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Friday, August 08, 2014

Boris is right to set out an ambitious EU reform agenda

As we noted in an earlier post, London Mayor Boris Johnson's intervention on the UK's future relationship with the EU set out a list of policy objectives that go well beyond what David Cameron has so far proposed. They noticeably set the bar higher for any successful renegotiation.

Boris also told the Evening Standard this week that the UK had to go into the negotiations prepared to be tough. "You don’t go in hard to the tackle you are never going to come out well. You've got to go in hard and low," he said. Judging by his past form, he means business:



Here are the key reforms that Boris outlined, which embellished on those contained in the report authored for him by his economic advisor Dr Gerard Lyons - a member of our Advisory Council. They are an excellent marker for the direction in which the EU needs to go and most of them are reforms we have ourselves proposed and promoted:
  • Make progress on the single market in services: The report for the Mayor cites Open Europe's research which illustrates that an ambitious liberalisation of cross-border trade in services could boost EU GDP by 2.3%. This is in fact a call for free trade that could boost competitiveness across the EU - the UK should push this policy hard and, if others aren't willing to agree en masse, be prepared to lead a vanguard of countries who are.  
  • Better protection for the City of London from intrusive financial services regulation: A long-standing concern for us. We have noted that, since the eurozone crisis, the EU's regulatory output in this area has become far more trade-restricting and items such as the FTT were outright hostile to the City of London. This ties into the eurozone/non-eurozone point below, and why mechanisms to ensure that the single market cannot be controlled by the eurozone-bloc are essential to the UK's interests.
  • Reform the relationship between euro ins and outs: This is arguably the biggest strategic issue facing the UK in Europe - and the report goes into far more detail on this than Boris did in his speech. The UK will not be able to live within an EU dominated by the eurozone. The ad-hoc solution used in the European Banking Authority of so-called 'double majority voting', which we were the first to propose, illustrates that this can be addressed but how easily this model can be replicated elsewhere is debatable and other solutions will be needed.
  • A 'red card' for national parliaments: Again, a policy we have long championed. This is something that has support in several member states and would if member states and the Commission are serious about respecting it, root EU policy making more firmly in the hands of those with most democratic legitimacy in Europe - national MPs
  • Reform "if not abolition" of the CAP: Abolition of the CAP is clearly a tall order, but we have set out how agricultural policy could be radically reworked which would hugely reduce the budget required and make it more market-orientated. Another budget reform we would through into the mix, which Boris didn't mention, is the repatriation of regional funding to the richer member states
  • A return to intergovernmental cooperation in justice and home affairs, outside the jurisdiction of the EU: We have long argued that the ECJ should not have jurisdiction over crime and policing law as it applies to the UK and that the UK should seek a return to intergovernmental cooperation that does not cede democratic control over such a sensitive area.
  • Reforming social and employment law: Boris talked of minimising "the costs to all EU businesses", but also said that if this meant resurrecting the UK's social policy opt-out, "I don’t think it will be a bad thing." We have calculated that EU social law currently costs UK business and the public sector £8.6bn a year - a figure also cited by Boris in his speech - and while these costs would not magically disappear if this area was left to national governments, there would be far more flexibility to tailor rules to local needs and practises - i.e. the UK's flexible labour market.
  • On free movement of people, Boris called for "managed migration": Here Boris went further than Gerard's report. Boris seems to be calling for the principle of free movement to be revisited. It's not entirely clear what he means but we have long argued that EU migration can provide benefits to the UK and EU economy but that reform is certainly needed to the rules around access benefits for EU migrants. This means far more discretion for national governments over who can access state welfare and public services and on what terms. However, we do think the principle of free movement of workers - as originally intended - should remain. 
  • Halting 'ever closer union': Often dismissed as a symbolic change, in fact this is about changing the culture of the EU and the default position that centralisation is always good. It is about instilling the principle that not all member states want to head in the same direction and that powers should be able to move downwards from Brussels to national capitals.
This is a reform agenda that would indeed radically reform the EU and the UK's relationship with it. As we have noted elsewhere, if there is a referendum in 2017, the British public will be far better placed than in 1975 to decide if the change is enough to vote for and that  is why the stakes are now so high. As we also have noted, however, the big challenge will be the timetable. Will this be possible before 2017?

7 comments:

David Horton said...

Brilliant.
Love it.
Would vote to stay in the EU if this reform happened.

The likelihood?
Hmm, I'm moved to song.

“I seen a peanut stand, I seen a rubber band”
“Ah seen a needle dat winked its eye”
“But I been done see about ever’ting, when ah sees a heliphant flah”

Or if you prefer:

"Trough to Squadron Leader, Porcine 1. You are cleared to take off"

WitteringsfromWitney said...

Like the only comment so far (David Horton) you appear to be living in cloud cuckoo land.

Your article is utter piffle (to use a Johnson word).

Your article - and that of Johnson's Standard article - contains so many factors that cannot be achieved.

Call yourselves a think tank? Tank you obviously do as you do not think!

Justify, do, that which you and Johnson have written and show us how it can be achieved within the confines imposed by the Lisbon Treaty?

Denis Cooper said...

In February 1974 when a Labour government was elected with a manifesto promise to "immediately seek a fundamental renegotiation of the terms of entry" to the EEC the instant reaction from the Foreign Office mandarins was that it would be a mistake to even seek changes to the treaties.

As repeatedly made clear in the previously confidential internal history that Open Europe recently highlighted:

http://issuu.com/fcohistorians/docs/1_spreckley_report_-_part_1

their argument was that any attempt to change the treaties might cause other countries to doubt the UK's European "vocation", and could make it impossible to achieve any changes at all.

However that was not at all the impression conveyed in the government's official pamphlet delivered to every household urging the public to vote to stay in the EEC in the 1975 referendum:

http://www.harvard-digital.co.uk/euro/pamphlet.htm

"We explain why the Government, after long, hard negotiations, are recommending to the British people that we should remain a member of the European Community.

We do not pretend, and never have pretended, that we got everything we wanted in these negotiations.

But we did get big and significant improvements on the previous terms.

We confidently believe that these better terms can give Britain a New Deal in Europe. A Deal that will help us, help the Commonwealth, and help our partners in Europe.

That is why we are asking you to vote in favour of remaining in the Community."

In fact the claimed "big and significant improvements" were not big and significant, they were trivial and temporary, requiring no change to the treaties because the government had not dared to even seek any.

It seems highly improbable that Boris Johnson would ever be in a position to initiate the kind of "fundamental renegotiation" that he now says he wants, but if he did it seems highly probable that the present generation of Foreign Office mandarins would react in the same way as their predecessors; and if he insisted on demanding treaty changes then it seems highly improbable that the other countries would agree to them, but it also seems highly probable that whatever trivial and temporary improvements might be secured would once again be dressed up as being "big and significant"; and unfortunately it also seems highly probable that large numbers of less knowledgeable electors would once again be duped by the government into voting to stay in the EU on that false prospectus.

Rik said...

Basically the EU can be divided in 3 parts:
-extended single market;
-Euro;
-political experiments.

Basically only the first add value. The Euro is still a disaster in the making and has no platform in the UK. Basically the same for the political experiments.

In that respect it hardly matters if the UK would remain a member without Euro, and largely failed political experiments or would leave and has a single market like relation with the EU.

As the EU is the UKs main tradepartner a reformed EU would be considerably advantageous for the UK. But assuming the single market remaining in both the UK in as out scenarios.

A UK membership will make substantial reform more likely. Which is imho the by far largest plus for a continuing membership.
To be offset against things like nett payments and the lousy reputation the EU (including Uks membership) has in the UK.

Rollo said...

The dreamland that Boris wants is simply not the EU. Can you imagine the Council unanimously agreeing with all, or any, of his points? But Boris is a politician, so these ideas are simply bullshit to get the Cons returned and to carve a place for Boris; without any chance of real reform. Boris, the only way out is OUT, and you must pledge this.

Average Englishman said...

I didn't see the replacement of 'Ode to Joy' with 'God Save the Queen' on this list but this idea would have been in good company with the others in terms of its potential for achievement.

To start with, the list is woefully inadequate. To give but two examples, the Average Englishman doesn't want a halt to 'ever closer union' he/she wants the EU to find a reverse gear and go back to the Common Market the UK signed up for, (less the common agricultural and fisheries policies that stink). In addition, the matter of immigration is not just about who claims benefits when, it is about an additional 250,000+ people a year entering our crowded island, straining services - especially the availability of housing and health care, and changing the culture of the country.

Then we must take into account that the chances of obtaining success with Boris's full 'wish list' are nil anyway, so that the best potential outcome is a severely watered down version and we come out to an assessment that is pretty much as expected. That is, Boris has been sent in to bat by the Conservative Party to make a big fuss about how he's going to sort out Europe on behalf of the country when in practice it's all just huff and puff that will result in another sell out and another fool coming back off his plane waving a piece of paper proclaiming 'peace in our time' with Europe.

It's another cynical charade by our self serving politico's that will not wash. The Government needs to convince ex Conservative voters like me to back them if this 'Boris the EU Slayer' trick is going to work and they have no hope at all of this; none. We've seen it all before and the whole approach reeks of deception.

So; think again Boris and have another go. Low and hard would mean starting by pressing the button on the process within the EU treaties for the withdrawal of the UK from the EU (s.35 of the Lisbon Treaty I think) and then waiting to see what, if any suggestions, the rest of the EU come up with to tempt the UK to stay in. If any mandarins object, fire them on the spot. Show you mean business from the start.

andreasmoser said...

And he thinks that anyone else in the EU will take this seriously? It is sad to see that British politicians don't understand how the EU works, despite them having agreed to every treaty change so far.