David Cameron - CC / Flickr
David Cameron - CC / Flickr

It has been widely trailed that David Cameron is going to outline his new European policy today, after capitulating yesterday on the Treaty of Lisbon issue. The feral members of the Tory Party are baying for blood, so what is Cameron going to give them?

The most likely position that Cameron is going to propose to negotiate a withdrawal of the UK from all EU employment and social legislation, essentially getting out of the Social Chapter that Blair agreed. Any sensible journalist should ask the following two questions if that’s what Cameron proposes:

  1. What – in practice – will that mean? What precisely in EU employment and social affairs legislation does the Tory Party disagree with? Does he want to do away with maternity leave? Or the rights of posted or agency workers? None of those things are especially social, and the one thing that would be – the Working Time Directive – is dead at the moment.
  2. Does Cameron think the other Member States would allow the UK to negotiate such an opt-out? For its the Member States that would decide that, not some mendacious Brussels bureaucrats as Cameron might try to imply. I don’t reckon he could get 26 other countries to agree to his plans.

In short, if Cameron says that employment and social affairs matters are the big things he’ll deal with, it will be largely symbolic, and will not be achievable anyway.

Cameron could of course adopt the more wide-ranging, harsher line chosen by David Davis in today’s Daily Mail, positions outlined here on Conservative Home. Quoting Davis:

recovering control over our criminal justice, asylum and immigration policies; a robust opt-out of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights; serious exemptions to the seemingly endless flood of European regulations which cost the UK economy billions of pounds each year; a recovery of our rights to negotiate on trade; exemption from European interference into trade in services and foreign direct investment rules; and an exemption from any restrictions on our foreign policy

Essentially that equates to tearing up the rule book of the EU Single Market – do Tories these days not even believe that a Single Market in Europe is a good thing? Even Thatcher agree with that by signing up to the Single European Act in the 1980s. Plus how would the UK negotiate in the WTO (the logical conclusion on Davis’s line on trade)? How could the UK even stay in the EU if UK financial institutions operated according to different rules than ones in other EU Member States.

Plus Davis would fall into the same trap as Cameron: even if the UK held a referendum stating that the UK wanted such opt-outs, could the Tories pick a fight with the EU and 26 other Member States and actually win it? I seriously doubt it.

If the Tories want to be honest and bold they should promise a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, full stop, in or out. But that prospect might be a bit scary; unrealistic, nationalist posturing is of course much more desirable.

10 Comments

  1. Good argument, French Derek – but I wasn’t suggesting undoing exclusive competence in world trade. Just freedom to conclude bilaterals in areas of shared competence and which comply with EU law. I also accepted that a common EU negotiating position may be right on the merits – as you argue re: energy. I’m just saying this shouldn’t be automatic just because there are EU rules on a particular subject.

    Actually what I’m arguing for is that the external competence of the EU should precisely mirror “internal” competence under the Treaties, rather than go in further than it, as it does currently.

  2. Pingback: The problems with Cameron's new Euro policy | Left Foot Forward

  3. french derek

    @ Carl Gardner. Bilateral agreements may be fine to you in theory but in practice (and in the long run) every country stands to lose out.

    Take oil and gas supplies from Russia. By acting as a single entity the EU has been able to put together pipeline and supply agreements that would be almost impossible through bilateral agreements. However, given the current short-termist greed of some member states, Russia has been able to play off one against the other, through separate bilateral deal. Only by acting together can Russia be restrained somewhat.

    World trade (eg WTO) negotiations would be even more difficult if each EU member state were to argue their own corner. Certainly the levels of WTO tariff agreements would be far fewer than at present.

    NB why do you think the BRIC nations now try to reach a common approach before each WTO round? They find that this preliminary “levelling out” of differences gives them greater negotiation power. ie they are deliberately adopting the EU negotiating approach.

  4. Plus I think the Tories could reasonably target exclusive external competence as defined in the ERTA case (and article 3.2 of the ToFU, as it will be). As things stand, even in a field in which the EU and member states share competence, member states can’t even negotiate bilateral agreements with third countries that are consistent with EU rules. The mere fact there are EU rules on the same subject means the EU automatically takes over exclusive competence. That does create creeping international competence – even in areas of competence that everyone accepts are shared, within the EU!

    That seems to me difficult to defend: arguably a better rule is that member states should be able to conclude bilaterals that are consistent with EU rules, except in areas where the EU has exclusive competence expressly (like world trade) or “internally” (like conserving fish stocks). A reasonable safeguard would I think be for draft agreements to be submitted to the C’ion in advance so it could object to any inconsistency with EU law, and make proposals for a common European approach if justified on the merits.

    Getting very drily tecchy now, sorry.

  5. Yes, if they do get power I predict another outbreak of strife within the Tory party about Europe, the likes of Bill Cash pressing for more repatriation and even withdrawal, and Cameron forced into the John Major position. It might be quite cheering for the Labour opposition to see the 1990s repeated so obviously as farce.

    What’s amazing is the ignorance of their positions. David Davis mentions foreign policy; but we already have a complete veto on that. What’s to be gained by repatriation? He also mentions crime, asylum and immigration. But again, we have a complete opt-out, or rather opt-in, to that, so repatriation makes no difference.

    In comparison I think Cameron’s idea of repatriating social policy is quite sane (for the avoidance of doubt, Jon, I don’t agree with it!). It does need to be made clear though what aspects of social policy he means – presumably those that we opted into at Amsterdam, plus working time.

    I’d have thought from a Tory (as opposed to secretly UKIP) viewpoint by far the best target would be an amendment of the national parliaments’ “yellow card” to boost it into some sort of “red card”.

  6. “If the Tories want to be honest and bold they should promise a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, full stop, in or out”.

    ABSOLUTELY. I have been arguing the same thing for years!

  7. maryhoneyballmep

    I completely agree with you Jon. Cameron’s in deep trouble now with an unworkable policy. policy

  8. As a general rule, ask any eurosceptic of a specific policy they disagree with and they either get so specific as to be insane (the use of apple geranium in quince jelly, (c) Mr T Worstall on my blog ad infinitum), or stick to broad generalities to avoid acknowledging that, half the time, they don’t really know exactly what it is that the EU actually does, and are opposed more to the *concept* of the EU than the reality.

    Sadly, however, there’s practically no one in the media who understands enough about the EU to ask the questions that need asking – and as long as the press are happy to stick to generalities as well, we’re all screwed.

  9. Ok here would be my answers:

    1) Irrelevant question. The point is about powers not policies. The EU should not have these powers and sovereign UK should.

    2) When your a net contributor you have a strong negotiating hand, so yes I would expect the other member states to pay attention when their UK taxpayer subsidies are cut off. ( After all we have the Blair/Brown betrayal on the budget to recoup ).

  10. mmm… good luck with the upcoming debates then!
    Unfortunately I see it as quite realistic that should the UK take that road, it will be asked at some point by the other EU Member States whether it wants in or out. A little tired of that game.

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