Renegotiating Britain’s European Union Membership – a task still stalled?

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Three long years have gone by since PM David Cameron promised us that the Government would negotiate new terms for our ongoing membership of the EU – it was only said though to placate the growing number of Tory members unhappy about staying in, wasn’t it? Indeed it became a Conservative Party manifesto commitment to hold an IN-OUT Referendum before 2018, on continuing our membership following such a renegotiation. Cameron got his comeuppance on that one however, because he never expected in his wildest dreams to gain an absolute majority in May’s General Election – he thought he would be in coalition again, so couldn’t be held to his word, eh?

For over two years Cameron sat on his hands and did nothing whatsoever about building even a foundation for such a renegotiation. He only started in May this year by undertaking flying visits over two days to four fellow leaders (Mark Rutte Dutch Premier, François Hollande French President, Ewa Kopacz Polish Prime Minister and Angela Merkel German Chancellor) in a vain attempt to get concessions from them about our membership. The high hopes of making serious progress at the 18/19 December European Council meeting, looked to have been totally dashed because Cameron had totally refused to come clean in writing about his detailed demands – he had baulked at that because he didn’t want them leaked and for them to come back to haunt him if he gets knocked-back on them, so then has to publically admit that his renegotiation has failed, don’t you think? EU officials said they needed specific details of what Cameron wants and not just verbal broad parameters – so that preparatory legal work for negotiations could be undertaken.

Cameron did then finally provide a letter with a finite list of demands, which is partially useful but is old hat and is still deficient in that there is very little by way of detail. Many are saying it is too late for meaningful discussion to go ahead this month and it may be next February now, but that was dismissed by Downing Street last month as incorrect speculation – we will see, wont we?

It seems to be improbable if not impossible for the UK to get significant EU change through secondary legislation so without requiring Treaty change, involving them being opened and ratified, and that is a big ask. Furthermore, any one of the 28 member states can veto any changes (we are bound to have upset someone) and none of them have any stomach for going through the process of change, and even if they had it couldn’t be done by end 2017 anyway.

Eurosceptics looking at Cameron’s list of demands will not be impressed, as in fact it is quite modest on the surface and though tricky could easily be negotiable depending on the detail behind it (but nobody on the ‘stay-in side’ is going to say that and upset the apple cart).

So exactly what does Cameron’s list cover then?

Economic Governance – basically protection of London’s financial position from Eurozone pressures (there are 19 euro countries and 9 with separate currencies). Many are optimistic that a deal can be reached on this element.

Competitivness – the UK wants to see a target to cut the total burden of existing regulation on business. Some may not support changes depending on the specifics, but others are sympathetic to trade liberalisation, single market extension and deregulation. A deal should be possible on this.

Sovereignty – remove Britain’s Treaty legal obligation to work towards an ‘ever closer’ union and for national parliaments to be able to block EU legislation. However, this certainly would require Treaty change, and that is a no-no in the timescales involved.

Immigration – disappointingly, Cameron has had to accept that he will be able to do nothing whatsoever about freedom in movement of labour in the EU, despite that putting too great a pressure on our schools, hospitals, housing, and public services. He wants a four-year timeout on in-work benefits and child benefits for EU migrants working in Britain – but the details are sparse. This has no chance at all of success as it is discrimination and therefore on the surface probably illegal to boot.

These issues as they stand will do little to change the minds of those who are keen to ditch the EU for once and all (the majority are in these days in favour of leaving). We are being swamped by excessive immigrant numbers and we can no longer control our borders, Europe as a trading block opportunity is receding (now only 45% of our exports) as other markets are stronger and we are prohibited from making our own trading agreements, its laws are increasingly overbearing, and its court judgements are destroying our justice system.

When it comes to the actual negotiations though, a fly in the ointment is likely to be Cameron’s pre-commitment to hold an IN-OUT Referendum in the UK – the Europeans hate the risks involved in referendums and they will fear that their efforts to find a way forward for the UK, may well be a complete waste of time, as Cameron can’t really make a deal, can he? And that is what any meaningful negotiation is all about, isn’t it? The other leaders will be frightened that those in Britain who want to stay-in are on the ropes already, so could well lose – so what is the point of burning the midnight oil to try to help Cameron, if he goes back and loses anyway, eh?

 

[It is an open secret that PM David Cameron desperately wants to stay in the EU, but has been upstaged and put in a difficult position by his backbenchers and his wish to hang on to power at the last election. It is a dead certainty that he will declare success in his renegotiations – however it turns out. So will he dare demand collective responsibility from the Cabinet – the end result could pivot on that decision, don’t you think?].

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