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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How realistic is Cameron's timetable for EU reform?

As Open Europe Director Mats Persson notes over on his Telegraph blog, in his speech today, Cameron has set himself a concrete timetable, despite the fact that timetables in Europe are notoriously difficult to control. A treaty change discussion could drag on for years. Here we look at how a few examples of how slowly or quickly it takes to reach a decision in Europe.

Basically, EU treaty changes or fundamental reform can take an enormous amount of time - or it can happen in months. It's all a matter of political expediency - and how bad Europe needs it / wants it. The single EU patent, for example, took 37 years to negotiate. Setting up a €440bn bailout fund took 12 hours (though it was followed by a year of bickering over what they actually had agreed).

So here are some examples. Those who say Cameron is stuffed, could point to:

Single EU patent – 37 years 
The Convention for the European Patent for the common market was signed at Luxembourg on December 15, 1975, by the 9 member states of the European Economic Community at that time. However the CPC never entered into force as it was not ratified by enough countries. It took until last December for a an agreement on the creation of a single patent system across 25 member states.

Fisheries reform – 21 years and counting 
In 1992, it was determined that there had been over-investment in vessels, overfishing and that numbers of fish landed were decreasing, and that reforms were needed to address these issues. Completing the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) by the end of June 2013, in a single reading if possible, is the goal of the current Irish EU Presidency.

UK Rebate – 10 years 
In 1974/75 the Wilson Government sought to resolve the UK contribution question - which was the highest in net terms - during the “renegotiation” of the UK’s terms of accession which it had promised in its October 1974 election manifesto. The UK did achieve a new corrective mechanism but the revised formula (which placed more emphasis on national wealth when calculating our contribution) in practice produced no real benefit to Britain. In 1984, Margaret Thatcher secured the UK rebate in its current form.

European Constitution/Lisbon Treaty – 8 years 
The drafting for European Constitution was initiated by a declaration annexed to the Treaty of Nice in 2001, and the draft Constitution was signed on 29 October 2004 by representatives of the then 25 member states. Following the ‘no’ votes in the French and Dutch referendums, negotiations over the Lisbon Treaty began in 2007 and the new Treaty was ratified in 2009.

...but those who say that, given the enormous stakes, Cameron actually achieve something substantial, could point to:

Limited treaty change to establish new eurozone bailout fund – 5 months 
On October 29 2010, following pressure from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, EU prime ministers and presidents backed "a limited treaty change" to deliver tighter fiscal discipline and allow for the creation of a permanent bail-out fund for members of the eurozone. On March 25 2011, the European Council agreed to amend Article 136 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union with regard to a stability mechanism for Member States whose currency is the euro.

Setting up a new €440bn eurozone bailout fund - 12 hours
On May 9 2010, following 12 hours of talks in Brussels, EU financed ministers agreed to establish the EFSF, a temporary bailout fund composed of government-backed loan guarantees and bilateral loans worth up to €440bn provided by eurozone members.

In EU politics, when you hear someone giving you an easy answer, it's probably the wrong answer...

8 comments:

Jesper said...

Set the date. Whoever wins the election can then either allow it to happen as scheduled or remove the referendum altogether.

Actively changing it from happening is politically more explosive than passively (conveniently?) not having the referendum.

Denis Cooper said...

"Basically, EU treaty changes or fundamental reform can take an enormous amount of time - or it can happen in months. It's all a matter of political expediency - and how bad Europe needs it / wants it. The single EU patent, for example, took 37 years to negotiate. Setting up a €440bn bailout fund took 12 hours (though it was followed by a year of bickering over what they actually had agreed)."

The €440bn bailout fund was not set up by changing the treaties, but by brazenly breaking them.

Denis Cooper said...

Already preparing excuses in case the referendum is not in 2017, or 2018, or 2019 ...

jon livesey said...

If our fate is tangled up with Europe, then the observation that it is a very long process to negotiate change is just another argument for reducing the degree of control Europe has over UK affairs.

Parliamentary systems are actually pretty efficient. The UK can get things done a lot faster than Washington, for example - partly because Washington favours separation of powers over efficiency.

But it makes nonsense out of legislative efficiency if it then takes half or most of a decade to get change out of Europe.

Take Fisheries reform. 21 Years is 1092 weeks. What can you possibly discuss for that length of time that is much different to where you started, while the situation on catches gets visibly worse with each passing year?

Rik said...

Your examples make it very clear. If there is no pressure nothing happens or if something happens it takes ages.
And Cameron simply doesnot have that much time. Next to: the present Euro mess gives the best opportunity and the most bargaining power probably in a lifetime.
It carries some risks, but there is simply no other option.

What you see is that most comments in: the serious press, from so called experts and from politicians show how incredibly poor they are.
Most act like this happened overnight (and not that you could have seen this one coming a few years ago).
But more important hardly anybody focused on the decisionmakers in this process. Westerwelle got more coverage than Merkel. While EU stuff are "Chefsache' dealt with by the capa herself and not by Foreign Affairs no-nos.
And I havenot seen anybody who was able to place the remarks politicians made in the appropriate context. Not (only) look at what they exactly say but how it fits in the bigger picture.

A lot of clearing up to be done.

Anyway1.Probably best to try to push it into a form that a 'Harvard style' negotiation is possible. After which it is no emotional stuff anymore but simply mainly a technical excercise. And as Cameron has been dealt pretty good cards nothing to be afraid of.
Merkel gives some room probably. And looks like a person able to do that with.

Anyway2. Merkel and a few others probably will like to have a competitiveness high on the agenda. As she has problems to push it through herself.

Anyway3. Incredible how poor the reactions of the other political parties in the UK were. Mr Ed is moving all over the place and looks like a headless chicken iso a future PM. Furthermore he is picking unpopular views while he didnot have to do that.
Farange is overplaying his cards.
Clegg is Clegg.

Anyway4. Probably wise for Cameron to make it 2 issues. referendum/democracy and in/out/reneg for the homecrowd.
Reasons. The rest of the parties look very poor on democracy. Being against a referendum while 2/3 of the population wants it and changing your views almost daily simply makes you look very poor. Playing it as a seperate issue highlights that. And democracy is a relative strength of Cameron (Scotland, Falklands and now this).

Anyway5. Cameron needs probably quite a lot negative reactions for his homecrowd. Guys like Blair and Mandelson are doing a perfect job in that respect. They are only credible to people that are already anti and are more likley to confirm (potential) Cameron supporters that he is on the right way than anything else. Same abroad Westerwelle with no say in the issue whatsoever being against makes great press for Cameron. Basically not-decisionmakers being against (but who look important MEPs and alike great material in that respect) or guys clearly at the other side of the spectrum being against will do Camern a lot of favours on the PR front and he probably needs that to restore his credibility. At this stage still a weak point.

Rollo said...

As realistic as the yellow prick road.

christina speight said...

The answer is that if the EU procrastinates we can have the referendum without an agreement. We are sovereign and if the EU plays fast and loose with us they'll find us looser than they may want.

IDRIS FRANCIS said...

What nonsense - the timetable was never intended to lead to a referendum at that time - the whole thing is a scam to fend off UKIP and a (vain) attempt to win the 2015 election.

As many commentators are now saying neither will work because not enough people trust him any more - not surprisingly.

Relax folks, it ain't going to happen, not least because in that timetable "events dear boy, events" will have pushed us out anyway,