Tuesday 5 January 2010

Britain: A constructive EU curmudgeon?

In the Grahnlaw blog posts Denouncing the EU Lisbon Treaty – UK Tories and the long grass (1 January 2010) and British and Irish opt-outs from EU JHA law (3 January 2010) we turned to one of the recurring themes of this blog: the (future) relationship between the United Kingdom and Europe.

In the comments section of a blog post on Nosemonkey’s EUtopia about the benefits of EU level regulation, the expert participant DOCM drew my attention to what he called the outstanding analysis of Charles Grant of the CER of the path ahead after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, based on Cameron’s major speech (comment 24).

Time to refresh or reframe my prejudices by taking a look at an outside contribution, I thought:

Charles Grant: Cameron’s Europe: Can the Conservatives achieve their EU objectives? (Centre for European Reform essays, December 2009; 40 pages)

Grant discusses in detail the three domestic laws the Conservative Party leader David Cameron promised to introduce in his 4th November 2009 speech:

1) Amending the European Communities Act 1972 to prohibit the transfer of power to the European Union or the adoption of the euro currency without a referendum.
2) A United Kingdom Sovereignty Act to make clear that ultimate authority stays with the Westminster Parliament.
3) A law requiring parliamentary approval of every use of the enabling clause (passerelle) moving from unanimity to qualified majority voting (as already is the case).

There follows a treatment of the three treaty changes further limiting UK participation Cameron required from the EU member states; the first two already covered by opt-outs:

1) Criminal law and the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union.
2) The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.
3) Redomestication of some social and employment law.

At each stage, Grant tries to evaluate the chances of and scope for the success of Cameron’s limiting agenda. Then follows an evaluation of the Conservatives’ leverage with regard to the European leaders and the EU institutions.

Grant’s advice is not to waste all efforts on “victories” regarding treaty change, but preferably concentrate on a limited number of targets.

Instead, Cameron should keep his powder dry for other important issues:

• The long term budget, including the common agricultural policy, from 2014.
• The interests of the City of London (evoking the so called Luxembourg compromise; actually a 1966 agreement to disagree).

Grant thinks that the Conservatives could increase their chances of “success” if they show that they make a positive contribution to some parts of the European agenda:

• The new Lisbon agenda (EU 2020) for growth and jobs.
• Climate change and energy, including energy efficiency
• European defence cooperation.

In Grant’s view, the best strategy for David Cameron and William Hague to get the better of their anti-EU MPs and voters would be to seek only modest changes to the treaties, but to try and persuade other governments to grant them ‘victories’ in areas like social policy, the EU budget and financial regulation.


It is interesting to see how much of the basic national assumptions the Centre for European Reform and more moderate Conservatives share. By way of caricature, one could describe their European Union as the economic pillar of the Council of Europe, with a few intergovernmental frills thrown in.

Federalism is – repeatedly – described as a spent force, which explains why democratic government and added real powers in for instance foreign policy are not even discussed. The text on the Lisbon Treaty judgment of the Bundesverfassungsgericht mentions and closes the discussion about legitimate EU level government based on the citizens of the union.

Grant’s well written essay is a valuable inventory of British viewpoints and a carefully drawn map of potentially contentious UK issues with the EU member states and institutions.

A new Conservative government would be a curmudgeon in the European Union, but the CER hopes that it would wisely choose to be a constructive one, of sorts.

Ralf Grahn

P.S. In the tradition of balanced BBC coverage, Gavin Hewitt’s Europe endeavours to make the European Union explicable to people in Britain and British views understood by other Europeans. This important blog is listed among the nearly 500 great euroblogs on multilingual Bloggingportal.eu, our common “village well” for fact, opinion and gossip on European affairs.

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