Norman Smith with the latest news from European politics, as the UK heads towards Brexit, with Toby Young and Rachel Sylvester, Labour MEP Alex Mayer and Ukip leader Henry Bolton.
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Here's Politics Europe.
Hello and welcome to
Politics Europe, your regular guide
to the top stories in
Brussels and Strasbourg.
On today's programme: As the EU
signs what leaders have called
an historic agreement
on defence co-operation,
are we edging closer
to the much-wanted EU army?
The European Parliament has been
debating tax avoidance
after the release of
the Paradise Papers.
Will the EU take action where member
states have struggled?
What's going on in Poland?
The European Parliament says
the Polish Government has committed
serious violations of the rule
of law and could impose sanctions.
We'll have the latest.
And: As new figures on the numbers
on EU nationals coming to the UK
to work are released,
has talk of Brexitists of EU
citizens leaving the UK
So all that to come and more
in the next half an hour.
And joining me for all
of that is Rachel Sylvester
from The Times and Toby Young
from The Spectator.
First, here is our guide
to the latest from Europe
in just 60 seconds.
As the great philosopher
David Hasselhoff once sang,
"I have been looking for freedom,
still it can't be found."
And there was similar frustrations
for the German Chancellor who today
missed a self-imposed deadline
to try to form a workable
The European Parliament
named its press room in Strasbourg
after Daphne Caruana Galizia,
the Maltese journalist killed last
month after reporting
allegations of corruption.
Have reports of the Brexitists
The latest figures from the Office
for National Statistics show
the number of EU Nationals working
in the UK continues to rise.
They say a cold shower
is character-building but it's not
something MEPs are looking to try.
It was up all this week
after it was announced the hot water
in their offices would be
permanently switched off
because of health concerns.
And where did you get
that hat, Mr Juncker?
The answer: A number of academic
institutions where the EU President
has received honorary
degrees in recent weeks.
Well, let's just pick up on that
element about the ONS figures.
There is talk of 'Brexodus' ie
figures showing that nationals
fleeing the UK really
is not as great as we thought
because the figures released
by the ONS suggests that the number
of EU nationals working in the UK
has actually reached a record high
of 2.37 million migrants.
Rachel, what do you make of this?
I have to say I am confused.
I thought other figures from the ONS
showed a dramatic slowdown
in the number of EU nationals
coming here post-Brexit?
Well, the problem is we need a lot
of EU nationals working
in the economy, particularly
in low-skilled jobs.
And I think there's a real danger
of expectations not being met,
people voted for Brexit
because they were cross
about particularly low-skilled
immigration, but actually I think
a lot of it is going to continue
after Brexit and the government
is going to need a lot of it
to continue because businesses
will demand it, farmers will demand
it and it is just inevitably
the economy will mean it carries on.
Does that mean, Toby,
despite these figures that actually
there are real problems around
the corner in terms of EU
migrants going home?
Well, that's often the move made
by Remainers who predicted that
merely by voting to leave,
we would trigger this mass
Brexodus, and as I turns out,
it hasn't happened,
as you say
there's a record number of EU
nationals currently working
in the UK - over 100,000 more
there were this time last year
including more in the NHS.
So they moved to, say, "Oh,
well, yes, it hasn't yet
because we haven't left yet but it
might happen when we leave."
One thing we do learn
is that the people coming now,
mostly the biggest increases
in Bulgarians and Romanians
which rather suggests it's
low-skilled workers who are coming
here and maybe doctors,
professionals, others are thinking,
"You know what - I don't think so"?
I think there are now more doctors,
more EU nationals working as doctors
here as of June 2017
than there were in June 2016.
So that doesn't seem
to be happening either.
The way in which remainders
present their case is by talking
about the numbers leaving
without taking into account
the numbers arriving.
It's exactly the same sleight
of hand they accused Boris
of in calculating the 350
million a week figure,
it wasn't a net figure,
it was about outflows
and not inflows.
If you include inflows
in the calculation, turns out net
there are more EU nationals working
here than there ever
have been before.
Rachel, just a sleight of hand?
No, I think the issue more
is that the people who voted
for Brexit are going to be furious
because they feel they voted
to bring down immigration
and they'll feel betrayed
by the Brexiteers who promised that.
Isn't there already
upward pressure on wages?
Aren't we seeing low-skilled jobs
better paid than they were,
because there are fewer unskilled
migrants beginning to come in..
But didn't they vote
on what they perceived to be too
many people coming?
Even though those people
were needed for the economy.
That's the argument
the Government has got to end.
We'll see where the
figures go, of course.
This week was described as historic
by one EU foreign policy chief
as the EU moved closer
to deeper defence integration
between member states.
The Permanent Structured
Co-operation pact or Pesco
for short, should come
into force next month.
23 countries have declared they'll
take part so far with Portugal
and the Irish Republic eventually
expected to also sign on.
Only Denmark, Malta and, of course,
the UK will remain unaffiliated.
The pact was originally proposed
by France and Germany,
keen to bolster the EU
after the Brexit vote.
The agreement requires countries
to increase defence budgets in real
terms and also it asks them
for providing substantial support
for EU military missions.
Nevertheless, it falls short of full
European Defence Union that
commission President Jean-Claude
Juncker envisaged in the State
of the Union address this year.
Estonia's Defence Minister,
Juri Luik, said even with PESCO
in force, collective defence
will always remain in NATO.
Despite traditional British
scepticism about further
integration, Boris Johnson has
welcomed the move and said the UK
was supportive and would be
like a flying buttress
to support the cathedral.
Well, to discuss this
here in the studio,
we have the new UKIP leader
Henry Bolton and in Cambridge
the Labour MEP Alex Mayer.
Alex Mayer, if I could start
with you first: I mean
as well as conservative Governments,
have always been iffy about Europe
getting its act together on defence
and basically we have been
accused of blocking it.
Is Labour now actually in favour
of closer EU defence co-operation?
Yes, we are.
And I think that what's happened
over the last few months and years
is that the whole geopolitical
situation has changed.
When I talk particularly
to my eastern European colleagues
in the European Parliament,
they're particularly worried
about Russian aggression
and want to make sure that European
defence is strengthened
and I believe that working together
will enable us to do that.
And Henry Bolton, that's surely
a good thing if the EU begins
to look after itself rather
than always having to prelie
--rely on others,
above all the Americans?
There's two aspects to that.
Maybe I can start by saying that
although we didn't sign up to PESCO
on Monday, it's quite clear
that the - we are already
in principle going to be
participating in other areas of this
such as the European Defence Fund
and various other mechanisms that
govern procurement and so on.
And those in turn are all going
to be governed by Brussels-based
political and regulatory
decision-making that we won't be
fully participating in post-Brexit.
So we will be subordinating
elements of our military,
industrial and scientific
and research as well as our
military, to EU policy.
But given the threat we now know
we seem to be facing from Russia,
you think of Crimea,
you think of the Ukraine,
surely it makes sense for the EU
to start putting more oomph
behind its military capability?
Well, co-operation and EU member
states co-operating and ensuring
that their command and control can
work together so they are compatible
with each other, yes.
But centralised political direction,
policy and regulatory frameworks
is not the way to go.
NATO is the alliance that
has kept the peace up
until now, militarily.
But Jens Stoltenberg is entirely OK
with this development.
Well, I'm not, and UKIP is not.
We see a whole range of areas
in which it implies deeper political
integration with the European Union
when every - and compromise
of our own autonomous
and sovereignty, but I'll come back
to that, autonomous and sovereign
and our ability to deploy them,
unilaterally, the problem
here is that NATO has managed
to survive and work effectively
as a military deterrent for decades
without that regulatory framework.
OK, Alex Mayer, let me
just ask you this -
isn't the real danger
of this is a paper tiger,
at the end of the day there's a lot
of talk about Europe
getting its military act together
but basically it's a sort
of bureaucratic getting your act
together rather than real tanks
on the ground?
I mean, I just think this has been
blown out of all proportion.
This is a UKIP storm in a tea cup.
It is good news if European
countries want to co-operate
with each other on defence.
No-one is forcing anybody
to be a part of it.
As we heard in the introduction
to this report, Britain is not
a part of it, Malta
is not a part of it.
You can choose whether you want to.
So what is wrong with European
countries choosing to work
together on defence?
Just as we choose to work together
in the UN or in NATO.
And as you rightly said,
the Secretary-General of NATO has
welcomed this move.
We don't want to do anything
to duplicate NATO, but European
countries choosing to work together,
I think, is a good thing
and will help
strengthen our defence.
And where is your leader
on this, Jeremy Corbyn,
because he traditionally
is very iffy about NATO
and military alliances?
But he's very much in favour
in making sure that people
collaborate with each other
and making sure we have successful
missions to try and keep a more
peaceful and stable world.
I mean, Donald Trump has always
argued that Europe cannot keep
relying on the Americans.
So surely this is just a natural
political development that
at the end of the day
Europe is going to have
to turn its attention to defence.
His concern is the amount that
people are spending on defence.
And the problem with the - the -
the whole PESCO concept is that
member states will not,
certainly not to any great extent,
we cannot expect them
to increase their...
That's part of the deal, isn't it,
they have to increase it
in real terms?
But part of the deal is for NATO
is 2% and they don't maintain that.
They're not going to increase
their national capabilities
to support PESCO.
What they will do is they will say,
"Hang on a minute, we can pool
assets and thereby save costs."
This is one of the
things driving it.
Now what concerns me
is at the moment member states,
who are also members of NATO,
pledge assets, military assets
and capabilities, to NATO.
Now, they're going to be
pledging those same assets
to the European Union.
You can't do both.
Let me bring our guests in, Toby,
how do you read this?
Is this a serious move by Europe
to get its act together on defence?
Or actually just talk?
Well, it seems like part
of the ground clearance they need
to do in order to create
an EU-wide army.
And is this a good thing?
Well interestingly it was one
of things which those of us
on the leave side flagged up
as a risk if we remained in the EU
and that was always dismissed
by remainders as being in the same
category of fake news,
as saying Turkey might imminently
join the EU.
Why is a problem if
NATO is OK with it?
The difference is if we remain
in the EU and EU army does
eventually get created,
it's not clear that we
have a choice if our troops
were called up to fight
in an EU war.
Whereas in NATO we do at least
have a right to street yes.
Every NATO country has
to unanimously endorse a military
action before it commits its troop.
And Rachel, is this move
by Europe actually maybe one
of the consequences of Brexit?
Because obviously we are with
France, the big player
in European defence.
Now we are out.
Is that perhaps what's driven
the Europeans to think,
"Crikey, we better
get our act together"?
I think also, yes, exactly,
Britain's been a sort of a block
on further integration.
If it leaves, then the rest
of the EU is going to more and more
gather together and I think -
I don't see we can complain
I think if we choose to leave,
that's their right to do so.
Brexit is actually led to this?
Brexit has taken away an obstacle
to achieving it but that's
exactly the point.
Jean-Claude Juncker's point
that this is about a full -
full European Union military union,
that's what he wants and that's
what the direction of travel is,
that's absolutely where we're going.
Let me just ask Alex Mayer there.
Is that where you would
like Europe to go?
I don't think that there's any -
I don't think there's likely to be
a European army.
I don't think that's the end goal
and I don't think anyone's ever
going to be forced into it.
This is a union of countries
of Europe who want to get together
and share ideas and
resources on dependence.
That's what's happening.
No-one is being forced into it,
no troops are going to be called up
from different countries
without their say so.
This is just people collaborating
together to try to get the best
from the resources that they have.
Henry Bolton, entirely voluntary
arrangement which people can
take or leave.
Well, that's what NATO
is and this is not.
This will be regulated as was made
clear in the Government paper issued
in September that this will be
regulated by the European Union.
And we won't be part of that.
Now, to Boris Johnson's bit
about flying buttress,
to an extent I would agree with that
analogy, but a buttress is outside
the building, supporting
it from the outside.
If we are able to maintain our own
full spectrum military capabilities,
we will always want to co-operate
and support our friends and allies
abroad, including EU member states.
We just do not believe,
and UKIP certainly doesn't believe,
that we need to be subordinate to EU
within the commission or politically
in order to do that.
We are far, far better able to do
that if we are that -
if we're outside the building
but supporting it.
OK, people, thanks very much.
Henry Bolton, Alex Mayer,
thanks very much for your time.
Now, could we soon see the EU
impose sanctions on one
of its own member states?
Well, MEPs voted this week to start
official proceedings against Poland
over concerns that the Nationalist
Government in Warsaw is clamping
down on the independence
of the judiciary.
In a resolution adopted
by 438 votes to 152,
the European Parliament voted
to launch the so-called Article 7
process which could lead
to the suspension of Poland's voting
rights in the Council of the EU.
In a debate in Strasbourg,
MEPs said the country had conducted
of the rule of law.
But the vote didn't go down very
well with one Polish MEP.
Why are you leaving?
No, because I have to
say something to you.
I have to say something to you.
Your attack to Mr Lewandowski,
I find it outrageous.
If there is one...
..sensible - if there is one
sensible reasonable colleague of us,
sometimes even a little bit boring,
then it is Mr Lewandowski and to say
that he lose his senses,
I think it's the Polish Government
that has lost its senses
and not Mr Lewandowski.
It's interesting, isn't it, Rachel?
There is a sort of, it seems to me,
tension between the old western
European countries and the new
eastern European countries.
This kind of symbolises
I, doesn't it?
-- This kind of symbolises
it, doesn't it?
But I do think it's interesting
that the EU has to uphold the rule
of law, liberal democracy,
that sense of...
But sanctions is a big step.
It's a big step and
there is definitely -
and we're going to see that
in the Brexit negotiations as well,
the old EU, the new EU.
But I think ultimately,
the EU does have to uphold those
values which is what it stands for.
Toby, the counter-argument
which the Poles make is,
"Look, we are a democratically
elected government, what we choose
to do in our country
is none of your business,
leave us alone".
I think it's for someone on my side
of the Brexit debate who both
believes in the rule of law,
believes in universal human rights
and so forth but also believes
in national self-determination,
this is a really tricky one.
But I think the EU would certainly
have a lot more credibility
as the upholders of the rule of law
and universal human rights
if they hadn't supported
the Spanish Government
in its absolutely brutal
crackdown of the independence
movement in Catalonia.
Is that, Rachel, the sort of divide
between east and west?
I mean, is it possible that down
the line we could see eastern
European countries maybe looking
to Britain and thinking,
"I think we want out
of this club too"?
Or becoming a bloc
within a bloc, perhaps.
I don't know, that is a possibility.
There's definitely a different
culture, isn't there,
that sort of Franco-German access
of closer integration,
you know, the EU, the sort of faith,
the true faith, definitely driven
from that side of the bloc
and you could - you could easily see
a sort of a different culture
of a bloc within a bloc developing,
Because one of the interesting
things, Toby, it always seems to me
as much of this sort of argument
around Brexit is that we're
going to have to teach the Brits
a lesson so no one else dares do it.
And yet there hasn't really, so far,
been any sign of anyone looking
to do a sort of Pexit or whatever.
Well, I always thought
there was a slight red herring
on the part of the EU.
I mean, I think one of the reasons
I'm optimistic that the EU
will eventually compromise
and strike a deal and there will be
movement in December
is because if we are actually forced
by the EU through their
intransigence to crash out
without a deal and end up trading
with the rest of Europe via WTO
rules and we make a success of that,
then there might be a stampede
for the exit.
So earlier this week,
the European Parliament called
an urgent debate on the so-called
Paradise Papers - a leak of 13
million documents reportedly tying
major companies and political
figures to secretive overseas
MEPs call for a step-up in the fight
against tax avoidance.
Adam Fleming has the details.
Papers, papers everywhere.
But the documents MEPs cared
about this week were the ones that
revealed how the rich pay less tax.
The so-called Paradise Papers.
When I consider
that this cup of tea,
when I bought it, I paid more tax
than an international sporting
company pays on its entire turnover,
then it's really outrageous.
It's not just an individual case,
from the Queen, to Facebook,
to George Soros, to Uber,
to Shakira, to eBay -
all of them are mentioned
in the Paradise Papers.
More than 60 billion euros a year
are being lost to the EU.
The leader of the centre left group
called tax avoidance a cancer
on the European economy.
States are imposing
austerity whilst at the same time,
multinationals are taking billions
out of the economy and not paying
tax, thereby depriving people
of this income and we have drawn
attention to this
repeatedly as socialists.
The Paradise Papers originated here,
Bermuda, a British overseas
territory thrusting the UK
into the spotlight.
Another day, another leak
of embarrassing documents
about the role of the city of London
as the global centre
for tax avoidance.
Successive British governments have
postured about leading
on transparency, but it's easy
to play the good guy when you have
so many post-colonial territories
to do the dirty work
at your bidding.
Avoiding civilised rules on tax
was always part of the Brexit agenda
but any attempt to turn Britain
into the Bermuda of the north
is likely to flounder,
since the EU will surely make
the overseas territories a condition
for any future trade deal.
But the rest of the EU
got the blame too.
Remember, it was an EU directive
in the 1980s that let multinational
companies pay tax in any European
headquarters country rather
than where their revenues
and profits were really made.
Remember, tougher action has been
taken against the LuxLeaks
against the accountants,
or politicians involved.
Remember, that the commission's
own president, Mr Juncker,
was Prime Minister of Luxembourg
when his country was conniving
with big accountancy firms
to erode the tax bases
of larger EU economies.
Jean-Claude Juncker and his
commissioners decamped to Strasbourg
as usual and had their weekly
meeting in this very room
and they say they're
gripping this issue.
For example, they want every company
to publish every activity it does
in every country so they can be
taxed properly and they want
to publish a blacklist of global
tax havens at the start
of next month.
But some MEPs say the hold-up comes
from the member states.
Which countries are blocking it?
Oh, so many.
I mean, of course you have
the inner European tax -
tax paradises, like the Ireland,
the Malta, Cypress, but then
surprisingly you have a number
of big countries, and I forgot
to mention the United Kingdom
and all these crown dependencies.
But then you have big
countries like Germany.
Wolfgang Schauble when he
was Finance Minister,
not so long ago, was the key
opponent to country-by-country
reporting by multinationals,
because he wants to preserve
the reputation of the big
So you know there's no holy
finance ministers there.
And this week, the Parliament
Council and Commission fails
to agree a new law on money
laundering, after eight attempts.
Looks like the murky world of tax
avoidance will stay murky
for a while.
I have to say, I have a slight sense
of deja vu in that I'm sure
David Cameron was, you know,
going to crackdown on tax avoidance,
he had summits here,
and task force there.
I mean, without being unduly
cynical, do you think anything
is actually going to
change any time soon?
Well, the EU should be the vehicle
for dealing with this.
This is something that has to be
dealt with internationally.
One country on its own is never
going to be able to sort out
a global tax problem.
But it just seems to be caught up
in the weeds yet again of,
you know, individual self-interest.
I suppose politically, though,
it's like manna from heaven
for Jeremy Corbyn, though, isn't it?
Of course, yeah.
This plays to his narrative
about the rich are doing terribly
well, it's just us poor
people on the austerity.
And the Conservatives should do
something on the Crown dependencies,
they could do more on publication
of transparency and that
sort of thing.
And it will be a brilliant way
of demonstrating they're not
the party of the rich.
Toby, is it possible,
I think we heard I mentioned
in the film there, that as part
of the Brexit negotiations,
the EU might say, "You know what,
UK, Crown dependencies,
you got to get a grip of them"?
Well, they might but it's
going to be easier for them to make
that case if they're a bit more
flexible about making a trade deal
with us because in the absence
of a trade deal we're going to have
take advantage of whatever we can.
I think MEPs would have more
credibility on this issue.
They weren't subject
to a particularly low tax rate,
lower than any of the member states
tax rates themselves.
I mean they get away
with paying very little tax.
Being an MEP is actually a form
of tax avoidance and I would say
in response to the Jeremy Corbyn
stuff around the Paradise Papers,
let's not forget that the top 1%
of earners are paying 27%
of the total income tax take,
higher than it's ever been before
and certainly higher
than under any Labour
We'll have to leave it there, folks.
Toby Young and Rachel Sylvester,
thank you very much
Norman Smith with the latest news from European politics, as the UK heads towards Brexit, with journalists Toby Young and Rachel Sylvester, Labour MEP Alex Mayer and Ukip leader Henry Bolton.