Friday, May 08, 2020

Five reasons the WHO must be rethought

The World Health Organisation (WHO), which is the public health agency of the United Nations, is in urgent need of more scrutiny. It’s one thing for European countries and Bill Gates, whose foundation is the second biggest funder of the WHO, to oppose Donald Trump’s decision to halt funding for the WHO. It’s yet another to look the other way when the case for fundamentally rethinking the WHO is made. Dislike of President Trump or other WHO critics should not blind us to the truth. Here are five facts about the WHO, highlighting how deep the problem runs.
1 WHO mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis not only put lives at risk but also caused severe economic harm
Despite being warned in late December that a new disease had appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the World Health Organisation continued to repeat China’s assurances that there was nothing much to worry about. On the 3 January, China’s National Health Commission ordered institutions not to publish any information related to the unknown disease, while also telling labs to transfer any samples they had to designated testing institutions, or to destroy them. As Doctors who tried to warn the public had been punished, the Chinese authorities only announced the novel coronavirus outbreak on the 9 January.
It was Taiwan which had warned the WHO about the problem in Wuhan at the end of December, complaining that its concerns were not passed on to other countries. Taiwanese doctors had heard from mainland Chinese colleagues that medical staff were getting ill, which is a sign of human-to-human transmission. On 14 January, the WHO still tweeted that “preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission”, even if apparently, behind the scenes, the body had been warning the United States and other countries a few days before, on 10 January, about the risk of human-to-human transmission. That’s still around two weeks after it had been warned by Taiwan.
Chen Chien-jen, Taiwan’s vice-president, has complained that “none of the information shared by our country’s [Centers for Disease Control] is being put up” on the website of the International Health Regulations (IHR), a WHO framework for exchange of epidemic prevention and response data. Le Monde has reported that China and its allies successfully lobbied the WHO to refrain from declaring a Covid-19 global emergency at its meeting of  22 and 23 January.
It very much looks like that in its Covid-19 response, the WHO did not put public health first, but instead Chinese political sensitivities over Taiwan, which is excluded from the WHO because of China, even if China only contributes to 0.21% of the WHO’s funding.
To ignore Taiwan’s warnings and also its successful approach to the epidemic had severe consequences for how European countries tackled the challenge. This month, Herman Goossens, a Belgian microbiologist and coordinator of the EU’s Platform for European Preparedness Against emerging Epidemics, expressed regret about the approach to follow the WHO’s recommendations, stating, “we should have looked at other countries. At Taiwan or South Korea. Countries that have kept the virus under control … Already at the beginning of January, Taiwan has put infected persons in quarantine. But it isn’t a member of the WHO and was not on our radar. In a few months, we’ll be complaining that we could have avoided this lockdown”.
In other words: WHO mismanagement did not only put lives at risk, it also caused severe economic harm.
2 The WHO made severe mistakes during the Ebola and Swine flu outbreaks
During the 2013-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the WHO failed to sound the alarm until months into the outbreak. This was labelled an “egregious failure” which added to the enormous suffering and death toll by Ashish K. Jha, the Director of Harvard University’s Global Health Institute. He explained that “people at WHO were aware that there was an Ebola outbreak that was getting out of control by spring, and yet it took until August to declare a public health emergency.”
Another example of WHO mismanagement is the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic, where the WHO was accused of declaring a “false pandemic” to sell vaccines, which German medical doctor Wolfgang Wodarg, then the chair of the health committee at the Council of Europe, called “one of the greatest medicine scandals of the century”. According to him, “normal” reported influenza cases were declared to be the beginning of a threatening new pandemic, despite little scientific evidence. He also accused WHO of having deliberately lowered the requirements needed to declare a pandemic “in cooperation with some big pharmaceutical companies and their scientists”.
At the time, it emerged that key scientists advising the WHO on planning for an influenza pandemic had done paid work for pharmaceutical firms that stood to gain from the guidance they were preparing. These conflicts of interest had not been publicly disclosed by the WHO, which dismissed inquiries as “conspiracy theories”.
In response, some countries – for example Poland – declined to join the panic buying of vaccines and antivirals which were triggered when the WHO declared it to be a pandemic, but the UK and France did stockpile drugs and vaccines, before they were forced to unpick vaccine contracts, and sell unused vaccines to other countries, while remaining stuck with huge piles of unused medication.
In its report, the Council of Europe heavily criticised the WHO –  as well as  national governments and EU agencies – for their handling of the swine flu pandemic, stating they were guilty of a “waste of large sums of public money, and unjustified scares and fears about the health risks faced by the European public.
3 The WHO’s Director, “Dr. Tedros”, has a rather shady track record
The Director of the WHO is the Ethiopian politician, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Having emerged from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which was listed as a terrorist organisation by the US government in the 1990s, he served as Ethiopian Minister of Health from 2002 to 2012. During this time, the Ethiopian regime reportedly covered up a cholera outbreak in 2007, with the Ethiopian government simply renaming it as “Acute Watery Diarrhoea (AWD)”, while pressuring local health workers not to call it “cholera”. Not reporting the outbreak of the disease is a violation of WHO rules and prevents international help, so one may wonder why this character secured the top job.
“Dr. Tedros”, a prominent member of the Ethiopian regime, has also been associated with its human rights violations. In 2017, he was very much “China’s man” in the process to appoint a new WHO Director. That’s no coincidence. Ethiopia, which became increasingly dependent on Chinese investment is considered as China’s bridgehead in Africa.
In turn, Tedros is now praising China’s “transparency” in handling Covid-19. One of his first acts as WHO Director was to nominate the murderous dictator of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, as “goodwill ambassador” to the WHO, a plan that was thankfully aborted, following an outcry. According to Sunday Times columnist Rebecca Myers, the offer to Mugabe was a “political payoff to China, a long-time ally of Mugabe”. At the occasion, Tedros praised Zimbabwe as “a country that places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies to provide health care to all”, even if Mugabe himself then travelled abroad for medical care, given the disastrous state of Zimbabwe’s health care system.
4 The WHO’s financial management has been beset by scandals for years
In 2017, The Associated Press obtained internal documents proving that the WHO spends about $200 million a year on travel expenses, which is more than what it spends to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. To spend $1 billion over five years only for travel hasn’t of course prevented the body continuously pleading for more resources. In comparison, “Doctors Without Borders”, which has five times as much staff, spends only about $43 million on travel a year. That’s one fifth of what the WHO spends, meaning the WHO spends about 25 times as much on travel as “Doctors Without Borders”.
It was also revealed that internal rules to curb business class airplane tickets or stays in five-star hotels were simply violated, as the compliance rate for booking travel in advance was only between 28 and 59 percent, with only two of seven departments at the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva meeting their budget targets.
Stories about WHO mismanagement are not new. In 1997, a book written by French economics professor Bertrand Lemennicier and journalist Bertrand Deveaud, based on extensive research, dubbed the WHO “the drunken sailor of public health”. In 2003, The Lancet wrote that “the credibility of WHO’s advocacy of the right to health for all has been eroded in recent years”.
Have things changed with “Dr. Tedros”? Not exactly. This year, Australia’s ABC News revealed that in the WHO, “there has been a surge in internal corruption allegations across the whole of the organisation, with the detection of multiple schemes aimed at defrauding large sums of money from the international body.” Worryingly, an external committee has warned the WHO it is facing “decreasing internal control compliance”. Fake invoices and an officer submitting falsified documents to claim more than $97,000 are only one of the revelations. It looks like the WHO swamp is in very urgent need of some draining.
5 The WHO has decided to recognise traditional medicine that isn’t properly tested and could even be harmful
Last year, for the first time, the World Health Organisation decided to recognize traditional medicine in its influential global medical compendium as actual medicine, as a result of Chinese pressure. This despite the fact that many scientists consider traditional medicine a belief system, while there is evidence it sometimes does harm. China’s drug regulator gets more than 230,000 reports of adverse effects from so-called “Traditional Chinese Medicine” or “TCM” each year. Yet it is big business in China, where it receives strong government support and is driving a surge in illegal wildlife trade.
According to Nature, “some life-saving therapies have come from natural products” but nevertheless “TCM is based on unsubstantiated theories about meridians and qi.” It warns that “collecting more evidence on TCM requires sustained and rigorous basic and clinical research to separate out harmful practices, those that have promise and those that have merely a placebo effect. The WHO’s association with medicines that are not properly tested and could even be harmful is unacceptable for the body that has the greatest responsibility and power to protect human health.”
Commenting on the measure, Donald Marcus, an immunologist and professor emeritus at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas wonders, “at some point, everyone will ask: why is the WHO letting people get sick?”
Also last year, the same WHO classified video game addiction as an official mental health disorder, something which was opposed by the American Psychiatric Association, which stated there is not “sufficient evidence” for this move, as researchers have pointed out that this “can only expand the false-positive issues in psychiatry.”
Euthanise it
A lot more is wrong with the World Health Organisation. According to the Consumer Choice Center, “the WHO focuses more on fighting non-communicable diseases than on identifying and containing threats to global public health such as Ebola and COVID-19”. The same group has also pointed out that “the WHO preaches openness but most decisions are taken behind closed doors and journalists are regularly being removed from Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Conferences of the Parties.”
Many people assume international governmental organisations have a high degree of “staying power.” In reality, more than one-third of international governmental organisations created since 1815 have died, according to a study. One of the findings was that states often prefer to create new organisations, as opposed to reforming existing ones. When a profound investigation will take place to find those responsible for compounding the damage of the Covid-19 virus, it will be hard not to single out the WHO and when considering how to reform it, and how previous attempts have failed. In some cases, a defunct international organisation has been simply abolished and replaced by a successor organisation that took over some of its tasks.
An alternative to the politicised and dysfunctional WHO could be to create a rapid international response body, tasked to coordinate the actions of national public health bodies. Thereby, the “one seat, one vote” – system, which opens the door to politicization – could be replaced with voting powers in line with financial contributions, similar to how the World Bank is governed.
Whatever the course, “Dr. Tedros” and his club should expect the heat to increase.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Five measures that could prevent future lockdowns

Published on The Spectator and the website of Consumer Choice Center

That the World Health Organisation hasn’t exactly shone in the coronavirus crisis is now well-documented. It should remind us of the dangers of following one centrally-guided approach to tackling the disease. Thankfully, given how even experts have been unsure about how to respond to this enormous challenge, there was no unified EU response to Covid-19. Instead, European countries have been dealing with the virus using trial and error.

As a result, looking at the responses of European and Asian countries, we can now distinguish five important things that seem to have worked to prevent the need for a strict, economically devastating lockdown.

1. Testing people with mild symptoms

Even though Germany’s first locally transmitted Covid-19 case was before Italy’s, Germany has had almost six times fewer deaths – with a 30 per cent larger population. There are caveats: Germany is lucky that the average age of its Covid patients has been only 49, compared to 62.5 in France and 62 in Italy. And it should also be noted that counting the number of deaths from Covid-19 is anything but straightforward.

But Germany’s testing practices have been singled out by the UK government’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, as key and in the last two weeks, Germany’s curve of infection growth has been flattening.

From the moment it became clear that a Chinese woman – dubbed ‘Case #0’, had visited Bavaria at the end of January, a medical manhunt was launched to trace, test and isolate those she had infected, giving Germany crucial time to prepare. The workplaces of those infected were shut down and all those who tested positive were sent to hospital.

Crucially, testing does not just seem to be about quantity. Last week Italy had conducted 807,000 tests since 21 February, which isn’t that much below Germany’s 1.3 million tests, when compared per capita. But Italy mostly tested people with severe symptoms that were in hospital. Germany also tested those with less severe symptoms and was therefore able to detect clusters of infection much earlier.

It’s important to note as well that German testing wasn’t the result of a conscious government decision but thanks to its many private laboratories. Christian Drosten, Director of the Institute of Virology at Berlin’s Charité Hospital explains that ‘Germany does not have a public health laboratory that would restrict other labs from doing the tests. So we had an open market from the beginning.’ In other words, the private sector elements of Germany’s health care system have played a very important part in its success.

German healthcare policy expert Frederik Roeder, who directs the Consumer Choice Center, highlights how in contrast to the UK, which has a centralised testing system with no room for mistakes, ‘a decentralised and independent system… allows for some parts in the chain to fail and the others still to perform, and crucially allows room for innovation.’ Worryingly, EU regulation will centralise this process from 2022 onwards.

Early, widespread testing was also performed in South Korea, but it was the result of conscious government action. The country has the world’s most expansive and well-organised testing programme, including drive-thru testing stations.

comparison between more than forty European and Asian countries has found a statistical correlation between having a high positive test rate – meaning mainly testing those with severe symptoms – and a high number of deaths per capita. This correlation is especially strong for Spain and France.

2. Sufficient intensive care capacity – enabled by the private sector

The whole point of imposing economically devastating lockdowns was to avoid overburdening the health care system, so people that could otherwise be saved would not have to die. South Korea did not impose lockdowns, while Germany imposed what could be called ‘lockdown light’. It did not order people to stay at home, apart from in Bavaria and Saarland. There was only a recommendation to respect strict social distancing measures, issued on March 22, more than a week later than other European countries like France or Belgium. Public gatherings of more than two people were banned, while restaurants and non-essential shops were shut. But all in all, the restrictions were modest, given that German manufacturers are still running at up to 80 per cent capacity.

The reason that those two countries, which also were successful in curbing the pandemic, were able to avoid the enormously expensive measures imposed elsewhere is that they believed their healthcare systems would be able to cope.

Before the Covid crisis, Germany already had the highest number of intensive care beds per capita in Europe. It then used the time it gained from ‘testing and tracing’ to increase the number of its ICU beds from an estimated 28,000 to more than 40,000. This also enabled German hospitals to take patients from other European countries. Before the crisis Germany had more than four times the intensive care capacity of the NHS.

In Germany and South Korea, the private sector plays an important role in healthcare. In Germany, only 28 per cent of hospitals are government owned. German healthcare economist Frederik Roeder notes that private hospitals in Germany ‘receive the same amount of reimbursement per case as the public ones’ but also have higher investment, which leads to ‘more state-of-the-art treatment and newer medical equipment.’
In South Korea, 80 per cent of people have private health insurance, at an average cost of about $120 per month. Hospitals are able to charge patients more than what the government will refund.

3. Masks or scarves in crowded places

The WHO initially recommended that only medical workers and ill people should wear masks, before making a U-turn. Now, as a spokesman recently stated, the organisation believes ‘we can certainly see circumstances on which the use of masks, both home-made and cloth masks, at the community level may help with an overall comprehensive response to this disease.’

There now seems to be a consensus that disposable masks will not prevent you from catching coronavirus, but – given that surgeons wear them when treating patients – they will help prevent you from infecting others. Logically, if everyone wears them, at least in crowded places, everyone will be better protected than otherwise.

4. Imposing border checks in time

Just as supporters of economic globalisation and relaxed migration restrictions should oppose uncontrolled migration and its chaotic side-effects, it should be clear that during a pandemic, other rules apply. It makes no sense whatsoever to ‘test and trace’ while increasing hospital capacity, when people are allowed to cross borders unchecked.

This harsh reality is what ultimately led countries to shut their borders, after some hesitation. Where firm restrictions were instated early on, for example in Taiwan, the results in fighting Covid were positive. Here, South Korea acted more slowly, and did not restrict travel from China as firmly as Taiwan, which banned nearly all visitors from mainland China and ended up with less than 400 Covid cases, despite its proximity to China. Taiwan did not see the surge in cases South Korea witnessed before it controlled the virus – although one third of South Korea’s cases did originate from a secretive cult.

5. Transparent communication about social distancing

Social distancing is hard to police. Some countries, like Spain, have gone as far as preventing citizens going out for a walk or exercising outside, and have shut down ‘non-essential’ industry. In most European countries with a lockdown, such extreme measures were not necessary, as the public generally respected their recommendations. It’s clear, however, that trust in government can be bolstered by transparent communication. 
Belgium’s lockdown followed a U-turn by authorities, who had first claimed that Covid-19 was similar to a ‘mild flu’. Distrustful citizens ended up organising ‘lockdown parties’ before the start of the restrictions. When people feel something is being hidden from them, they will not cooperate with future measures.

Treating the public as adults and communicating in a transparent manner is absolutely key. A comparison between South Korea and China or European countries with tough lockdowns illustrates this. 

South Korea’s handling of the outbreak was all about transparency, while relying heavily on public cooperation, to ask for social distancing. The South Korean authorities have reserved extreme confinement to those infected and those they were in close contact with, while recommending everyone else to stay indoors, avoid crowded places, wear masks and practise good hygiene. A similar lockdown-free approach has worked in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, as well as Germany. For an example of the way public trust was diminished by the authorities, we need only look at the mismanagement of the Chinese government. 

Avoiding draconian lockdowns was perhaps not possible for many countries with insufficient testing or intensive care capacity during this crisis. Precisely because of this, countries wanting to avoid lockdowns in future need to improve these measures, while introducing early border restrictions, recommending masks and making sure government strategies are transparent, next time a crisis like this occurs.


Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Britain must fight the EU’s nanny state urges

Published on The Spectator

The UK government has given the EU a Brexit deadline of four months. No. 10 is threatening to walk away from the negotiating table if a broad outline for a Canada-style trade agreement cannot be reached by the summer.

But the UK isn’t really being as radical as it might first appear. For a start, the withdrawal agreement already commits the parties to a July deadline by which point the EU must decide whether to extend the transition period.

Some might argue that the UK is ripping up the political declaration by imposing such a deadline. But in fact, the UK is only applying a minimalist interpretation of the non-binding political declaration, arguing that ‘regression in social or environmental policy should only be banned when trade is distorted. The EU, on the other hand, wants the UK to respect its ‘high standards’ in return for tariff-free access to the bloc.

The backdrop to this is that the EU — or at least its chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier — thinks that when the EU has more trade with a country, it justifies more protectionism. Barnier is using this as a justification to impose more conditions on the UK than Canada. In reality, this protectionism will of course damage the EU as well, especially if it’s applied not to prevent new trade, but to destroy existing trade.

A key Johnson demand in the negotiations is for the right to set the UK’s own rules and thereby ‘diverge’ from EU ones. Perhaps it would be a wise thing to implement this gradually, but ultimately UK concessions on the pace of implementation will only be possible if Brussels accepts that current trade flows will not be harmed simply because the UK wants to make their own rules.
It doesn’t really look like we are heading that way. In the past, the EU has been guilty of over-regulation. And it seems like the new EU Commission, led by Ursula von der Leyen, is keen to double down on its past over-regulatory behavior. Von der Leyen is pushing hard for her so-called ‘European green deal’, an approach that is ‘inherently protectionist’, according to King’s College professor Nick ButlerButler argues that ‘the notion of Europe’s competitiveness in the global economy is absent. It’s also centralized and based on regulatory enforcement. Innovation is paid little attention.’

In short, the ‘nanny state’ approach is back. From the environment to food, Brussels wants to regulate it all.

Make no mistake, these initiatives do not always come from eurocrats themselves. Sometimes, industry’s ideas are taken to Brussels where they quickly take on a life of their own as prominent nanny-state voices reveal their eagerness to regulate for the sake of it.

‘Nutri-score’, a color-coded food labelling system, is a good example. The push for an EU-wide food labelling system was actually an industry initiative, with producers asking the European Commission to test a labeling system throughout the bloc. Following France’s decision to be the first to implement Nutri-score in 2017, a coalition of industry, national nannycrats and Members of European 
Parliament began pushing to make Nutri-score compulsory for all food manufacturers in the EU.
However, in their rush to embrace it, they’re ignoring all of the flaws with the food labeling system. Not only are there issues with the kinds of products receiving a quality label but, more fundamentally, this ‘one size fits none’ policy approach weirdly assumes that consumers are not intelligent enough to make up their own minds. Thankfully, Nutri-score has not been made compulsory yet, so viable alternative approaches are still available to food manufacturers.

In any case, Brexit will probably trigger a process of regulatory competition, making it much harder for all kinds of uniform EU standards to emerge from the conglomerate of corporates and national authorities. At the moment, the UK is obliged to uphold EU regulations, at least until the end of the year, when the transition arrangement of ‘full market access in return for full regulatory rule-taking’ lapses.

In theory, the UK must also carry over new EU rules. Some are rightly questioning what the point of this is. One example of a new EU rule the UK needs to adopt is the EU’s incoming ban on tobacco products with ‘characterizing flavors’, which is really a ban on menthol cigarettes. The decision is based on a dubious assumption that minty cigarettes entice young people into starting smoking. At the very least, the UK could decide to only enforce such new EU legislation until the end of the year, after which it would automatically lapse.

Brexit means the world of regulation is about to face drastic changes, and it seems not everyone has sufficiently appreciated this. Quangos, lobbyists, eurocrats and trade negotiators better take notice: we’re done with ‘business as usual’.


Friday, February 28, 2020

15 years of Open Europe – the think tank at the forefront of the UK’s relationship with the EU

In this article, for @GlobalVision_UK, published here, I look back at 15 years of Open Europe – the think tank at the forefront of the UK’s relationship with the EU:

Just after Brexit finally happened, British EU affairs think tank Open Europe ended its operations after almost fifteen years. At this occasion, I would like to take the opportunity to write a history of this organization at the forefront of the EU-UK relationship, which I have been representing in Brussels for almost twelve years. Looking at its activities truly reminds of the political events ultimately resulting in Brexit. 
Open Europe was founded in 2005 to “make the case for radical reform of the EU, based on economic liberalisation, a looser and more flexible structure, and greater transparency and accountability”. 
Behind Open Europe, which has always avoided any taxpayer funding, was a group of business people around the late Rodney Leach, a senior British merchant banker who was a director of Jardine Matheson, the Hong Kong trading group.
At the occasion of the launch, a report was presented which concluded that “bringing down the EU’s trade barriers and phasing out the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) could boost UK GDP by 1.8 %.” Already from the start, it was understood that making the case to those on the other side of the Channel was important, as the report also highlighted that “EU GDP as a whole would rise by over 2 %” and that “France could actually gain more from phasing out the CAP than Britain, because it currently devotes more resources to agriculture.”
Half a year before Open Europe was founded, there were the Dutch and the French referendums rejecting the “EU Constitution”, another EU Treaty aimed at transferring more power and money to the Brussels level. Specifically for the UK, this meant that the referendum Tony Blair had promised on the EU Constitution would no longer be held. The prospect of this had electrified Britain’s Eurosceptic movement, so it was unclear what was next. 
Open Europe Chairman Rodney Leach stated at the think tank’s launch in October 2005: “The drive towards deeper integration and more centralisation is continuing. We think the EU needs a radical change of direction if it is to survive.” These words appeared prophetic. 
It didn’t take long for the EU to repackage the rejected EU Constitution into the Lisbon Treaty. The key driver behind this was German Chancellor Angela Merkel, even if she herself had to deal with concerns by Germany’s Constitutional Court in 2006.   
Gordon Brown did not promise to submit the Lisbon Treaty to a referendum and even made up an excuse to miss the signing ceremony in December 2007. During that time, Open Europe was very effective in countering the narrative that the Lisbon Treaty differs from the democratically rejected EU Constitution, when Open Europe Director Neil O’Brien, now a Conservative MP, published the first comparative text, making it obvious that the “new” treaty was essentially identical to the rejected Constitution. 
This was all very embarrassing for the Labour government, also because former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who had chaired the “Convention” which drafted the EU Constitution, openly stated that “The EU Treaty is the same as the Constitution”.  
In 2008, the Irish rejected the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum, before they were made to vote again on the same text one year later. It paved the way for David Cameron as Conservative opposition leader urging Czech President Václav Klaus not to sign the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 until the Tories were in power. This further reinforced the sentiment among UK eurosceptics that they had been denied their rightful referendum. In 2009, Cameron could just get away with not promising to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, despite a lot of pressure, with also Open Europe under its Director Lorraine Mullally campaigning for this. Cameron ultimately did not need to block anything at the EU level, as Klaus folded before the Tories entered power. In 2013 however, amid the success of UKIP, Cameron ultimately promised a referendum on membership. 
Since 2005, Open Europe has been wading deeply into EU policy, delivering hard-hitting research on virtually every policy area, EU spending, EU energy and environment policies, tradefinancial services regulationopening up the EU’s internal market for services and the eurocrisiscutting unnecessary bureaucracy, promoting decentralisation and highlighting the broken promises EU policy makers made with regards to the euro. Open Europe’s work on EU spending not only focused on the dysfunctional common agricultural policy and considerable waste, but also included a proposal to make huge savings by focusing EU regional funds only on the poorest member states, allowing richer countries to decide for themselves to what extent their own poorer regions ought to be supported. It was quite influential, as it was also adopted as official government policy by the Dutch government in 2013.
Open Europe thoroughly investigated the high cost of EU regulation, whereby it was concluded that around two thirds of the impact from regulation in the U.K. and the other member states stems from the EU level, on the basis of an extensive analysis of regulatory impact assessments. 
When Open Europe claimed in 2009 there was a problem with the comparatively burdensome impact of EU regulation, many in the Brussels think tank community, which is largely funded by the subject it is supposed to scrutinize – the EU- even denied there was a problem with “out of control” EU regulation. In 2014, however, the European Commission admitted guilt itself by launching its “better regulation” programme, which despite its meager results has the merit to have recognized that there was an issue. 
Open Europe highlighting things like “the 100 most expensive EU regulations” also contributed to the awareness in the UK of the importance of being able to come up with one’s own regulations, something that is now among the UK’s top priorities post-Brexit. 
Open Europe’s predecessor was an organization called “Business for Sterling”, a campaign group which was instrumental to first convince the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and then Tony Blair’s government not to introduce the euro. One of the people involved with this campaign was Dominic Cummings, now the top advisor to British PM Boris Johnson, who himself gave the keynote speech to celebrate ten years of Open Europe in 2015.  
Open Europe’s deep roots in the monetary policy debate would become evident again during the eurocrisis, when in 2011 it was the first think tank in Europe to come up with an estimate of the “stealth bailout” the European Central Bank had been providing to prop up struggling eurozone countries. During those years, I hosted Open Europe policy debates on the eurocrisis in Frankfurt and Berlin, with the late deputy Chairman of Open Europe, economist Derek Scott, once Tony Blair’s economic advisor, and his wife Gisela Stuart, born and raised in Bavaria, then a UK Labour MP, later the Chair of Vote Leave.
This paved the way for the founding of a German sister organization, Open Europe Berlin, in 2012, meant to support the case for EU reform in Germany. At the lauch, the European Central Bank’s former chief economist, Otmar Issing, gave the opening keynote speech, taking a critical stance which broke with German convention. He then may well have spoken prophetic words, when he warned that the euro “cannot be maintained at any cost”. He thereby also criticised the EU Commission’s “deeply absurd” rush towards establishing a banking union and considered the proposed ‘Chinese wall’ between supervision and monetary policy at the ECB as “illusionary”.  
On top of the list of Open Europe’s priorities was always EU institutional reform, from the days when the think tank challenged the Lisbon Treaty to its work on the EU-UK relationship after Brexit. In order to promote the EU reform agenda, also in the light of Cameron’s promise to hold a membership referendum, Open Europe organized the “pan-European Conference for EU reform” in London in January 2014, bringing together 300 delegates from over 30 countries, including high profile policy makers from across the Continent. 
This was all done in the spirit that sustainable reform of the EU would only be possible if done for the whole EU, and not through yet another opt-out for the UK. This path was ultimately abandoned by Cameron, given the lack of interest from the EU27 side. 
In any case, the latter can’t be blamed on Open Europe. The Economist described it as “the Eurosceptic group that controls British coverage of the EU”, also praising its wide-read daily press summary of EU news as a “must-read”. In the years before the UK’s referendum, the think tank truly was the world’s most cited EU policy think tank, achieving the same amount of coverage in the global media as its five closest competitors combined. 
After the Conservative victory in 2015 and ahead of the 2016 referendum, Open Europe produced a lot of work on which reform of the EU to ask for. This included an “EU Reform Index” containing 30 potential reforms, including for example “red cards for national parliaments”, given the shortcomings of the European Parliament. Thereby both the priorities in the UK and achievability in Europe were taken into account. Opinion polls conducted in Germany indicated strong support for some of these proposals. The think tank also highlighted to what extent EU member states would support Cameron’s plans and worked out ways how to reconcile freedom of movement with gaining greater control over social benefits, something that the UK government picked up.  
Ahead of the referendum, Open Europe took the possibility of Brexit serious. In 2015, it published the most comprehensive study of the effect of a possible Brexit, based on detailed economic modelling. The conclusion was that the impact is unlikely to be major and depends on the extent to which the UK retains market access to the EU, acquires more market access to the rest of the world and increases UK competitiveness. Five years later, the jury is still out on all of this, even if the UK has now legally left the EU, but the prospect of Brexit in itself has not yet had major economic effects so far. A “liberal guide to Brexit” was also published in April 2016, while there was huge media attention for a simulation of Brexit negotiations, to which former top politicians from across Europe took part. This simulation was dubbed “EU war games” and was hosted in 2013 and February 2016
After the 2015 elections, Open Europe’s Director Mats Persson, who had been successfully leading Open Europe since 2009, became an advisor to David Cameron to negotiate reforms with other EU member states. The countries with a great interest in trade with Britain, like Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, did not go out of their way to make concessions. The greatest effort was made by central and eastern European countries, which gave in to modest restrictions on EU migrants’ access to welfare. 
Looking back at the “failed negotiation” in The Times, Mats commented: “We under-bid. Cameron’s brilliant 2013 Bloomberg speech envisioning sweeping EU reform was incrementally distilled down to a less ambitious opening bid in the renegotiation. Even some European leaders suggested more ambition. As one diplomat put it, ‘In Europe, we ask for 10 things in order to get 6, you ask for 4 things to get 4. Why?’”
Open Europe judged Cameron’s deal as “not trivial” but on the other hand also “not transformative”. Therefore, the think tank decided to take a neutral position in the 2016 referendum, not endorsing either “remain” or “leave”, given that a “reformed EU” was not on the ballot. 
After the 2016 referendum, Open Europe changed its mission as well as its leadership, as Simon Wolfson succeeded Rodney Leach, who had passed away just before the vote. Simon Wolfson is the chief executive of the clothing retailer Next plc and his “Wolfson Economics Prize” represents the second largest economics prize in the world after the Nobel Prize. A few years ago, it called for proposals on how to safely dismantle the Eurozone. 
From that moment on, Open Europe’s mission would broadly become to focus on securing a friendly Brexit, by “conducting rigorous analysis and produce recommendations on which to base the UK’s new relationship with the EU and its trading relationships with the rest of the world”.
As a result, the think tank has come up with research on how to minimize friction when the UK leaves the EU’s customs union, how the UK’s financial services sector can continue thriving after Brexit, how to optimise post-Brexit European security cooperation and which non-EU markets to prioritise when seeking new trade opportunities. It also conducted extensive polling analysis, showing that the UK public stands more positive towards migration than often portrayed but that it wants to see immigration controlled. 
Open Europe did support Theresa May’s deal, negotiated in 2018, but only on balance, as it continued its warnings that the great weakness of it was that it would outsource UK trade policy to Brussels indefinitely. It came up with suggestions on how to reconcile an alternative to the backstop with the Belfast Good Friday Agreement. It also estimated the consequences of “no deal” to be “manageable but material” in fall 2019, just before both the EU and Boris Johnson ultimately made concessions to secure an orderly withdrawal. With that, Open Europe’s mission of a “friendly Brexit” really had been completed, at least unless the whole thing doesn’t derail after all in 2020, when the EU and the UK need to figure out to what extent trade will be disrupted as a result of UK regulatory divergence from 2021 on. 
Open Europe’s analysis, rigorously overseen by Stephen Booth, its Research Director and later its Director, was widely read in policy circles, both in the UK and the EU, but many of its former staff also went into top government positions themselves. From 2016 until 2019, former Open Europe Director Raoul Ruparel advised Theresa May. In 2019, Henry Newman, Open Europe Director from 2017, went on to advise Michael Gove, who was made responsible for “no deal” planning by PM Boris Johnson. A former member of Open Europe’s advisory council, David Frost, was Boris Johnson’s top negotiator, when the UK secured the deal with the EU in October 2019. Frost, who published an Open Europe paper in 2015 on how to negotiate with the EU, is still in charge now as the UK’s top negotiator for the negotiations about the future relationship. 
Until the referendum, Open Europe’s mission had always been about making the case for institutional reform of the European Union, so to turn it into an organization mainly dedicated to scrapping barriers to trade. Such a more modest EU, focused on its core business and not on acquiring ever more powers and resources, may have prevented Brexit and may have made the ever more eurosceptic electorates in mainland Europe less hostile to it. 
Now that Brexit is a reality, the EU should reflect why the UK opted to leave. It should realise it is partially responsible for Brexit, as it ignored the many signals. That’s from 1988 on, when Margaret Thatcher warned in Bruges that “We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them re-imposed at a European level with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.” It’s all the way to 2014, when the UK was outvoted by the other member states apart from one, when they decided to nominate Jean-Claude Juncker, a strong supporter of a more centralized EU, for the EU Commission Presidency. 
That was the case I made when delivering a keynote speech to the European Commission’s 2017 Biennial Jean Monnet conference, which brings together the hundreds of scholars receiving EU grants to study EU policy from all over the world. It’s questionable whether the EU or the academic community that is studying it, has done much introspection into the reasons why Britain voted to leave in 2016. However, electorates in mainland Europe have steadily moved closer to Open Europe’s thinking.  Now, perhaps Brexit may yet trigger more fundamental reform of the European Union than the UK could ever have delivered from inside the club. The precedent of the UK leaving due to discontent over years of overreach will haunt every new institutional power grab and every regulatory proposal that is seen as too intrusive. I agreed with the late Open Europe Chairman Rodney Leach, when he told me the British aren’t as Eurosceptic as portrayed, and people on mainland Europe aren’t as uncritical towards it as often said. The many suggestions Open Europe has been making over the years can now serve as inspiration to those in the remaining EU member states looking for ways to reconnect the EU with its ever more eurosceptic citizenry.