“Good lord … Is that it?”
That was my immediate reaction to reading David Cameron’s Telegraph article. Barely a few days after Carl Bildt admitted that he had no idea what it was that London wanted from Europe, we were told the Prime Minister was finally going to flesh out his plans for reforming the UK’s EU membership. You can find the full article here. I’m not going to deal with all of it. No-one is going to make us join the euro or an EU army: that’s UKIP appeasing tripe. Rather i’m going to briefly address the seven areas of reform that the Prime Minister mentions.
1 Powers flowing away from Brussels, not always to it.
Well that’s utterly nebulous gumpf. Next.
2 The ability to work with other parliaments to block EU legislation.
This is the famous “red card” that has been mooted by Hague and others. Its certainly possible, perhaps in a mirror of the new procedure for enhanced cooperation and could be achieved without any need for treaty change. However, it would just be so much easier to engage with legislation before it was enacted and not, as i have been told many ministers do, simply sit looking bored in council meetings and occasionally say “I think the UK can live with that.”
3 Less red tape and more trade with North America and Asia.
The EU’s REFIT agenda, led by Cssr Maros Sefcovic, is already doing just that. In fact with its focus on a “one in, one out” policy with regards to regulation, you’d be forgiven for thinking someone in Brussels had been listening extremely attentively to the Conservative Party Conference in 2010. On trade, the EU has recently signed Free Trade Agreements with both Canada and Singapore and is in the process of negotiating the transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) with the USA. So all in all, its already delivering on what the Prime Minister says he wants, but of course it can do more.
4. Greater freedom from the EU Court of Human Rights for police forces and justice systems.
Someone in the Number 10 press office deserves a good thrashing for this corker. There is no “EU Court of Human Rights”. The ECHR is of course not a part of the European Union, but a part of the Council of Europe, an organisation in which we have participated since the 1950s and the Conservatives until yesterday sat with members of Vladimir Putin’s party.
5 Free movement for work only and not to get benefits.
There are already protections in the treaties against people being a burden on host countries. Indeed, the much trumpeted new rules on migrants not being able to claim benefits for three months have been in the EU directives on freedom of movement since 2004. Additionally, all the evidence shows people do not migrate to the UK to claim but to work: just 2.9% of all JSA is spent on EU migrants and they are statistically more likely to work than UK nationals. Once again, the Prime Minister is playing to a public perception rather than an actual problem.
6 More protection over migration for when new states join the union.
There’s very little leeway here. Transitional controls of 7 years are probably fair and i very much doubt you’d get countries like Poland on-board, especially given how badly they reacted to the Prime Minister’s comments on their peoples’ migration to the UK.The Conservative’s anti-migrant sentiment has got more than a few backs up of late, which is a real problem for a reform agenda where you need their votes.
7 The UK’s removal from the “ever greater union” principle.
Not a chance. Ever closer union is a fundamental cornerstone of the European Union. The Treaty of Rome, which the UK signed in 1973 and held a referendum on in 1975, makes explicit reference to it and the UK has willingly signed up to all aspects of it with the exception of the euro and the Schengen area, exemptions which still irk other European states.
What was it Macbeth said about an idiots tale being “full of sound and fury signifying nothing”?