The EU And Telecoms (Part 2)

Following from part 1 we continue with part 2 where we explore more fully EU telecoms regulations and its current situation especially regarding Flexcit.

As happens in other areas of EU competence, laid down by the treaties, member states must adhere to the telecommunications chapter of the EU acquis and are bound together by network governance and by harmonisation measures as a consequence. These span shared policies and legislation, implementation and regulation, standards and the accreditation of qualifications.

It’s interesting that what is often overlooked is the EU is a project not yet finished. It currently remains a work in progress following the engrenage (gearing) principle the well established method to engineer another leap forward in integration, the slow, salami-slicing approach adopted by Jean Monnet.

This principle has the consequence that while it continues a process of hollowing out member states competences and trying to move them up to EU level that there often occurs a period of absence of any competence at all. In this we are reminded of Booker’s comment on a criticism of evolution:

Years ago…Attenborough himself [claimed] to ‘prove’ Darwin’s theory by showing us a mouse and a bat, explaining how one evolved into the other. He seemed oblivious to the obvious point that, as the mouse’s forelegs evolved by minute variations to wings, there must have been a long period when the creature, no longer with properly functioning legs but as yet unable to fly, was much less ‘adapted to survive’ than it had been before.

For the regulation of network industries there have been delegations of powers by governments of the member states to EU institutions, notably to the European Commission (EC), but also to their own domestic National Regulatory Authorities (NRAs). This was somewhat ad hoc and piecemeal in the 1980s and 1990s, however from the 1999 Electronic Communications Services review (COM(1999) 539 final, 10.11.1999) the intentions and the outcomes increasingly concentrated on a more systematic approach.

Yet there continues to be considerable variations between member states which the European Commission and the European Parliament sought to reduce the disorder and to complete the single market for telecommunications.

As we previously noted the UK regulator Ofcom – determined to breakup BT’s monopoly further – used competition law powers under the Enterprise Act 2002 – itself a result of EU Directives – to come to an agreement with BT over a separate network access division called Openreach which would offer its wholesale products on an equivalent basis to both external customers and itself.

The establishment of Openreach and its relationship to external customers at the time was unique to the UK within the EU and its experience was studied by regulators in other European countries who experienced similar competition problems arising from the presence of a large incumbent telecommunications operator, such as France Telecom.

Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner who in 2006 was in charge of telecommunications regulation, took inspiration from the UK in forcing the “structural separation” of incumbent telecom operators into service and infrastructure divisions across the European Union.

With this in mind Reding unveiled proposals aimed at not only extending competition among telecom operators, but also the the idea of one single EU wide telecom regulator, to act as an umbrella organization for Member States’ national regulators. Reding’s proposals became the “review of EU Telecom rules: Strengthening Competition and Completing the Internal Market” which argued that:

“The most effective way to achieve a real level playing field for telecom operators across the EU would of course be to create an independent European telecom regulator that would work together with national regulators in a system, similar to the European System of Central Banks. In such a system, national regulators would continue to act as direct contact points with operators and could directly analyse the market. At the same time, a light European agency, independent from the Commission and from national governments, could ensure by guidelines and, if necessary, instructions that EU rules are applied consistently in all Member States.”

Here Reding sought to achieve “a real level playing field” by tackling what she called the three issues; Firstly the need for more internal market integration for a more effective use of radio spectrum. Falling back on the traditional EEC/EU arguments of fish, pollution or ‘climate change’ which knows no country boundaries as a reason for extending EU competences Reding relies on this regarding spectrum:

Radio spectrum itself knows no borders, but it is managed at national level, normally in an administrative, bureaucratic way that creates scarcity by prescribing in detail what every part of the spectrum may be used for in that Member State.

I also believe that we need to put the idea of a European spectrum agency on the table…we have to recognise the competitive disadvantage the EU faces because, instead of having one single regime for spectrum management and spectrum licensing, as they do in the US, we have 25 different ones.

Reding also argued that with the “switch from analogue to digital TV there is a one off opportunity to re-use the analogue frequencies for new technologies”. The second issue she addressed was better regulation:

“…a more consistent application of the EU telecom rules”. In the telecom sector, where neither technology nor economic interest nor consumer behaviour know national borders any more, I see a clear, long overdue need to make the internal market a reality also in regulatory terms”.

The third proposal was that there should be no “regulatory holidays” in the face of technological advances and with the liberalisation of the telecoms market should come “structural separation”:

Structural separation means that telecom regulators could require a dominant operator to provide non-discriminatory access to all operators by separating infrastructure provision from service provision to a greater or lesser extent. Today, the EU rules in force do not foresee structural separation as a regulatory remedy on the telecom markets. But I see that the United Kingdom, which has opted for a form of structural separation at national level, has made good experiences with this remedy. 

Her legislative proposal was for a European Electronic Communications Market Authority (EECMA) in which the EC sought a formal cooperation structure to remedy the lack of coherence within the internal market, which included “a fragmentation of European markets” and the absence of mechanisms for authorising cross-border services (e.g., mobile and IP-based services).

This proposal was significantly reshaped by the Parliament (which increased its own influence as a consequence) and the Council and, via Regulation (EC) No 1211/2009, became the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications (BEREC):

The main objective of this body is to enhance cooperation among national regulatory authorities (NRAs) and to strengthen the internal market in electronic communications networks.

BEREC consists of NRAs members where each is nominated per Member State. (NRAs from the European Economic Area (EEA) States only have observer status and are represented “at an appropriate level”). Thus BEREC consolidated the “official” status of NRAs despite having no democratic credentials.

BEREC itself conducts its business in secret and it attempts to justify this by claiming that there is often a special requirement to avoid public scrutiny and stakeholder involvement. We can see this secrecy, or ‘independence’ officially laid out under Regulation (EC) No 1211/2009 Article 4: Composition and organisation of BEREC:

The members of the Board of Regulators shall neither seek nor accept any instruction from any government, from the Commission, or from any other public or private entity.

In addition, there is a lack of clarity whether its decisions and opinions can be challenged in the EU courts alongside that it is unaccountable before the EU parliament, giving it a democratic and judicial deficit. Even the mechanism for engagement with BEREC is through consultations on terms determined by the organisation itself.

Aside from BEREC, further complications in European telecoms governance arise from earlier attempts at European harmonisation mechanisms via European Regulatory Networks (ERNs).

ERNs were established particularly with network sectors in mind; designed to respond to the multiplication of regulators and their uneven development. ERNs were an attempt to address by the need for greater co-ordination in implementing  regulation by member states. 

However within the institutional design of ERNs lies their genesis. Their design reflects acutely the difficultly of trying to move from national governance to one of supranational governance. Having been given grandiose tasks, the European Commission and national governments still maintained many powers. Here then we see the creation of double delegation, with powers “delegated up” from the NRAs and “delegated” down from the EU with the inevitable result of dissatisfaction:

The EU’s ‘double delegation’ to IRAs and the EU Commission has led to major and as yet unresolved problems of coordination and implementation.

Thus this means that ERNs can be seen as a ‘second best’ method of dealing with implementation of EU regulation; a compromise between EU ‘colleagues’ pressing for greater European integration and those member states, especially national governments, reluctant to endorse it fully. The compromise inevitably means that while more uniform regulation by coordinating approaches and functions was the intention, there has been little evidence of success in harmonisation and no attempts even to measure the effectiveness of the measures.

But within ERNs remains legacy EU regulatory telecoms governance that sits alongside and is distinct from BEREC, and this is apparent in the various EU bodies such as the Radio Spectrum Committee (RSC);

The Radio Spectrum Committee (RSC) is responsible for specific technical measures required to implement the broader Radio Spectrum Policy. The RSC is composed of Member State representatives and chaired by the European Commission.

Established by the 2002 Radio Spectrum Decision (676/2002/EC), the Radio Spectrum Committee (RSC) is assisting the Commission for the development of technical implementing decisions to ensure harmonised conditions across Europe for the availability and efficient use of radio spectrum.

…and the Radio Spectrum Policy Group (RSPG) which enables Member States, the Commission and stakeholders to coordinate the use of radio spectrum.

Here we can see that unlike the secret nature of BEREC, bodies such as the RSC and the RSPG within ERNs involve extensive consultation amongst all stakeholders, which include “regulatory authorities and the ministries having responsibility for radio spectrum related matters in each Member State”, manufacturers, network operators and users.

RSC and RSPG are also part of the comitology process which allows the Commission to discuss its proposals with national administrations before implementation in order to ensure that any measure is optimised to the various national situations. Thus under these rules the following associations are permitted to be consulted:

Consumers:
The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) – which brings together 40 European consumer organisations from 31 countries (EU, EEA and applicant countries). 

International Telecommunications Users Group INTUG – an international association of business users of telecommunication.

Operators:
European Communities Trade Mark Association ECTA – which in addition to having close links with the European Commission and the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (Trade Marks and Designs) (OHIM), ECTA is recognised by WIPO as a non-Government Organisation (NGO).

European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association  ETNO – who are pan-European operators and has been the voice of Europe’s telecommunications network operators since 1992

GSM Association GSMA– is an association of mobile operators and related companies devoted to supporting the standardising, deployment and promotion of the GSM mobile telephone system.

Manufacturers:
Digital Europe

We can see therefore that even under EU telecoms governance and the comitology process there is extensive consultation with international associations. A further example can be seen with the European Conference on Posts and Telecoms (CEPT). CEPT extends far beyond the EU, including the countries of the former USSR and currently includes 48 countries in its membership.

And it is with international relationships with the EU we will examine further in part three. But first we will look at the EEA agreement where although there is commitment to adhering to the EU telecommunications acquis there is more flexibility with regard to the implementation as per the EEA agreement.

And it’s with the EEA’s relationship regarding telecoms and the EU where we turn our attention to next.

The EU And Telecoms (Part 1)

With this piece, in part 1, we turn our sights on the EU’s complex role in member state telecommunications regulation, with emphasis on the UK. The above graph gives some indication of the intricate nature of telecommunications regulation within the EU and the partial subservient relationship for a member state such as the UK.

As can be seen above (click to enlarge) the UK’s main regulator Ofcom has direct relationships with EU bodies which bypass UK ones, as well as having interaction domestically. The EU and UK regulatory structures increasingly are indistinguishable from each another.

Yet also the bewildering emergence and relentless progress of technology means we will also see that EU has only become a partial player in what is increasingly a global regulatory industry. This becomes evident when we consider that even within Europe itself where many functions are regulated beyond the EU.

An earlier example can be seen acutely with the establishment of the mobile phone standard GSM in the 1980s. GSM, with very little if at all EEC/EU involvement, was an illustration of European nation state co-operation and subsequently the GSM standard became a global success story.

The GSM agreement was reflected in the long standing establishment of non-EU bodies include the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and the European Conference on Posts and Telecommunications (CEPT).

Despite the existence of non-EU bodies it is with no surprise, due to the inherent cross-border nature of telecommunications, that the EU saw the sector as an opportunity to use the growth of telecoms to try to facilitate ‘ever closer Union’ further.

Pre-Maastricht the EEC had attempted to use the Terminal Equipment Directive (88/301/EEC) – issued under Article 90 of the Treaty of Rome – to force the liberalisation of telecoms including the satellite and mobile markets. Despite Member States objecting on the basis it was outside the EEC’s own competences (satellite communications for example have military implications) the ECJ after 30 months of legal wrangling upheld the Directive.

Naturally the solution for the EEC (EU) to such legal wrangling was to make communications a competence via a Treaty. Thus not long after, we see the clear intentions of the EU’s ambitions when in the Maastricht Treaty (Article 129 D) it for the first time gave the EU competence in the field of telecommunications (my emphasis):

The Maastricht Treaty gave the EU the task of establishing and developing trans-European networks (TENs) in the areas of transport, telecommunications and energy, in order to help develop the internal market, reinforce economic and social cohesion, link island, landlocked and peripheral regions with the central regions of the Union, and bring EU territory within closer reach of neighbouring states.

Even in the early 1990s telecommunications, which for obvious reasons was becoming a globalised industry, increasingly relied on global bodies to set global standards for convenience. The EU though envisaged the sector more as a mechanism and means to facilitate its own political union – despite the example of GSM and mobile technology where nation states had led and the EU had merely followed.

Typically then we saw in the early 1990s the EU arguing in favour of more telecommunications liberalisation with a view to completion of the internal market with an EU wide regulator. Emboldened by new powers in Maastricht led to the EU Commission launching a strong push to adopt a common strategy for the creation of a European information society driven by a European information infrastructure. In 1993, the Council of Ministers (EU) agreed to fully liberalise voice telephony services by 1 January 1998:

[The EU Commission] it is asking the Council to decide  on a number of principles contained in the Commission communication, in particular:

   –  the complete liberalization of services;
   –  a transitional period ending in 1998
   –  a precise schedule  in two main stages with a consolidation
      phase (1993-1995)  and a phase of gradual opening up to
      competition  (1996-1998);
   –  the role of infrastructures.

Following  its discussion,  the Council  instructed the Permanent Representatives Committee to continue work on this dossier with  maximum efficiency,  in order to enable the Telecommunications Council convened for 16 June to arrive at an agreement.

In addition the European Council meeting of December 1993, in its Presidency Conclusions considered a European Commission policy paper – European Commission White Paper, Growth, Competitiveness, Employment – The Challenges and Ways Forward into the 21st Century, 1993 which argued:

The Community needs an adequate frame-work for the developing of new market opportunities. In Europe some sectors are traditionally the exclusive preserve of non-market services or public utilities, in particular when it comes to the fulfillment of public needs. Reforms aiming at separating the different functions of public authorities with regard to the supply of such services as producer, purchaser and regulator, in sectors such as health care, telecommunications, etc. should enable the needs of users to be better served at less cost for public finances and with market creation potential .

The Presidency Conclusion on behalf of Member States accepted the EU Commission White Paper noting:

A more decentralized economy, given the growing importance of the local level; the economy needs to be geared to the possibilities offered by the new technologies…

…the trend towards a decentralized economy, which has been made possible by new information technologies, must be encouraged….The European Council asks the
Commission to examine ways of achieving this objective.

Thus the European Council requested a report be prepared for its 1994 Corfu meeting by a group of prominent persons on the specific measures to be taken into consideration by the Community and the Member States for the infrastructures in the sphere of information.

Such a group ‘of prominent persons’ became known as the ‘High Level Group on the Information Society’ – organized by the Commission and chaired by the then Commissioner for the Internal Market and Industrial Affairs (soon to become the Commissioner for Industrial Affairs, Information and Telecommunications Technologies), Martin Bangemann – a former leader of the German Free Democratic Party (FDP).

By 1994 the High Level Group on the Information Society produced a report for the 1994 European Summit; “Europe and the Global Information Society: Recommendations to the European Council” a report which became widely known as the Bangemann Report and was adopted by the European Council, Corfu, June 1994.

The report urged the European Union “to put its faith in market mechanisms as the motive power to carry [Europe] into the information age. This meant that actions must be taken at the European level and by Member States to strike down entrenched positions which put Europe at a competitive disadvantage.”

The report proposed “fostering an entrepreneurial mentality to enable the emergence of new dynamic sectors of the economy; [a means of developing] a common regulatory approach to bring forth a competitive, Europe-wide, market for information services.”

It then noted:

In addition to its specific recommendations, the group proposes an action plan of concrete initiatives based on a partnership between the private and public sectors to carry Europe forward into the information society.

The Bangemann Report was to have a very significant and lasting influence on the framing of subsequent EU policies for Information and Telecommunications Technologies (ICT) research and communication services. For many years following its publication the report was repeatedly cited as a kind of “Bible” by Commission documents and officials on a very wide spectrum of industrial and social policy initiatives. For example it was explicitly invoked as a framework for an important 1994 document setting out a new strategy for the audio- visual sector in the EU single market context and another paper in 1994 titled ‘Europe’s way to the Information Society: An Action Plan‘.

Yet despite its significance within EU circles the Bangemann report was out of date almost as soon as it was written. It had largely ignored the emergence of the internet and what it did acknowledge was to highlight its basic lack of understanding and knowledge. Consequently it expressed a level of discomfort – page 27 (my emphasis):

Internet is based on a world-wide network of networks that is not centrally planned. In fact nobody owns Internet. There are now some 20 million users in more than 100 countries. The network offers electronic mail, discussion forums, information exchange and much more. Internet is so big, and growing so fast, that it cannot be ignored. Nevertheless, it has flaws notably serious security problems. Rather than remaining merely clients, we in Europe should consider following the evolution of Internet closely, playing a more active role in the development of interlinkages.

In the meantime, while largely failing to anticipate or understand the internet, the liberalisation process in other telecommunications sectors was being extended post 1994, for example in satellite communications.

By 1995 via the American based GPS had became a system that had broken out of realms of science fiction and used as an everyday tool for navigation by private vehicles, ships and aircraft. The EU in response planned to install a rival system called Galileo where it recognised “the value of a space programme, of which Galileo is a part, in completing the process of European integration“.

In contrast to the liberalisation process, and interestingly, the intention to adopt similar criteria to public broadcasting services (PBS) came with a great deal of reluctance – the EU itself noting that “the relationship of European Union policy and Public Broadcasting Services could be summarized as a historic dilemma without a clear answer. The balance between a strong European competition policy and public broadcasting survival has still to be found. Perhaps the text cited below explains the Gordian knot faced by European Union”:

“We need balanced solutions able at the same time to respect two important points. The first is the basic function of Public Broadcasting Services in the most of EU Member States. This fact has been recognised recently in Amsterdam Treaty with the Public Broadcasting Protocol. The second is that European integration is based on free market and equal competition. The future of the dual European TV system depends on how we can be able to combine these two apparently incompatible principles” (The digital age: European Audiovisual Policy. Report from the high level group on audiovisual Policy, 1998).

In essence the EU faced a dilemma; how to make compatible its own competition rules with public state funding of PBS. Article 87 forbids the state aid, which distorts or threatens to distort competition, insofar as it affects trade between Member States but with broadcasting an exception was made which notably meant that PBS could remain publicly funded to ensure the promotion of the “democratic, social and cultural needs of each society and to the need to preserve media pluralism”.

This role of public service broadcasting in promoting cultural diversity was recognised in 2005 by the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.

The reluctance of the EU was undoubtedly due to its appreciation that member states’ PBS networks would be more sympathetic to its integration project under the guise of the ‘cultural need’ criteria. This becomes especially evident when we consider the BBC receives a substantial amount of money from the EU and possibly related (or not) has long been criticised for pro-EU bias.

Public broadcasting aside, generally from 1994 onwards, in the context of developing the ‘information society’, general liberalisation of telecommunications structures was presented as the way to develop multimedia – cable television networks were ‘liberalised’ in 1996, with mobile communications following on 1st January 1998.

Bangemann’s report thus was hugely influential, and despite failing to anticipate properly or appreciate the approaching dominance of the internet, its vision of telecommunications liberalisation would influence the EU Commission’s thinking regarding the internet.

The EU’s determination to ‘liberalise’ markets resulted in a growth of “regulator watching”, which followed closely the experiences of the privatisation drive in Member States particularly the UK. “Regulator watching”, or a regulatory state, provided a convenient opportunity in extending EU governance across member states via a regulatory body.

By separating out the service provision by companies from sector oversight privatisation, and the creation of markets, allowed conditions to exist for the adoption of common rules by an independent regulatory body and the conditions of access to the market for new operators to be harmonised. All of which naturally increased the call for ‘more Europe’ under one EU regulator.

And in part 2 of the EU’s effect on the telecoms industry we will see how it attempted to facilitate the emergence of an EU regulatory body.

EU Referendum: How We Can Win

My previous piece reflected on the free bet that is the offer of a referendum in 2017. It maybe that Cameron doesn’t deliver, and that is of course a risk, but it’s the only offer currently on the table. We should remember that extracting this promise from Cameron has long been UKIP policy. For example in 2011 (2 years after “cast iron”) Farage had this to say:

…Ukip could form an electoral pact with the Conservatives at the next election if David Cameron were to promise a referendum on membership of the European Union. There was “every chance of forcing David Cameron into giving us a referendum”, he said. Whether or not to propose an electoral pact with the Conservatives in 2015 would be a “huge decision” for the party, he said. But he had offered the Tories a pact before the 2010 election, he said.

Given Cameron’s track record it’s reasonable not to trust him, though that would imply that other politicians can be trusted. However in my view the question of trust doesn’t come into it. If Cameron wins in 2015, albeit with a small majority, he won’t have any choice but to deliver lest the party give him an offer he can’t refuse. Less a case of trust, more a case of pure political calculation.

If there is to be a referendum in 2017 then another obvious concern is that it will be loaded in favour of staying in. It’s worth noting at this point that exit is very unlikely to ever occur without a referendum being offered and won. The precedent for constitutional change has now been set with the referendum in 1975, Scottish & Welsh devolution, the AV vote and the Scottish independence vote. Nor indeed can we expect ‘perfect conditions’ for one being held.

It’s certainly going to be a challenge to overturn the message of the establishment, media and FUD all of which will be heavily funded. An example of this was during our entry into the then EEC where pro market lobby groups were co-ordinated under the umbrella of the European Movement part funded by the EU Commission to act as an integral part of the government campaign. Efforts were made to bring the media on board particularly the BBC where eurosceptic presenters were dismissed in favour of more sympathetic ones.

However this is not 1975, the world has moved on in 40 years and as a consequence we do have a number of potential advantages over that campaign which can help nullify if not overcome the challenges.

The EU: 
The first advantage is that the EU is no longer just the EEC or a ‘Common Market’. In some 40 years since UK membership the EU has taken ever larger strides towards political union such that its ultimate goal has become much more obvious.

Now it is a ‘European Union’ rather than a ‘Market’. By calling it a “Common Market” meant the 1975 referendum was defined by the terms pro-marketeers and anti-marketeers – membership argued in simple economic terms. Thus in this context Wilson was able to get away with his sham negotiations by reducing it down to the level of import quotas on New Zealand butter and cheese.

40 years on, Cameron could not get away with anything so lightweight. It’s no longer a Market but a Union. Thus there would be demands for a far more substantial return of powers – none of which can be achieved without Treaty change. And that leads us neatly onto the next advantage…

David Cameron:
As has been well documented Cameron did not want a referendum nor does he want to leave the EU. That he has offered a referendum against his wishes is a reflection of his political weakness not his view that he thinks he can win it. We know this because he has made a political mistake. His offer was due to being under pressure from backbenchers who in turn are under pressure from UKIP in the belief that such a promise would win him the next election, and it is an offer made regardless of what concessions Cameron thinks he can spin from Brussels. It is very likely he chose the date as the UK takes over the Presidency of the Council of the EU rather than any other consideration.

The reform option has always been dangerous as it splits the “out” vote to the benefit of those who wish to remain EU members. However Cameron’s promise largely negates the reform option as he can’t possibly hope to have any substantial concessions which he can put to the electorate by 2017. The changes needed to the founding Treaties simply cannot be achieved in time. Thus all he can rely on is what will be unconvincing spin without substance.

And this is where his track record of ‘PR man’, ‘cast iron’ and ‘lack of trust’ becomes an asset to the out campaign. Without Treaty change it will be spin few will believe and it is a mistake we can capitalise on. A mistake that Clegg appears to appreciate very acutely during the Lib Dem conference:

The Lib Dem leader said he was committed to a vote when there was EU treaty reform, but criticised the “arbitrary date” of 2017 set by the Conservatives.

It’s worth noting that the Scottish referendum also had superficial promises of the reform option announced by, among others, Gordon Brown who tried to rewrite the UK constitution on the back of a fag packet in an impassioned speech by offering essentially devo-max to the Scots. Yet the pledge of reform made little difference to the final results which were in line with months of predictions by the polls. Other core substantive issues instead decided the referendum which we will explore later in this piece.

Experience: 
The 1975 referendum was the first ever in the UK, thus there was no real direct experience to draw upon. As a result many mistakes by both sides were made, not least in the failure of establishing a coherent message particularly from the anti-marketeers – with the word ‘anti’ portraying negative connotations, In contrast we have the opportunity to learn not only from the referendum of 1975 but subsequent ones over AV and Scottish independence, and we can endeavour to try not to repeat mistakes made there.

The Internet:
In 1975 the media and all the newspapers bar one – the communist Morning Star – supported EEC membership. Such support would be similar today, including from the likes of the Daily Mail which in editorials has made it clear it supports EU membership.

However unlike 1975 we now have the internet and everything that comes with it; smartphones, Twitter, Facebook and forums. The establishment no longer has a monopoly on information. Scotland revealed the significance of this development. The independence campaign was a dry run of how an EU referendum would be conducted and it showed comprehensively that unofficial campaigns centered on social media was very powerful.

Indeed the Scottish referendum has revealed that social networking via Twitter and Facebook played a very significant part in the vigorous and intellectual debate to the extent that the “yes” vote remained strong in the final outcome:

The 2008 US election showed how politicians could use it as a campaigning tool, but it wasn’t until the Scottish referendum that Britain really caught up.

According to Facebook, more than 10 million interactions were made about the fight in a month. So who won the social media wars – and what can we learn from it? The simple answer is: the Yes campaign was victorious.

The official Twitter account of the Yes campaign has an impressive 103,000 followers compared to 42,000 for Better Together. Alex Salmond boasts 95,000 Twitter followers and Nicola Sturgeon has 66,000 – while Alistair Darling has just 21,000. On Facebook, the Yes campaign page attracted more than 320,000 likes compared to 218,000 for the No.

But debate was not only held on the most well known outlets, there was much passionate debate on forums such as Celtic Football Club’s which ran to an impressive 1674 pages.

It’s also worth noting that during any campaign the URL address http://www.eureferendum.com/ would be much sought after – and this is already registered by Richard North. Typing the words “EU Referendum” into a search engine and links to the country’s premier eurosceptic blog comes top of the search results.

Thus with the internet we can bypass the mainstream media. This is a tactic that was used by Farage in UKIP’s early days. Comprehensively ignored at the time by the media, Farage went under the radar by taking the message direct to people by travelling the country and addressing local meetings. He was to replicate this method in 2013 with the Common Sense tour.

As UKIP proved, such methods can be very effective in getting the message across despite the bias of the legacy media and so it can prove with a referendum in 2017.

There’s a strong anti-establishment vote: 
Unlike 1975 where there was more deference to the political system, we now have the obvious decadence of Westminster politics. A decadence which reveals itself by the increasingly lack of quality in MPs, hopeless leadership, the lack of relevance of political parties with membership plummeting, and the electorate itself being treated with contempt and their anger in return.

Revulsion at this decadence and alienation from Westminster is common to both England and Scotland. In England it expresses itself partly in UKIP; in Scotland it helps power the SNP.

Thus unlike 1975, the parties of Westminster campaigning as one in 2017 to stay in the EU could actually prove to be useful as part of an effective anti-establishment campaign which when based around sound exit answers can win over a lot of people, as was shown in Scotland.

The establishment is not always united:
The Scottish referendum illustrated that the establishment campaign epitomised by Better Together was not always united. Although they shared the same aims of keeping the union together the fundamental differences between parties and between themselves could not help coming to the fore. Gordon Brown was sidelined until the last minute, Darling was consistently criticised for running a poor campaign, for example in May 2014:

Alistair Darling has effectively been dumped as head of the campaign to keep Scotland in the UK following crisis cross-party talks.

And naturally there were tensions between the Tories and Labour:

A Labour MSP has criticised his party’s decision to “hold hands” with the Tories in the ‘Better Together’ alliance against Scottish independence and has claimed that the No campaign is now unable to “outline a coherent vision”.

Then arguments over “reform

The Better Together campaign has been accused of “spiralling into self-destruction” after UK cabinet ministers appeared at odds over enhanced devolution proposals.

And after the vote:

Ed Miliband today publicly snubbed Gordon Brown after thanking every Labour MP who campaigned against Scottish independence – apart from the former Labour leader.

The ‘in’ campaign is likely to be as split as the ‘out’ one.

Having a major party on board is not always necessary:
As the SNP found out to its cost, a major party with an official position does not always mean party supporters and members follow suit  – voters in Salmond’s own ‘backyard’ of Aberdeenshire gave independence the thumbs down. Official positions of Labour and the Tories in an EU referendum are likely to be very different to its members when deciding on an EU referendum and there are likely to be splits within.

The question has already been decided:
Should Cameron endeavour to progress with a referendum then it’s out of the question that he can manipulate the question. The Electoral Commission has already given its advice to Parliament – the full details of its advice can be found here. In summary it advises:

If Parliament wants to retain the use of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ as response options to the referendum question, then the Commission has recommended that that the question should be amended to:

‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?’

If Parliament decides not to retain a ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ question, the Commission has recommended the following referendum question:

‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’

The European Economic Area (EEA):
Unlike in 1975 we have an off-shelf economic model in form of the EEA which can successfully nullify the FUD which will undoubtedly be deployed to portray by fear that leaving would be economically disastrous. The EEA was designed as a ‘stepping stone in’ for reluctant countries such as Norway and this can very easily be used as a ‘stepping stone out’. The economic arguments of 1975 would be made redundant:

Let us be clear about one thing: In or out of the Common Market, it will be tough going for Britain over the next few years.

In or out, we would still have been hit by the oil crisis, by rocketing world prices for food and raw materials.

But we will be in a much stronger position to face the future if we stay inside the Market than if we try to go it alone.

Inside, we can count on more secure supplies of food if world harvests turn out to be bad. And we can help to hold down Market food prices – as we have done since we joined in 1973.

The EEA therefore allows us to sideline the economic arguments effectively and so use the referendum to concentrate on the political aspects of the EU which prove to be so unpalatable for the British people (my emphasis):

Public opinion is divided on the detail of Britain’s role in Europe, however. Around three in ten each would prefer to see ‘Britain’s relationship with Europe remaining broadly the same as at present’ (32%) and ‘Britain returning to being part of an economic community, without political links’ (30%). One in five would like to see ‘Britain leaving the European Union altogether’ (20%), with ‘closer political and economic integration’ with other EU member states the least favoured option (13%).”

The 1970’s pessimism has gone:
It’s not unreasonable to suggest that the early 1970s provided probably the only window of opportunity to have joined the EEC. The UK was beset by a national lack of self confidence not long after “Great Britain had lost an Empire and had not yet found a role“, the Suez crisis, devaluation in the 1960’s, a global recession, spiralling inflation, collapse of Britain’s traditional manufacturing industries and rising unemployment and industrial unrest.

With this in mind it’s easy to understand why the UK sought refuge in the EEC. Yet largely as the result of the Thatcher reforms of the 1980s, the UK escaped from the inward straightjacket of its past. Rather than pessimism overshadowing the next referendum a confident UK will now be able to take advantage, outside the EU, of the dominating factor of trade…

Globalisation:
Nothing illustrates the ever decreasing need for single market access for the UK than the rise of globalisation. This is the EU’s redundancy notice, its P45. The EU is a relic of the 20th century, a time when the cold war dominated, when memories of war on the continent were still painfully fresh. Yet during the late 1970s and 1980s we had the emergence of other markets such as Japan.

Fueled by the evolution of technology, improved transport (Containerisation) and the growth of multinational companies and trading blocks globalisation is now the dominating factor. With the growth of China and India, the United States for example is increasingly looking east rather than to the EU in terms of importance of trade.

With globalisation has come the increasing importance of global bodies setting international standards. The Single Market, is a collection of regulation which drives the harmonisation of standards, with a view to not only facilitate trade throughout the Communities but to lead to increasing “political union” in the EU. It has primarily a political objective not an economic one.

However the EU acquis of harmonisation is gradually being replaced by international regulation which does not have the same political overtones. As such the EU loses its European distinctiveness and simply becomes a property shared by all members of the WTO, which they will all use as the basis for international trade. The EU’s Single Market thus will become redundant. Gradually it is being replaced by the globalised market.

As it stands, as long as we are in the EU, we have a subordinate position, (only 8% of the vote within the EU) on international bodies and the agreements on international standards are negotiated and approved by the EU on our behalf. 

However EFTA/EEA countries such as Norway are able to negotiate for themselves at the top international table and only after they have agreed them are they then processed into actionable law and passed down to regional trading areas such as the EU. The following graph illustrates how this works:

The early ’70’s demonstrated the UK’s lack of ambition and self-confidence by tying itself to an inward-looking customs union based on the European continent.  A 2017 referendum will give the opportunity to argue instead for a vision which was not available in 1975 – a vision that embraces the globalisation one which the UK can fully participate in.

An Exit Plan:
With the above in mind it is essential then that there is a detailed, workable and credible exit plan. Nothing illustrates this better than what has been very apparent from the Scottish independence referendum. The ‘yes’ campaign was not undermined by FUD, nor by the closing of ranks by the establishment, nor by a loaded referendum question nor by the lack of funds. Instead what the polls clearly showed is Salmond lost primarily due to not answering the currency question:

Meanwhile so far as the issues are concerned, if the Yes side does lose it will probably have done so not least because it never managed to persuade a majority of Scots that the country would be more prosperous under independence. YouGov find in their latest poll that only 35% think Scotland will be economically better off under independence while as any as 47% reckon it would be worse off.

 And:

Of course, describing the patterns of the kinds of people who were more or less likely to vote Yes or No does no more than give us clues as to why people voted they way they did. What we can note at this stage is that women, older people, those in ABC1 occupations and those born elsewhere in the UK were all, according to YouGov’s final poll for The Times and The Sun, relatively pessimistic about the economic consequences of independence. And as we have repeatedly noted on this site, nothing seemed to matter more to voters in deciding whether to vote Yes or No than their perceptions of the economic consequences of leaving the UK.

In other words Salmond did not have a well thought out exit plan to deal with the basics. And failure to address the core problem of currency if Scotland left the Union then plants further doubts in voters’ mind about other issues such as; defence, NHS,oil, immigration, EU membership, the Monarchy, pensions and so on. If Salmond had provided answers to these then it is very likely we would be looking at an independent Scotland.

One of the fatal flaws of the 1975 campaign was its inability to come up with a credible alternative to then EEC membership, a situation replicated by Salmond. With a fully workable exit plan we can avoid that flaw and crucially win…

Eurozone:
This is the joker in the pack. Without yet a resolution to the inherent problems of the Eurozone namely it’s still only an economic union without the political union necessary its problems are far from resolved. Given that a referendum is likely to take place in September of 2017 (during the UK Presidency of the Council of the EU) it will be at a time that is traditionally one of market turbulence. We could see a Eurozone crisis right in the middle of a referendum campaign.

In many ways therefore we can see that winning a referendum in 2017 is perfectly possible. Reluctance to take a calculated risk until conditions are just ‘perfect’ obviously begs the question if not in 2017, then when?

Brexit And Telephones (1)

One of the greatest revolutions of the 20th Century is the obvious but often forgotten advancement in mass electronic communication technology. The rather humble telephone, along with devices such as the likes of television, came to dominate the 20th Century.

Although the telephone was commercially available in the late 19th Century it took until 1912 before a unified telephone system was available throughout most of Britain with the National Telephone Company providing for over ½ million subscribers. By the early 1930s radio, while in its infancy, emerged nationally; mass television though was still a distant dream, and the internet was not even a vague concept.

Thus from the outset, before the emergence of the internet (and other data networks), telecommunications had a simple clear meaning: the telephone and its elder brother, the telegraph. The relative simplicity meant that placing a conventional phone call used what is known as the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), informally known as the Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS) – using copper wires which carried analogue voice data over the dedicated circuits.

Described as circuit-switched telephony; the system worked by setting up a dedicated channel (or circuit) between two points for the duration of the call. Nothing illustrates this better than images in the early days of telephony showing operators needing to physically connect a call, moving cables from one place to another, as pictured below.

The basic principles of telephony endured during 1960s even after the innovation of the modern “fax” pioneered by Xerox and the digitisation of the PSTN. Facsimile sent via the PSTN, adding the ability to communicate documents and data at a distance, was still considered a telecommunications issue because it was still carried over a PSTN.

That changed after the 1960’s when advances in telecommunications continued with indecent haste aided by significant advancements in computer technology. Thus as a consequence in recent decades electronic communication expanded to include data, video conferencing, e-mail, instant messaging, and web browsing.

Telecommunications therefore as concept has also moved away from traditional copper wires to include microwave, terrestrial wireless, satellite and diversification of broadband via mobile phones. The modern industry therefore is far more diverse including not only software-based applications with a communications emphasis but also being suppliers of telecommunications equipment and software products as well as the telecommunications service provider.

Ironically the unprecedented relatively recent divergence in the types of electronic media to communicate, via voice, audio, video, or data, has led to a path of convergence of telecommunications hardware. Telecoms architecture has become increasingly integrated. Previously the PSTN, cable, and data networks coexisted as separately owned and operated networks carrying different types of communications.

Now most media is increasingly being communicated over a single common network as telecommunications has moved from the traditional circuit-switching to computer based packet-switching. A transition that was probably best epitomised by technology such as Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) – which achieved faster dial-up speeds on the traditional circuit switched network before it was killed off by packet switching broadband which led to BT Home Highway being withdrawn in 2007.

To give but one example of convergence; the existence of a private telephone exchange (PBX) within a company usually means two separate networks – one for telecoms and one for computer data. This meant two sets of cables and two types of incompatible sockets (RJ45 for network sockets and Type 600 for BT sockets) which would run throughout the building.

However with the emergence of Voice over IP as a technology (as popularised by programs such as Skype), which uses packet-switched telephony – voice information travels to its destination in countless individual network packets across the Internet –  means voice calls can be transmitted over computer data network. This not only makes voice calls free but eliminates the need for a separate voice network in businesses.

This voice/data integration of architecture offers economies of scale in both capital expenditures and operational costs, and also allows different media to work within common applications. Convergence has now meant that both telecoms technology suppliers and service providers are in the business of providing telecommunications in all media simultaneously rather than specializing in a particular type such as voice, video, or data.

The increasing technological advances and diversity has been significantly reflected in the continuous development of telecommunications regulation in the UK with government policy makers often struggling to keep up with rapidly evolving technology.

Beginning in 1901 with the licensing of private telephone companies, telecoms was then nationalised in 1912 and remained so until 1984 – the simplicity of regulation being directly related to the fact that it was a direct provision of the government – essentially it was a regulated monopoly

Then with privatisation in 1984 we had a regulated duopoly consisting of BT and Cable and Wireless who were able to provide competing telecoms services. In 1991 the existing duopoly in telecoms services was ended and licensing of multiple service providers permitted for domestic service only. International telecommunications remained within the duopoly framework. In 1996 the international duopoly was ended, and other operators were free to offer international services within the UK.

Thus we can see that the UK has progressed from a state regulated monopoly in terms of telecoms to one of a myriad of regulated markets. Yet it’s not only internal pressures and technological changes that have lead to a diversification of the UK’s telecoms regulation. Electronic communication very obviously has worldwide implications and not unsurprisingly is affected by international regulatory bodies notably by governance systems such as the EU, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The EU for example began “liberalising” the telecoms market in 1990 with Council Directive 90/387/EEC – “the establishment of the internal market for telecommunications services through the implementation of open network provision”. This was during a 10 year period leading up to 1998 where the EU imposed on member states, via a series of green papers, directives, and recommendations obligations with respect to equipment markets, regulatory structures, value-added services, and regulation of infrastructure and service competition where it existed.

Then in 1998 the European Union issued framework directives to liberalize entry into telecommunications markets effectively trying to end monopoly provision in EU countries:

In order to accompany the opening of the sector to competition, the European Commission began the huge task, in 1999, of recasting Europe’s regulatory framework for telecommunications. The general aim was to improve access to the information society by striking a balance between regulation of the sector and Europe’s competition rules. This regulatory framework for electronic communications is made up of five harmonising directives, focussing in particular on the framework directives, access and interconnection, authorisation, universal service and users rights and protection of privacy. To these were added the Decision of 2002 on radio spectrum policy and the Regulation of 2002 on access to the local loop.

By 2003 further European directives removed the need for telecommunication service providers to be licensed by national regulators which in the UK led to several existing regulators merging to form Ofcom via The Communications Act 2003. EU involvement has probably been more immediate to telecoms customers by the privatisation of directory enquires as per EU Directive 2002/77/EC and mobile phone roaming charges within the EU.

Thus with the enthusiasm of the EU for increasing political integration, a process which is not yet complete, coupled with international bodies and a multitude of domestic authorities we see a muddled regulatory system that is not only less than ideal but also deeply embedded in the UK. The telecommunications regulator, OFCOM now sits amidst a number of ancillary and overlapping bodies in the United Kingdom, including horizontal or cross-sector regulators which include advertising, competition and data protection.

That there are various almost competing regulatory bodies which can intervene at all levels raises concerns about effective coordination and the risks of a lack of transparency. Too many ministries, agencies and authorities inevitably creates a danger of responsibility overlap and blind-spots in the formulation, implementation and oversight of policies.

This undoubtedly creates considerable confusion for customers, where awareness is often limited to only to domestic bodies such as the ASA and OFCOM, and perhaps Parliament. EU and International involvement remains hidden as is so often the case.

Telecommunications is one of Europe’s most important economic sectors. It’s worth around £38.8bn for the UK and  €234 billion in total for the EU. Revenues are equivalent to the gross domestic product of a mid-sized country. EU and UK companies have invested in building businesses in every continent and the services they provide, in particular the broadband and wireless infrastructure, are central to many other sectors of the economy and to the daily lives of almost every citizen.

Therefore the complexities of European political and regulatory networks present significant challenges when considering Brexit, With this in mind we will be returning in more detail to this subject over the next few blog pieces.

EU Exit Has Become Closer

Not unsurprisingly across most of the Sunday papers today are reflections on the fallout of Juncker’s election as EU Commission President. While humiliating for Cameron, Juncker’s election is great news for those wishing EU exit. The exit door as a result has become somewhat closer. As this Mail on Sunday article highlights with their latest poll:

[Britons] believe Mr Juncker’s victory has probably killed off Mr Cameron’s hopes of persuading people to vote to stay in the EU by grabbing back powers from Brussels before a referendum.

Had Cameron had his way and the European Council blocked Juncker, it would have greatly enhanced his ‘reform rhetoric’ and his claims of infleunce within the EU. This particularly so when coupled with his untrue claim that he vetoed a Treaty. But with Cameron so publicly humiliated by the EU, his ambition to reform the EU, as Christopher Booker observes, is the casualty of the vote. Any claim that Cameron could somehow negotiate a new relationship for Britain with the EU, then lead a ” yes” campaign for us to remain a member, lies in ruins.

This even more so given that Juncker has spent his entire career advocating further EU integration an appointment which is a clear message to Cameron regarding his reform agenda.

Also as Booker notes Juncker’s appointment is not good news for the EU either. Not only have they antagonised a major member state but they have landed themselves with a candidate who no-one wanted, including Juncker himself, and who is utterly unsuited to the job:

What is even clearer, however, is that Friday’s debacle has left the EU itself in an even sorrier state than Mr Cameron. It was the Prime Minister who was, forlornly, trying to uphold the rules of that same treaty, by insisting that it is not the right of the European Parliament to nominate a candidate for the presidency. And we are now left with the astonishing spectacle of his colleagues having landed themselves with a man who many of them privately agree is hopelessly unfitted for such a taxing job: a chain-smoking boozer, a bad-tempered loner who hates paperwork… 

Normally initial candidates for the EU top jobs don’t end up in the position…the rule of thumb being if you don’t want the job put yourself forward. Initial candidates are used as stalking horses which then allows a compromise candidate to emerge – in line with the EU’s desire for consensus.

To give an example we can go back to the President of the European Council in 2009. Four candidates were put forward; obviously Tony Blair (who was never going to get the job), Dutch Prime minister, Jan Peter Balkenende, Felipe Gonzalez and Jean-Claude Juncker (he sounds familiar). As we now know Van Rompuy emerged and was chosen – a chap most people had never heard of. Van Rompuy noted at the time confirming EU consensus:

“I will consider everyone’s interests and sensitivities. Even if our unity is our strength, our diversity remains our wealth. Every country should emerge victorious from negotiations. A negotiation that ends with a defeated party is never a good negotiation.”

What a stark contrast with nomination of Juncker now, there’s certainly no consensus, a major member state has been insulted and the EU has chosen an initial candidate against form. And as Richard North argues they did so by breaking Article 17 (7) of the Lisbon Treaty:

In reality, though, the Council would not, by preference, have nominated Juncker. In accepting the Parliament’s nomination, they have ceded the power to the Parliament.

That, in my view, breaches the rules at two levels. The Council has not fulfilled its duty, in making the nomination. Secondly, it has allowed another institution to take over its power.

The treaty is very specific in splitting the two functions – nomination on the one hand, and approval on the other. If the intention had been for the Parliament to take over the entire process, it would have said so.

To cede the power entirely to the Parliament is a clear break of the treaty.

Thus the EU is in a mess, Cameron has been shown up publicly that he cannot deliver on reform or influence and he almost certainly cannot recommend an “in” vote in 2017. Add to that his general incompetence and it’s difficult to envisage a better framework for the ‘outers’ to win a referendum. The chances of winning a referendum has improved significantly.

Brussels: The European Quarter

During my otherwise very enjoyable stay in Brussels, I did at one point venture over to the European Quarter where most of the EU institutions are located.

Despite a visceral dislike of the EU, or more accurately the UK’s membership of it, I felt it important to see for myself what the European Quarter looked like – a lot can be garnered about any institution just from observing its buildings.

Therefore what follows in this piece is a ‘day-tripper’s’ first impressions and initial observations without any particular direct intimate knowledge of the buildings themselves. Naturally given the standpoint of this blog the following views won’t be without any bias but I’ll try to make it as fair as possible.

Nevertheless I suspect that it will come as no surprise that I will begin this piece by first making a criticism of the European Quarter –  particularly the EU Parliament. However it is a criticism which I wasn’t expecting to make.

Given the historic nature of the centre of Brussels with its cobbled streets, there was an expectation of difficulty of disability access, yet what came as a surprise is that this difficulty extended itself to the European Quarter – a much more modern construction. In short disability access around and near EU buildings is an absolute shocker.

To give but one example, here’s a picture of a road crossing within the confines of the EU Parliament (and we found no exception to this example around the EU Parliament):

As can be clearly seen there are no dropped kerbs (or certainly not ones that are level with the road) which made wheelchair access when crossing a road much more difficult; those with a keener eye will notice there is also an absence of ‘tactile paving‘ for the blind or visually impaired. Nor did any crossing with lights indicate with a noise when it was safe to cross. Thus basically if someone has sight disabilities near the EU Parliament (and other EU institutions) they can expect to be run over.

We did discover one ‘dropped kerb’ near the EU Parliament which ‘helpfully’ wasn’t actually near a designated crossing. Rather than be a gentle slope as is normal in the UK as shown below…

 …it instead was a sharp 45 degree sudden drop; difficult enough to navigate with a wheelchair with anti-tilt mechanisms even more so we suspect with an electric wheelchair which has a longer wheel-base which would become somewhat stuck.

Another feature of the European Quarter is that it is not flat – there are significant gradients to navigate between the EU Parliament and other EU institutions nearby which surround the Schuman Roundabout. The EU Parliament in particular appears to be built on two levels as a result of it being rather ‘hilly’. An example is shown below:

On the left is the Paul-Henri Spaak part of the Parliament which houses the hemicycle for plenary sessions and on the right is the Altiero Spinelli building(s) which as can be seen is connected by a two-floor pedestrian bridge.

A problem arises though for someone not inside the building. Entering via the pedestrian access through the Altiero Spinelli building(s) – which makes up the front of the EU Parliament – to the Henri Spaak part which forms the ‘chamber tour‘ involves a great number of steps (clearly seen on the right). And it is via these numerous steep steps that the (visit EP) signs indicate the way to go to the chamber tour

At no point is disability access clearly marked or catered for to easily navigate between the two. Instead through ‘trial and error’ we found the only way round was to take a path involving a very steep slope which went well outside the ‘footprint’ of the EU Parliament. To add insult to injury the entrance to the chamber tour involved wheelchair unfriendly cobbles.

And by no means was this confined to the EU Parliament. Access outside other EU buildings was equally poor and, despite a genuine emergency, showing the following MS card (below) which in a number of languages advises that Mrs TBF occasionally needs toilet access urgently, the officials in the Berlaymont building (EU Commission) informed us in no uncertain terms that they had “no disabled toilets” which she could use.

To put these difficulties into context, the EU likes to promote itself as a defender of disability rights – as promoted here (in typical EU speak):

The European Union policy on disability is built on an explicit commitment to the social model of disability.

The EU perceives disability as the result of the dynamic interaction between a person and their environment, including social constructions, which lead to discrimination and stigmatisation.  It is therefore the environment that should be adapted to each individual person, including people with disabilities, by removing these barriers.

Disability is a right-based issue, discrimination should be eliminated.  Disability policies should follow a socially inclusive and individualised approach: rights have to be supplemented by actions, which provide access to rights, that is to say with equal opportunities…

The legal basis for EU action in this area is provided by Article 13 of the European Treaty, dating from 1999, which permits the European Council to ‘take appropriate action to combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation’. It has been expressed in a variety of forms, such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

It would be nice if they actually applied those same principles to themselves. It can be safely said that in terms of disability access in public buildings and public highways the UK is miles ahead of the European Quarter.

Those criticisms aside, onto more general observations. We began ‘our tour’ at the EU Parliament. Pictures cannot do justice on how big this complex is. The building, or should we say buildings, is bloody massive and it’s difficult to know sometimes where the Parliament complex actually ends given the number of ‘linked’ buildings.

The size though is about the only impressive thing about it; a mixture of concrete and glass it is grey and soulless. Perhaps then the perfect metaphor for the Parliament itself – a gargantuan and very expensive monument to powerlessness (and we must remember this is only one of the EU parliament buildings – there’s one in Strasbourg and it has substantial administrative offices in Luxembourg). As an example here are a selection of pictures which show the front entrance:

Running in front of the entrance, along the entire length of the complex is a wide long pedestrian walkway which seems to serve little purpose other than to provide access to the EU Parliament’s own train station seen here:

Below are a number of pictures to give an idea of the scale of the walkway (all buildings shown are part of the Parliament):

Dotted along this walkway are numerous plaques dedicated to those people significant in EU history, with one or two references to Auschwitz. Also strangely there is a tribute to the Solidarity movement in Poland. Quite why this was on an EU building I’m not sure, even the EU plaque made no mention of itself. Along this walkway is a visitor’s centre where “dynamic, interactive multimedia displays” informs us of how great the EU is. For very obvious reasons I gave it a miss.

Now we moved through the Altiero Spinelli sector and across the road which separates it from the Paul-Henri Spaak part which houses the chamber. Part of the back of the Spinelli building (and only part) can be seen below:

And the Paul-Henri Spaak building as seen here which has more than a passing reference to aspects of the Crystal Palace:

We were unable to take part in a Chamber Tour visit as for reasons unknown it was closed on the day we went. It’s worth noting that via its website that tours are limited anyway to just twice a day – 10am & 3pm. A stark contrast to our own Parliament where generally visitors can turn up anytime to visit the public gallery or lobby their MP. Even greater freedom can be found in the Capitol building in Washington where, after passing the usual security checks, you are at liberty to wander about almost where you like.

That said, the EU Parliament is model of openness compared to other EU buildings where visitors (taxpayers) were most certainly not welcome. And it’s here we move on to next. I’m not sure if it’s deliberate but it’s symbolic that the majority of EU institutions (the important and powerful ones) are clustered around the Schuman Roundabout around a 15-20 minute walk away – the Parliament is out on its own…almost on a limb.

Next up was the Berlaymont (or Berlaymonster to its friends) home of the EU Commission:

Note the lack of English; it’s worth pointing out that many EU buildings have notices and plaques in just two languages – three if they include English which is always third on the list. The first language is invariably French revealing the true soul and origins of the EU.

Well what can one say about the Berlaymont other than it looks like a glorified office block on stilts. If ever a building epitomised Monnet’s vision of an “organised world of tomorrow” run by anonymous unelected civil servants this is it. No grand entrance, little information for visitors and no fuss, just a large functional dull grey building with lots and lots of windows by undoubtedly lots and lots of desks:

One interesting observation though (probably a slightly mischievous one) is when the BBC do (occasionally) report on the EU they do so with the Berlaymont as a backdrop but with the only side which has copious numbers of flagpoles with EU flags as below:

Perhaps the BBC do this for aesthetic reasons or if we’re to be very cynical for bias reasons due to the number of EU flags they can achieve in a camera shot. However directly opposite is a British themed pub called “The Old Hack Pub”:

A coincidence I’m sure. Opposite this pub (to the right) and opposite the Berlaymont is another EU Commission building – Charlemagne, another glorified office block…

…with what I guess is supposed to be an interesting design feature:

Directly opposite the front of the Berlaymont (well I think it’s the front, it’s hard to tell), and across the main road, is the Council of the European Union (Ministers) the Justus Lipsius building:

And this I guess is the front entrance, not much to write home about and again not very welcoming for visitors (taxpayers):

Like the EU Parliament this is another very large complex, one that is a little more deceptive in its size as became evident when we tried walking around it – it takes a considerable amount of time. Below is a picture of another (small) part:

Next door to the Justus Lipsius building is the Residence Palace which serves as the home of the European Council and Van Rompuy which is currently undergoing construction (as is much of the European Quarter):

What is not readily apparent from the pictures nor from street view until very close up is the inside of the Residence Palace is taking shape to look rather like this below:

I’m sure readers will take great comfort in the fact that it will be eco-friendly. At this point we were running out of time, so these are my thoughts on the most ‘important’ buildings. There are plenty of other EU buildings around the Schuman Roundabout to visit including this one rather ironically…

Whatever the EU says about promoting democracy and freedom, nothing can disguise its true nature when visiting the very buildings it resides in. Secret, elitist, grey, soulless and a complete disregard of people’s money with no attempt to disguise it. All of the buildings ooze grotesque opulence albeit with no class. They are the ultimate tribute to a fundamentally unelected bureaucratic organisation – Jean Monnet would have been proud.

I would fully recommended that any eurosceptic should visit the European Quarter to truly appreciate what we’re up against.

With that in mind I’ll leave the final word to Mrs TBF. She has long been tolerant of my EU obsessions, but visiting last week she became extremely animated by what she saw all around her; at last she understood:

“I resent my money being spent to build a load of crap like this.”

Quite…