Category Archives: EU
OK, I confess. I didn’t expect the EU to worry about the Oracle-Sun takeover. At least, not more than it is obliged to do by virtue of the sheer size of the companies. Unlike the once-rumoured IBM-Sun deal, there are few areas of major overlap between Oracle and Sun, and none in which the companies are so dominant as to smell of monopoly. The US competition authorities raised no concerns, and I’d've expected the EU ones to do likewise.
Well, OK, there’s Java, over which some have concerns. And there’s the database. It’s true: Oracle and Sun own two market-leading databases: Oracle leads in the enterprise, while Sun (MySQL) leads on the Web. This latter is what apparently causes concern to the European Commission.
So what’s the worst that could happen? Oracle lets MySQL wither on the vine and supports only a proprietary derivative at a high price, thereby depriving the MySQL community? Erm, that’s exactly what caused concern amongst some when the deal was first announced! But it’s hardly realistic: MySQL’s open-source heritage ensures it can’t be killed so long as it has a community of interested users. Indeed, there are already MySQL forks out there, and MariaDB, Drizzle, or AN Other could stand to take the place of the original amongst the community if Oracle were to try anything too dumb.
As could PostgreSQL, or maybe some alternative disruptive technology we haven’t thought of in this context.
I have no doubt Oracle is well aware of this, and that they didn’t get to be a 100-billion-dollar company by shooting themselves quite so spectacularly in the foot.
No, the biggest risk to competition lies in the cloud of uncertainty that prevails while the deal is in limbo. By worrying about an Oracle/Sun monopoly and delaying the deal, the EU commission could inadvertently come close to handing one to IBM.
The Irish rejection of the Lisbon treaty is a serious problem for the EU. It should never have happened, on multiple levels, and for different reasons.
First, as I’ve already said, it was a stupid question to hold a referendum on. The vast majority of voters had little clue of what they were voting on. That’s no criticism of the Irish people, it’s the fault of the politicians who put the wrong question to them. In the context of such a question, “no” is indeed the rational answer.
Should there have been ratification of the treaty without any referendum? On the narrow issue of a single treaty, that would have been the most sensible course: we (the countries of the EU) elect governments to represent us, and take decisions on technical matters.
But on the broader issue of the cumulative weight of EU treaties over the 1990s and 2000s, the case is different. Clearly there are aspects of the EU that lack popular support, and if the Irish No vote can deliver a shock to the system where it is needed, that could be a Good Thing, despite leaving us in a deeply unsatisfactory state.
The EU’s problems are, at least in part, not of its own making. There’s a vicious circle around it and some members, notably the UK, tend to criticise its institutional failings but veto any attempt to fix it.
As for what they should do now, I don’t know. I’m no expert in anything relevant. But here are a few thoughts coming from ignorance:
- The European Parliament is the one government institution with real democratic credentials, and with a track record that looks pretty good compared to national parliaments. It should be in charge of those matters of government that are legitimately the business of the EU (whatever they may be – that’s another question).
- The Commission is a horribly politicised executive whose legitimacy is highly questionable. It should be replaced by officers appointed by, and accountable to, the elected parliament.
- The Council of Ministers should be taken out of the EU altogether. Ministers of the different governments involved can meet up as and when they have cause, just as they do with their counterparts outside the EU.
- As for the presidency, how about calling it a chairmanship? Political roles should come from the elected parliament.
When John Major faced a growing tide of dissent and trouble within his own party, he famously told his critics to “put up or shut up”. It worked, to the extent that they put up, he won, and the air was cleared. Well, somewhat.
Now Ming Campbell has spoken of a referendum on our continued EU membership. Is this a “put up or shut up” for our times?
The UK has a longstanding problem with the EU. Most of the press detest it, and are full of anti-EU propaganda. Many politicians have a problem, too: there’s the xenophobic fringe who openly want to come out, and the two main parties both face two ways on the issue. Only the libdems (Campbell’s party) are more or less unambiguously in favour, and would prefer to improve what’s wrong, as opposed to whinge about it yet veto any attempt to fix it.
Apart from being a general scapegoat and whipping-boy, there’s a particular problem concerning the EU: the new treaty, designed to make it work as the much bigger organisation it has become since the accession of the new Eastern European members. This has been labelled by some as a “constitution”, and thus something on which we should have a referendum.
Now, I don’t claim to follow the merits or defects of the proposed treaty itself. Neither, I feel confident in saying, do most of its critics. Nor is anyone (on either side) making an effort to educate us about it: all we hear is argument over whether there should be a UK referendum. Note, not an EU-wide referendum. Nor an England referendum, or indeed other individual countries. But a UK one.
Should we have a referendum on a treaty noone understands? There’s no way people would vote on the obscure issue of the treaty. The campaign would (will) be dominated entirely by FUD, and might very well be lost, regardless of the issues. As has happened in some other EU countries where referenda on EU issues have been held.
No, if there is a referendum, it must be on a question on which people have at least some clue. Our continued membership is such a question. As far as I can see, it’s the only such question on the EU we could have a referendum on (well, maybe Euro currency membership, but noone is asking that). Ming Campbell is right on this one.
Should there be any referendum? That’s a more interesting question. We don’t have a tradition of referenda: in fact the only precedent for a UK referendum was thirty years ago, on exactly the same question. And there’s little doubt the outcome will be the same now, if we have another. The purpose of a referendum would be put up or shut up, and could clear the air, for a while.
I doubt that either referendum will happen. But Campbell was very right to moot this. For his own party, it deals with a tricky problem: either they support a nonsense referendum on a particular treaty, or they get portrayed as conspiring against the people to railroad the treaty through. And if the nonsense referendum does happen, having this alternative on the table will stand a chance of broadening the debate and (somewhat) clearing the air.