John Bruton

Opinions & Ideas

Category: David Cameron

THE OFFER TO DAVID CAMERON….IS IT REALLY A “REFORM”?

The-UK-and-EU-flags-010The concessions the UK is winning to encourage its citizens to vote to stay in the EU could make the EU even more complicated than it is.

They could slow down decision making still further, at the very time when problems are becoming more, not less, urgent. This would not be “Reform”. Yet David Cameron says he wants the keep the UK in what he calls a “reformed European Union” Already the UK is

  • exempt from joining the euro,
  • exempt from the common border rules of Schengen, and
  • does not have to take part in EU activities to combat crime(although it can opt into these on a pick and mix basis).

It is a semi detached member of the EU, which makes it harder for the UK to exercise leadership in the EU.

Now the UK is seeking, and may be granted at a Summit next Thursday, new concessions. These concessions are being sought because UK public opinion is convinced that the EU is undemocratic and should be curbed. They are convinced the only locus of true democracy for the UK is Westminster. The truth is that neither the EU, nor Westminster, is a perfect expression of democracy.

In Westminster a party can have an overall majority of the seats with only 37% of the vote.

In the EU, while the members of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, who make the decisions each have democratic mandate, the people of Europe have only a very indirect vote on who is to be the President of the European Commission. EU voters, unlike Westminster voters, do not have a sense that they can throw the EU government out of office. But, instead of focussing on how to make the EU level governance more democratic, UK negotiators have concentrated on enhancing the capacity of the 28 national parliaments to block EU law making.

Given that the UK is a global player, one would have expected it instead to focus on making global and EU wide governance more democratic, rather than slowing things down or simply repatriating powers to the national level.

NEW OBSTACLES TO EU LAWMAKING ARE NOT “REFORM”

As part of the package devised to respond to UK requests, EU rules are to be changed to allow 55% of national parliaments to apply to have an EU law blocked before it has been properly considered by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. This “Red Card” power is to be exercised within 12 weeks of the law having been presented at EU level.

This blockage is supposed to be grounded on a claim that the EU law breaches to principle of “subsidiarity”.

Subsidiarity is a philosophical concept, around which there can be so many differences of opinion, that it does not constrain this blocking mechanism being used for reasons of pure political opportunism. One could easily envisage an EU law, that had been introduced to open up the EU market for legal services, being opposed virulently by lawyers in every member state.

Or one could imagine an EU law, to open up the energy market across borders, being opposed by high cost producers in a number of states. As it is, the lawyers and the energy companies can, and do, already fight such laws in the European Commission before they are presented, and then in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament while they are being debated, voted upon, and compromised in and between Parliament and Council.

Now, to allay UK worries, a new field of operation is being opened up for the lobbyists who want to stop an EU law…the 28 national parliaments of the EU.

EU lobbyists will now be tempted to open offices in the capitals of all member states, so that they can be ready to lobby on behalf of clients to persuade members of national parliaments to use of the Red Card to stop a future EU law a client might not like.

Parliamentary majorities can change and many EU countries are governed by coalitions or minority governments, so one could envisage EU lobbyists seeking to exploit domestic inter party rivalries, or domestic instability, to win support for the use of a Red Card by a national parliament. All national parliaments are equal in this system, so the 55% blocking vote could come from countries that represent only a small minority of the EU population. It is therefore surprising that the UK, which is a big country, is championing this mechanism.

It is surprising for another reason.

The UK is primarily an exporter of services rather than goods. It is in the area of services, rather than goods, that the EU Single market is furthest from completion.

Therefore services is an area where the EU will need to pass the most laws to sweep aside national restrictions on competition from other EU states.

As a services exporter, the UK would have much more to gain than to lose from EU Services liberalisation legislation. Yet it is the UK which seeking a red card that would make it easier for opponents of liberalisation to delay and block EU liberalisation legislation!

PREVENTING THE EURO ZONE ACTING QUICKLY IN A CRISIS IS NOT “REFORM”

Another proposed concession to the UK could also complicate EU decision making on economic and financial matters.

Here the UK concern the is about rules being made to govern the euro, which might inhibit UK financial operators making full use of the euro zone market. On the other hand, as we have learned from the crisis, banking problems in one jurisdiction infect others very easily. UK and US banks were exposed by the Greek crisis and did not complain when EU action protected their interests!

The EU authorities may have to act very quickly if there is a new banking crisis. The EU banking union is not complete, especially as far as deposit insurance is concerned.

Yet to satisfy the UK, it is now proposed that a member state, like the UK that is not in the euro zone, be free to appeal a proposed EU law, which is proposed to safeguard the euro, to the European Council (where it may be able to veto it)

This is despite the fact that it is also proposed, in the special package for the UK,

  • that non euro members are to be freed of any financial obligation for euro area costs, and that,
  • in non euro zone countries, supervision of banks be a “matter for their own authorities” according to the text.

The proposed procedure would allow a non euro member, like the UK, to delay an EU law that is needed, in the view of the states that are in the euro, to safeguard their currency or the ensure the solvency and proper supervision of their banks, in the interests of customers and depositors.

It is unclear what happens when the appeal is brought to the European Council.

The European Council usually decides issues by unanimity, so one could envisage an urgent EU law to safeguard the euro or the euro zone economy being vetoed there by the UK, which was not even in the euro.

This is giving the UK power without responsibility.

The proposal for the UK does say that “member states whose currency is not the euro shall not impede the implementation of legal acts linked to the functioning of the euro area and shall refrain from measures which could jeopardise the attainment of the objectives of the economic and monetary union”.

But these are all matters of judgement on which it may not be easy to find unanimity, especially when time is short, and national interests collide.

BRITAIN SHOULD RAISE ITS SIGHTS…THE ONLY WAY TO WIN THE REFERENDUM

For the past two millennia, Britain has had a vital interest in the peace and prosperity of continental Europe.

It has gone to war many times to preserve it.

English is the language of EU governance. The EU Single Market is a modern application of the ideas of Adam Smith.

Two hundred years ago, when European states were much less interdependent than today and was recovering from the Napoleonic Wars, the then UK Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh, persuaded the European powers to make, in his words, “a systematic pledge of preserving concert among the leading powers and a refuge under which all minor states may look to find their security”.

While his views on Ireland were mistaken, Castlereagh’s views on Europe were not. Rather than seeking a series of further exemptions, and so called “reforms” that will slow further an already complex EU lawmaking system, David Cameron should follow Castlereagh’s example and set out his country’s own comprehensive vision for the peace and prosperity of Europe.

Then he might give himself a chance of winning the Referendum he has chosen to have

HOW DIFFICULT WILL IT BE TO KEEP THE UK IN THE EU?

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Prime Minister David Cameron’s letter, to   European Council President Donald Tusk , about  the renegotiation of the  terms of UK membership of the EU, shows that he has invested time in trying to understand the perspective of other EU states. This is good.
 
That said, the timing of this renegotiation is bad, because the EU has so many other politically difficult problems on its plate just now, problems from which the UK has excluded itself, namely
 
+ the refugee crisis and the threat  it poses to free movement within the Schengen zone and 
+ the fact that a number of EU states are at risk of breaching the terms of the fiscal compact on debt reduction and fiscal deficits.
 
A supportive attitude by the UK on the resolution of these EU wide problems would  help create the impression that the UK is, potentially at least, in the EU for the long haul, which would make it worthwhile for other members to go all the way to their bottom lines in attempting to meet the UK’s requests.
 
It is welcome that David Cameron’s letter says that he is open to “different ways of achieving the result” he sets out in his letter.
 
It is also welcome that he seeks to put his proposals in a context of “reforms that would benefit the European Union as a whole”.
 
He further says that it “matters to all of us that the Eurozone succeeds”.
 
Although David Cameron has expressed similar sentiments himself before, these sentiments have not been prominent in much of the general UK debate on the EU, which has often tended to treat the EU as something alien, and a matter of indifference to the UK, which objectively it is not. Occasionally in the UK debate, “schadenfreude” has trumped UK interests.
 
David Cameron’s approach is shaped by the contents of the Conservative Party Manifesto. It is a response to an expression of identity politics, which is a form of politics on which compromise is inherently very difficult indeed, as we know from Irish history.
 
David Cameron’s letter deals with four sets of issue, and I will deal with each in turn.
 
ECONOMIC GOVERNANCE
 
On Economic Governance of the EU, David Cameron  says that
 
+ the integrity of the Single Market for non Eurozone countries must be protected,
+  that non Eurozone countries must not be liable for operations to support the Euro as a currency,
+ that the financial supervision of banks must remain a matter exclusively for national institutions in the non Eurozone countries and that
+  any issues that affect all member states must be decided by all member states.
 
I am not sure that these issues can be as neatly separated, as David Cameron suggests. 
 
For example, the bailout of Greece by the EU and the IMF was not just an operation in “support of the euro as a currency”. 
 
If Greece had gone under, UK banks would have been hit hard.
 
Furthermore it is arguable that, even if it is not in the euro, the UK had a greater obligation to help a fellow EU member, in the situation Greece was in, than had (say) the United States.  
 
After all, the UK, even if not in the euro,  as a member of the EU, had agreed to treat economic policy as a “matter of common concern” with all other EU states, including Greece, under Article 121 of the EU Treaty. 
 
Furthermore, the UK has had power to join fellow members in warning member states like Greece if they were deviating from agreed economic policies under Articles 121 (4), and under Article 126 . Non EU states were not in that position.
 
In light of those articles, it is hard to see that the UK, as an EU non euro member, could say it has no more responsibility for helping Greece, than has a country that is not in the EU at all.
 
If the UK wants that to be the position, its role in EU economic governance under article 120, 121 and subsequent articles of the Treaty should be changed. 
 
David Cameron also asks in his letter that the EU “do more to fulfil its commitment to the free flow of capital”, presumably across the whole of the EU and not just within the Eurozone.  
 
That sits uncomfortably beside his insistence that the Bank of England alone be involved in supervising UK banks lending across borders into the rest of the EU, including the Eurozone. 
 
As we in Ireland know, unsupervised flows of capital can contribute to bubbles in another country, and if those bubbles were to burst, none of the countries involved would escape the pain, including the countries whose banks had been lending the money, even if those countries were not members of the Eurozone.
 
His principle that “any issues that affect all member states must be decided by all member states” is very widely drawn.  Few EU decisions affect all members in precisely the same way.
 
This principle could be interpreted to mean that the UK should have a vote on all Eurozone decisions. Virtually all Euro zone decisions will affect the UK to some limited and indirect extent , not least because the UK does so much business with the Eurozone. This is so even though David Cameron insists the UK will not be financially liable for any of those decisions. 
 
In a sense, his request could amount to the Boston Tea Party demand in reverse, namely as  a demand for “representation without taxation”.
 
COMPETITIVENESS
 
David Cameron makes an interesting proposal under the heading of Competitiveness. It is potentially a big opportunity for Europe. I hope it will be strengthened and emphasised in the negotiations.
 
His proposal  is that the EU should “bring together all the different  proposals , promises and agreements on the Single Market,  on trade and on cutting regulation, into a clear long term commitment to boost the competitiveness of the EU, and drive jobs and growth for all”.
 
This idea of a big competitiveness package, as a price for continuing UK membership of the EU, could be used to drive through changes that have been stalled for years by inertia in individual member states.  In Germany, for example, the implementation of Single Market rules is often blocked at the level of the Lander. France is another country that could do more to open its market to EU competition, to the advantage of French consumers. 
 
If the British are to get a credible package on competitiveness, it may be necessary to demand prior enactment package of measures at national level, in all member states, in the same way as the Greeks had to pass certain laws, before they could get access to bailout funds.
 
There is, however, one aspect of David Cameron’s letter which could potentially run directly counter to his desire to complete the Single Market. 
 
This is a proposal he makes under the heading of  “Sovereignty”.
 
SOVEREIGNTY
 
Under this heading, David Cameron proposes that a group of national parliaments, presumably a minority , should be able to come together to stop what he calls “unwanted” (EU) legislative proposals.
 
This idea that a minority could block a majority would alter the entire dynamic of EU decision making. It would make it hostage to the vagaries of national electoral politics in a new and unpredictable way.  We should not forget that Lord Cockfield, the UK Commissioner, would never have been able to create the EU Single goods market, without the majority voting created by the Single European Act.
 
This proposal is actually as likely to be used against UK interests, as in favour of what the UK wants under the heading of Competiveness.
 
It is easy to envisage such a veto mechanism being used by a sufficient number of national Parliaments of other EU states to block legislative proposals to complete the Single Services Market or the Single Digital Market, both of which David Cameron wants, to protect some national vested interest. 
 
A  solution might be to exempt all Single Market related legislation from this blocking mechanism. 
 
Another solution might be to associate all national parliaments with the EU legislative process in a manner similar to the involvement of the Economic and Social Council or the Committee of the Regions, but without creating a new veto point.
 
David Cameron also wants the UK exempted from the commitment to “ever closer union”. This phrase  has been in all EU Treaties since the UK joined, and was in the EU Treaty when the people of Great Britain and Northern Ireland  voted in a referendum to stay in the EU in 1975. 
 
Essentially the UK wants to “constitutionalise” the idea that there are two types of EU member, 
 

   + those committed to “closer union”, and    + those who are not committed to it. 

 
This is a formal recognition that there is a “two speed” EU. This idea may be welcome by some big states but not by smaller ones. If Britain is exempted from the commitment to ever closer union, it is not hard to imagine that other EU countries will demand a similar exemption.
 
He says he wants this distinction to be “irreversible”, which implies that a future UK government could not decide to commit itself to ever closer union in future, without getting the permission of all other EU states, by means of  a Treaty change, or the amendment of a protocol(which is the same thing legally speaking).
 
This runs counter to David Cameron’s own expressed wish for flexibility in the UKs relationship with the EU. 
 
The notion of legal irreversibility is contrary to the British constitutional tradition itself, which declares that Parliament is not trammelled by external legal constraints.
A legal device can probably be found to accommodate this request but it does raise a wider question of whether the UK will ever be satisfied. 
 
The UK already has special arrangements on the euro, on passport controls, and on Justice and Home Affairs.  The more exemptions it gets, the more exemptions it seems to want. 
 
Will this renegotiation /referendum process result in a full and final settlement, or will it just be an instalment?  This is not a mere debating point. If the UK will keep coming back for more, the EU will never settle down. Indeed other member states may not be prepared to go all the way to their bottom line, if they feel whatever they offer could never satisfy UK public opinion.
 
IMMIGRATION
 
Immigration is the area in David Cameron’s letter which has attracted the most comment.
 
There is no doubt that the UK has been more open to immigration in the past than have many other EU states.  This is partly because English is a second language for people from all over the world. The restraint David Cameron is proposing will not change that.
 
Clearly, if one does not like immigration, the fact that English is a second language for so many of the world’s population has disadvantages, as well as advantages.
 
On the other hand, the cost of living in London and the south east of England is already a strong deterrent to immigration to that part of the UK.
David Cameron wants, if the UK remains in the EU, to be able to require that people, coming to the UK from other EU states (presumably including from Ireland,) must have lived in the UK for four years, before they qualify for in work benefits or social housing.
 
If this four year principle is accepted, it could be implemented in all other EU states for other purposes as well.
 
David Cameron also wants to “end the practice of sending child benefit overseas”, which presumably means that an Irish worker in the UK could no longer get child benefit for his children, if the children are living in Ireland .
 
The principle of not “sending benefits overseas”, if accepted , could conceivably be applied to pensions, which would affect the UK pensioners living in Spain.
 
If one has to live four years in another EU country to get benefits, access to health services could also be denied to people living in another EU country.
 
David Cameron then acknowledges that these issues are “difficult for other member states”.
 
This is a revealingly narrow way of putting it.
 
In his speech, David Cameron mentions “other member states” but does NOT mention Article 45 of the EU Treaty, which covers free movement of workers within the EU. 
 
Article 45 bans
 
“any discrimination based on nationality as regards employment, remuneration and other conditions of work and employment”. 
 
There is no reference in this Treaty Article to any qualifying period of residence to be free of such discrimination.
 
In the UK, tax credit payments are dependent on worker’s hours worked and income, and whether they have children.
 
So restricting them would amount to discrimination in income, between a UK citizen and  EU immigrant, doing the  same job in the UK.  It would presumably apply to Irish workers in the UK who have been there for less than 4 years. It will be difficult for an Irish Government to consent to this.
 
I would have expected David Cameron to have directly addressed the interpretation of Article 45 of the EU Treaties, rather than pretending the difficulty is with “other member states”.
 
By targeting in work benefits so explicitly, David Cameron has left himself very little room for manoeuvre in light of the provisions of that Article.
 
Indeed there were reports on the BBC this morning that the UK Government is now considering applying the 4 year rule to UK residents as well, which could mean that young, new UK born entrants to the UK labour market may not qualify for in work benefits until they have been working for 4 years. That would create a whole new swathe of people inclined to vote for the UK to leave the EU.
 
CONCLUSION
 
This negotiation will not be easy. 
 
Sides have already been taken in the UK , regardless of what may be conceded in response to David Cameron’s letter. 
 
The impact on the EU itself, of a possible UK exit, is incalculable.
 
So also are the effects of the precedent the UK is setting, and the consequences for the EU, of conceding some the UK requests.
Solving this politically generated problem will require statesmanship and imagination of a very high order indeed.  Keeping the UK in the EU is a vital matter for Ireland and for Europe. 
 
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
 
 
Speech by John Bruton, former Taoiseach and former EU Ambassador to the United States, at a seminar on “Free Movement and Labour Mobility in the European Union”  organised by the Institute of European Democrats, in NUI Maynooth, at 12.20 pm on Friday 13 November .
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
 
 
 
 
 

 

IF THE UK GETS AN ACCEPTABLE EU DEAL, WILL IT STILL KEEP COMING BACK FOR MORE, EVERY TIME AN EU TREATY HAS TO BE REVISED IN FUTURE?


A “Daily Mail” poll,  last week, showed that, in a sudden change, 51% of UK voters now want to leave the EU, whereas 49% want to stay in.

This big change in opinion seems to be related to the refugee crisis, because the poll also shows voters strongly favour David Cameron’s unwillingness to accommodate large numbers of refugees as against Angela Merkel’s support for all EU countries accommodating a substantial quota.

This dramatic change in opinion shows how a referendum result on a particular day can turn on unexpected events, and how a permanent decision can be influenced by what may prove to be temporary phenomena

The UK already had a referendum on whether to stay in the EU in 1975.  Now it is to have another in 2017. But will this 2017 referendum settle the question?

Eurosceptics, like Nigel Farage, have welcomed the decision of David Cameron to change the wording of the question UK voters will be asked to decide on, from a “Yes” or “No” to UK membership, to one which asks whether UK voters want to “remain” in, or “leave”, the Union. 

This change was recommended to David Cameron by the Electoral Commission who felt the earlier formulation favoured those who wanted the UK to stay in the EU.

“Leave” implies action, “remain “could be construed as endorsing passivity.  “Yes” would have implied positivity, “No” negativity. Generally people prefer to be positive. So perhaps Nigel Farage is right to be happy.

The bigger risk here is not in the wording of the question. It is in the political reality  that, in a referendum, temporary considerations, like anger at some current government policy on an unrelated matter, may induce people to make a permanent decision that they would not make in normal circumstances.

That is why I prefer parliamentary democracy to referendum democracy. 

In a referendum, the issue has to be reduced to a single question decided on a single day. 
In the parliamentary system the decision is usually taken over many months, in a process which allows greater flexibility, and opportunities to change direction in light of what is learned. 

But a referendum is what we are going to have, so it behoves everyone in all the 28 EU countries to do what they can to ensure, if they want the UK to stay in the EU, that the negotiation is concluded in a way that presents the EU in the best possible light to the UK electorate.

The UK’s negotiating approach, and the frame of mind in which the UK people approach the negotiations, are important here too. If the UK gets a good deal, that is endorsed in a referendum, will UK citizens then fully commit to the EU, or will they retain an attitude of conditional and skeptical membership, waiting for the next opportunity to find fault?

In 2003, I was chairman of the committee of the Convention on the Future of Europe which dealt with Justice and Home Affairs.  Our task was to redraft the provisions of the EU Treaties dealing with cross border crimes. The UK had long been suspicious of continental courts having jurisdiction over UK citizens and wanted to limit EU activity in this field.

At each stage in the negotiation, the other parties to the negotiation went as far as they thought they could to accommodate UK concerns, only to find that once that was settled, the UK came back looking for more concessions on the same points.

The Convention’s “final” draft of the proposed EU Constitution, was not final. The UK looked for, and got, more concessions in the draft approved by the Heads of Government. 

Then, when the Constitution failed in referenda in France and the Netherlands, and was replaced by a slightly slimmed down “Treaty” in Lisbon, the UK looked for, and got, even more concessions on their concerns, including a complete opt out, with a right to opt in at will.

Will the other states go all the way to their bottom lines, in the negotiation of the “improved” terms of UK membership if they think the UK will adopt a similar tactic and keep coming back for more? They will ask themselves how an EU of 28 members would work, if every country that UK approach.

Suppose the final deal is one that satisfies UK voters by a narrow margin, will future UK governments then be likely to go on looking for further concessions afterwards, on the same issues, every time there have to be any further revisions of the EU Treaties? 

If the answer to these questions is yes, and there are many in the UK who will never be satisfied with what the EU offers, then the other 27 members may hold back from their maximum concession. 

David Cameron may then find he has raised expectations in the UK unduly, and may fail to convince UK voters to remain in the EU.

Or he may find that his electorate wants to “experiment” with leaving the EU, just as many US voters want to experiment with Donald Trump, or some UK voters seem to want to experiment with Jeremy Corbyn.

There also is the related risk that UK voters may see the referendum as an opportunity to “make a statement” about their sense of who they are, rather than make a final, fully considered, decision about the future of Europe. 

So we must prepare for the possibility of an EU without the UK.

WHAT ARE EUROPE AND AMERICA DOING TO HELP CHRISTIANS FLEEING THE MIDDLE EAST?

This article from the Wall Street Journal highlights a huge moral and political question for our times….the extermination of long established Christian communities in the Middle East. Some of the refugees, described so graciously by David Cameron as a “swarm”, are Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq.

While not the primary cause, Western interventions, like the invasion of Iraq, contributed  to the plight of Christians there. Western support for rebels in Syria is also worsening the position of religious minorities in that country.

People fear the arrival of refugees in the West, and suggest they will become a burden. But experience shows that previous refugee flows, like the East European Jews, the Ugandan Asians, and the Lebanese Christians have quickly become self supporting and active contributors to economic development in their host countries.

People look back and ask themselves why their governments failed to provide refuge for Jews fleeing the Nazis in the 1930’s and assume smugly that, knowing what we now know, this generation would do better.

The present response to the Middle Eastern refugee crisis throws that into doubt. In fact there is less excuse now, because many Western societies are ageing, and actually need an influx of younger people.

CAMERONS RENEGOTIATION WILL NOT BE EASY

The British Governments plan to renegotiate the terms of its membership of the EU do not come at a good time. The EU is tackling the possibility of Greece leaving the euro, and Ukraine going bankrupt while simultaneously being dismantled by force by Russia

Now, while doing all that, the EU has also to address itself to a, yet to be revealed, British renegotiation agenda. It is likely that this agenda, to some extent, will be shaped around David Cameron’s assessment of what he has a good chance of being conceded.  He is touring EU capitals to find that out. That is a sensible and pragmatic approach on his part.

What he gets will probably not satisfy the 100 or so Tory MPs who simply want the UK to leave the EU. And with a majority of only 12, David Cameron cannot ignore these MPs.  Other EU leaders will have to judge how close they should go to their bottom line, just to satisfy opinion in a country which may  leave the EU  anyway. 

There is one issue on which David Cameron’s demands are already very explicit and clear…the rights of recent EU immigrants living in the UK. This may, or may not, include Irish immigrants living in Britain, but I expect it could be difficult in EU law for Britain, inside the EU, to discriminate in favour of the Irish against other EU nationals
The Conservative Manifesto could not be clearer on the position of recent immigrants from other EU countries. It says that 

“If (EU) jobseekers have not found a job within 6 months, they will be required to leave “ .

This seems to be in direct conflict with Article 20 of the EU Treaty which gives EU citizens a right to “move and reside freely within the territory of (other) member states”.
Furthermore, the Manifesto recalls that the Government  has  already banned housing benefit for EU immigrants, and goes on to say

“We will insist that EU migrants who want to claim tax credit and child benefit must have lived here for five years”.

This seems in flat contradiction of Article 45 of the EU Treaty which requires

“the abolition of any discrimination based on nationality between workers as regards employment, remuneration, and other conditions of employment.”

Tax credits are a form of negative income tax. If discrimination in respect of tax credits were to be permitted, it would become impossible, within the EU, to resist a proposal to apply different income tax rates, or different tax free allowances, to people of different EU nationalities.

The irony of the UK Governments position is that they want a stronger Single Market, with greater freedom to sell goods and services, and move capital, across boundaries within the EU. But they wish to resist the freedom of movement of workers across EU boundaries ! This will be seen by many in the rest of the EU as ideologically biased, as well as discriminatory.

Angela Merkel, a politician who always looks for hard evidence, will be interested to discover that, between 2005 and 2014, only 33% of immigrants to the UK came from other EU countries, like Ireland. Only 2.5% of all benefit claimants in the UK originate from other EU countries, and EU immigrants to the UK are only half as likely, as native UK subjects, to claim benefit. 

Another knotty question, within the UK itself, will be the position of the devolved governments in Scotland , Northern Ireland and Wales.

For example, given their electoral support level, how can David Cameron exclude the Scottish Nationalists from the UK negotiating team?  Offering to include them could be good politics. Excluding them from the negotiating team, if they requested a place, would make a Scottish exit from the UK more likely

A UK demand  is likely to be the repatriation of more powers, from Brussels to the 28 member parliaments, including Westminster. The difficulty here is that a comprehensive “Competence Review” by the  UK Foreign Office, across the whole range of EU powers, failed to come up with  many concrete suggestions for powers that ought to be repatriated.

The UK may also demand a “red card “ system, whereby EU laws, already approved  in the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament ,where the UK is already well represented in both, could be derailed  by vetoes from a number of national parliaments. This would prolong and delay, the already laborious, process of EU law making. 

It would also run directly counter to another UK demand, for completion of the EU Single market. For example, the outstanding matters of creating a Single market in Digital Services, in Energy, and in Capital for lending, all in the UK’s interests, require more new EU laws,  not less.  

The unintended often happens in politics.

The proposed “red card” would, I believe, be more likely to be used by other EU states  to block things the UK wants, than the other way around.

These difficulties all suggest that David Cameron should seek to reframe the entire negotiation, both in the way he presents it at home, and in the rest of the EU. 

Rather than looking for exceptions for the UK, he should emphasise Britain’s capacity to take the lead in  the EU in clearing away barriers to economic growth across all of Europe, a stance that would play to his country’s strength, and would  put others on the back foot.

THE CASE FOR JEAN CLAUDE JUNCKER

It is difficult to understand why David Cameron has decided to expend so much of the UK’s limited political capital in the EU on a bid to stop Jean Claude Juncker becoming President of the European Commission. The timing of his campaign, at this late stage when in the European Parliament  elections are over, is disastrous. 

All the major political parties represented in the European Parliament selected their proposed lead candidates for President of the Commission,  ahead of that election, on the supposition that the lead candidate selected by the party that subsequently won the largest number of seats in the Parliament, would be the one who would be supported for President of the Commission. 

The Heads of almost all EU Governments participated in the selection process of their European party’s candidate. For example, Angela Merkel took part in the selection of Juncker as the EPP candidate at the EPP Convention in Dublin a few months ago.  
If the Heads of Government, who are almost all the leaders of their national parties, had wanted to stop thisprocess, they could have done so……several months ago.  They did not do so. It is too late now. 

They let the campaign go ahead on the basis that the lead candidate was to be the preferred nominee for President of the Commission. They allowed TV debates between the lead candidates to take place, on the assumption that each were the candidates for Commission President.

Personally, I would have preferred if the President was selected by a direct vote of the European people, rather than by this convoluted and indirect method. This would have been better for the independence of the Commission, from both the Parliament and Heads of Government.   But that battle was lost long ago.

I fought for direct election in the Convention, but got no support from any major figure except George Papandreou, then Greek Foreign Minister. Although they constantly complain that the EU is “undemocratic”, no British representative gave direct election any support in the Convention.

David Cameron should remember that this is the third time that a British Government has tried, in a very personalised way, to veto candidates for President of the Commission, the late Jean Luc Dehaene and Guy Verhofstadt were both victims of previous British vetoes, simply because they were people of strong pro European conviction. 

David Cameron’s foolish confrontational tactics will be less successful this time, because now the issue will be decided by qualified majority rather than unanimity, and a veto by a single country is no longer possible.

Cameron says he want to keep Britain in the EU, but his tactics are so divisive that, if he wins it will be at the price of huge ill will in Europe, or if he loses,  it will be at the price of increased anti EU sentiment in his own party and in British society more widely. Either way, he is serving neither his own, his party’s, or his country’s interests.

DAVID CAMERON’S SPEECH

The Conservative plan, as set out in David Cameron’s speech, is to try to renegotiate the terms of UK membership in the EU, if it wins the next general Election, and put the terms to a referendum.

The risk is that Labour may feel under pressure to adopt a similar policy, so as to prevent a leakage of its votes to UKIP.
It is very unlikely that the results of any such renegotiation, whether conducted by Labour or the Conservatives, will satisfy British popular expectations.  And if that is the case, the UK electorate may choose in a referendum to leave the EU.

This renegotiation is likely to be a disappointment because the expectations in Britain are vague and unrealistic. David Cameron did not offer any clear negotiating objectives in his speech.

SINGLE MARKET IS NOT A FREESTANDING ENTITY

He seemed to think that the EU Single Market was some sort of freestanding entity separate from common EU policies on regulation, working time, transport, and education. But for other EU nations, it was in return for policies on these things, that they opened their markets to the rest of the EU, in the first place. The Single Market is a delicate political construct that cannot be easily unpicked.

And while accepting that the EU needed to resolve the euro crisis, he wanted  “contrition” to be expressed  by those who created the euro, notwithstanding that  Economic and Monetary Union was on the EU agenda before a previous Conservative Prime Minister negotiated the  UK’s entry terms! 

He also wanted the goal of “ever closer union” dropped from the EU Treaties, even though that too was part of the Treaty before the UK joined.

He is 40 years late with these ideas

RENEGOTIATION WILL BE WITH 26 OTHER GOVERNMENTS

The UK renegotiation will not be   with bureaucrats in “Brussels”. It will be with the Governments of every one of the other twenty-six states in the EU. Britain may want to pay less, but other countries may want it to pay more. Many other EU countries see the very things British negotiators would most like to be rid of – like the working time directive – as part of what they gained, in return for their opening  up to the Single Market in the first place.

Concessions on these issues will, in particular, be anathema to left leaning Governments, of which there are an increasing number.

Exempting Britain from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), another possible British demand, will get nowhere.

Repatriating regional policy will not go down well with countries who have recently joined  the EU, and  whose incomes per head are much lower than those in Britain


ALL EU RULES HAVE BEEN MADE WITH BRITISH INVOLVEMENT
British popular opinion has been constantly led to believe that the  EU is a foreign entity, with which Britain has a sort of treaty,  and not as what it actually is – a Union of which the UK has  a participating member with a vote on every decision.

The role of British MEPs, British ministers, and a British Commissioner in EU decisions has been systematically ignored in the UK media and all decisions inaccurately presented as emanating from an “unelected” bureaucracy.
If possible results of a renegotiation are hyped up in the next British General election, and  lots  of “red lines” promised, the actual results of the renegotiation will prove to be paltry by comparison. That could lead to UK exit.

IMPACT ON NORTHERN IRELAND PEACE 

I am particularly worried about the effect of Britain leaving the EU on the fragile situation in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland, and its reversible peace process, is being ignored in the debate taking place in Britain. It is also being ignored in the rest of Europe, where the impatience with the British is palpable.

Obviously if the UK leaves the EU, it will negotiate a new relationship with the EU. 
But what sort of relationship will it be?
One of the big drivers of anti-EU sentiment in Britain is immigration of EU citizens from central and eastern European countries, like Romania, Bulgaria, and the Baltics. Gordon Brown famously encountered this sentiment during the last British General Election.

IMMIGRATION CONTROLS AT NEWRY?

If the UK leaves the EU, it would be free to restrict immigration from some EU countries. But, as a continuing member of the EU, the Republic of Ireland could not do so. So if the UK wanted to prevent these EU citizens entering the UK through the Republic, it would have to introduce passport controls at Newry, Aughnacloy, Strabane and on all other roads by which such EU immigrants could cross the border from the Republic into the UK.

CUSTOMS POSTS AT STRABANE?

If the UK is outside the EU, tariffs would have to be collected on UK exports entering the Republic and vice versa. Average EU tariffs are quite low, but some tariffs, on things like dairy products and clothing, are quite high. Customs posts would have to be placed on all roads leading across the border to ensure collection of these tariffs. Smuggling, with all its potential as a funding source for other forms of illegality, would become very profitable again.
But the human and political cost in border counties would be the worst aspect of it. Nationalist communities would again feel cut off from the Republic by the inconvenience of passport controls, and of customs posts
Since Northern Ireland came into being as a separate entity in 1920, the large nationalist minority there has retained a very strong sense of identification with the rest of the island.

The possible reintroduction of customs posts, and of immigration controls, would undermine the efforts that have been made , in the Good Friday Agreement, to reduce the divisions between North and South and between Ireland and the UK.

Given that UK Prime Ministers have had to devote so much time to the so called “Irish Question” for the last 150 years, it is amazing that the current UK debate on EU membership is being conducted as if Ireland did not exist, or the UK had no interest in it.
Some might say that  fears of the UK having customs posts and passport controls on the Irish border are exaggerated because they think the UK outside the EU could  easily negotiate a free trade and free movement deal with the EU

UK CANNOT BE BOTH IN, AND OUT, OF THE EU AT THE SAME TIME

There is a big snag here.

To enjoy continued free access to EU markets for its goods and services, Britain would have to continue to apply EU rules, as now, but WITHOUT having had any say at all in them – something the UK does have as an EU member. 
David Cameron had a point yesterday when he argued that the nature of the EU is changing in response to the euro crisis, and as a non euro member the UK’s relationship with the EU will change anyway.
 But there was absolutely no need for him to promise an in or out  referendum, which places him in a straight jacket.

COPYRIGHT JOHN BRUTON & CONTENT

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