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Friday, January 04, 2013

How could the Lib Dems respond to David Cameron's upcoming Europe speech?

Earlier today we posed a guest piece over on Lib Dem Voice, looking at how the party could respond constructively to David Cameron's upcoming and long awaited Europe speech, which we reprise below:

The Westminster village might still be in post-holiday slumber mode, but a significant political event is due to take place only in a couple of weeks – David Cameron’s long awaited, ‘tantric’ speech on Europe. While the exact details remain unclear, Cameron could well argue that the UK’s terms of EU membership require revision, and that this should include the repatriation of some powers, after which the new package will be put to a referendum. So how should the Liberal Democrats respond? 
It could be argued that there has already been a pre-emptive response from Nick Clegg, who in his own recent EU speech described the unilateral repatriation of powers as “a false promise wrapped in a Union Jack”. Instead, he argued for pragmatic EU co-operation focusing on three things in particular: a tough budget settlement, defending and deepening the single market, and maintaining co-operation in the area of crime and policing. 
Meritorious as these are – even if there is a lively debate to be had on what institutional form the latter should take – they do not add up to a holistic long-term vision of Britain’s place in an evolving Europe. For example, given the current squeeze on public finances, the coalition is right to push for a freeze in EU expenditure, but this comes across as a time-specific damage limitation exercise without a broader vision for slimming down and rationalising the budget. Likewise, Clegg said he supports reforming and refocusing the EU, but has offered few concrete details in this and other recent public pronouncements. 
A new model of UK-EU relations is not only desirable but inevitable given that closer economic and political integration in the eurozone will render the status-quo null and void. As such, renegotiation is less of a threat to the UK’s EU membership and more of an opportunity to save it by placing it on a more democratically legitimate footing. Polls frequently show that such an option attracts a majority of public support when included alongside the binary ‘in/out’ question. Last year, detailed polling found a majority of UK public opinion backed such a move, including Lib Dem voters. 
The danger for the party is that it engages in the debate in too vague terms, thereby risking being left flat-footed when rivals reveal specific proposals. For example, the Fresh Start group of Conservative MPs has been busy preparing a comprehensive and detailed analysis of each key area of EU policy, alongside their suggestions for reform. If Lib Dems do not agree with their vision, they should at least be able to present a counter-proposal. 
A good place to look for inspiration would be Nick Clegg’s chapter in the Orange Book, written when he was still an MEP in 2004, containing some sensible yet innovative ideas for EU reform. Among other things, he claimed that it was democratically desirable for the flow of competencies to be a two-way street, arguing that “A liberal approach to the allocation of responsibilities to the EU should be founded on a rigorous application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality… Liberal Democrats should push for the reallocation of certain existing powers – including much of agricultural, regional and social policy”. In convincing terms, he made the case for a more flexible EU, more responsive to the needs of member states and citizens.
It is this critical yet constructive approach towards the EU which has been lacking in recent Lib Dem public statements on Europe, indeed, with some degree of irony, it could be argued that the party’s thinking on the issue risks coming across as conservative, while the Tories push ahead with a transformative agenda. It’s true that the debate about Europe in this country too often is framed in terms of British exceptionalism, and the UK has a bit of an image problem on the continent, seen as “jumping from veto to veto.” But Britain isn't alone in facing existential choices in Europe. If the party backs reform but views ‘unilateral’ repatriation as unacceptable, it should set out a credible new institutional framework for all 27 member states and look for allies in Europe. One such ally could be the Dutch liberal VVD party, whose leader, Prime Minister Mark Rutte, recently argued that the Netherlands would welcome a debate over whether Europe is involved in too many areas which could be done at the national level. 
Either way, as the debate in the UK and Europe intensifies, the party needs to be in a position to communicate to voters what its long term vision for Britain’s future in Europe is.


WitteringsfromWitney said...

"The Westminster village might still be in post-holiday slumber mode..."

Never mind the Westminster village, Open Europe - which is most definitely part of that village - has obviously never been in any other state of awareness.

As Open Europe presents itself as a serious think-tank and thus a source of information, perhaps it could point its readers to the clause in the Lisbon Treaty which allows for repatriation of powers?

What is it about the Acquis Communautaire that Open Europe does not appear to understand; that a power once ceded to the EU can never be returned? What is it that Open Europe does not understand about the phrase "ever closer union"?

Where is the logic in lauding Andrea Leadsom and her Fresh Start group for pursuing a course of action that can never be brought to fruition without invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty?

If, as Open Europe maintains, it is necessary to remain in the EU in order to exert our influence and if that influence is as great as OE states it is, then why does it become necessary to repatriate powers?

Just asking - again.........

Rik said...

It is not a perfect world and the LibDems will, at the end of the day, have to accept that.
Cameron's strategy looks imho also for a Europhile the best deal on the table.
All other alternatives have a huge risk of a straight 'Out' in them. Or when you try to dodge the voter in an IN, you will electorally long term hurt your party enormously and still not cleaned the thing up. The issue will remain on the table if there is no referendum or a 'Irish style' (like Maastricht/Lisbon) referendum that would lead to an 'IN as it is', outcome.

The LibDems have to act carefully in this their party's voters look about 50/50 split. It is not that they are backed by 80-90% of their voters in being pro-EU. With their weak performance in other issues and being higher than Median it could cost them a lot of votes. This is simply an emotional issue for a lot of people.
Probably best to take in public a moderate pro-EU view and hope that in negotiations you can do some adjustments to Cameron's policies. That looks like the maximum possible.

At the end of the day all UK parties will have to live with the fact that the present situation is not sustainable. And when it comes under pressure (and it likely will, when nothing is done to adress the concerns of a majority of the UK population) it will more likely than not end in a full exit. Plus a much longer than necessary period before that of great uncertainty, which you donot want in a stagnating economy.
Plus a big hit for the credibiolity of politics in general (which is already at a low).

Autonomous Mind said...

Once again Open Europe is determined to provide commentary that frames the debate only in terms of the shape of Britain's future in 'Europe' - by which I assume you mean the EU.

If Open Europe only wishes to advance the notion of repatriation of *some* powers from the EU, perhaps you would explain the formal mechanism for achieving this.

After all, you advance a renegotiation of powers strategy yet fail to explain that the Article 48 'revision procedure' requires a majority on the European Council before a convention can be set up, or an IGC declared.

Presumably you understand in order for the UK to introduce amendments to the treaty, it first needs a majority on the European Council. How will this be achieved when the UK's interests don't match those of other EU member states?

This then takes us back to your previous assertions about UK influence in the EU. If the UK is incapable of bringing the EU to the table for a renegotiation process, just where is thet influence you claim it has?

Jesper said...

They could clarify a couple of things:

UK influence in the EU?
In the 40 years that UK has been in the EU there must have been at least a few cases where the UK influence (had by being 'at the table') stopped EU proposals that were damaging to UK interests.
What proposals/ideas were they?
If there were none, why is it necessary to pay to 'be at the table'? If there were some, did the proposals come up through malicious intent or through ignorance?

WTO is about trade, how many work for that organisation?
EU is supposed to be about trade, how many are working for EU-institutions? Why so many more employees for a smaller area? Can we get some justification for the numbers?

It has been implied in pro-EU media that if UK were to leave then the EU would raise trade-barriers. I'm guessing the idea to raise trade-barriers would come from somewhere, so where would it come from? Barroso, Van Rompuy or? Are they considering to copy the 1930s by raising trade-barriers and the one thing stopping them from doing something so stupid is the UK? Are they such bad leaders? If they are, shouldn't they be replaced?

Rik said...

@Autonomous mind.
It is quite simple.
The EU at the end of the day is simply an international treaty.
That treaty has to be renegotiated one way or another (banking union, closer cooperation between EZ countries, or EZ/EU exit). There simply looks no way around it and all 27 have to agree on that.
So if the treaty anyway has to be be redrafted you can basically take anything with that (also repatriation of powers earlier transferred). That is what Cameron apparently wants to do.
You could ask yourself how the EZ wants to arrange for say a Grexit formally, exactly in the same way. The treaties need to be ammended or changed.

It is clear that the UK has completely mismanaged its relation with and position in the EU. It has been signing up to international legal obligations as if it was a subscription to The Readers Digest. And didnot consider the consequences of it especially the ideas/feelings of their own population.

This process has to be reversed. But that is more difficult than it looks like to most. Look at this blog a lot of intelligent people simply having enough of it and wanting out.
The problem being it is a problem allowed to build up for decades you cannot put that right in a day (or a week or a month and not even a year).
The UK cannot simply run away, it simply would become an unreliable international partner and not only for EU countries. It cannot leave so many questions open, on traderelations and -rules, as well and damage the economy immensely.

On the other hand the EU cannot create all sort of trade barriers. It is completely ridiculous to think that. That is not a one-way process the UK would do it the other way as well and the EU would take a huge hit it can simply not afford to lose a substantial part of EU trade. Both parties are simply not having another option than try to talk their way out of it. The EU could do more harm to the UK as the other way around. But the UK could dip the EU economy for years if it was forced to. A Mexican stand off. And it doesnot matter if you are killed by one bullet or by 3 or 5, at the end both would have their economic oxygen take off.

Another point is the UK influence. Also a partly homemade problem I am afraid. The UK had better completely focussed on that from the beginning. And kept closely involved on that. It simply did not enough. Which doesnot mean the UK would have to keep doing that and not try to correct this mistake. Hopefully Cameron can take that with him as well.
In that respect the UK imho should focuss on the common market part and simply demand influence. Not only on trade issues, but also in the way that part is set up. Simply demand more focuss on trade on less on other things.
There is still alot to do in that respect but now we have an EU that looks to have sometime more interest in Wolfs and European species of Bisons iso thing like Patents and other IPRs. The latter being of utmost importance for modern business the former hardly.


Rollo said...

Clegg led every one of his MPs out of the Commons because he asked for, but was denied, an In-Out referendum on Europe.
Of course he only did this to cover up his deceit in avoiding his promised referendum on the Constitution/Lisbon Treaty; so he fooled no-one except the UK voters and particularly the lib-dem voters.
What does it matter what Clegg says? He is a proven liar and cheat; no-one believes a word he utters.

Ray said...

I think everyone is expecting too much from Cameron, IMHO it will be another kick to the same can, down the same road, leaving us who knows where. He is in the forefront of the wave of inconsequential professional politicians that is doing most damage to the political system and reputation of the same.

Average Englishman said...

Rollo is right. Nick Clegg is an irrelevance because he was deceitful about the Lisbon Treaty referendum and tuition fees and cannot be trusted. I expect that his party will kick him out shortly and if not, the Lib Dem's will be cast out even further into the political wilderness by the voters at the next election. Open Europe and David Cameron should be more concerned about the views of UKIP and their supporters.

The EU politicos cannot be trusted either; for example, what happened to the change in the common agricultural policy that was promised to Tony Blair in return for the reduction he accepted in the UK's rebate?

Rik is right in that negotiation is the only sensible way for the UK to get itself out of the clutches of the EU is negotiation and also correct that the wording on existing treaties is irrelevant because one way or another they will have to be completely revised shortly; - there is pressure from the EU for further integration that the UK will not agree to and an ever stronger requirement from the UK voters for the UK to leave the EU altogether.

The point that the Europhiles seem to be missing (and I include David Cameron and Open Europe in that category), is that the need for a major UK change has already gone well beyond something that can be sorted out over a few cups of coffee in Brussels. If the Europhiles as a species do not accept very quickly that the UK's status must be reduced to the equivalent of a member the original Common Market then the UK will leave the EU altogether.

A lot of us would prefer the UK to leave anyway and as things stand, I consider that over time our wish will be granted; not because the likes of yours truly are so unbending and unreasonable but because the likes of Barosso, van Rompuy, Merkel et al most certainly are.

So, Open Europe if you really want to see a good trading relationship develop between the UK and its European neighbours in the future you had better widen the parameters of your think tank to include thoughts about the UK leaving the EU altogether and how it may be achieved with the least pain for all concerned. If not, it will happen anyway but potentially with a more painful transition.

Please WAKE UP and pass the message on to your friends in Brussels, Strasbourg or wherever my family happens to be paying for them to eat lunch at the moment.

Thank you.

Rik said...

@Average Englishman
The UK position is probably not really properly considered by all in Europe. But the process has been started.
Imho the only conclusions can be:

1. that it is simply too risky to allow the UK to leave. If they are afraid of a Grexit. A marginal country of which the financial links with the rest of the EU/EZ are very small and those that there were are already substantially cut anyway. A Brixit would be the equivalent of a A-bomb compared to that. It would send a mesage to the world that the EU is falling apart, much more than a Grexit.
2. A referendum in the UK is a near certainty. Cameron might be able to cancel it and get back at his implicit promise. However this simply would mean political suicide. He simply is history if he does. His party would have to replace him asap just for damage limitation.
3. The outcome of a referendum is uncertain but more likely to end in an out than in an In.
4. Come up with hogwash from the EU-side will not be acceptable for Cameron as Cameron cannot sell this at home.
5. The most likley need a change of some sort for the EZ and they need Cameron for that.

Starting from there the best alternative for the EU as well is simply giving Cameron a deal that is a real alternative for an exit. Combined with probably all major parties stating they prefer a reneg obver an out and business doing that as well, gives it a proper chance to get accepted in a referendum.
Plus from the EU side keep it as low profile as possible. You donot want weekly headlines of Brixit topics if the EZ is falling apart.

Anyway leaving (via art 50) or a reneg is not that much different. Simply a truckload of things to consider in both cases and a lot of legislation has either to be amended or at least carefully checked. An exit without having made a proper inventory looks simply economical suicide. I say looks because nobody can oversee that and a lot of things look very negative at least at first (and second) sight. Imho no UK government will go for that it is simply too risky. You basically have to go through 30 years of UK (and EU for trade relations with third parties) legislation and see if it is still applicable and where amendments need to be made depending on the situation. And it has to be in place before the official exit as your businesssector simply might otherwise stand at the EU border (or in fact any border in the world as most is governed by EU law as well) and the papers are not in order and the businesstransaction cannot take place.

Denis Cooper said...

Witterings asks Open Europe to "point its readers to the clause in the Lisbon Treaty which allows for repatriation of powers".

I'll risk his ire and oblige on that by pointing to Article 48(2) TEU on page 42 here:


"2. The Government of any Member State, the European Parliament or the Commission may submit to the Council proposals for the amendment of the Treaties. These proposals may, inter alia, serve either to increase or to reduce the competences conferred on the Union in the Treaties. These proposals shall be submitted to the European Council by the Council and the national Parliaments shall be notified."

That second sentence explicitly allowing for treaty changes which go against the general flow of "ever closer union":

"These proposals may, inter alia, serve either to increase or to reduce the competences conferred on the Union in the Treaties."

was newly introduced through the amending Treaty of Lisbon which came into force on December 1st 2009.

In case anybody (including a federalist lawyer on the ECJ) thinks that this may have been slipped in unnoticed by some kind of error, or that the governments of the EU member states knew about it but didn't really mean it, here is their Declaration 18 attached to the Final Act of the Lisbon Treaty:


"Equally, the representatives of the governments of the Member States, meeting in an Intergovernmental Conference, in accordance with the ordinary revision procedure provided for in Article 48(2) to (5) of the Treaty on European Union, may decide to amend the Treaties upon which the Union is founded, including either to increase or to reduce the competences conferred on the Union in the said Treaties."

Autonomous Mind has the better point, that while Article 48 TEU would allow Cameron to propose treaty changes to repatriate powers to the UK that doesn't mean that the governments of other EU member states are going to agree to them.

Jesper said...

Suppose art 48 was invoked.
What will other countries governments think of getting more power for themselves?

Would their opinion change if it meant that a net-payer would leave unless powers were returned? Assuming that remaining net-payers would have to pay more and also likely: net-recipients would be receiving less.

I suppose the outcome would depend on what the 'it' turned out to be...

How the power of EU-institutions grew: Nations gave power to EU-institutions and got money back (people don't see that they are being bribed with their own money). Now it might be, take power back to the nations and don't lose money.

Rik said...

To start things with 48 will imho not work. You need basically all to agree on changes and changes that would only benefit the UK are likely always somewhere finding some opposition. Plus there is no timepressure to deal with things at the other side.
That is why it is important that the UK has as much as possible 'change'. And it has that when the treaty needs an urgent revision for other reasons not directly relevant for the UK (like making a Grexit possible without leving the EU, substantial change of the bankingunion, substantial change of the EZ, making Euro membership not a condition anymore and things like that).
It is also important that Cameron get support for treatychange from other countries. Basially all might have an interest in that. South EZ to have the treatychanged to get some money from Germany. North EZ to make a rescue possible. North in general to get also some powers back (especially the Skandinavians and Holland will likley be in favour). Outsiders EZ as a safeguard against being overruled by a unified Euro-block.

In general Cameron is best served with as many as possible other countries demanding also some change or wanting to profit from it. And from as many as possible countries having a serious interest in having the treaty changed for other reasons as well.
You donot get that via 48.
At least not directly after Cameron has done his homework and got support at the end it could be done via a 48. But starting with a 48 will imho not work.

He is eg clearly trying to get Holland aboard. Which is an excellent idea imho. Their PM is in big trouble at home and getting some stuff back from the EU makes a) selling a later Euro rescue more digestable and b) his voters have for a big part run to Wilders (also on his (W) ideas about the EU, a bit like UKIP but even more extreme (Wilders is bigger in the polls than Rutte's party at the moment)). Might be a way to get the voters back.

Other points:
By adding some other stuff not directly UK related Cameron has a better chance to get support. Bringing democracy in would make it harder to sell a tough position against the UK in the rest of Europe.