Twenty months ago the British Prime Minister, Mr David Cameron, announced that he wanted a “new settlement” with the European Union. Since then there have been references to “re-negotiation” – an unfortunate term with echoes of the pseudo-renegotiation conducted by Prime Minister Harold Wilson prior to the 1975 referendum, writes Schadenfreude, our secret columnist in Brussels.
Mr Cameron also set in hand a review of the “Balance of Competences” between the EU and the British Government. Evidence was invited and reports have been written. They state explicitly that they are not contributions to a renegotiation of said balance.
They also contain few suggestions for change.
Time is pressing if anything is to be said on the subject in the lead-up to the General election in May 2015. Schadenfreude helpfully makes ten suggestions.
- Social affairs regulation. Thanks to the efforts of Conservative Prime Minister Major at Maastricht, the UK had a derogation from this chapter. The Labour Government cancelled the derogation. There would be no institutional difficulty about restoring it. “Times change and we change in them” is a long established credo.
- Freedom Justice and Security. In the Lisbon Treaty the UK has the right to opt out of regulations adopted in this chapter. It is already reviewing the list, and deciding if it wants to re-opt in to any of the provisions. Police Co-operation might be in the opt-ins and less probably the European Arrest Warrant in its present form.
- The European Court of Justice is an EU institution often confused with the European Court of Human Rights. Subscription to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a condition of EU membership. Jurists are required to produce an EU declaration to the effect that judgments of the ECHR are not binding on the British Courts, a rule which is already established. The EU has its own Charter of Rights, but it already applies in the UK only if the provision is already in UK law.
- The EU credo is that there is “ever closer union”. Mr Cameron has said that he wants this pledge removed. The European Council has said, in response, that it does not mean that every member state has to do the same thing at the same time. But the pledge would stand. Consistently with his stance, Mr Cameron should at least record textually that the United Kingdom does not agree.
- The gravamen against the EU is that “laws are made in Brussels”. Geographically this is true but they are made by negotiation among the Member States and within the European Parliament. It is desirable that national parliaments should be seen to participate in law-making. One possible avenue would be to provide that national parliaments, which are already empowered to consider and report on whether draft regulations comply with the rule of “subsidiarity” should also be able to say if the proposal is acceptable. There already is a forum in which national parliaments confer with each other. It is not part of the system that every legislature should obtain 100% satisfaction.
- Additionally or alternatively the UK Government could declare that it will invite a Parliamentary vote on all new regulatory proposals and on the position it intends to take on them. It would be understood that in the coming and going of negotiation in Brussels the British representatives could accept compromises which depart from the parliamentary position. The Government would be obliged to explain such departures to Parliament ex post facto.
- On the question of intra-EU migration a possible proposal would be (a) All new member states would be subject to immigrant quotas for  years. (b) The country of origin should pay migrants social and unemployment benefits at home country rates for ten years (c) A migrant unemployed for  months should lose benefits and be required to return to the home country.
- The Common Agricultural Policy should be subject to a fixed ceiling, revised quinquennially.
- Commission objections relating to unfair competition and to state aids within a member state should not be automatically active but should be subject to review by the European Council (majority decision)
- The Committee of Permanent Representatives should undertake a review of complements of the Commission and of the Council of Ministers , with as guideline a 10% reduction. In return for the Commission reducing numbers the European Council would undertake not to oppose staff pay increases which are within the criteria laid down. There has already been too much litigation on this subject.