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Monday, April 15, 2013

Ten areas where the UK and Germany could agree on Europe

Ahead of last week's meeting between David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Open Europe's Director Mats Persson wrote on his Telegraph blog:
About now David Cameron will sit down with his German counterpart Angela Merkel, with the discussion likely to be dominated by Europe. The issues are complex, but come down to a simple trade-off: Cameron wants Merkel’s support on his vision for a reformed and flexible Europe. Merkel – fearing being left alone in a Mediterranean-dominated EU – wants to find ways to keep Britain on board. So is a new Anglo-German bargain at some point down the line possible? There are those in both the status quo and better off out camps who would answer categorically: “no way – It’s all or nothing for Britain”.

I strongly disagree. As Michael Meister, Deputy Parliamentary Chairman of Merkel's CDU party, told the BBC Today Programme this morning, “I think we are open to arguments…to move something back [to member states].” For example:

Strengthening national parliaments: Multi-billion euro bailouts have been seen the Bundestag getting more involved in EU affairs, as recently demonstrated by the Cypriot bailout. At the same time, Germany’s traditional support for the European Parliament – seen as pushing an unrepresentative agenda (including Eurobonds) – is starting to wane. Many Germans – including the country’s constitutional court – would fully echo David Cameron’s assertion that national parliaments “are, and will remain, the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU”.

Cutting the cost of EU bureaucracy: Germans are just as critical of excessive EU bureaucracy as the British. Following a story in Die Welt am Sonntag that 4,365 EU officials earned more than Angela Merkel, even Germany’s Europhile Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said that “The salary structure in Brussels is worth taking a critical look at”. Berlin has already backed Cameron’s demand for a pay cut for EU officials.

Ending recycling of EU regeneration cash: Westerwelle – alongside a host of German politicians and commentators – has strongly criticised the EU’s so-called “structural funds” for leading to “aberrations such as EU money going to day spas and romantic hotels.” Cutting down on these funds, for example by limiting them to only the genuinely poor regions in Europe, would save both the UK and Germany billions. (The German federal government would have to find a way of buying off the Easter Länder, but that’s fully possible).

Phasing out farm subsidies: As in the UK, there’s strong appetite for ending the EU’s totally irrational direct farm subsidies – the German Social Democrats recently came out in favour of spending more of this cash on research and development.

Cutting the EU budget: Merkel already backed Cameron over a historic cut to the EU’s long-term budget – despite many at the time saying this was “impossible”.

Less intrusive EU environmental law: Given its industrial base, Germany could find its economy even more hamstrung by burdensome EU green laws than the UK’s, especially as the country has given up completely on nuclear power. While the country broadly backs switching to renewable energy, it most definitely wants to maintain as much control as possible over its energy mix (overall targets rather than micromanaging EU green laws could be one compromise).

Devolving powers over fisheries: The UK and Germany have both been the driving forces behind current efforts to devolve powers over the EU’s fisheries policy to member states, having groups of countries deciding quotas rather that this being micromanaged in Brussels. These are very important and long overdue reforms.

Migrants’ access to benefits: Whilst both countries, rightly, remain supportive of EU free movement of workers, they also recognise the need for safeguards to make sure people come to work rather than claim benefits. As Germany’s Interior Minister Hans-Pieter Friedrich put it, “If people in Germany feel that their solidarity and openness is being abused and our welfare system is looted then there will be legitimate anger. The message for the EU Commission is clear: Brussels has to take stronger account of situation of the local population in its decision making process.”

Free trade: At times, Germany can slip into a protectionist mood, but generally, it’s very keen that the EU upholds a rule-based order that allows for free trade. The UK and Germany are currently blocking proposals for “reciprocity” to be included as a tenet of EU trade policy – which could seriously hurt both UK and German exports.

Single market safeguards: The UK and Germany have already agreed a “double majority” principle to apply to some banking rules, to make sure that the Eurozone doesn’t write the rules for the UK and other “outs”. Again, this was seen by some as “impossible” as it would give the UK “too much power” (but was agreed last December). Here, Berlin acknowledges that the UK is within its rights to ask for safeguards, given that it’s the Eurozone – and not the UK – that is changing the rules of the game.

There are other areas as well, for example the German constitutional court has ruled that social policy is an area of particular importance for a country “to democratically shape itself”, while former Bavarian President Edmund Stoiber has been specifically tasked with cutting EU red tape.

The UK government needs to invest a lot of political capital and be far more clever that it has been up until now. But don’t believe the pessimists; although it will be tough, a new Anglo-German bargain for a thoroughly reformed Europe is fully possible.

22 comments:

Jesper said...

Federalists want to strengthen the role of the EP vs Germany, UK and most other countries that want to strengthen the national parliaments. Are there any net-paying countries (or any country at all) that want to strengthen the role of the EP?

Subsidiarity and strengthening of the EP are polar opposite agendas.

This should highlight some issues:
http://ec.europa.eu/justice/newsroom/data-protection/news/130206_en.htm
1. The justification is all about making it easy for companies (no benefits are listed for citizens), citizens are losing the protection
they previously had under national laws. EU is about companies over citizens?
2. Subsidiarity has been thrown away. If the used justification was acceptable for intruding on national competencies in this case then it can be used for anything and everything
3. The flowchart shows that the Commission can decide whether or not an issue is for supra-national decision. In other words, everything is to be decided on EU-level

Btw, this quote from the link about data protection:"During this mandate, the Commission has fought hard with several Member States" shows that EU imperialism is alive and fighting with subsidiarity....

Rollo said...

Nein Nein Nein

Freedom Lover said...

Its pure fantasyland to think that Britain will be able to get any real concessions agreed by the other EU member states (other than a few token items) - let alone quickly. The only chance for Britain to have its way quickly is to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty now &, following the requisite 2 year negotiations period, leave the EU.

The only way this will happen is if the faux-eurosceptic (& in reality, moderately euro-phile) Cameron is re-placed as PM by a genuinely euro-sceptic UK PM. And the sooner the better, preferably!

Rik said...

@Jesper
The role of the EP is exagerated. It is part of more EU. And more EU meams for the largest part not more EP. But more Commission and especially more Council with the biggies running the show.
Seen from that perspective some smaller also nett paying countries want the biggies kept in check by a stronger Commission and parliament.

However as you will have noticed the EP has no credibility with the respective populations and certainly no platform/legitimacy. So difficult to see they get more power. Although it follows the general EU way of things solve rubbish (or better try to) with even more rubbish.

I donot agree that subsidiarity and strengthening EP would always not go together. In the present set up they do. But with a limited more free trade zone EU and no Kangaroocourts stretching EU powers to the absolute max a real decisionmaking EP on the at that time limited (considerably) powers (terrains)would not seem such a bad idea.

But agree at this stage with the EP manned with poor quality stuff mainly busy with putting themselves on the map iso representing their voters the 2 will be hard to combine.

Basically the EP was also an expiriment and imho a largely failed one.They donot represent their voters, most donot even know the name of the Eparty they voted for. Platform/credibility is non existent.
It simply now makes decisionmaking more troublesome.

Anonymous said...

All of this is all very well and good but it seems that OE has forgotten a key issue - Trust.

Having watched the chaos, disagreement and self-interest in the EU/Euro since 2008, I certainly do NOT want any kind of deal with Germany or anyone else for that matter.

The issue for me is Trust ;

- Do I trust the EU to do the right thing for the UK - NO.

- Do I trust our own politicians to look after our sovereign interests with respect to the EU - NO.

The only way out is for a Referendum, article 50 and then leave. Nothing else is acceptable to me.

EU - You have had your one and only chance and have blown it.

This must not happen ever again!

Anonymous said...

"Following a story in Die Welt am Sonntag that 4,365 EU officials earned more than Angela Merkel"

A myth debunked on the very next day... OE never minds the facts if they do not fit the story, huh?

Open Europe blog team said...

Thanks @anonymous You mean the Commission denied the claim? That's something you may want to bring up with Welt am Sonntag. We’re not endorsing or rejecting the claim, merely saying that following the story, Westerwelle made a political remark, which, consequently, is politically significant for the point we’re making, i.e. that there are areas of agreement between the UK and Germany. So we’re struggling to see what you mean.

Denis Cooper said...

I guess that from reading the comments made on this article when it was in the Telegraph you'll have already realised that many people don't reckon much to it.

Rik said...

Another hugely underestimated field, both are likely to agree on is simply getting the budget signed off by an independent accountant/auditor.
It will require to do the 'bookkeeping' in a civilised way from that moment.
Which would subsequently make managing and (parliamentary) control much easier.
Now the accounting re especially the South and the East is a complete mess (and often used to hide some skeletons).

The rubbish has to be kicked out. There are way too many bad news items on corruption and misused funds. It might be an improvement for the Southern tribes. For the Northern ones this is simply unacceptable. If this becomes an issue in several countries (mainly Northern ones) it will be too late.
Like when they start to realise that it is their taxmoney that is misspent in say Greece, Rumenia or Poland.

Governance in general of course should be considerably improved, but it is difficult to do if you have to guesstimate things as the real figures are not available or unreliable.

Jesper said...

Rik,

The proper protection from dominance from Eurocrats is a respected subsidiarity principle. EP does not and will not respect the subsidiarity principle, what it does do is: together with the Commission it grabs powers from nations. How? Simples:
EP will claim it needs more power so that it can stand up against the Commission, the Commission will claim it needs more power so that it can stand up against the EP.
The loser? National parliaments.

Sadly it is all to easy to conflate subsidiarity with nationalism but subsidiarity is what counts. When Eurocrats are complaining about the rise of nationalism they are actually really complaining about the subsidiarity principle.

Anonymous said...

@ Rik

Re the budget sign-off: "the UK's Comptroller & Auditor, has recently confirmed that if the UK had a similar test to the European one, he might have to qualify the whole of British Central Government expenditure. In the UK some 500 accounts representing the expenditure of the British government are audited and signed off separately, with some not passing the test each year, whereas the whole of EU expenditure is subject to a single verdict. Many experts say that the unique way the audit process for the EU accounts has been designed in the treaties, and the resulting current Court of Auditors' methodology, do not ever allow a clean bill of health for all payments." More interesting stuff here:
http://www.sunzu.com/articles/why-is-the-eu-budget-never-signed-off-by-their-internal-audit-office-109141/

[By the way: it is not true that Southern/Eastern countries spend the EU money badly and the Northern well; nor that they have worse 'accounting'. Your remarks are both simplistic and nationalistic.]

Bye.

jon livesey said...

All pretty sensible stuff. My experience in business has consistently taught me that deals get made when both parties have something to gain.

Germans are not going to be so obstructive on principle that they end up forcing the UK out of the EU. The EU has enough problems that losing a major source of funding would be a serious own-goal.

The UK will end up with concessions that are important to us, and which don't cost the other members much.

Rodney Atkinson said...


Like Osborne's budgets it is pure fiddling at the edges, missing the elephants in the room.

We have seen the fiddling - soon we will see Rome burning.

Rik said...

@Jesper
Fully agree.

@Anonymus
Just to gives today's example. There is 12 Bn Euro short, 3 lines under it what looked like the 3 major (but not all) items added up come to 13.8 Bn already.
Simply a pile of rubbish.

And agree the UK has a lot of work to do as well in that respect. However that doesnot make the EU way of accounting and particularly how is relied upon info from national governments any better.
Signed off, independent, and consolidated.

Rollo said...

The last bloke to make a serious attempt to get the Germans and the Brits to carve up Europe, poor old Hess ended up in Spandau prison for the whole of his life. Have they got a spare room for the Quisling Cameron, he of the cast iron pledge?

Rik said...

@anonymous2
Have a look at info from organisations like Transparency International and some other corruption indexes.
These all have the usual suspects and also fit in well with my own experience.

All should be checked and all will likely show problems. But as priority setting any proper auditor/accountant would start with the countries that are lowest on the list of say Transparency International and work your way up.
And these are all Southern and Eastern (with a considerable correlation between these 2).

Stevlin said...

Frankly, all these 'ifs', 'buts' and 'maybes'are just a waste of speculative time.
The real issues are, 1) does the UK desire access to the single market - Answer yes.
2) - Does the UK have to fork out these unaffordable £billions required to subsidise Europe to have this mutually beneficial Market access - Answer No.
3) In addition to the huge membership fee - does the UK wish to lose control of it's borders, and loss of it's sovereign fishing territories? Answer - No
4) Does the UK wish to be able to negotiate trade deals with the rest of the world - Answer Yes.

It would appear that the most sensible, and economically advantangeous route would be for the UK to get out of the EU and arrange a 'Mexico' type Market access - and get hitched to the economically emerging nations rather than the declining EU.

David Barneby said...

The point of the exercise and discussion is to try to reach an accord with the EU to change its ways , so that it will be acceptable to Britain and her potential referendum voters .
Even if Britain and Germany can agree on say 10 points , France and other countries may not .
It is my opinion that the British people want to leave the EU no matter what agreements are reached.
We want to return all political decision making to Westminster , no CAP or fisheries shared with the EU .

David Horton said...

The question being asked, here in this article and elsewhere, is what concessions can Cameron coax from the EU, to present a big enough offer to the electorate in order to produce a referendum result to stay in the EU.

But that shouldn’t be the question that really matters here in Britain. We are going to be cheated again.

This article points out where Germany and Britain could have accord, but as the poster above rightly points out, there are twenty five (26 from July) nations who can block, stall and veto any concessions, many of whom regard Britain as an expendable spoiler. So there is every chance that Merkel and Cameron will agree and still achieve nothing.

The wording of Cameron’s policy statement has grey edges, certainly deliberate. After Cameron made his “let’s see what concessions we can get before we go to a referendum ” speech, Miliband tried to get him to admit what would happen if he did not get any/enough concessions. Typically, Miliband completely missed the killer question which is ‘will you hold a referendum if you don’t get anything?’

Cameron did not make this clear at the time and has not clarified it since; yet this is critical to the debate. According to Cameron’s statement, he will get concessions then put the offer to a referendum. If he gets nothing there is no requirement to go to a referendum. I wrote to my MP about this concession issue, asking for an assurance, that Britain still gets a referendum even if the EU offers nothing (as we all expect). I was fobbed off with a bland statement that ‘we don’t go into these things contemplating failure’.

So, if the EU says “No concessions” (or offers something so platitudinal to be worthless), Cameron appears to be under no obligation to provide a referendum in 2017 or ever.

However, it’s all academic because Cameron has as much chance of winning the next election as I do. Miliband is in thrall of what he perceives as a mildly socialist Shangri la, and of course the entire cross party political and financial elite, they all get richer from Britain being in the EU. So, barring a poll tax-style uprising, a UKIP majority or being thrown out; we are stuck with the EU.

Or the EU is stuck with us, depending on which way you look at it.

Gosporttory said...

Fully agree with David Barneby. We have had sufficient opinion polls now to indicate that the majority of the British people have simply had enough of the entire profligate EU Gravy Train. We are sick to the teeth at having to subsidise French etc peasant farmers, etc, etc, hence the dramatic rise in support for UKIP!!!!

David Horton said...

Following on from my above, there are some conclusions that the Open Europe team cannot fail to have realised.

Cameron won’t convince 26 (27) EU nations, Rompuy, Barroso and Britain’s mate, Herr Schulz, to make meaningful concessions, but even if he did, he will not get voted in because the EUsceptic vote will turn to UKIP
Miliband is fairly pro-EU, despite some real fears about the number of old labour voters who will also turn to UKIP
Clegg and the Liberal are of course very pro-EU, but will be wiped out next election.
Farage will see a huge swing, not enough to win seats, but easily enough to spoil.

Another hung parliament, another five years of being tied to this runaway EU without any prospect for a referendum.

So, assuming the EU won’t concede a cent to Britain and keeps charging towards political union, the people of Britain have only one choice. Unless Cameron changes his stance, the electorate must vote UKIP. If they don’t, Britain faces the inevitable; that of becoming merely a province in the United States of Europe, at some time in the future.

It sounds alarmist, but what other course of action has the EU? If it doesn’t grow closer by union, it will either split into north and south, or fall apart.

So although it is comforting to know that Britain and Germany have many areas of common ground; frankly, it don’t amount to a hill of beans. Britain can’t leave unless there is a political imperative from a party or coalition in Westminster. Voting Conservative, Labour or Liberal is a vote to stay in the EU.

Anonymous said...

OE's proposals are good and seek to reduce the attraction of the UK's benefits system. The complicated part of the execution of such ideas is that the EU Commission will have to make changes or agree that the UK can apply only some of its benefits to all EU citizens. This is in my mind very unlikely.
There is however another way of achieving these proposals by simply changing the way that the UK's benefits are applied. The UK could make access to its benefits dependent on residence time.
Those benefits which the UK wish to restrict access could be based on a period of residency. To qualify, the migrant would have to prove residency for a period, of say 3 years before being eligible. For example no unemployment benefit until you have been resident for three years. The same could apply to tax credits for a longer or shorter time.
Health tourism could be effectively stopped by requiring a residency time of much less e.g. 6 months.
The same rules would apply to the indigenous population but would be effectively non-applicable.
Geoff