps? Reminiscent of Blair’s plans to eliminate poverty and introduce a system of tax credits? Lest we forget measures such as the minimum wage, sure start and the new deal.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has announced that Labour will offer parents of primary school children guaranteed access to childcare from 8am to 6pm. As part of proving Labours commitment to those struggling with falling living standards, Miliband also gave a firm commitment that a future Labour government would abolish the controversial bedroom tax. Latest evidence of a growing economic divide came as figures showed that UK living standards had dropped to their lowest in a decade after average real incomes fell a further 3% last year. The IFS has said the median income for people in their twenties had not grown in the years between 2001-2008 whereas pensions had grown faster than any other income group (but that’s another article in itself). Labour is trying to regain ground in social policy where most people blame Labour for the fall in living standards in recent years.
As always the economic sense of these Labour policies has been questioned. Labour’s bedroom tax pledge will cost as much as £470m year, but the party said the costs can be met closing tax scams in the construction industry, abandoning the government’s shares-for-rights scheme and reversing George Osborne’s £150m tax cut for hedge funds announced in the budget in 2013. The £470m estimated savings in construction comes from a clampdown on the disguised workers scheme, whereby workers pretend to be self-employed to reduce tax.
Unsurprisingly the Lib Dems at their conference in Glasgow voted overwhelmingly to condemn the bedroom tax. Nick Clegg however, continued to defend the tax. The Coalition have already introduced changes to the way childcare and early year services will operate in the UK including tax free childcare vouchers and tax relief on childcare costs. There have also been proposed reforms to the ratio of nursery staff to students and to the level of qualifications nursery staff need.
The Chancellor George Osborne has told the BBC that “concrete steps” to change tax rules would be seen at the G8 summit.
Speaking from Enniskillen, he said leaders could “rewrite the international rules” that allow companies to shift profits away from UK and other territories to minimise tax payments.
The specification says you need to know the following about key posts in the EU.
- The significance and influence of key posts and post-holders within the EU, including: the President of the Commission, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy, the President of the European Council, the President of the Council of Ministers and the President of the European Parliament.
They’ve already asked about the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and the President of the European Council so you can look at the mark schemes for that but her is an overview of the other three.
President of the Commission: The President of the Commission is seen as the face of the EU to the world but they are not democratically chosen and the calibre of the president is dependent on the choice of the Council. They are supposed to provide the vision for Europe over their presidency for example Barroso’s closer union/2020 vision and Delors single market. This is also dependent on the calibre of the individual, if the calibre is low/they are weak then it can lead to corruption as we saw under the Santer commission. Nations do not want a strong head so this usually means weak Presidents. The President is also seen as the ‘guardian of the treaty’, when commissioners such as Prodi are more concerned with helping their own country deal with domestic issues, they oversee problems such as Germany and France breaking the Growth and Stability pact. Because the commission is not accountable to anyone, responsibility falls on the President.
President of the Council of Ministers: This is a rotating 6 month presidency with the host country able to set the agenda for that period of time. The Lisbon Treaty reduced the importance of the presidency by separating it from the European Council. The lack of coordination between each successive six-month presidency hindered the development of long-term priorities for the EU. In order to rectify the lack of coordination, the idea of trio presidencies was put forward where groups of three successive presidencies cooperated on a common political program. Blair and Brown wanted to use Britain’s presidency to push the knowledge economy but they hadn’t realised that the discussion about Turkey had long been in the calendar for their presidency. Countries such as Spain used the presidency to buy fishing rights in Mauritania and the current presidency with Ireland is being used to reform the CAP and encourage the UK to stay in the EU.
President of the European Parliament: The current President is Martin Schulz, when the Council meets the President of the EP gives an address on the EPs opinions on the Councils agenda topics. The presidents signature is needed for most laws passed in Europe including the budget. The recent budget that Cameron so triumphantly claimed victory over, was a shallow victory as the EP has joint control and didn’t pass it. The President of the European Parliament is the only directly elected President in Europe, elected through the Parliament he/she does not have to come from the majority party, Schulz does not come from the majority EPP.
The specification says you need to know the following about enlargement.
- How and why the EU has enlarged: the perceived benefits and criticisms of past enlargement, and the extent to which the new member states have remained transitional states or been fully integrated. This should include a study of the future of EU enlargement and its associated controversies.
1) Enlargement has been criticised because some countries have failed to comprehensively meet the acquis. Romania and Bulgaria (2007) still have problems with corruption and organised crime. Bulgaria is rated as the most corrupt country out of the 27 European states and the reports of corruption are hardening the resistance of other Europeans to further expanding the EU, thus lessening the chances of Turkey or Ukraine to ever join.
The specification says you need to know the following about CFSP.
- In particular, candidates need to be aware of developments in Common Foreign and Security Policy – why this has become desirable within the EU; the steps that have been taken towards achieving this and the extent to which such steps are perceived as being successful.
1) CFSP has been hard to achieve because of several reasons. Some countries such as the UK and Poland favour NATO as Europe’s defence wing possibly because the UK has always favoured aligning itself with the US. France on the other hand saw the introduction of a Common Foreign Security Policy as an opportunity for Europe to challenge the US militarily and become more independent however most EU states don’t have the financial ability to back this type of scheme nor the will, pacifist states such as Denmark have little interest in foreign excursions. Historical differences between countries also makes a CFSP difficult for example France’s intervention in Mali occurred because Mali is an former French colony so although the EU has pledged 520m euros to help the country, it is unlikely you would find any other EU country asking for intervention.
2) A reason for a CFSP is that it could mean cheaper defence costs if countries did it collectively. In a time of recession, governments are looking to spend less on defence and so CFSP could enable that to happen however this would involve a pooling of sovereignty which some countries may perceive as a loss of sovereignty. Foreign Policy and defence in the UK has always been viewed rather nationalistically and so it can be a difficult thing to sell to the public
3) The introduction of Cathy Ashton as the High Representative on Foreign Affairs with the Lisbon treaty 2009 gave CFSP a higher profile within EU goals. Since then although possibly she was not the right appointment having no previous experience in Foreign Affairs, the EU has come to consensus on sanctions in Libya and more recently supplying rebels in Syria with arms. The European External Action Service was a key policy after Lisbon and has led to over 140 EU delegations and offices being established across the world. The EU is the largest single donor of development aid and arguably CFSP has been a success for integration.
4) CFSP does however rely on unanimity. In practise this can be difficult as seen with Iraq and Kosovo. Furthermore, is there really a need for European hard power? The EU was meant to be a soft power body, the introduction of CFSP suggests something else. During a time of economic crisis, focus on CFSP has lessened but conflicts across the world have put the spotlight on EU decision making and Ashton has become increasingly recognised as the face of EU foreign policy.
You could easily get asked a 15 marker on any of these concepts, the specification says the following about what you need to know:
- Various theories of integration and the associated benefits and drawbacks of such theories on their own and in comparison to other theories. These include neo-functionalism, intergovernmentalism, supranationalism, ‘pooled’ sovereignty, federalism, multi-level governance, subsidiarity, and enlargement and the ‘widening versus deepening’ debate.
Neo-functionalism: The decision that certain functions are better performed at a European level than a national level, it believes greater integration can be achieved by making functions at the European level more attractive. There is a concept of ‘spill over’ where as one sector becomes more integrated it makes sense for the other sector to integrate. For example the technical spill over suggests that increased trade means it makes sense for technical standards between states to be harmonised. Should lead to a more supranational state through incremental integration.
Although under Blair there seemed to be some movement towards a closer relationship with Europe, taking Britain into the Social Chapter, taking a lead in the proposed constitution and engaging in discussions with the Europeans, there were still ‘red lines’ drawn by Brown regarding tax and other policies. Brown established the 5 criteria that had to be met for the UK to join the euro and even when that criteria was met there were no plans to join, neither parties have any intentions to join the euro. Blair preferred his relationship with the US and this often side-lined him in Europe making him the ‘awkward partner’. The Iraq war 2003 with the US despite strong European opposition showed where UK loyalties lay. Although Blair supported enlargement and the ‘widening’ of the EU. Cameron and the conservatives have supported the idea of a ‘two speed Europe’ something Labour and the Lib Dems dislike.
The specification says you need to know the following on Monetary Union
- Monetary Union: why monetary union has become an aim of the EU, and the extent to which this has been embraced by member states; the steps taken towards achieving monetary union; the perceived benefits and drawbacks of monetary union; the extent to which monetary union is perceived as a success – including the impact of the current (July 2011) global recession and how the Eurozone has dealt with this, the impact of measures take to deal with it and the impact this has had on the workings and future of the Eurozone.
Definition: Monetary Union was seen as a key step towards economic integration. The euro, introduced in 1999 has become the key aspect of monetary union with the use of a single currency and single interest rate.
1) The euro survived the 2008 global recession, coming out stronger that it had been before against the pound and is a currency to challenge the dollar. There is still confidence in the currency seen in Latvias recent application and approval into the eurozone. Countries outside of the European Union who use the euro continue to do so because of its global strength. Over 25% of the worlds foreign reserves are in euros. The euro is also getting stronger against the dollar due to sound monetary policy from the ECB and confidence in Germanys commitment to the monetary union.
The specification says you need to know the following about Justice and Home Affairs.
- Justice and Home Affairs: how and why the influence of the EU has been extended into the area of Justice and Home Affairs; the controversy that this has caused within the EU and for member states; the extent to which this pillar is likely to be extended further. Issues include the Schengen Agreement, the impact of the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Lisbon Treaties, Europol, the changing role of the institutions, opt-outs, immigration & asylum and terrorism.
Definition: EU JHA policy aims to reduce cross border crime, it recognises the different legal systems across the borders and is working to have a more similar legal system. It is controversial because of the strong link between criminal law and national sovereignty. The opening of borders led to a lot of cross border crime so the JHA pillar was introduced at Maastricht to combat that.
1) Maastricht identified the areas of common interest and gave the European Council the head role in the discussions but the Amsterdam treaty 1997 gave all EU institutions full control over some areas of JHA policy, such as asylum and immigration. The EU maintains several Europe-wide databases including, for example, Eurodac, which stores the fingerprints of asylum-seekers to prevent abuses such as asylum shopping across national borders. This is where asylum seekers apply to a second EU country after being rejected from the first. These have helped ensure tighter border security for the EU.
The specification says the following about what you need to know on the Social Chapter
- The Social Chapter: how and why the issue of social rights became an issue for the EU; the main provisions of the Social Chapter; how and why the Social Chapter has caused controversy- with the associated benefits and drawbacks of its provisions; the impact it has had on labour markets- including flexibility, mobility and competitiveness; the extent to which the Social Chapter has been perceived as successful.
Definition: The Social Chapter was introduced at Maastricht where Britain used its opt-out to stop it becoming part of EU law. It included protection of social rights and EU level regulation of social policy. Blair signed up in 1997.
1) The main argument against the Social Chapter is that it prevents competitiveness. Regulations such as the Working Time Directive and increasing workers rights mean that EU countries are less able to compete with emerging markets who have cheap deregulated labour markets. For example industrialising Poland is not sticking to the Working Time Directive and probably never will while it continues to industrialise. Britain still has an opt-out from the Working Time Directive and is highly unlikely to ever join. This is because there are different Social Models and cultures across the EU. While the Brits value their work and work long hours, the French tend to spend more time in leisure.