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Monday, October 22, 2012

Eurozone votes for eurozone laws: one way to solve the European Parliament’s “West Lothian question”

In the UK, Scottish MPs can vote on English matters (such as the English NHS and education etc.) where, because they are devolved to the Edinburgh parliament, English MPs have no say on specific Scottish matters. This has been labelled the “West Lothian Question”. Solving it is has been a perennial subject for debate, going way back to debates on Irish home rule in the 19th century right through to Scottish devolution. As yet it remains unanswered.

With a multi-tier Europe becoming more of a reality every day, in wake of further Eurozone integration, the EU is now facing its own West Lothian question. If some countries don’t take part in say, more fiscal integration or if some countries – such as the UK – wish to devolve some EU powers back to the national level, how would the EU’s voting system take that into account?

European Parliament President Martin Schulz said yesterday for instance in an interview with
Die Welt, that:

"it can't be the case that individual member states pull out of the common [policy] areas, but believe that they can continue to co-decide on legislation. That's the case for negotiations in the Council, but also in the Commission and for us in the Parliament. The withdrawal of Great Britain raises the second big question apart from the euro question: how do we deal with this now from a legislative perspective? With Schengen, it was already the case that London doesn’t take part but was allowed to co-decide on legislation. We must make this systematic. When Cameron starts picking what he prefers from current Treaty law, we must consider which consequences this has for us as an institution. Whoever doesn't take part in certain policies, should no longer take part in the legislative process. When you withdraw, you need to withdraw completely.”

And he is also quoted by DPA as saying:

“The euro is the currency of the union. The parliament of the union is the European Parliament. Thus the parliament of the euro is the European Parliament. We have 27 EU member states and two, namely Denmark and the UK, said we won’t go along with the euro. All other states are required to introduce the euro sooner or later. Therefore we need a ‘27 minus’ approach on EP decisions on Eurozone-specific issues”.
Schultz has asked the West Lothian question
- but does he have the answer?

Schultz seems to be arguing for the eurozone votes for Eurozone laws. He makes a good point, but how would this work? Well, Britain has some experience of assessing the relative merits of limiting MPs to voting on different laws. In essence the problems that have been thrown up are these:

Problem in UK: How do you ascertain what is a ‘eurozone’ law is when something might effect both parts? 19th Century British PM William Gladstone, for instance, concluded that: "it passed the wit of man to frame any distinct, thorough-going, universal severance between the one class of subject and the other."

Not a problem in EU: In the UK these problems remain due to the imprecise nature of UK governance. However, in the EU all legislation is based on treaty articles and EU competences, so deciding who votes on what should be far easier, though if the line between the banking union and the single market, for example, gets blurred this could suddenly become problematic.

Problem in the UK: English votes for English laws in the UK raised the prospect of a UK government unable to govern England because, it may not in fact command a majority of English MPs (only an ‘overall’ majority) creating constitutional chaos (think posts such as the Home Secretary).

Not a problem in EU: In an EU context allowing differing governments to get on with their business would probably suit the UK just fine, as would limiting MEPs’ power over UK affairs (though we acknowledge the risk of eurozone caucusing etc).

In principle, there’s no reason why variable geometry in the EU voting system can not be made to work – in fact, it could be an important component of a reformed EU, in areas such as the CAP, JHA and social and employment laws, as per the model we’ve outlined below. When these are up for discussion a UK MEP would simply not vote.

Politically, it would need to be managed very carefully. Some euro-outs, such as Sweden, will probably oppose such a differentiated approach. But it would be fair democratically and, as Europe moves towards a multi-tier model, perhaps something the EU will eventually get used to.

Will eurozone votes for eurozone laws catch on in a multi tier EU?


Rollo said...

He is right, for once: those that do not take part in the Euro should withdraw completely. And the sooner, the better, or we will continue to go down with it.

FreedomLover said...

OK, it's a pretty looking model. But wouldn't it be much easier if the UK just left the EU altogether, having invoked the Lisbon Treaty's Article 50, & negotiated a new trading-only relationship with the confounded EU? Once this happens, who knows, there may be some others who will want to follow suit - the real reason why the europhiles all hate this idea!

AuntyEUnice said...

Pretty lppking model freedomLover? It just reminds me of the adage, what a tangled web we weave, when we practice to decieve.

christina Speight said...

This idea is totally unacceptable. If the UK pays for the parliament and the Commission and both spend much of their time working and acting on behalf of the eurozone not only will the EU be increasingly fashioned to suit the eurozone countries but the non-eurozone members will be faced will caucus voting and will be effectively disenfranchised. IF the parliament spend 40% of its time on eurozone work the 40% of its cost should be rebated to the non-euro members and ditto for the Commission.

It would be better if we just left!

Rik said...

Communication goes really well for Cameron. Only a pity Merkel is not going to cancel November's meeting. Nothing better to restore Cameron's credibility than the EU or Germany or France making a stupid move like cancelling the meeting. Probably need a couple of them to restore confidence on this isssue but a good first move by Cameron especially for the homefront. On all important issues after the change in strategy he did what his potential voters in large majority want him to do.

That the UK wants another arrangement (phase 1) looks to be on the agenda now also in Europe. Barosso, Schultz, Merkel, Hollande got the message. Next phase making it clear that:
-They will have a hole the size of the Grand Canyon in their budget if the UK leaves eg.
-They need a treaty change clearly before the UK needs one (and they need the UK for that).
-If the UK leaves it might not be good for the UK, but it certainly isnot good for the EU as well.
-Paying 100 Bn to keep Greece in the Euro and allow the UK to leave the EU will not make sense to markets. Even worse they probably see it as things falling apart. Markets most likely take more kindly to a Grexit than to a Brixit.
-Even a freetradezone iso the EU will be a big negative for the EU. As it could start importing eg agricultural stuff from the worldmarket and would not longer import/export via Rotterdam and Antwerpen (and pay importduties there as well).
Summarised that their negotiating position is not that great by far and not remotely that what they with the usual dosis of Eurogance think it is.

Idris Francis said...

This reminds me of the first lecture I attended on Boolean Algebra - the language of digital computers (1,0 or Yes. No, nothing in between)

The lecturer drew two circles on the blackboard, labelling one "a horse" and the other "a woman", pointing out that the circles could not cross - but adding pensively "I don't know, though!"

Which brings me to the fatal flaw in this article - the idea that all of the different policy areas within the EU operate in water-tight compartments that do not overlap.

That is self-evident nonsense - of course they overlap, all over the place and all the time. Trying to run a government in which different MEPs are entitled to vote on different issues, according to some complex algorithm is a complete nonsense.

And of course we are not talking here about Boolean Yes/No involvements but what might for convenience be called 50 Shades of Grey - in other words, strong involvement across the suposed boundaries of some subject areas - e.g. Single Market and Single Currency - and minor or marginal across others. Also, whether the involvement was strong or marginal would often differ from country to country - Austria having (as far as I know) little involvement in the Common Fisheries Policy, but Britain having strong involvement.

If we have failed to solve the West Lothian and similar UK questions in 100s of years, how long to sort out the same but worse involving 27+ countries that are far less similar than Britain's component parts?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad - so it should not be long now

Gosporttory said...

I just wish we could leave the gravy train completely and start trading with our allies for a change e.g. Commonwealth friends such as Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S.A. not forgetting the BRIC economies, etc

We are all sick to the teeth at subsidising the gravy train and being ignored by our own politicians. It is sickening to have our "leader" Cameron getting into bed with the liberal socialists in the 1st place of whom we have absolutely nothing in common whatsoever. If they had rheir way we would have the euro, further integration with the gravy train, no nuclear insurance policy, more immigration, etc, etc, etc.

Roll on the next election when we will hopefully send their MPs back to Westminster in a taxi instead of a coach.