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Friday, August 03, 2012

Cameron needs credibility on Europe – here are two things he can do immediately to get it

Over on Conservative Home, we argue
The Coalition has already done some good work on the EU, the ‘referendum lock’ and the recently launched ‘audit’ of the EU’s influence on the UK to name two. However, the constraints of coalition government have tested the loyalties of Conservative MPs, party members and potential voters who wish to see substantial changes to the UK’s EU membership terms. As a result, Europe could damage the electoral coalition the Conservatives need to muster in order to win an outright victory. This is borne out by recent polling by Lord Ashcroft, which shows that 10% of Conservative voters say they would now vote for UKIP. Of course this may not happen, those who say they will vote UKIP may, when it comes to it, vote to keep the Labour party out. But it would be foolish to advocate complacency, not least as this also links to general trust in politicians. So what can be done?
Some talk of deals with UKIP, some talk of promises of a referendum, some talk of the need for a better defined Conservative vision for a post-2015 Government. These proposals all have specific problems and one major problem: Credibility. Would anyone (including in the first instance UKIP-inclined voters) believe them? Increasingly, the answer is no.
For this group of the electorate and party base, the Conservatives’ credibility on Europe has been hit by a series of forced and unforced errors. Whether perceived or real, the overselling of the Lisbon Treaty ‘cast iron’ guarantee, the revelations that before the election David Cameron’s policies may have been framed with Coalition in mind, the CCHQ prohibition on candidates campaigning on Europe, the opting in to EU crime and policing laws, lecturing the French and Germans on the need to create a Fiscal Union and now Cameron ruling out forever leaving the EU, all chip away at his credibility. In short, Cameron could promise to spend every waking moment committed to achieving new, improved EU membership terms, jump over the EU parapet, look back, and see his troops have opted to stay in the trenches.
Fortunately for David Cameron he has two great opportunities to address these concerns and reassure the electorate he means business, two opportunities where he can either act unilaterally or use a veto. Importantly both these opportunities come before the next election.
Firstly, David Cameron should use a quirk of the Lisbon Treaty to activate the 2014 block opt-out and repatriate around 130 EU crime and policing laws, rather than allowing them to fall under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. He should then avoid squandering this gain by resisting pressure from within the coalition to opt back into them piecemeal. He should instead argue for either a better deal, under which the European Court has no jurisdiction in the UK over criminal law, or stay outside permanently.
Secondly, the UK should demand root and branch reform of EU regional policy, repatriating responsibility for regional funding to the UK and other richer member states. Limiting EU-managed regional funds to poorer countries would mean that 23 out of 27 EU countries pay less into the EU budget than at present, saving the UK £4bn net over seven years (in addition to the £8.7bn it currently gets back through the EU regional funds). This is achievable but Cameron must make it clear that he is prepared to veto the next multi-year EU budget, currently up for negotiation, in order to make this demand more credible.
These two measures would achieve several objectives simultaneously – a reduced EU budget contribution, repatriation of two areas of power from Brussels and limiting the powers of the EU judges – an early opportunity to get some ‘balls in the net’. If Cameron takes these two opportunities, this would be a substantial down payment for future electoral credibility which he will need when he promises a wider renegotiation with the EU. Without it, any future manifesto promise may be skilfully crafted but will not sway many voters’ minds.


Rik said...

Fully agree, time is running out on 'Dave' and on 2 fronts.

Local politically, he will have to start preparing for an election. The cabinet looks simply unstable it might make it, on the other hand it might not. Anyway he should start preparing for an election within say 6-12 month or so. As it is a real possibility that the cabinet might fall. As it is a) important and b) pretty likely he should simply be prepared.

Allthough the LibDems are probably not that eager at the moment, the situation simply looks unstable. And the bad polls for the LiBDems (now an advanbtage)can turn into a problem for the coalition basically from one day to another.
They have to put themselves and their leader (or a new leader) on the map again and you never know when that will happen. Basically the same we see in Germany with the FDP now btw.
Preparation means simply doing and saying things the (potential) voters like. Not straight campaigning of course you donot want to burn your ships behind you before there is either a good alternative (like winning an election) or no other option (say the situation would become totally unworkable).

On an EU level the situation is extremely stressy. Things could move fast. You simply should be prepared for when it happens. A major event is THE opportunity to reneg (Greek exit, EZ break up, changing the treaty as a rescue operation, whatever it might be).

Starting from there he should start to create a neg position that is favourable for him. Get the issue really on the agenda. Make clear that the alternatives for the EU/EZ look dim and are known to them, find friends, find out who your enemies are and who will back them, find out what they really want and really donot want, etc.

As such vetoing the budget could be a bit counterproductive. But as said the process should be started. Longer waiting might make this a negative choice.
And if you want a controlled not market upsetting process it likely is not the best option to wait till the last moment.
Cameron is busy making his turn, but at the same time action in preparing a reneg is needed. The longer you wait the more likely this process becomes unorganised and get a dynamic of its own (and gets an unpredictable outcome). Likely the best chance of successfully keeping the UK in the EU is getting a good reneg result. Your Dave should keep that in mind.

Imho not necessary vetoing budget and so. Keep an eye on the ball and the ball is an EU treaty reneg. All actions should keep that in mind. But the process should already have been started.

Rollo said...

You suggest tinkering at the edges, and kicking the can further along the road. Yet you know it will not work. The remorseless grind of ever closer domination will continue. There is no forum for renegotiation. Acquis Communautaire can never be rolled back: that was always the point. The only thing we can do is Get Out. Then we can stop wasting our money, we can regain our fisheries; and we can choose to adopt anything useful that we choose coming out of the EU.
How big is our trade deficit with the EU? 4 Billion pounds per month!!!!

Ian Campbell said...

These are minimal down payments. The EZ, and thus the EU as a whole, is in such a delicate state that these issues are little more than tinkering at the edges of what is wrong with the whole project. Yes these items need addressing but the situation is much more urgent than this gives credence to.

I would argue that a much more robust notice must be given to the EZ that their experiment has failed and that it's restructuring is essential to save it in some form that can work economically, because it has gone beyond the point that it can be saved as a whole and that any unmanaged restructuring will negatively effect it's non EZ neighbours and trading partners.

We must be allowed our say, in other words, it is not just a matter for the EZ membership.