New Zealand Butter All Over Again
David Cameron’s plan for European renegotiation and referendum became clearer in an important interview with Andrew Marr this morning (transcript here).
It is not quite New Zealand butter – Harold Wilson’s cosmetic renegotiation in 1975 of slightly better terms for imports from Commonwealth countries – but it is hardly the “fundamental” change Cameron has implied before.
The main elements of the “renegotiation” are:
1. “Ever closer union.” Britain must be “out” of it, as Cameron has said before (on the same programme).
2. National parliaments’ “red cards”. A new power of veto for national parliaments – of more than one country joining together – to prevent new EU laws.
3. Free movement of workers. Making it harder for citizens of other EU countries to claim out-of-work benefits or, when in work, child benefit for children living outside Britain.
4. Transitional controls on immigration from any new EU countries.
Working backwards, the third and fourth do not require “changing the terms of UK membership”. The welfare changes are a matter for member states and Britain has some support in resisting the European Court of Justice if it tries to press for a more generous definition of “free movement”. And the transitional controls, widely supported in any case, are a matter for an accession treaty, over which the UK would have the power of veto.
The red card system can be done by a protocol added to the EU treaties, building on the existing “yellow card” procedure, which was set up in a protocol to the Lisbon Treaty.
On the first, Marr suggested “an addendum to the Treaty of Rome saying this clause no
longer applies to Britain”.
Cameron replied: “Some of the things I’m calling for will require treaty change and … that is one of them.”
This would seem to depend on what one defines as “treaty change”: adding a protocol to a treaty is both a treaty amendment and not a treaty amendment. It would have legal force, but it would not require referendums in those member states, such as Ireland, that have a constitutional provision for referendums on treaty changes.
As for whether or not such a protocol would be cosmetic, Cameron insisted that the “ever closer union” phrase matters – that it is not merely a rhetorical declaration in the Treaty of Rome:
Why this is so important is there is a sense in our country, which I understand and in many ways share, that we wanted to be part of a single market, we wanted to be part of an organisation where nation states cooperate, we did not want to be part of a country called Europe … Our country is the United Kingdom. And so I think this is – it’s not just symbolic because actually the concept of ever closer union informs so much of what the European Union does.
Indeed, it is sometimes alleged that rulings of the European Court of Justice are informed by the “spirit” of the phrase, even if the ECJ has never invoked it explicitly in any of its judgments. But it does not add up to a very long row of straight bananas.
David Cameron, the Lurpak Spreadable* Prime Minister.
*I cannot reproduce the photograph because we have not bought the copyright, but the Daily Mail carried a copiously-annotated picture of the Camerons at breakfast in their kitchen in the No 11 flat in December 2011, which featured a large tub of LS.Tagged in: david cameron, eu, euroscepticism
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