Annual report - 2015

Annual report

When the Centre for European Reform was conceived, 20 years ago, the EU was an almost unremitting success story – about enlarging the club, building a single currency and attempting to forge greater political unity, including in the field of foreign policy. Not only Europe but also the world as a whole was moving forwards, towards greater prosperity, more democracy and human rights, and increased inter-dependency.

The optimism continued into the middle of the last decade. When in 2003 the EU drew up its first ever ‘security strategy’, the opening sentences proclaimed: "Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free. The violence of the first half of the 20th century has given way to a period of peace and stability unprecedented in European history. The creation of the European Union has been central to this development." At that time countries around the EU were fairly stable and the euro seemed to be a successful venture.

But over the past ten years the optimism has dissipated. The problem is not just that the EU is in difficulties, but the West as a whole. ‘The West’ is an unfashionable term and may be seen as a Cold War concept: to some, it implies a world dominated by former imperial states that are reluctant to see emerging powers shape the global agenda. Narrowly interpreted, it could be taken to exclude democracies far from the North Atlantic, such as Australia or Japan. But the concept remains valuable. The Western countries and their allies are committed to democracy, liberal values and the rule of law, at home and in the wider world. The fact that parts of the West from time to time fail to uphold these ideals (for example, by invading Iraq in 2003) does not make them less important. When the European Union, an important pillar of the West, is fragile, so is the rules-based global order.

The world looks a lot uglier than it did when the EU drew up that security strategy. The West has suffered several reverses since then. The messy consequences of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq tarnished the reputations of the US and its close allies. So did the financial crisis of 2008, which encouraged hostility to American-led globalisation. Then the failure of the Arab Spring from 2011 onwards led many to conclude that the Middle East was not ready for Western political values.

Meanwhile China’s growth as an economic and military power has appeared inexorable (notwithstanding the recent economic downturn). It has become more politically repressive at home and more assertive in its neighbourhood. China deploys its economic muscle to ensure that governments like Britain’s temper their criticism of its domestic politics and refuse to meet the Dalai Lama.

Russia’s economy boomed when the oil price was high (peaking at $140 a barrel in 2009) and has slumped since the price fell in 2014 (at the end of 2015 it was below $40). But Russia’s military modernisation continues apace. Since 2008 Russia has sent armies into Georgia and Ukraine. Some of its top military strategists talk in a relaxed way about using tactical nuclear weapons and appear to regard them as merely large conventional weapons.

The government in Moscow, like that in Beijing, thinks that large countries are entitled to establish spheres of influence in their vicinity, meaning that neighbours should neither criticise them nor have independent foreign policies. To many Russians it is obvious that the annexation of Crimea is justified by their country’s size, power and historical ties with the peninsula, whatever international law says. Similarly, many Chinese view their assertion of sovereignty over islets in the South China Sea as superior to any ruling by international courts. Several of Russia’s and China’s neighbours are, unsurprisingly, scared of them.

A number of key emerging powers, such as Brazil, India and South Africa, though democratic at home, make a point of not supporting democratic causes internationally. They have tended to follow strongly ‘realist’ foreign policies – for example by not backing Aung San Suu Kyi when she was imprisoned in Burma. They have avoided criticising Russia’s annexation of Crimea or its military adventures in the Donbass. Their unwillingness to line up alongside Western powers that not long ago ruled or exploited them is perhaps understandable, while the anti-American feelings that influence some of these countries’ elites are just as evident in certain European social-democratic parties. Nevertheless the reluctance of many emerging powers to support the liberal order has strengthened the hand of those who argue that the current Western model of development, involving pluralism and human rights, is outmoded.

The presidency of Barack Obama, elected in 2008, has not done a great deal to help the West. For understandable reasons, he reacted against the failed interventions of his predecessor by making clear that he wanted minimal military entanglements overseas. He has done little to promote democracy and human rights through US foreign policy or military intervention. His patient pragmatism has delivered real achievements, such as détente with Cuba and the deal with Iran to limit its nuclear programme. But his failure to support the moderate opposition in the early years of the Syrian civil war – and his refusal to punish President Bashar al-Assad for crossing the red line of using chemical weapons – reinforced the perception in Moscow, Beijing and many Arab capitals that Obama was a weak president who could be pushed around.

So the last ten years have not been good for the West. The problems of the EU have only accentuated its difficulties. The financial crisis revealed major flaws in the construction of the euro. Since then the eurozone’s leaders have taken important steps forwards, such as creating a bail-out fund and parts of a banking union; but they have erred in over-emphasising austerity, thereby damaging growth and increasing the burden – in some countries – of debt. Eurozone economic output remains below the level of 2008.

The recent refugee crisis, like the euro’s difficulties, has made the EU look reactive, poorly-led and acrimonious. Over a million refugees and illegal migrants entered the Schengen area of passport-free travel last year. Several governments have imposed temporary border controls, in an effort to stem flows of refugees. By the end of 2015 it was clear that Schengen would not endure without drastic, sovereignty-eroding reforms. Most important, its external border needs strengthening, and not only with more effective physical barriers. The several EU databases that cover criminal records, finger prints of asylum-seekers and visa information are not currently connected. Border officials and police forces cannot easily access either these databases or alerts on suspected terrorists – which is why some of those involved in the Paris attacks on November 13th (who were all EU citizens) could travel from Syria into the Schengen area without being detained.

The EU needs to speed up the creation of reception centres near the Schengen frontier, where asylum applications can be processed. Those rejected need to be sent home swiftly, to deter others from making the journey. A scheme for sharing out bona fide asylum-seekers, though unpopular in some capitals, is essential; otherwise most of them will end up in Sweden and Germany.

However, EU leaders must also do what they can to tackle the root causes of the refugee flows. Peace in Libya would help; reconciliation between the country’s two governments seemed possible by the end of 2015. Even more important would be a cease-fire in Syria, which despite a modest US-Russian rapprochement in late 2015 remains a distant prospect. Chancellor Angela Merkel has been right to push the EU into seeking a bargain of realpolitik with Turkey, though it could easily unravel: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has promised to clamp down on migrant flows in return for the EU giving money and visa-free access, as well as taking refugees from Turkish camps and resuming accession talks.

By late 2015 and early 2016, EU leaders were moving ahead with several of the measures and policies required to save Schengen. For example, they agreed to create a new border force and coast guard, to strengthen Schengen’s external border. The European Parliament, which had been blocking links between databases on grounds of privacy, became more co-operative.

The EU may rise to the challenge and demonstrate that it is flexible enough to act swiftly in response to the refugee crisis. But there is a real risk that, as with the euro’s travails, EU leaders will do just enough to stop Schengen falling apart, but not enough to make it successful and confidence-inspiring. It is also possible that Schengen will not endure in its current form, and that the Schengen area may shrink. Both the euro and refugee crises have already done much to nourish anti-EU populism across large parts of Europe.

The EU’s failure to put sufficient energy and resources into its neighbourhood has weakened its ability to influence countries there. The slowing of the EU’s geographical expansion has reduced its leverage in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Given that membership had risen from 15 to 28 countries between 2004 and 2013, and the unappealing character of potential members such as Serbia, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova and Ukraine, this slow-down was inevitable. And the EU's fitful engagement and ambiguous goals in the southern neighbourhood have contributed to the instability afflicting the Arab world.

Given all these problems, it is not surprising that defending the EU has become an unfashionable cause, nor that celebrated historians have started to draw on historical analogies to predict the Union’s demise. Brendan Simms and Timothy Less wrote in the New Statesman in November 2015 that, just as Austria-Hungary, the USSR and Yugoslavia had disintegrated, so the EU, "another attempt to create a supranational entity" was likely to go the same way. Niall Ferguson wrote in the Sunday Times in the same month that, "like the Roman Empire, Europe has let its defences crumble….As Gibbon saw, convinced monotheists pose a grave threat to a secular empire."

Although the EU is not on the brink of disintegration, its weakness and unpopularity matter for all those who care about the West, its values and its contribution to global order. An effective EU is an essential component of a strong West. The Union has brought peace and stability to its own members and much of the European continent. It is a beacon of Western values – democratic government, the rule of law and market economics – and does its best to make its neighbours respect those values, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. As Robert Cooper, a former adviser to High Representatives Javier Solana and Catherine Ashton, has said: "The EU is a muddled and messy organisation but is in essence a community of law, and its key mission is to spread the rule of law."

The EU can act alone or alongside the US, often tempering the unilateralist instincts of the Americans. Indeed, without the EU, the West would be a much more American concept – with key satellites like Britain, France, Germany and Japan following in the Americans’ wake – than it is today.

The Europeans are strong believers in global governance, another unfashionable but important concept. They understand that without effective international institutions and rules, strong countries can bully weak ones. Given the strength of the US, it is not surprising that the Americans are often lukewarm in their commitment to global governance; they do not like to be constrained.

It is the Europeans who play a pre-eminent role in the United Nations, the international financial institutions and the World Trade Organisation. It is the US that is sometimes slack in paying its UN dues, and unwilling to ratify key international conventions; and that delayed for five years – until December 2015 – an IMF reform that will finally allow China’s voting power to surpass that of Belgium.

Ever since the 1990s, the EU has pioneered global efforts to limit carbon emissions, and it played a key role in crafting the Paris accord in December 2015; the US, China and India have often dragged their feet on efforts to tackle climate change. The EU and its member-states have taken the lead in forging a host of arms control agreements, but the US (like Russia and China) has boycotted those on land mines and cluster munitions. The US continues to spurn the International Criminal Court (like Russia and China) and has not ratified either the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty or the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Cynics may see global governance as high-minded hot air, with little connection to the forces shaping the real world. But it matters. A lawless world is inherently dangerous, especially when, as is currently the case, so much is in flux. How can governments manage international financial markets, global trade, climate change or the threat of terrorism without international rules and institutions? Strong, emerging powers are less likely to frighten their neighbours if they are constrained by institutions of the sort that did not exist in Europe in 1914. The EU gets this, and the US sometimes does – for example both agree that the lack of effective regional institutions in East Asia is worrying. So long as the EU exists, it will beat the drum for global governance and implore the Americans to be more respectful of it.

The EU is also important for many traditional foreign policy issues. In this domain the EU works through unanimity so can act only when all its members agree. But sometimes it does act, and with success. Probably its best-ever foreign policy was to welcome the former Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Eleven of these countries have now joined the EU, having to jump through a whole series of hoops – on media freedom, independent judiciaries, market economics and so on – before being allowed in. Even hard-line British eurosceptics like Michael Gove and Liam Fox have admitted that the EU has played a positive role in fostering democracy in Central Europe.

Of course, there is sometimes backsliding. The performance of Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz government in Hungary has been problematic. But pressure from the European Commission forced him to back-pedal on measures that endangered the independence of the media regulator, the central bank and the judiciary (though the Commission should have been much tougher). By the end of 2015 the election of the Law and Justice government had raised similar questions in Poland.

One should not pretend that the EU is always a useful or effective diplomatic actor. For example, it has consistently failed to contribute much of value to the Middle East peace process, partly because its own members disagree on how to deal with Israel and Palestine. Nevertheless many people are unaware of the crucial and positive role that the EU has played in resolving some major diplomatic conundrums in recent years. Take five examples.

First, the Balkans. In 2013 the then EU High Representative, Catherine Ashton, brokered a deal between Serbia and Kosovo that settled their worst disagreements and allowed both to move closer to the EU. The EU’s ‘rule of law’ mission in Kosovo, though not without problems, has improved its judicial system, police force and customs service. Meanwhile EU police trainers and peacekeepers have been making life safer for Bosnians.

A second example is Somalia. The EU’s anti-piracy naval mission off the coast, run by British headquarters, has helped to bring about a sharp fall in attacks on shipping. The EU has also paid for the African Union peacekeeping force that has restored stability to Mogadishu; trained 5,000 local troops and police; and boosted the capacity of Somalia’s and its neighbours’ naval forces and courts (so that pirates can be tried).

Iran’s nuclear programme provides a third case. In 2003, the British, French and German foreign ministers, plus Solana, started a diplomatic effort to limit the programme. Eventually the Americans, Russians and Chinese joined the negotiations. After 12 years of on-and-off talks, Iran finally decided to go for a deal because of UN, US and EU sanctions – and in particular, those of the Europeans that excluded it from the SWIFT bank clearing system and hurt the Iranian oil industry. Iran’s leaders trusted Solana and his successor, Catherine Ashton, allowing them to play a pivotal role.

A fourth example is Burma, where EU sanctions discouraged foreign companies from investing. In 2012, when the generals showed signs of wanting to reform, the EU told them that if Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy were allowed to contest elections, and political prisoners were freed, the sanctions would be lifted (the US could not make a comparable offer since removing its sanctions requires years of Congressional deliberation). The generals took the bargain. The EU has subsequently funded peace talks between
the government and ethnic rebel groups, as well as election monitors, and trained the Burmese police.

Ukraine offers a final example. Given the horrific fighting in the Donbass over the past two years, it is easy to forget that the uprising in Kyiv’s Maidan square was triggered by then President Viktor Yanukovych rejecting an EU trade agreement. The EU responded to Russia’s actions in Crimea and the Donbass with sanctions, some of which make it hard for Russian firms to raise capital in Western markets. Chancellor Angela Merkel cajoled several reluctant EU partners to back sanctions because Germany – despite having friendly ties with Russia and important economic interests there – was outraged by its violation of international law. The falling oil price hurt Russia even more than the sanctions, but President Vladimir Putin appears keen to get them lifted, which may explain why the Donbass became quieter in the autumn of 2015.

The EU matters for internal security, too. Most Britons are scarcely aware of the EU’s work in ‘justice and home affairs’. The refugee crisis and the Paris attacks are spurring greater
co-operation on policing and counter-terrorism. In this area Britain has a special position,
since it may opt in to only those EU measures that it likes.

Nobody would call Britain’s Home Secretary, Theresa May, an EU-enthusiast. But in 2014 she decided, to her credit, to maintain Britain’s involvement in the most important parts of justice and home affairs, when many Conservatives had urged her to pull out of everything. Thus Britain is still part of Europol, the police co-operation office, which has an impressive track record of breaking up pan-European criminal networks, including those that abuse children, but until now has played little role in counter-terrorism. Britain will remain involved in several of the EU’s criminal databases. It will also stay in the European Arrest Warrant, which allows suspected terrorists and criminals to be extradited speedily from other EU countries, as happened in the case of Hussain Osman, who fled to Italy just after the July 2005 London tube attacks.

So although most Britons view the EU as a mainly economic enterprise, they should not forget its role in making the European continent more peaceful and secure.

The impact of Brexit on the EU

Many words have been devoted to the impact of Brexit on the UK, but little has been written about its impact on the EU itself, or indeed on the wider world. The departure of the UK would undoubtedly weaken the EU, its global standing would suffer. Brexit would energise eurosceptics across the continent.

When it comes to economic policy, the British are the biggest champions of extending the single market, negotiating trade agreements and cutting red tape. Without the British, these causes would suffer. So would co-operation on justice and home affairs, where, despite their opt-outs, the British have been extremely influential – for example in leading co-operation on counter-terrorism, and in providing the current head of Europol.

The EU’s defence policy has been unspectacular but useful since Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac invented it in 1998: it has run 32 peacekeeping, rule of law and humanitarian missions on three continents. The EU would lack credibility in defence without the participation of one of the EU’s two serious military powers (France being the other). EU foreign policy would also carry much less weight, since Britain has contributed a global perspective and real expertise on some key issues, including the five mentioned above.

And then there is the German question. For the first time in the history of the EU, one country is preponderant. Germany’s power has grown over the past five years, because of the relative strength of the German economy; the skills and experience of Angela Merkel, which have given her great sway with other EU governments; the relative weakness of France; the waning influence of the European Commission; and the unwillingness of the British government to play a leading role in Europe. This situation is good for neither Germany nor the rest of EU. A British departure would accentuate the problem of German hegemony, creating all sorts of tensions and insecurities in Berlin and other capitals.

In Europe, not many political leaders appear to have given much thought to the strategic consequences of Brexit. One former leader who does think strategically is Joschka Fischer, who spent seven years as German foreign minister. Speaking at our 17th birthday party – hosted by the Polish ambassador in June – he argued that a British departure would destabilise the EU, leaving it weaker and more inward-looking.

In the US, senior officials and strategists tend to understand these issues more clearly than do many Europeans. They see the EU’s crucial role in strengthening the West against those who would undermine it. They also worry a lot about the prospect of Brexit. It is true that in recent years Germany has become the US’s chief interlocutor on economic issues, and France on many security problems. But US officials know that the British help continental Europeans and Americans to understand each other better; and that an EU minus Britain would be economically weaker as well as less influential strategically. They see that the world is an increasingly dangerous place, and they want a strong EU – with Britain in it – to help tackle the many challenges to Western interests and values.

The CER’s work on Brexit

The election of a majority Conservative government on May 7th made it certain that Britain would hold an in-or-out referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017. Opinion pollsters had failed to predict that election result; before the election, it seemed plausible to imagine that there would not be a referendum during the 2015-20 Parliament.

Inevitably, the election changed the character of our work on the UK’s relationship with Europe. Beforehand, we focused on possible reforms that a future British government – Labour or Conservative – might wish to achieve. Thus at a public panel that we organised with University College London in January, Labour MEP Richard Corbett, several academics and CER researchers discussed possible reforms. The following month, then shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander outlined Labour’s priorities at a breakfast in London. In April we launched a series of events with King's College London and the Financial Times with a panel on EU reform that included Andrew Bagnall from the Confederation of British Industry and the FT’s George Parker. In the same month Jonathan Hill, the new British commissioner, came to the CER’s first ever annual dinner, hosted by NM Rothschild, and spoke about the planned capital markets union as well as broader questions on EU-UK relations.

In this pre-election period we published two policy briefs on the economics of Brexit. One was by Philip Whyte, our former chief economist, who lost his battle with cancer in April. We revised and updated his 2012 ‘Do the UK’s European ties damage its prosperity?’ This argues convincingly that main constraints on Britain’s economic growth, such as over-stringent planning laws, inadequate skills and poor infrastructure, have nothing to do with the EU. Also in April we published John Springford’s ‘Disunited Kingdom: Why Brexit endangers Britain’s poorer regions’. He demonstrated that the regions which would suffer most from leaving the EU are the poorest ones (notably the North East and the Midlands), because they are particularly dependent on manufacturing exports. Ironically, these regions are also among the most eurosceptic.

Immediately after the general election we analysed the results at a roundtable with the Financial Times’ Philip Stephens and the Wall Street Journal’s Simon Nixon. Henceforth there were two main strands to our work on Britain and the EU: first, the Conservatives’ internal debate on Europe, and how it would influence government policy; and second, the particular demands that David Cameron’s government was preparing to make, and the responses of Britain’s partners.

In October, at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, we organised a fringe event with the eurosceptic Business for Britain (BfB) and the pro-EU Business for New Europe (BNE) on ‘In or Out: What does Britain want from the EU?’ Conservatives of all views were represented on the panel: David Lidington MP, the Europe minister; Gerald Howarth MP, an arch-eurosceptic and former defence minister; and Matthew Elliott, the chief executive of Business for Britain. Goldman Sachs’ Michelle Pingera and BNE’s Roland Rudd also spoke. Such was the interest in this lively event that we had to turn away several hundred people at the door. We ran a similar panel at Labour’s conference in Brighton in September, with the pro-EU Pat McFadden MP and Chuka Umunna MP alongside the eurosceptic John Mills.

In December, a few days before the pivotal European Council which discussed the UK’s demands for reform, we organised a panel on ‘What EU reforms should Cameron achieve, in order for the Conservatives to support EU membership?’ At the eurosceptic end of the panel we had Liam Fox, the former defence secretary; Jesse Norman, chair of the culture, media and sport select committee, sat on the fence; Dominic Grieve was critical of the EU but on balance in favour of membership; and Flick Drummond was an unabashed europhile. Radosław Sikorski, the former Polish foreign minister responded to the MPs. The debate strayed beyond the usual economic arguments towards national security: while Fox argued that the EU was undermining NATO and transatlantic relations, Sikorski countered that most serious Americans wanted the EU to be more cohesive on defence. He also argued that Brexit would negate 500 years of history, during which Britain had engaged on the continent in order to prevent one power dominating it.

Soon after the general election, speaking at a roundtable on Germany's role in Europe, Joschka Fischer warned that "Germany wants to keep the UK, but not at the price of our relationship with France or the EU's fundamental principles."

As the negotiations between Cameron’s government and its partners evolved – often without much of an apparent sense of direction – we analysed them through writing op-eds in newspapers such as the Financial Times, the Guardian, the Observer, Project Syndicate, Die Zeit, Bild, Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Wall Street Journal; and through shorter CER publications such as the bulletin, which appears every two months, and insights, which appear weekly.

We picked on particular themes of the renegotiation for longer publications. In October we published my policy brief, ‘Cameron’s EU gamble: Five reforms he can win, and ten pitfalls he must avoid’. This analysed Britain’s main demands and also described ten things that could go wrong for the In campaign: the refugee and euro crises could run out of control; the Tory party could push Cameron to ask for the impossible, with the result that he would return from Brussels with a deal that disappointed; other member-states could prove reluctant to help Cameron, partly because the British brand has been tarnished by some inept diplomacy and anti-immigrant rhetoric; the Out campaigns seemed likely to have more energy and resources than those defending the EU; the Labour Party has descended into near-irrelevance and internal strife; many British business leaders are proving unwilling to speak out for In; and, finally, the arguments for In are complicated, largely economic and quite hard to explain, while those for Out are simple, easy to explain and emotional.

We spent the summer and autumn researching what the other 27 governments thought about Cameron’s reform demands and published the results in December, in a policy brief by Agata Gostyńska-Jakubowska, together with some interactive maps on our website. Agata reported that Britain’s partners were willing to compromise on most of the UK’s demands, such as the competitiveness agenda, a bigger role for national parliaments, an opt-out from the treaties’ commitment to ‘ever closer union’, and safeguards for the single market against the risk of eurozone caucusing. The problem was that Cameron had made a priority of banning EU migrants from claiming in-work benefits unless they had lived in the UK for four years. This demand would breach fundamental EU principles of non-discrimination and free movement, and the 27 were not willing to change the treaties to accommodate Cameron.

The British desire to enhance the role of national parliaments in EU decision-making, though somewhat less contentious, has nevertheless provoked opposition in capitals such as Berlin. One problem the British have had in promoting this reform is that their own parliamentary procedures for overseeing EU business are often ineffective. In May we published Agata’s ‘A ten point plan to strengthen Westminster’s oversight of EU policy’, which explained the flaws in the current system of parliamentary oversight; she made ten recommendations on how the British Parliament could better hold the government to account on EU affairs. We launched the policy brief in London in July at a roundtable with John Kerr, the former secretary of the Convention on the Future of Europe, and Chris Heaton-Harris MP, a leading eurosceptic; and in Stockholm in October, with Swedish MPs Carl Schlyter and Hans Hegeland. Interestingly, eurosceptics and europhiles can agree on the need to improve parliamentary oversight of EU policy.

In October, our joint panel with UCL on the role of national parliaments in the EU featured Julie Smith, a Liberal Democrat peer, and Tim Boswell, chairman of the House of Lords EU committee, who were both broadly in favour of national parliaments having a bigger role; and Klaus Welle, the secretary-general of the European Parliament, who argued against.

We covered the British demand for safeguards against potential eurozone caucusing at one of our FT-Kings events in June, with Richard Szostak (an adviser to President Jean-Claude Juncker), Sylvie Goulard MEP and the LSE’s Lucrezia Reichlin. Ivan Rogers, the UK’s permanent representative to the EU, spoke on the state of the negotiations at a Brussels breakfast in July. Jonathan Faull, the head of the Commission task force on Brexit, did the same from his perspective at a dinner in London in December, just before the crucial European Council that discussed Cameron’s demands.

Both chambers of the British Parliament are undertaking multiple enquiries into Brexit. My colleagues and I gave evidence to the House of Commons EU scrutiny committee, for its report on Brexit; to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee for its report on the foreign policy consequences of Brexit; to the Commons Treasury Select Committee for its report on Brexit; to the Lords’ EU Committee for its report on the British renegotiation and also for its report on the euro; and to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee for its report on the Strategic Defence and Security Review.

The staff, the advisory board and the referendum

The CER’s advisory board continued to offer much good advice. Antonio Vitorino stepped down after long service. New recruits were Joaquín Almunia, the former commissioner for economics and competition policy, and Pierre Vimont, the first secretary-general of the European External Action Service. Carl Bildt rejoined, after a stint of eight years as Swedish foreign minister.

Our staff remained broadly stable in 2015, though we bid farewell to Stephen Tindale, our senior associate fellow, whose advocacy of the green agenda in general, and policies to tackle climate change in particular, had won many plaudits. In March we said goodbye to our first Clara Marina O’Donnell fellow, Yehuda Ben-Hur Levy, who returned to Israel. The second Clara Marina O’Donnell fellow, Sophia Besch, a defence expert, joined us in October.

In December we relaunched the CER website – now in its fourth incarnation. This modernised both the look and structure of the site, allowing us more flexibility to promote our large body of work, and a clearer and more specific topic focus. The site gives greater visibility to our ‘insights’, which are listed alongside opinion pieces that we write for the international press. Our website traffic continued to grow: in 2015 we had about 500,000 hits on our site, 100,000 more than in 2014. We also continued to build up our social media profile: our followers on Twitter increased from about 7,000 to over 12,000 over the year, while Facebook likes rose from 3,000 to 6,000.

We have in place the team we need for the imminent referendum battle. The CER is not a campaigning organisation. It will continue to publish facts, ideas and arguments that are based on evidence. Some of what we say may displease those campaigning to avoid Brexit, but we shall not risk losing our intellectual credibility by slanting our research in one particular direction.

Much of the referendum campaign will be very emotional. Our contribution will be to bring sober, serious and rigorous analysis, as well as an international perspective, to the debate. In February 2015 we published the hundredth edition of the CER bulletin, which we have produced every two months since we started. One article in that edition was by David Miliband, who helped to found the CER 20 years ago and is currently based in New York. He wrote: "For the American political and economic elite, European co-operation may be a disappointment, and sometimes a puzzle, but it remains a necessity….across party lines in the US, the idea of a Europe without Britain is not attractive at all; and it must also be said, the idea of a serious Britain outside the EU is a non-starter."

Charles Grant