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05/12/2016

UK report: short shrift for sceptics

UK & Europe

UK report: short shrift for sceptics

David Cameron (Credit: [World Economic Forum/Moritz Hager]/Shutterstock)

A UK report designed to form the bedrock of efforts by Prime Minister David Cameron to renegotiate the position of the UK within the EU has made few recommendations for repatriation of laws.

The UK ‘Review of the balance of competences’ examined the country’s relationship with the EU following consultation with businesses, think tanks, academics and other bodies.

Cameron wants to renegotiate the position of the UK within the EU in the event that his Conservative party remains in power following the next general election, which will take place not later than 7 May 2015.

Cameron has pledged a referendum on the UK’s continued EU membership if he wins the election.

The report includes 26 sections covering issues including criminal justice, immigration and employment law, the single market, health, foreign policy, taxation, the economy and subsidiarity.

Some reforms designed to beef up enforcement of the single market and to give it more emphasis within the EU machinery are suggested, although it acknowledged some of these would be difficult to achieve politically.

The report recommended that the EU’s working time directive, water standards, car safety seats and agency working standards should be taken back under Britain’s control.

Other EU structural changes include establishing a dedicated Single Market Council, splitting the financial services and single market portfolios within the Commission and establishing a new single market authority.

The final report – published yesterday – examined economic and monetary policy, but suggested that there are no powers in the area needing repatriation.

Fears for the future

“The current roles and responsibilities of the EU institutions are generally appropriate for the purposes of outlining a broad economic agenda and co-ordinating economic policy within the Union,” the report said.

Instead the report highlighted fears of the UK’s future relationship with a centralising eurozone.

“Some respondents suggested that national parliaments should play a greater role in policy-making while tensions between the Eurogroup and the Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) need to be managed carefully,” according to the report.

It said that the implementation of new qualified majority voting rules agreed under the Lisbon Treaty, have “increased the collective influence of the euro area and therefore the risks associated with euro area caucusing.”

“Eurosceptic Conservatives hoped that this exercise would demonstrate how Brussels regulations cramped British enterprise and undermined English common law,” according to Liberal Democrat peer Lord Wallace.

“Four rounds of consultation over two years, on topics as diverse as fisheries policy and police and criminal justice, have concluded that the current balance fits British companies and public services well,” said Wallace.

However the report did say that reforms to the euro area were creating a fluid institutional framework “and a number of pieces of evidence suggested that Treaty change is likely to be required to resolve these tensions.”

EU heads of state and government have little appetite for treaty change – with the accompanying referenda that these trigger – at the moment.

Background

A potential British exit from the European Union came to the top of the political agenda after Prime Minister David Cameron said that Britain must use the upheaval created by the eurozone crisis to forge a new relationship with the European Union.

Britain has negotiated a number of opt-outs from key EU policy areas since its accession in 1973. The country is not part of the eurozone and has not signed the free-border Schengen Treaty and does not want to abide by a number of EU police and judicial cooperation rules.

Timeline

  • May 2015: UK General Election
  • 2017: Year earmarked by David Cameron for a referendum on UK membership of the EU