A tweet by Philip Oltermann caught my eye:
Tactical mistake by pro-Junckerites to allow Cameron to lay claim to "reformist" tag. They want the more radical EU reform, why not say it?
— Philip Oltermann (@philipoltermann) June 8, 2014
David Cameron is doing his best to spin himself, and his opposition to Jean Claude Juncker as Commission President, as being the ‘reformer’ versus a defender of the status quo, or the old EU, Juncker.
The problem is that no-one ever really challenges this narrative of what and how Cameron seems to want to reform the European Union.
There are at least three possible components of what reform could actually mean. It could mean political and institutional reform of the European Union, it could mean economic reform, and it could mean changes to the relationship between the EU and its Member States.
If we look at Cameron’s March piece in the Sunday Telegraph for example, we end up with a muddle of all of the above. When Cameron speaks of EU reform, it is actually his wish list for how he would like the EU to look. It is basically shorthand for the Tory EU line: less Europe.
Take Juncker’s nomination, by contrast. The fact that all major EU party families put forward candidates for Commission President prior to the 2014 EP elections is one of the most major de facto democratic reforms to the way the EU works in recent years (see this blog entry for the case). Connect the EP elections to the choice of Commission President. It is democratic or institutional reform. So the very presence of Juncker could be framed as a reform, yet all we hear is the opposite side.
Or look at what the European Greens were saying before the EP elections – theirs is a completely different notion of change and reform of the European Union. Yet some of the core vocabulary used – words about change and reform are similar.
So the next time you hear a politician trumpeting ‘EU reform’, stop to ask: what reform? Cameron’s EU reform? Juncker’s? The European Greens’? There is no one way to reform the EU, so we better stop talking as if there is, even if it suits Cameron’s aims to talk as if there is.