Opinion

Hugo Dixon

UK faces unpalatable election choice

Hugo Dixon
Sep 29, 2014 09:47 UTC

By Hugo Dixon

Hugo Dixon is Editor-at-Large, Reuters News. The opinions expressed are his own.

The UK faces an unpalatable choice in next May’s general election. The Labour opposition, which is currently ahead in the polls, has a somewhat anti-business agenda. Meanwhile, the Conservatives want to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership. If the people vote to quit the EU, industry will lose full access to its biggest external market.

To many in business, the choice seems like one between the devil and the deep blue sea. It’s not quite that bad. But Britain risks being stuck with a government that damages its economy.

Look first at Labour, whose annual conference was held last week. Ed Miliband, its leader and quite possibly Britain’s next prime minister, isn’t quite an old-style socialist. But he doesn’t understand enterprise, business or markets in the way that Tony Blair, the former Labour leader, did.

Miliband’s economic policies are mostly about interfering with the market: an increase in the minimum wage; raising the top rate of income tax back to 50 percent; a new tax on “mansions”; a freeze on electricity prices; special taxes on hedge funds and tobacco companies; further taxes on bankers’ bonuses; and yet another hike in the levy banks pay according to the size of their balance sheets.

Now on to the Brexit referendum

Hugo Dixon
Sep 22, 2014 08:44 UTC

By Hugo Dixon

Hugo Dixon is Editor-at-Large, Reuters News. The opinions expressed are his own.

With Scotland voting to stay part of the United Kingdom, attention will turn to the next potential British referendum: on whether the country will remain in the European Union. David Cameron has promised to hold an In/Out referendum on the EU if he is re-elected as prime minister in next year’s general election. There are comparisons and contrasts between the two votes, as well as lessons to be learned.

If Scotland had voted to quit Britain, the influence of both Scotland and the rump UK would have been diminished. Scotland’s economy would have been damaged. The divorce would also have been acrimonious.

Capital markets union needs deregulation

Hugo Dixon
Sep 15, 2014 09:24 UTC

By Hugo Dixon

Hugo Dixon is Editor-at-Large, Reuters News. The opinions expressed are his own.

One of the biggest projects for the next European Commission, which takes office in November, will be to create a “capital markets union.” President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker last week gave Britain’s Jonathan Hill the task of creating such a union “with a view to maximising the benefits of capital markets and non-bank financial institutions for the real economy.”

The prime goal of capital markets union should be to develop healthy sources of non-bank finance that can fund jobs and growth. The European Union suffers from clogged up and fragmented capital markets, which are a fraction of the size of their U.S. equivalents. Changing this is vital because banks, especially in the euro zone periphery, are on the back foot and not able to finance a recovery on their own.

Gas and bank security have similarities

Hugo Dixon
Sep 8, 2014 09:56 UTC

Europe is currently conducting two stress tests. One is on its energy suppliers, to see how badly they would fare if Russian gas was disrupted. The other is on euro zone banks, to ensure they are strong enough to finance economic recovery.

It is hard to know which of the two is the more important. But it is clear that an effective regime for energy security requires many of the same elements as financial stability.

One is the need for credibility in the stress tests. Europe flunked its original bank assessments by modelling scenarios that weren’t sufficiently stressful. The new test being conducted by the European Central Bank looks more credible.

Euro crisis is sleeping, not dead

Hugo Dixon
Jul 28, 2014 09:07 UTC

Euro zone policymakers may feel they can afford to relax this summer. That would be a terrible error. The euro crisis is sleeping, not dead.

The region is suffering from stagnation, low inflation, unemployment and debt. The crisis could easily rear its ugly head because the euro zone is not well placed to withstand a shock.

What’s more, it’s not hard to see from where such a blow could come. Relations with Russia have rapidly deteriorated following the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight over Ukraine. If Europe imposes sanctions that make Moscow think again, these will hurt it too.

What is EU capital markets union?

Hugo Dixon
Jul 21, 2014 09:31 UTC

What is capital markets union? Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission’s president-elect, has embraced the goal of creating one for the European Union. But so far it is more of a slogan than a set of policy actions. There’s no harm in having a catchy term to encompass a myriad of specific plans, but the idea needs fleshing out.

The first thing is to clarify the goals. One is to finance jobs and growth throughout the European Union. Another is to have a financial system that is better able to absorb shocks. Banks are shrinking and so can’t do the job of funding economic expansion on their own. Nor are they good at coping with crises. Indeed, they often magnify them, as the credit crunch and euro zone saga showed.

The solution is to beef up non-bank finance – everything from shares and bonds to shadow banking and much else too. It is also to integrate further the EU’s capital markets. That will lead to greater critical mass and lower financing costs, as well as soften the blow of an economic shock by sharing the pain across a wider area provided risk is really transferred from bank balance sheets.

UK prepares for possible EU failure

Hugo Dixon
Jul 16, 2014 09:22 UTC

David Cameron looks to be preparing for the possibility that his plan to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the European Union will fail. The UK prime minister would then campaign for the country to quit the EU in a referendum he plans to hold by 2017. That seems the best way to interpret his appointment of a eurosceptic foreign minister and the nomination of a little-known former lobbyist as Britain’s European commissioner.

This is not to say that Cameron wants to take Britain out of the EU – which would be a historical mistake. It is rather that he apparently thinks quitting could be an acceptable Plan B that would keep him in his job and his Conservative party reasonably united.

The British premier has never publicly said how he would campaign if he doesn’t manage to reform the EU and the country’s relationship with it. He used to dodge the question by saying he was confident of securing significant changes, while being fairly woolly about what reforms he was actually looking for.

EU would also be harmed by Brexit

Hugo Dixon
Jun 30, 2014 09:02 UTC

By Hugo Dixon

Hugo Dixon is Editor-at-Large, Reuters News. The opinions expressed are his own.

It is not just Britain which would be damaged if it quit the European Union. So would other members. Jean-Claude Juncker’s nomination as Commission president at last Friday’s summit increases the chance of Brexit – Britain’s exit from the EU. Leaders from all countries now need to work to limit the risk it happens.

David Cameron went out on a limb to block Juncker, and failed. The UK prime minister mishandled the diplomacy, notably by seemingly threatening to pull out of the EU if the former Luxembourg premier got the job.

Cameron’s cack-handedness risks Brexit

Hugo Dixon
Jun 16, 2014 08:57 UTC

David Cameron’s cack-handed European diplomacy risks leading Britain out of the European Union.

The latest example is the way the UK prime minister has mishandled his campaign against Jean-Claude Juncker becoming president of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm. Cameron is right to try to block the former Luxembourg prime minister’s candidacy – both because Juncker is not the right person to reform the EU and because the way he is being promoted constitutes a power grab by the European Parliament. But the British prime minister’s tactics have actually made a Juncker presidency more likely.

If Cameron loses this particular battle, the chances of a Brexit – Britain’s exit from the EU – will shoot up. This is partly because Juncker himself will presumably not want to help the British prime minister with his plan to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU. And if Cameron can’t secure many goodies from his renegotiation scheme, he won’t have much to show the electorate in a referendum he plans to hold on Britain’s membership in 2017. (This will only happen if he is still prime minister then, which is far from certain since there is a general election in 2015).

EU leaders need to kickstart reform

Hugo Dixon
May 26, 2014 08:32 UTC

By Hugo Dixon

Hugo Dixon is Editor-at-Large, Reuters News. The opinions expressed are his own.

When European Union leaders dine in Brussels on May 27, conversation is likely to revolve around three Ps: the poll, the priorities and the people.

Many of those sitting around the table, notably France’s François Hollande and Britain’s David Cameron, received a drubbing in the European Parliament elections. They will be reflecting on the rise of euroscepticism in many EU countries and the appropriate forms of response.