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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The SNP embraces EU reform - but is it trying to have it both ways on treaty change?

Ahead of next month's crucial Scottish independence referendum, the Scottish government has put out its own paper on EU reform, designed to position the SNP on the pro-reform as opposed to the status quo side of the debate. The report has generated very little coverage (our daily press summary being the exception). It's a mixed bag but contains some worthy ideas - we look at the key points below:

Reconnecting European citizens with the EU

The paper notes that "it is important that the EU institutions and the Member States recognise and respond to the challenges to the EU’s wider legitimacy". Its suggestions include:
"the Scottish Government considers that greater observance of the principle of subsidiarity, is one of the key means of maintaining the democratic legitimacy of the EU… it is essential that the procedure for monitoring subsidiarity by national parliaments is extended further to give an enhanced role for both sub-national and local parliaments."
Cutting red tape and EU "competence creep"

The paper notes that warns that “much more remains to be done” to alleviate concerns about EU “competence creep” and excessive “red tape”, and to “restore a balance between the burden of EU legislation and the benefits expected to derive from its implementation.” It adds that:
"the volume and complexity of the EU regulation affecting businesses in Scotland can pose a significant administrative and financial burden on them (particularly SMEs) and is threatening their ability to recover from the economic and financial crisis."
Its recommendations include:
  • Consistent regulation - greater adherence to the framework set by the EU Treaties with less ‘competence creep’ without formal amendment of the Treaties,
  • Increased flexibility to the member States when incorporating EU law into domestic legal systems and greater use of exemption schemes, in particular for SMEs,
  • Further developing the impact assessment tool and applying it at each stage of the EU legislative process where prospective legislation is subject to significant amendment by the Council and/or European Parliament,
  • Focusing on overall principles rather than detailed prescriptive measures,
  • An increased review of legislation which is no longer appropriate for today’s climate.
The above are good suggestions - indeed ones which Open Europe has been advocating for a while now (see our 2011 report on European localism and our 2010 report on EU over-regulation for example) but as always, the question is how to translate this into practice. 

Still, the report has some pretty big gaps - for example, it barely mentions the EU budget despite this being in radical need of reform (for example, contrary to common perceptions, Scotland would benefit from devolving regional subsidies back to the national level). Likewise beyond some general praise for EU free movement, the report does not discuss whether changes are needed to rules around EU migrants' access to benefits. In some places, the report calls for more protectionist measures at the EU level, such as amending procurement laws to ensure that contractors to pay the living as opposed to the minimum wage. 

The SNP is also keen to distance itself from David Cameron's EU policies and says that changing the EU Treaties is "neither necessary nor desirable". The party claims that its reforms can be accommodated within the existing Treaties. Whatever the rights and wrongs, this is slightly ironic given that Scotland's potential accession to the EU as an independent country rests squarely on the EU Treaties being opened and changed: not only the accession itself (to which all other member states would have to agree) but also to get the opt-outs from the euro and Schengen that the SNP says it wants.

It's also ironic since if SNP has its way, it could deliver the kind of opening of the Treaties that the Tories are hoping for. 

6 comments:

Rik said...

There will be very few political parties in the civilised parts of the EU that will defend that the EU doesnot need substantial reform.
However nearly all face a huge problem in that respect. Which can be summarised as follows:
-large parts are simply not buying the rhetoric and want to see action first;
-combined with the fact that there are in most countries now alternatives on the political market. Plus a lot of people determine their voting on EU related issues (general credibility, listening to the electorate, economy and such).
On top of that the EU itself does its utmost to give the public the impression that nothing has changed in the EU itself and it can largely be business as usual.

Likely the SNP will face this problem as well. However EU membership (in the Brexit way) is not really high on the electorates agenda (unlike in the real UK) at the moment.
Probably Scots are more interested in the question if Scotland can remain an EU member in case of independence than on the reform/referendum issue. This could well change after the Scotland referendum.

However to use the word of the one and only "Kíng": A little less conversation a little more action"is what is demanded. You simply are unlikley to get away medium term with only slogans, the elctorate (at least large parts thereof) wants action. You only get credibility because of that. So unlike they can back up their rhetoric this is likely to end up as a minus for SNP medium term.

Denis Cooper said...

"It's also ironic since if SNP has its way, it could deliver the kind of opening of the Treaties that the Tories are hoping for."

Eh, no, in the unfortunate event that the SNP has its way and the referendum result is "yes" then that will immediately transform Cameron from somebody who plans to boldly demand EU treaty changes for "reform" and repatriation of powers to the UK, allegedly, into a supplicant begging the other member state governments to agree to EU treaty changes just to deal with the legal effects of the breakup of the UK. Which EU treaty changes would probably be granted, but at a heavy price.

Average Englishman said...

More nonsense from politicians with lots to say but very little sense when one analyses what they say.

The SNP don't seem to realise who really runs the UK and effectively controls their little country. They naively assume it's Westminster and that when they get loose from England's dire clutches they can walk free on the world stage and run things their own way to a new future where life is sunny for the Scots and it won't rain hard on the hills any more and the tax man is banished forever and whisky comes free like school milk and the oil flows from the sea forever in a beautiful black stream. OK, too far I know but you've got the gist.

All this 'really sensible' appealing to the EUSSR reminds me of that bit in Oliver Twist when our little hero asks "Please sir. I want some more". All very sensible and justified and tragically hopeless. Dream on SNP and dream on OE for that matter.

Anne Palmer said...

If the SNP breaks away from the UK, Maybe Scotland can remain in the EU which the rest of the UK sets itself free-Well! Just a thought and a hope!

The SNP will truly be on its own and with its own NEW currency. However, it would be out of the EU too. As i understand it, if it wants to join the EU, all new entrants has to have the Euro.

Denis Cooper said...

Anne -

If there was a "yes" vote on September 18th then that would not itself make Scotland independent, but would merely fire the starting gun for long and complex negotiations on the new arrangements which would apply from the moment that an Act or Acts of the UK Parliament came into force to terminate the Treaty of Union and for myriad connected purposes, and part of those negotiations would be with the EU and the governments of the other EU member states.

As they stand the EU treaties do not so much as mention the word "Scotland" anywhere, least of all in the list of High Contracting Parties, the member states; Scotland is only a part of the EU because it is a part of an EU member state, the UK, and if it ceased to be a part of the UK then it would automatically cease to a part of the EU unless the treaties were amended.

That would not only be a huge problem for Scotland, it would also be a problem for the rest of the UK, because the rest of the UK would still be in the EU Single Market while Scotland would not be, and trade which is at present internal to the UK and still based upon the Treaty of Union would become international trade but with no legal basis.

Therefore Cameron would no doubt seek to get the EU treaties changed so that Scotland could make a seamless transition to being in the EU as a member state in its own sovereign right at the instant of its final separation from the rest of the UK, and indeed he has publicly stated that he would support Scotland becoming an EU member state:
http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/top-stories/scottish-independence-plan-b-to-keep-using-pound-1-3318542

The obvious problem is that it would need the agreement of all the other EU member states to make those treaty changes, and while that would almost certainly happen it is very unlikely that all of the other member state governments would agree to it without extracting some price.

Thus one effect of a "yes" vote would be to reduce Cameron to the status of a supplicant pleading for the EU treaty changes needed just to deal with the break up of the UK, not demanding treaty changes for the repatriation of powers to the UK.

john Scrymgeour-Wedderburn said...

The legal and constitutional questions arising out of the break up the United Kingdom have hardly been addressed. Alex Salmond likes to talk about a 'YES' vote giving a 'mandate' to negotiate on behalf of the Scottish people. It seems to me that he thinks he can interpret that mandate as widely as he wants to include, for example, negotiation on the dissolution the 1707 Treaty of Union, our participation in a Sterling area and our entry as an applicant (supplicant) nation to the European Union. In short, if we vote 'yes' to the question 'should Scotland be an independent nation', Salmond and crew would like to sign Scotland up to use another nation's currency, (though in truth it would ultimately be the Euro), pass over control of its borders, and its ability to trade and treat freely with other nations. Just to be clear, can we define an independent nation state? Is it one that has control of its currency, its borders and is free to trade and treat with other nation states?

Anyway, touching on the legal and constitutional implications of the dissolution of the Treaty of Union - a few points. Firstly, how can the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain dissolve a Treaty that it was not party to, but rather a product of? I actually assume not really a problem given the sovereignty of our Parliament, but then if it can dissolve the treaty, then it would also legislate itself back out of existence, and Scotland and England would once more be separate and independent nations. The main constitutional and legal point here is that with the dissolution of the United Kingdom and her parliament, all UK treaty obligations would fall, not least the Treaty of Rome and the 1801 Treaty of Union with Ireland.

This clearly is a bit of conundrum, and no doubt our politicians on all sides of this debate and also in Europe, would like to the UK continue as a nation state after separation – a sort of rump UK. However, Scots should re-affirm the importance of the 1707 Treaty. It is the closest we have to written United Kingdom constitution. It is the union of our two countries that is the United Kingdom of Great Britain. That should not be forgotten - the Treaty should mean as much in its dissolution as it did in its enactment, and both countries returned to their pre 1707 status as separate independent nation states. Northern Ireland, I suppose would float off into the Atlantic, and Wales - well Wales have their own very different 'relationship' with England.

I am actually appalled by the prospect of separation. As a Scot, I am fully aware of the advantages of our Union with England. It is a union with a very light touch, and gives us full political, social, cultural and economic access to our closest partner. Post devolution, we are actually more than equal partners, and what is more, we can continue to shape the union to our advantage. To think that the Nationalists want us instead to be fully signed up members of the European Union dedicated to the destruction of the Nation state and the continual erosion of national independence. Just think in five years we could be just like Greece – broke and governed by the Eurozone imposed troika comprising ECB, IMF and the EU Commission.