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Editor's letter

Supranational agencies need to start listening

If supranational organisations, such as the European Union, don't start listening to their members, they won't last long, says Merryn Somerset Webb.

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The game is up for supranational organisations. Trump's America couldn't care less what the Davos crowd thinks. It has had a go at Nato. It is quitting the "biased" UN Human Rights Council. It is making it clear that it doesn't think much of the WTO: the White House is currently blocking all new appointments to the WTO court (the appellate body) in protest about its role. And Trump isn't giving the EU much quarter, either. Note the lack of concessions on trade and this week's dismissive tweet on immigration: "We don't want what is happening with immigration in Europe to happen with us".

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The same trend is apparent in some EU countries and of course, in the UK Brexit is the obvious example, but our turn against money and power being misused in the global charitable sector fits the theme as well. This makes some sense. It is one thing to defer to outside agencies if they appear to be getting on with solving the world's problems. But if they aren't, then why wouldn't voters ask the people they actually elected to take on the management mantle?

There's something important in this growing rejection of international authority for the UK and its Brexit negotiations. The key is freedom of movement (FOM), and the fact that it isn't remotely immutable and that no EU countries are much into it any more. Remember the 2004 EU expansion? The ten new members got almost no FOM. The UK, Ireland and Sweden opened their doors. Everyone else kept them shut for up to seven years. The first Polish plumber entered Germany to work in 2011.

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You could argue that this was a one-off. Not so. As Nick Clegg writes in the Financial Times this week, the UK is not at all unique in its concerns about FOM. Other nations are now expressing the same concerns. You can see this in the rows over the Posted Workers Directive (which aims to limit wage competition when workers from the poorer EU nations move to the richer ones); in the way in which "Belgium has expelled thousands of unemployed EU citizens"; and in the fact that in Germany, EU nationals "have to apply for a residency card if they wish to work". Not exactly what you thought FOM was, is it?

It makes it clear (as German chancellor Angela Merkel says) that "the very foundations of the EU are at stake". Clegg and I agree on almost nothing to do with the EU. But I think we can agree on this "an overture from the rest of the EU to reform external and internal immigration could be just the compromise... needed to pave the way for a wider rapprochement" with the UK. For Clegg that might mean the end of Brexit. For me it means a more friendly Brexit. But you get the idea.

In today's democratically-active environment, supranational agencies need to stop lording it and start listening to their members or soon they won't have many left.

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