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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Lord Leach: EU reform is the best option, even for us sceptics

Open Europe’s chairman Lord Leach of Fairford has an op-ed in today's Times, where he argues:
Fifteen years ago, when a handful of businessmen set up Business for Sterling to stop Britain joining the euro, we were cold-shouldered by the BBC, patronised as Little Englanders by the Establishment and attacked relentlessly by the CBI’s leadership. 
By the time the previous Government dropped the idea of entering the eurozone, we had nearly 1,000 chairmen or chief executives on our supporter list. 
The centre of gravity has shifted as politicians today line up to argue that the EU in its current form has exhausted its usefulness, and exit is no longer to be feared. Even the most ardent Europhiles pretend amnesia about their former enthusiasm for the single currency. “More Europe” as the answer to every problem has become a bad joke. Even “Thus far and no further” has been replaced by serious questioning of the status quo. In short, the game is up for the Europhiles. 
I disagree, however, with Nigel Lawson and others who have given up on reform and want us to head for the exit. Procedurally, withdrawal would be a nightmare. The famous Article 50 in the EU Treaty would give us two years to negotiate, during which time EU laws would still apply to the UK, without us having any effective say, as we would be sidelined in the EU institutions. That alone should make us pause before pushing the eject button. 
The majority of the public, the political class and business, as shown by multiple polls, are sceptical about the EU but rather than leaving it they want a new deal to reduce its power over their lives. With good reason, for there are two jokers in the pack. First, none of the recent “outers” has set out a credible alternative. It is easy to say “Europe needs us more than we need it” or that if Asians and Americans can trade happily with the EU from outside it, so can we. 
 But this glosses over the reality that without free trade agreements many of our businesses would lose a chunk of their market. The car industry and the City would be especially hard hit. In theory, free trade agreements could cure that, but they would take time to negotiate and the EU would see no advantage in protecting our lead in those business areas. The eurozone’s attack on the City has been brutal enough; and the French would be particularly keen to block British financial services firms from having access to EU markets in perpetuity. 
But it is the second joker in the pack, Germany, that is far more important. Angela Merkel is a cautious leader and doesn’t shoot from the hip. She knows that without radical reform the risk of Britain leaving is huge. She also knows what the consequences would be, as do the Netherlands and Sweden. The EU would lose half its military capacity, nearly 15 per cent of its budgetary contributions, its financial powerhouse, its principal channel to the Anglophone world and its main opponent of protectionism. Berlin would be in a voting minority against the French-led, high spending, uncompetitive Club Med countries. 
Both David Cameron and Chancellor Merkel would therefore be playing with fire if they tried to buy off the British electorate with trivial concessions, as Harold Wilson did in 1975. The public won’t wear it and Germany would risk finishing off its dream of European unity and losing its most effective fellow reformer. 
The first necessary step to a new order would be to redefine the EU as the Single Market, not as a vague aspiration to political union, still less as a currency union. Safeguards would have to be put in place to ensure that the eurozone does not write the rules for the rest of the member states. The next step would be to strengthen the powers of Westminster over EU decisions. 
There is already support for these two reforms in Europe. With those in place, Europe could move to much greater flexibility. Member states could group together in passport unions, fishing or agricultural regimes, defence arrangements or tax and currency unions, but none of this would be obligatory. Subsidies, employment law and energy policy would no longer be micromanaged from Brussels. 
These kind of reforms would ensure that Britain would be at ease in Europe for the first time for 30 years. Norway and Switzerland could join such a structure and the Turkish issue would become more soluble. The euro problem would not go away, but the taboo that makes any change to the eurozone unmentionable would be broken. 
We cannot go on as we are, firefighting crises and ill-judged regulations inside a Union that has become the world’s economic laggard. Most of the necessary reforms have been identified and discussed across the continent. Now we will have to see whether Germany and its Nordic allies will be willing or able to deliver them. 
None of us knows what will happen next. There is still all to play for, and this complex game with so many other players should not be reduced today to a black-and-white argument about staying on the pitch or going home.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Suppose we get the concessions we want and stay in only to have the concessions revoked at a later date with less chance then of being able to get out.

Freedom Lover said...

The natural conclusion from Lord Leach's comments are that Britain should invoke Article 50 - the leave the EU clause - of the Lisbon Treaty immediately. And Germany, if it's got any sense, would invoke the same clause - ie Article 50 - later the same day, or early on the following one. And suddenly the World would be a better place.

Quite true, it would be. And it's just as simple as that!

Jesper said...

The alternatives appear to be:

1. UK stays in an unreformed EU
2. UK leaves an unreformed EU
3. UK stays in a reformed EU

If the worst that could happen is that UK would stay in an unreformed EU then what should be done?

One option might be to give the ultimatum: Reform or we'll leave.

What other options are available to people who believe that the worst possible outcome is that UK stays in an unreformed EU?

Hoping that EU will reform without outside pressure being applied seems naive and hoping for reform is not a strategy.

Rollo said...

Lord Leach is in a dream world, in which we explain to the EU what we want to make it a free and vibrant market, and they all agree with us, and change their wicked ways. There is no renegotiation. There is no single market for SMEs which are the most important contributors to the British economy. The world is a competitive place and we will thrive on it given the freedom to do so.

Christopher Hill said...

We do not have to use Article 50. As a sovereign nation we are free to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, which took us in. Once out we can talk to the EU about the practicalities.

christina speight said...

Lord Leach is not in the same world as reality.

The individual countries - Article 50 or not - have absolutely no intention or desire to redraw the EU to suit us. There will BE NO RENEGOTIATION (sorry to shout but the message doesn't get through)

Article 50 would only end in the same place after some token negotiations. The EU is hell-bent (in more ways than one!) towards its ultimate goal of a federal state with a rich north and distressed south. We want no part of that and Lord Leach should get out of his ivory tower and talk to people outside the charmed circles of influence. Lord Lawson has seen clearly that all avenues to reform are blocked and does the only sensible thing when circumstances change - HE CHANGES HIS MIND!

Anonymous said...

If this is the best that EU apologists can do, we'd definitely be better off out. The noble Lord just doesn't get it that the EU isn't about a bracing, pro-business environment, it was explicitly set up to achieve political union.

EU reform is presented as an act of faith, whereas it would be against the entrenched acquis communautaire and dogma of ever closer union to try. The ECJ has already struck down attempted measures that went against obligations toward integration.

The current EU treaty officially provides for free trade, FDI and neighbourly cooperation with countries outside. Please read it, LL.

With the motor industry, we would just have to keep the tariff on non-EU cars and agree a tariff-free trade between the UK:'EU27'. As this is all in place now, hardly a leap in the dark?

Nobody in their right mind wants us to be 'half the EU's military capability'. We may work with some EU countries through NATO, but must do as a free choice if it benefits us as a sovereign country, not the megalomaniacs of Europe with their Billy Liar fantasies.

Anne said...

A REFERENDUM in 2017 is far too late because by then the EU will be almost complete enough to make itself either a United States of Europe or one GREAT State. Mr Cameron has put through all what the EU wanted. The dividing of ENGLAND into EU REGIONS so that the EU's Committee of the Regions can govern them directly. Scotland is already classed as an EU REGION as is Wales. All this waqs in the EU's Localism Act with its Elected Police Commissioners and Elected Mayors-A EXTRA LAYER OF EU GOVERNANCE THE PEOPLE CANNOT AFFORD.

As we know-without doubt- that all three major Political Parties want to remain in the EU-FOREVER, we are going to use the General Election as the REFERENDUM we have been denied and vote for Organisations and Political Parties that want out of the EU NOW and if we end up with the Monster Raving Loony Party, so be it, but at least we will get out of the EU. The people of this Country have never agreed to, or ratified any EU Treaty. They can however repeal the European Communitites Act 1972/3 and then Repudiate all EU Treaties held in the Vienna Convention on the laws of Treaties presently Lodged in the United Nations.

Rollo said...

Lord Leach is wrong to dub himself a Eurosceptic. He is one of the worse forms of Europhiles. Like Heath, he believes that we are incapable of governing ourselves, and wrong to let the Brits have a say in the running of the country; he believes that a small number of high achievers, Kinnock, Patten, Brittan, Mandelson, Ashton, should make the rules and we should follow them. He accepts that the EU is making a complete hash of it, but still thinks that we can tweak a few bits and all will be rosy. As if the cancer at the heart of Europe, that is destroying livelihoods across the continent, can be fixed with a couple of aspirins. This blooming bulging cancer centred in Brussels can only be cured by starving it to death by refusing to contribute another penny towards it. When we get out, others will follow and nations can start to live again.

George Earle said...

I believe that the vast majority in this country do not understand what the UK is up against. The UK is the foolish milch cow of the EU which is a venal, corrupt organisation run by and for its self seeking bureaucrats and lazy politicians only too glad to have 'Brussels' as a scapegoat for their own mistakes and harmful policies yet also a source of well paid sinecures when their own voters chuck them out. It is also a system of government (of us) run partially for the benefit of Big Business which frames its regulations via their high powered lobby groups in Brussels.
The EU might have been founded long ago on altruistic lines but it's not like that any more and if you want proof look at the quite unnecessary suffering of so much of its population in the worsening Eurocrisis. The concept and creation of a Single Currency without the political union that it was cynically designed to enforce has been a human disaster.
If you think we can "sit down and renegotiate with these people " you should just look upon them as our enemies. There is plenty of evidence for this - such as their attacks on our City as mentioned in this article. Unfortunately Our own political elite is on their side as well. The solution, which is bound to come and quite soon, is going to be much more radical than you realise.

Anonymous said...

Lord who?

SC

Rollo said...

Lord Leach is the power behind Open Europe