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Monday, August 13, 2012

Could Europe be an unlikely area of consensus for the revamped Coalition 2.0?

Over on Liberal Democrat Voice's the 'Independent View', we argue that:
Following the bad blood within the coalition over the collapse of Lords reform and the constituency boundary review, there has been much speculation that the two parties will enact a policy ‘reset’ after conference season, with Oliver Letwin and Danny Alexander already reportedly working out the details. Most people looking for potential fresh common ground between Tories and Lib Dems would hardly place ‘Europe’ at the top of their list. However, while the parties are unlikely to ever see eye to eye on the EU, given political will, there are a number of areas of potential agreement.
For example, both parties already agree on the need to amend the Working Time Directive. However, in terms of immediate action and potential achievability, there is no better target than reforming the EU budget. While the UK and other member states struggle to balance their books, the EU budget has grown year on year despite the vast majority of spending going on policies at best irrelevant, and at worst outright damaging, in the fight to deliver the jobs and growth Europe so desperately needs. 
Around 40% of the budget still goes on the Common Agricultural Policy; mostly subsidies to farmers and landowners which act as an outright disincentive for modernisation given they are de-linked from any meaningful economic activity. It is difficult to think of a policy more offensive to liberal values than the CAP: market distorting, sustained by effective lobbying from vested interests, staggeringly wasteful and inefficient, and disproportionately harmful to the least well off in society via higher food prices. Moreover, despite the Commission’s rhetoric, the CAP’s ‘green’ credentials are poor. Slimming down and radically refocusing the CAP by explicitly tying it to environmental objectives such as biodiversity would not only be hugely efficient, it would add credibility to the coalition’s claim of being the ‘greenest government ever’.
Another area in need of overhaul is EU regional spending; the current structure involving all regions in all member states, irrespective of their relative wealth, is economically irrational. For this reason, spending should be limited to the least wealthy member states where it can have the biggest positive impact, an objective endorsed by Nick Clegg. This would save the UK around £4bn net over seven years which could be ploughed straight back into developing the UK’s least wealthy regions, helping the Lib Dems to achieve their long-standing ambition of ‘rebalancing’ the economy away from its over-reliance on London and the South-East.
These measures would require the coalition adopting a much tougher line in the on-going negotiations over the EU’s next long-term budget than it has done, or else risk the existing flawed spending patterns becoming locked in until 2020. While achieving these reforms will not be easy, if pitched correctly, they could command support all across Europe.
These measures would deliver a number of wins; saving UK taxpayers’ cash, soothing coalition tensions, and securing electoral popularity – Lib Dem members and voters are in tune with national opinion in wanting more national control over many policy areas currently significantly influenced by Brussels. Having shown that they can be ‘tough’ on the EU, Lib Dems would then have greater credibility when making the positive case for its continued involvement in other areas.


Rollo said...

More wishful thinking by Open Europe, the same cry as from every tory manifesto, renegotiate, claw back powers, etc, etc. But there is no fairy godmother, there is no forum for renegotiation; and more to the point, there is no point. The EU is a sinking ship and we need to cut off the hawser tying us to it before we go down with it.

Average Englishman said...

If Clegg and Cameron think that this sort of deal and proposed action will be enough to quell the anti-EU feeling coming from the ranks of their party members and voters (see the results of the recent trial referendums at Cheadle and Hazel Grove Mr. Clegg) then they are badly mistaken.

Another fudge like this will not do, whilst the EU train keeps moving relentlessly on down the tracks towards full EU integration. UK voters have finally woken up to what the EU is really all about and 'Up with this they will not put'.

Think again boys or lose the next election. Only a proper 'in-out' referendum will be adequate.

Anonymous said...

There simply are no "wins" for the UK by staying in the EUSSR.

Escaping that prison is the UK's only chance of economic cultural and sovereign survival.

Idris Francis said...

I endorse the first three comments - what did Open Europe's grandfathers do on the Titanic - carry in playing cards, in between re-arranging the deckchairs?

Stop messing about - its all over, its dead, its finished, its an ex-State, its dead, not resting.

Lets get out and into the real world, that's going forward not backward.

christina Speight said...

How can Open Europe possibly suggest that the only thing needed to sort out our relations with the EU is a small tweak using the budget. This is as fatuous as anything I've ever heard even allowing that it appeared in a LibDem Party publication laughably called untruthfully 'Independent View'.

That's only one corner of the problem. More important are the creeping incursions into our sovereignty as Brussels tries to tie The City up in the same mess that Brussels has got the eurozone into. And that's just the start! I could conceive (in my dreams) Cameron actually making a deal with Brussels which could be a useful step to full renewed independence, but I cannot conceive any deal that could first be stitched up with the LibDems, the most europhile bunch of MPs in our own parliament. It's a ludicrous idea.

Back to the drawing board, Open Europe.

Anonymous said...


Open Europe blog team said...

Thanks for your comments Christina.

Our proposals for reforming the EU budget would reduce its size by around 30% - hardly a small tweak - in addition to making sure the remaining spending delivers better value for money. Given that the financial cost is cited as one of the main issues the UK public has with EU membership, reducing this ought to be a priority for politicians.

Like it or not, as long as the Lib Dems are in government, they will have to agree to the UK changing its negotiating strategy over the EU's next long term budget which will come into force from 2014. It therefore makes sense to take the case to them directly. Notwithstanding the other good reasons to reform EU spending, the move would be electorally popular and the billions potentially saved would also benefit constituents in Lib Dem seats.

Finally, you are of course right that the budget is only one aspect of the UK's relationship with the EU, which is we have recently published a range of report - all freely available on our website - looking at reforming areas of EU involvement from social and employment law, financial regulation and crime and policing.

Tom said...

Clegg and Cameron must be pretty dim if they think the British electorate will go for this sort of rubbish however they dress it up.
The electorate is desperately hungry for a referendum even if they have to vote labour to get it and the only line which they will tick is the one that says out of EU
In any case there cannot be more than a few hundred voters who would give the Lib _Dems a second chance after their behaviour in coalition so why bother with what they think.

christina Speight said...


Clegg and Cameron have not made these suggestions - Open Europe has. I have pointed out to them that there's vastly more at stake than the details of the budget till 2020 as you clearly seem to think too. It was good of OE to come back above with a reasoned reply.

Labour will OT give an In/Out referendum so forget that. As for the final votes I do not believe that the result is such a foregone conclusion. This is firstly because voters have a documented habit of preferring the status quo rather than the dangers of change. Secondly the big institutions (with the funds) may well side with IN if the alternative is a simple OUT.

You are too simplistic by half.

Idris Francis said...

In response to Open Europe's claim that cutting the EU Budget by 30% would not be "a small tweak":

As a proportion of the formal EU budget, perhaps it isn't - but in terms of the savings for Britain as a proportion of the total cost of being in the EU - reliably estimated at between £100bn and £150bn pa - it would most certainly be not just a small tweak but an invisible and utterly trivial one.

As for voter's main concern being "the cost" - I rather doubt that it is, nor should it be. What I experience more and more after 20 years campaigning for leaving - and in the early years, sturring up waves of apathy - is that I am often no longer the first to raise the subject or by any means the most vociferous opponent of membership - some of the views routinly expressed in my hearing make me seem almost an Europhile!

And not, for the most part its not about money - few know, let alone understand the numebers. Instead its about the incompetence, the downright lies, the insufferable arrogance and being told what to do in every moment of our lives by the sort of people many of our predecessors gave their lives to keep out of this country.

Call it nationalism, call it pride, call it bloody-minded refusal to be cowed, call it what you like, but its real and its growing all the time, not just here but across the whole continent.

As a captured German general told my late uncle at Nuremburg in 1946 - "Yes, you have beaten us for the second time, but next time WE will win - next time you won't know its happening until its all over."

Now for the third time in less than 100 years, that arrogant dream of power and control is crashing around the ears of its proponents, the atmosphere in Brussels must increasingly be like that in a certain bunker in May 1945.

Now is not the time to seek negotiation of a slightly less bad deal, now is the time to leave.

Rik said...

1. In a more and more globalised world it is imho unrealistic to think that Europe (continent) will not be 'Europanised'.
Probably not in the present form (hope not) but cooperation in many fields is simply necessary to make it work. Too many, too small countries with numerous links.

2. It is also not realistic to think that Germ, NL, Belg, Lux, whole East block and even France (if they no longer can play the boss) and the rest of the South will leave the EU. There is a lot of support for EU membership and a lot of practical reasons (how can they leave without taking a big economic hit),(for many different reasons). The problems they mainly have are Euro-related.

3. Therefor it is unrealistic to think that the UK can properly function without proper relations with the EU. May be like Georgia with Russia. Georgia may not like Russia but will have to come to terms with it and find a way to live next to each other.

4. Re the relation EU and UK there are 2 main problems more structurally.
The EU is clearly sick, the set up clearly needs a major revision. The EU is europe's own 'sick man'.
The UK doesnot want to be a integral part of the European project. Whether this is caused by the structural failures of the EU or would have been there anyway (probably both) is hardly important. What is important that a solution will have to be found.

5. Anyway it is extremely likely that it will be an EU-UK deal. It could be a revised membership or an exit with a new deal.

6. For a solution there are basically 3 options:
- direct, unstructured;
- direct structured;
- revised membership.

7. An unstructured exit would probably cost around 10 % of GDP at least for the period a new deal would be negotiated.
Holland would apparently loose 8-9% if not having a Common Market.
UK EU trade and external trade are smaller. However the UK would face major problems witht the rest of the world and would have problems keeping the City as Europe's financial centre. So would have basically problems all over the board (while Holland's CPB in 2011 only looked at the Common Market effect.
Next to a lot of UK'ers being illigally working in the EU and the other way around of course as well, but another one having a problem as well doesnot make your own position better.

8. The Common Market is key (as well as the Custom's Union). They calculated the advantage of the EURO at only something like 1.5% of GDP, nowhere near the problems they have with it at the moment btw.

9. So unless people feel in a WW2 situation or become irrational it is either a structured exit (likely in say 5 year with a negotiated new relation) or a revised exit.
Basically it could be close to being a matter only of definition to distinguish between these 2.
You don't throw away 10% or so of your GDP just because you think you cannot come to a negotiated solution. And likley only for a few years but after the exit your first priority is getting a new agreement. Simply a very cost inefficient way of doing things.

10. Anyway reneg. In this respect it is imho as OE suggest a good thing to put it on the agenda also in Europe. It still isnot really and see where the difficulties and problemmakers at the other side are. And possibly already make some gains.

11. Cameron looks now mainly occupied to keep the cabinet intact. I am a bit doubtful if he is at this moment in time the best possible PM for the UK. Several strategic decissions have to be made and he is clearly not good at that. Usually it is all ad hoc (making it up when it comes along). No proper planning just to be able to fight another day. Anyway you will have to do it with Cameron momentarilly.

Anonymous said...

Europe needs to work together in various ectors and become more europeanised than its today

Average Englishman said...


I respect your opinion but you've got this one wrong. The UK is not about to sail away into the Atlantic and obviously needs to work with its neighbours but not as a part of the EUSSR. The cost of an orderly exit would be dwarfed over time by the benefits to the UK of trading more with the rest of the world.

Also, the UK would benefit hugely from being able to ditch the Brussels bureaucracy. Time for the UK people to regain their freedom and UK politicians do not recognize the change that has occurred in their voters' opinions on this matter they will have to get used to being out of power.