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Friday, November 05, 2010

A step backwards? Hardly

In an interview with the FT, Nick Clegg today declared that the Coalition Government would not use the negotiations over a new EU treaty to repatriate powers from Brussels to London. "We are not going to reopen this issue of the repatriation of powers. We are not proposing to go backwards", he said.

Well, we kind of suspected that was the Government's position already, but "not going backwards"?! That's an utterly silly comment - it belongs to a time when the EU debate was divided between arch-eurosceptics harking back to the British Empire and European federalists equating more EU integration with "progress".

Europe and UK politics have both changed however (clue: the coalition itself). Clegg's assertion is a bit like saying that the Coalition's drive for more localism - which the Lib Dems champion - is somehow a reactionary move. Bringing back powers from Brussels to the UK means bringing decisions closer to people. That, Nick, is not a step backwards by your own definition - on the contrary.

The interview wasn't all nonsense though. Clegg did suggest that the UK's willingness to passively wave through an EU Treaty change, must be matched by reforms to the budget and changes to some of the EU's more counterproductive habits.

He said,
There is no interest for the EU in getting entirely on the wrong side of public opinion on this budget issue...They have got to get real. You can’t make these budget decisions in a political vacuum.

He also lashed out at the EU's “summit inflation” which left EU policymakers “chasing their tails”.

That's sensible stuff. But the question now is: having given away its veto over Treaty change, how does the Coalition plan to deliver in the post-2013 EU budget negotiations?

Talking about EU reform as a "step back" is probably not the smartest way of doing things. Not least since many member states would make the same argument about any change to the EU budget.

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