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Monday, May 12, 2014

Timing, not substance, is the biggest obstacle to David Cameron's reform agenda

Our Director Mats Persson writes on his Telegraph blog:
In a recent Sunday Telegraph article that received surprisingly little attention at the time, David Cameron came close to setting out a “shopping list” of what he wants to change in Europe. He outlined seven areas, though they were more principles than policies: powers flowing back, a beefed-up role for national parliaments, less regulation and more free trade, limiting the influence of European judges (possibly opting out of the ECHR, which is not an EU institution), tightening welfare benefits for EU migrants, tougher controls on future EU accession countries and no more “ever closer union”.

Nick Clegg – in a strange kind of way – has almost endorsed the plan, saying that "Now [Cameron] doesn't even talk about repatriation, instead proposing a mild seven-point plan, most of which wouldn't even require treaty change." European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said that the EU wants to "cater" to the UK without "threatening the Union’s coherence" (though he was all over the place on EU treaty change). And in the Financial Times this week, Jean-Claude Piris, former legal guru of the European Council – the key decision forum for EU leaders – concluded that Cameron's changes could pretty much be done without actually changing the EU treaties.

For Cameron, this is a double-edged sword. Sceptics at home already see Cameron’s starting position as a “sell-out” – mere presentational changes that will allow him to recommend a “Yes” vote in the 2017 referendum. This is a premature accusation as there’s a huge range within the Sunday Telegraph piece, from token reform to sweeping changes.

Cameron could cobble together a decent package without changing the EU treaties. First, areas like toughening up rules on access to benefits, removing trade barriers, signing free trade deals or scrapping red tape – key planks in Cameron’s renegotiation agenda – just fall under normal Brussels decision-making (which doesn’t meant it will be easy. Think European Parliament). Secondly, “repatriating” powers wouldn’t necessarily require EU treaty change but could still be meaningful, for example devolving the EU’s irrational regional policy (saving UK taxpayers £4bn over an EU budget period) or exemptions from maddening working time rules for the NHS.

Finally, the EU specialises in legal acrobatics. When pushed – say when the bloc’s second largest economy risks leaving – it can be amazingly creative. For example, it created a €440bn bailout fund out of thin air and via so-called political agreements, the Danes got four surprisingly effective opt-outs after having rejected the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, which were incorporated when the next EU treaty came around. Something similar can be done for some of the reforms currently being discussed, including giving national parliaments the right to block or revise EU laws.

So it's right that Cameron seeks to maximise the reforms that can happen without EU treaty change. However, not only would a Treaty change be a form of political insurance to the Tory party and public that things have changed but it's also needed since the treaties simply aren’t fit for purpose. With a more integrated eurozone, we need new organisational principles and practical measures to avoid the EU becoming the eurozone, while allowing powers to flow back to countries that wish to be less integrated. A 2017 referendum should be the start of a slimmed down, flexible Europe, not the end destination. A quick and dirty solution will only bring us back to where we are today – and could well generate a referendum result too close to call, solving nothing.

Ironically, the strongest and most plausible contender for a Treaty change is one measure that Cameron – oddly – didn’t mention in his piece: safeguards against the Eurozone writing the rules for the rest of Europe, which will also effectively kill the notion of "ever closer union". Exactly how this principle will be organised needs careful thought (ideas here), but it’s highly desirable that this principle is firmly enshrined in EU law.

Since it’s the eurozone that is now changing the rules via banking union and other measures, not the UK, Cameron would be given a fair hearing in national capitals on this point. It is conducive to a "grand bargain": the Germans and French solve their catch-22, agreeing to beefed up supervision in the Eurozone in return for Berlin underwriting the euro, while the British ask for safeguards against Eurozone stitch-ups in return for nodding through EU treaty change at 28 (which Berlin still prefers). In this scenario, it’s the German-led EU treaty change that may trigger a referendum in France, not the UK’s.

It's whether it can be done before 2017 that remains the biggest question.


Anonymous said...

"Timing, not substance, is the biggest obstacle to David Cameron's reform agenda"

Mats, I could not disagree more.

This morning's news that Cameron is not even going to consider tackling EU immigration and the free movement of labour shows that substance is absolutely an issue.

Immigration is probably the most important issue for the UK public yet Cameron is not even going to negotiate with the EU on it!

The free movement of labour is a good thing for the UK and Europe in NORMAL times. We are not in normal times as the EU has destroyed large parts of the EU economy via the introduction and mismanagement of the Euro.

The ongoing lack of a full and proper solution to the Euro's woes means that the cost and risk of this failed experiment is being passed from the EU to the UK.

We have an over supply of labour that is contributing to low wages, poverty and the 'cost of living' crisis. Many London boroughs are having to build 20% more schools and other infrastructure to support the immigration of low-skilled workers (who may also be on benefits).

How is this socially and economically sustainable?

The three main political parties are just making easy decisions by not tackling the issues head on. The cost of these easy decisions is being passed on to our children who will have a massive public debt burden to service.

Cameron is not the man. No backbone and no financial common sense - but the other two political parties are even worse.

Cameron has just signed the death warrant for the Tories in the forthcoming European elections.

This is why I am now UKIP. Nobody, it appears, is listening to us!


Anonymous said...

'the strongest and most plausible contender for a Treaty change is one measure that Cameron – oddly – didn’t mention in his piece:'

Of course he didn't. And his current shopping list is vague and nothing to pin hopes on. If the man was taking this seriously 'I get it' he says (no he doesn't) he would have already spelt out a list of powers he wants returned to Britain (nobody questions why they were ever given away in the first place) and he would fight our corner. Today he announces that the unlimited flow of EU immigration into Britain will not be changed as he approves it. So he approves that the EU continues to hold supremacy in its control of who and how many enters Britain.

There is a need for truth in politics now. UKIP provides the truth, and the pro-EU parties don't like it. UKIP respects the electorate because it tells them the truth. That is the key as to why Cameron, Clegg and Milliband are losing votes - they cannot tell the truth without giving the game away - that they want EU expansion at the cost to the taxpayer and to our hard won democracy. We can see through their con and when the Scottish people also see that Salmind is lying to them too, times will get very interesting.

Average Englishman said...

Well said @Anonymous - SC.

I would only add that Cameron's policy of trying to 'spin' (deceive) his way to more votes without dealing with the fundamental problems with the EU of concern to voters (no democracy worth talking about, floods of immigration, mountains of red tape, ever closer union as the continuing basic EU mantra), will not only lose his party the forthcoming EUSSR elections but also the UK General Election next year as well.

Many in his party have the delusion that their past supporters may vote for UKIP in the EUSSR elections but will rally behind them in the General Election. That will be true of some who have only recently decided to vote for UKIP but I know of many others who have adopted this dual position in the past to give the Conservative Party a stern warning but who will now vote for UKIP until hell freezes over if necessary. At first they were deceived with promises of a referendum that didn't happen and that their voices had been heard. Then when they complained about the 'missing' referendum and things getting worse in the UK's relations with the EUSSR not better, with no meaningful changes in prospect, they demanded action from their leadership. They were then not only condemned but abused by Dave and his fellow Europhiles. Now they have had enough and have a thorough contempt for the current leadership of the Conservative Party, so that they will stick with UKIP to grow the organisation long term until the UK is once more a free country and democracy is restored. No half baked promises of a bit improved here and a little changed there will do. Dave and his cronies have no credibilty. None. Ex Eton man speaks with forked tongue.

Rik said...

1. A further delay is not realistic.
Imho it would only be realistic if say now would be held a referendum as well.
Until 2017 is roughly one general election cycle.

2. Not agree that a no treaty change reform would do the job.
It might win the referendum (a big might btw). It is that far from now, a lot of things can and will change.
But it looks in no way that an In (and may be an Out as well) would give a sustainable and substantial platform to bury the issue longer term. No use having a referendum when the thing stats to play directly after that again.
You have to work to a sustainable situation.

3. Anyway a lot of things should be solved/reformed.
Not only to give the EU again a national platform, but as important it being a club worthwhile to be a member of.
These non-treaty reforms imho will almost certainly lead to a long term very unstable organisation.
Of which it is doubtful of being a member of has not got more disadvantages than advantages.

Of course the Common market should be kept, but it is mainly the other things and effectively regarding a lot of other countries as well.
If you look at the approval trend in most relevant memberstates it is going South and rapidly. And with no trendbreaker in sight.

Simply seems a very bad idea to be a member of an organisation that is in perpetual turmoil.
First of all a not (properly) solved Euro crisis. But also on other issues.
The situation re other countries should be set up in a way that not every time at a national level problems occur the whole reform circus should start again.
And seen the fact that approval is simply tanking not only in the UK, but also in countries like France, Holland, Skandinavians, Austria, Italy (basically all the nett payers) etc. things should be given a sustainable basis also on that level. Especially seen the fact that public ressentiment is now translated in political power and all over the board. Directly via mainly populist MPs but also indirectly via pressure on traditional parties.

4. Indeed 2017 might be too early. However in the current climate the EU simply needs to find a way to solve it and be able to do some real reforms before that date.
If not possible a lot of other problems than a Brexit will be in the making.
Not being able to change when the democratic platform demands that simply makes one worry about the long term legitimacy of the organisation. Neding 10 years or more for every major change required in no way goes together with having democratic legitimacy. It simply takes much too long.

Simon said...

"We have an over supply of labour that is contributing to low wages, poverty and the 'cost of living' crisis. Many London boroughs are having to build 20% more schools and other infrastructure to support the immigration of low-skilled workers (who may also be on benefits).

How is this socially and economically sustainable?"

This is one in a long line of comments which seem to ascribe the effects of the financial crisis to immigration. There is some limited evidence that too much immigration can lower wages, but that's not why we have a cost of living crisis. There has been no overall increase in EU immigration since the crisis began - despite "year on year" increases tending to get plastered all over the papers whenever they occur, the net rate of EU immigration has been hovering around the same level for the last decade since the 2004 enlargement: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/resources/chdltmigrationestimates_tcm77-354471.png

The reason governments don't want to negotiate on free movement of labour is that it's overwhelmingly in our interest to keep the system the way it is. Barriers to EU immigration are a type of red tape that carries a cost for businesses and EU migrants have been proven to make a net contribution to the UK finances, while the evidence on EU immigration creating unemployment/reducing wages is far more limited.

People are entitled to oppose it on ideological grounds or on social grounds, if that's what they want to do. It's a democracy and you can say what you want, but let's not pretend that the anti-immigration drive is a rational response to real economic pressures caused by immigration. Anyone who seriously looks at the evidence available in mainstream objective research would conclude that limiting free movement of labour would be a largely pointless bit of politicking that has nothing to do with the country's long-term economic interests.

christina speight said...

Simon comprehensively misses the point!

Britain is full and can't take any more from whatever source without social breakdown . Homes, schools, hospitals are not coping now and the housing bubble will not abate until the backlog is eliminated and supply and demand are in line. The needs olf industry can be met by a pre-arrival visa system but only for skills in short supply here. It astounds me to find permanent (ie not 'seasonal') immigrants dominating the crop labour market. [This is the kind of work which I - at school -- did every year during the war. It was hard work. indeed, but are our own teenage unemployed afraid of hard-work?]

Anonymous said...


You are being completely naïve.

My family and I have fled London from Ealing, the No. 1, UK hot spot for immigration.

I am from an immigrant family (just in case you are playing the racist card). Here's some facts for you - not politicking or blind ideology :

1. Schools have gone from having a balance to having 28/30 or even 30/30 eastern Europeans in the last 2-3 years. 67% of school children in the borough have English as a second language.

2. The 20% more schools and infrastructure is not to support the local people but low-waged immigrants who are NOT paying their way as they earn below the minimum required to contribute and are likely on some type of benefits.

4. Ealing is a shining example of how the doctors and NHS service are being abused. How many people are using services that are NOT entitled to use them? We do not even check. According to my doctor (also an immigrant) - the only people paying NHS prescription charges are the local people!

3. The number of recent immigrants with criminal records and a background in organised crime in MY daughters' school was astounding. We cannot and have not run any background checks as we are not allowed to under the Free Movement of Labour principle. Here's a quote from the mayor of Warsaw from about 2-3 years ago - "crime in Warsaw has dropped by 20-25% as we know that the our criminals are now in (wait for it) - LONDON". That was from a Polish neighbour and long-standing resident who was as floored by this as much as me.

I could go on and on as I have checked my facts. Have you?

Quite frankly I am bored of it all and just want my referendum to say NO and then hold our politicians to account for NOT consulting us or getting our permission for their wanton recklessness abandonment of our democracy, culture and the country's balance sheet.

Immigration is fine in NORMAL times and these are not normal times. We need to pick and choose who we want here and not have this thrust upon us.

Our own politicians have not put in place any checks and balances and do not even keep any statistics to support any decision making.

Our children face a bleak debt-ridden future and the current wave of immigration is adding to the national debt and to their woes.

I love my country and London - but I do not recognise it. How can this be good?

As I stated before : this is not socially or economically sustainable. Go check your facts.