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Thursday, October 03, 2013

Why Barroso’s pessimism about achieving EU decentralisation is sort of irrelevant

The Open Europe team is back from the UK party conferences and, when it comes to the UK’s attempt to reach a new settlement in Europe, by far the most common comment we get is: “The EU Commission won’t allow it.” Particularly true amongst the Tory grassroots. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso’s interview today with the Telegraph will no doubt have served to reinforce this view.

He said the only way to reform the EU was to review the EU’s body of legislation, the acquis, on a case-by-case basis:
“The other one is to have a fundamental discussion about the competences of the EU, even in terms of renationalisation. I think the second approach is doomed to failure…Britain wants to again consider the option of opting out. Fine, let's discuss it but to put into question the whole acquis of Europe is not very reasonable…What is difficult, or even impossible, is if we go for the exercise of repatriation of competences because that means revising the treaties and revision means unanimity.”
Barroso is sort of misrepresenting the UK position - the debate has moved away from unilateral opt-outs, but let’s not split hairs. In addition to that, there are two reasons why you can take these comments with a pinch of salt: first, Barroso is gone in a year. Secondly, if it came to it, the Commission has a very limited role in the negotiations over brining powers back anyway.

The European Council has to “consult” the Commission and it also has limited representation in a so-called European Convention (needed for a full-scale treaty change, as opposed to a limited one), but that’s pretty much it. Still, it’s very good to have the Commission on-board of course, for a whole range of reasons (some of the stuff the UK wants outside EU treaty change will require a Commission proposal) but an antipathetic Commission is probably not a deal-breaker.

An antipathetic Barroso certainly isn't.


Jesper said...

Is he saying that it is not possible to revise the treaties at all or that is he saying it is just impossible to revise the treaties to repatriate powers to nations?
That the treaty of Lisbon was the last EU-treaty ever?

jon livesey said...

I think you have this about right. At the end of the day the EU is political, and it isn't going to let itself become a prisoner of its own Treaties.

It's self-interest that will win in the end. It is in everyone's interest to keep the UK in the Single Market.

Beyond that, everything has to be negotiable. Every time someone like Barosso says "No", he simply generates more No votes in the upcoming referendum.

jon livesey said...

On reading the Barroso interview carefully, I see he using a clever logical trick. He presents two alternatives. one is the line by line examination, which is probably impractical, and the other is the "a fundamental discussion about the competences of the EU", which he correctly says won't fly.

the trick he is pulling is that he is excluding the option the UK really wants, which is to change the competences of the EU as it applies to the UK only, not to the EU in general.

The UK doesn't want to have a discussion of the competences of the EU in general at all, because that should be left to the other members of the EU. If they want the EU to continue along its current acquis path, fine, that's their business. All the UK wants is a renegotiation of the EU-UK relationship.

Barroso is too clever for his own good. If he excludes the possibility of any renegotiation, then all that will happen is that the inevitable explosion will be all the bigger, and the UK could exit in a disorderly way.

Rik said...

A negotiation like this has many steps/phases. This is phase 1 or 2 of what might end up to be 5 to 10.
Things change in that process especially here. The majority of the players at the EU side for instance will simply be replaced by others when the deal is be closed.

Re Barosso it is highly doubtful if he fully grasp the underlying facts/situation. Probably a lot of EU folks still see the UK-EU relation of big EU where nothing changes when say the UK would leave.
A large part of the others understands the logical parts (like 15-20% of your market is a lot, not even to mention the UK contribution), but still feels uncomfortable with that and goes instinctively first to the we are big and important and the UK is small and irrelevant mode.

It is therefor clear that the UK has a communication job to do. Make clear that the UK is their largest tradingpartner. That other countries might get ideas. And that the financial markets very likely will see it as an increase of EZ break up risk.
This will put things on the agenda and furthermore will create national level pressure on the EU as a whole. Large parts of business overthere will get nervous (as said it is basically their biggest tradepartner). Large parts of the populations are more and more fed up with the EU and where it stands for (with or without good reasons btw).

Starting from there it is as said phase 1 or 2 (depends how you make the cuts).
Basically the phase in which parties try to make it clear how they see things on a stand alone basis. Without really thinking about how the other side ticks.

What Barosso is missing clearly and a lot of others as well:
Useless to invest in a reneg without a treaty change. The UK population wants real results (and Cameron knows that). Several changes demanded by the populus simply require such a change. Hard to see that for all a clever solution can be found within the present framework. Simply looks like a complete waist of time.
As the facts are now (and they look stable in that respect as well). There will be real change (and therefor a treaty change) or there will be an exit. Marginal stuff will only as you state make the UK population more p!$$ed off and increase the chance of a nasty ending (and overall an exit even).
No use to invest in time in that it only put the public and market focuss on respectively the EU failures (of which there are many at least in the public eyes) and the fact that things might fall apart (business sector).

Simply not effective, simply stupid.
Imho they are best served by getting the thing of the table. Also for several other countries. Czechs, Finns, Swedes, Hols in particular at the moment (and likely others to join).

Might be that he really thinks that no treatychange is possible. In which case it is Dave's job to make it clear that it will be required. And if he (or his successor) still goes on in this way simply kick him in the private parts or run over him. Not much to lose with that if that would be the case (will end in a no referendum anyway). First part should be done asap imho. Re the possible second part depends if you can easily take it to a higher (read Merkel level). Looks btw Cameron is already working on that. Logical as as said a treaty change will have to come or the UK will almost certainly move out.

Spaman said...

Barraso is a committed federalist... and while the commission on paper do not have the power to stop changes to the EU, they are actually a strong force against change - they and the eurocrats who would lose some power.
The argument though should not be about a few regulations - the EU needs a fundamental re-design... and that means curtailing both the commission and the EP.

Anonymous said...

Barrosso says there is no chance because he knows there is no chance, under his presidency of the commission the commission has taken more and more power away from national governments, and there is no way these unelected political failures will give up the power they have usurped from the elected representatives. this is probably the only truth he has ever spoken.

There is only one way to repatriate powers and that is to leave the corruption ridden democratically deficient eussr entirely.

Denis Cooper said...

If the EU member state governments all want to change their treaties to repatriate powers to one or more member states then they can do that, assuming they can all get the treaty changes approved by their national parliaments and/or by national referendums, and neither the inherently eurofederalist Commission nor the predominantly eurofederalist Parliament can actually prevent that.

The Commission and the Parliament can certainly try to impede the process, but they cannot prevent it happening.

Nor has the eurofederalist Court of Justice any role in treaty change, although it would be wise to ensure that they are deprived of any scope to re-interpret the intentions of the member state governments as they have done in the past.

Pace Jon Livesey who in his arrogant know-it-all style dismisses anybody who bothers to look at legal details as "crazies", that is clear from Article 48 TEU starting on page 41 here:


The problem is not what the eurofederalist Commission or the eurofederalist Parliament or the eurofederalist Court may think about EU treaty changes to repatriate powers to one or more member states, but what the eurofederalist governments of other EU member states will think; and in particular anyone with any sense can see that Angela Merkel is a eurofederalist, and she has already made it clear that she does not want any treaty changes for the purpose of repatriating powers to member states.

EU treaty changes to further centralise power, yes, she would be in favour of those, but not EU treaty changes to reverse the process.

Anonymous said...

Good God.

Open Europe gets more and more Eurofascist every day.

There is no way Cameron -- or any other national leader -- can "repatriate" any powers from Brussels.

Stop lying to people, will you?

jon livesey said...

Rik: you seem to have restated my comment in about five times as many words as I originally used. Did I miss something?