Anyone would think – from reading the stories today on The Guardian’s website – that the UK is shaping up for some major fight with the European Union over treaty reform prior to this week’s summit.
There are two problems with this.
First, the agreement might not be for treaty change at all at the summit this week, or at least not treaty change as the first priority. As the leaked Van Rompuy report (FT blog about it here, full document here) details, some of the measures for improved budgetary discipline could be pursued through an amendment of Protocol 12 of the Treaty, and this can be done by a decision of the European Council (after consulting the EP and the ECB), without needing national ratification. For the UK, this would require prior authorisation by an Act of Parliament, rather than ratification afterwards.
The second problem is the wider one, with the framing of this ‘repatriate or not / referendum or not’ debate. Where is any sense of European responsibility in this? If the Eurozone needs urgent changes, who is making the case in the UK that the UK will assist in this hour of need? Imagine Cameron were to succumb to backbench demands for repatriation and/or a referendum, and a referendum in the UK further messes up the Eurozone crisis… The whole debate in the UK is what the UK can take, take, take. How about what it can give too? Of course Labour could play that responsible role, but instead Ed Miliband chooses to poke the Prime Minister about repatriation at PMQs instead.
Of course we know the outcome of this now.
But on the wider point. Whilst the Euro nations have the primary responsibility for securing their currency we should surely do as much as we possibly can from our position to help.
It’s the right, neighbourly, thing to do. And as a colleague used to say “what goes around – comes around.”
This is what the tabloid press has wrought. I’m puzzled by the demands to repatriate powers. The question “which ones?” is ducked repeatedly. Undoubtedly, the ones that protect the rights of workers from US style exploitation. And why fight the Tobin tax? Why not let businesses move to London if they wish to avoid it? The triumphant little Englanderism will look even more foolish in future when it turns out to be a sentiment that is not shared in Scotland or, in time, in Northern Ireland. Does England fancy itself as a kind of Switzerland by the sea? It won’t work.
I hope that – as Ed Miliband suggested – Cameron has two messages: one for the domestic audience and one for EU leaders. I think he knows very well what the priorities are right now: he said he wasn’t going to insist only any repatriation of powers on social issues for now but on protecting the financial sector. I hope he doesn’t succumb to the backbenchers. It’s very annoying that he can’t just tell the truth: if the Euro fails, the British economy will be hit very seriously and he won’t be able to blame the EU for his own government’s policy failure.
In any case, I don’t think the eurozone countries would let UK’s domestic politics prevent them from introducing reforms: they could always agree on something outside the treaties. UK eurosceptics overstate their power 🙂
For nearly 40 years, Britain has been on the margin of the EU, moaning all the time. Either stay in and take an active part, or leave.
Unfortunately, we know that it’s the way the EU has been seen in the UK for a long time – it’s always who won and who lost, with no concept of the common good, and with an eye on the next Daily Mail headline. That’s why we get Cameron’s ‘bulldog spirit’ and Ed Miliband poking fun rather than calling for the PM to take a responsible position. All utterly, utterly depressing…
Jon, as you say, the attitudes of the leaders of the major UK parties are driving Britain further from influence:
The Tory’s position on the whole issue of financial stability in the Eurozone is bordering on the schizophrenic. It is acknowledged that further economic woes on the continent would be enormously detrimental to the prospects of British economic recovery, but at the same time we get nothing but calls to disrupt the process of stabilisation in the Eurozone to demand “repatriation” of certain powers (as if the UK no longer has any say in them) and a refusal to contribute financially – even though the cost of total economic meltdown would be far worse.