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.

Brexit risks have shot up

Hugo Dixon
Sep 9, 2014 09:31 UTC

Brexit risks have shot up in the past few weeks. The chance of Britain exiting the European Union by the end of the decade is now probably around 50 percent.

The main factor driving Brexit is the knife-edge referendum on Scottish independence. If the Scots vote next week to quit the United Kingdom, it is highly likely that the rump UK will leave the EU. If the UK doesn’t break up, it is much less likely that it will then part from the EU, but this is still a risk.

Financial markets are finally waking up to the risk of a “Scoxit” for the pound, gilts and the UK economy. They are also worrying about the knock-on effect in Spain, where the Catalan regional government wants to hold its own referendum on independence.

EU’s three big problems all linked

Hugo Dixon
Sep 1, 2014 09:19 UTC

The outgoing president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, said at the weekend that his successor, Donald Tusk, currently Poland’s prime minister, faces three big challenges: the stagnating euro zone economy; the Ukraine/Russia crisis, which he described as the gravest threat to continental security since the Cold War; and the risk that Britain will quit the European Union. The problems are all linked.

Euro zone weakness is one reason the EU is reluctant to take action against Russia. GDP growth, already anemic, ground to a halt in the second quarter. The inflation rate has fallen again, to just 0.3 percent, and the unemployment rate is stuck at 11.5 percent.

With Italy in its third recession in recent years, Germany shrinking and France flat, this is no longer a crisis of what used to be called the “little PIGS” – Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain. It might be best to use a new acronym “FIG” to describe the travails of the big three.

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.

How to fight UK immigration fears

Hugo Dixon
Jul 14, 2014 08:55 UTC

By Hugo Dixon

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

If the UK leaves the European Union, the main reason will probably be because people fear immigrants are overrunning the country. The best way of assuaging these concerns is to show how free movement of people within the EU benefits the economy and society overall, while acknowledging that some groups may be harmed and working hard to improve their lot.

So far, David Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition party has not done this effectively. The field has therefore been left open to the UK Independence Party, which wants to pull Britain out of the EU and which has cleverly fanned and exploited the native population’s fears about immigration.

Matteo Renzi is on a roll

Hugo Dixon
Jul 7, 2014 09:00 UTC

By Hugo Dixon

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

Matteo Renzi is on a roll. The Italian prime minister is a brilliant politician. His youthful dynamism has bought him time with his people, the markets and the European Union to carry out the immense job of reforming Italy. But he has yet to show he can execute. He now needs to, because even his time will run out.

Renzi has had a good four months in the job after he pushed aside his predecessor Enrico Letta. His emphatic victory in the European Parliament elections gave him a legitimacy that the murky manner of his ascension lacked.

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.