Liberal MEP suggests ‘second-class membership’ for UK

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Andrew Duff, a British Liberal MEP and leader of the Union of European Federalists, has called for a genuine 'fiscal union' and greater EU integration, explicitly saying that opt-outs should be made possible for more Eurosceptic countries like the United Kingdom.

In a political pamphlet published today (5 September), the MEP outlines his vision for a federal Europe. He suggests the creation of a "formal second-class membership" for the UK and any other country which wishes to abstain from federalist goals in the EU's 'core' member states.

Duff argues that the practice of deciding bailouts of indebted countries at European summits has been proven ineffective and allowed "Paris and Berlin to form a directoire […] the antithesis of a federal Europe".

Instead, he calls for shifting decision-making to new European institutions through the creation a bigger European budget, an EU treasury, a European Monetary Fund and sanctions for countries lacking budget discipline.

When asked to comment on the British opt-out scheme, prominent Eurosceptic MEP and popular blogger Daniel Hannan (UK; European Conservatives and Reformists) said "that's their call. The only thing that is my immediate concern as a British representative – and this ought to apply to Andrew Duff, too, come to that – is to ensure that, if Britain is being asked to give its approval to fiscal union within EU legal structures, we get something in return".

Hannan went on to say that such a quid pro quo was necessary as Britain risked getting entangled in a federal Europe even with a formal opt-out.

"That's why I am afraid it's not enough to say 'this doesn't affect you'. We're already being dragged into the debt union," he added, referring to Britain's contributions to the bailout packages aimed at rescuing several struggling eurozone countries.

Toward treaty reform?

Duff's proposed reforms would require substantial treaty changes which, following the controversies over the ill-fated Constitutional Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty, most governments have little appetite for.

This may be changing, however, as German newspaper Bild reported last week that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble told a closed meeting of members of his party last Thursday that the eurozone crisis made such changes necessary "even though we know how difficult treaty negotiations can be".

At a seminar on European citizenship last Friday (2 September), Duff claimed that a new convention to federalise Europe could be an opportunity to reclaim the narrative from nationalists in the run-up to the 2014 elections to the European Parliament.

"If we do not do something dramatic to change the character of these elections then even the most federalist parties will lack aspiration and will be on the defensive on issues like protectionism, immigration, and worse," he said.

Ever since the first waves of enlargement European institutions have faced the question of allowing for a 'multi-speed' or 'two-tier' Europe, in order to cater for countries that were unable or unwilling to integrate at the same pace as the others.

In the past, Europhiles have often been wary of the possibility of a 'two-tier' Europe for fear that it would undermine the extent and consistency of integration across the continent.

In practice, this has already taken in some important areas. For example, only 17 of the EU's 27 member states currently use the euro common currency. Denmark and the United Kingdom have special opt-outs from having to adopt it.

Similarly, Ireland and the United Kingdom are not members of the Schengen Area in which there is meant to be near-complete freedom of movement between member countries.

 

  • European Citizen Action Service:Website

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