Andrew Duff -  On Governing Europe

A new band of ‘euro-realists’ has appeared on the scene. Who are these people? They are mostly British and mostly Tory British. In the European Parliament, the euro-realists cluster in the group of European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR). Here Tory MEPs are joined by Czechs from the party of outgoing President Vaclav Klaus and Flemish nationalists.

From the world of think-tanks, we know Open Europe. A new blogging organisation has been set up, to much trumpeting, with the funky name of the Centre for British Influence in Europe (CBIE). This should not be confused with the CBI (business) or the C of E (clergy). The CBIE line seems to be that if the UK would only and merely assert its own national interest in EU affairs, all will be well in the best of all possible worlds. As it tweeted recently (and one might think tactlessly) ‘All David Cameron has to do is lead. Europe is for the taking’. According to the CBIE, the rest of Europe is waiting breathlessly for the intervention of the Brits to lead us all to the promised land of an open, de-regulated common market run by pragmatic political cooperation between national governments.

CBIE will be launched properly at the end of the month, and threatens to ‘act as a central hub for those who would seek to protect and build British influence in Europe’, and to ‘articulate and communicate … a British Blueprint for how Europe should develop’. In this it follows the same rationale of the coalition government’s policy of a unilateral British review of EU competences conducted without any apparent reference to what the EU is actually for. William Hague’s competence review is intended to prepare a catalogue of British demands of things to repatriate at the EU’s constitutional Convention, which is scheduled to open in spring 2015. George Osborne, doubtless another arch-priest of euro-realism, wants the UK to leave the EU unless the EU is reformed presumably along British Tory lines.

The difficulty the euro-realists face is that their unilateralism, however bold, simply does not fly in the context of a legal system which only works through the building of large and complex political consensus. No treaty change, however minor, can be made without the agreement of all other member states. Such unanimity implies a basic understanding, first, on where the Union stands now and, second, on where it is destined to go in the future. Here euro-realism looks terribly out of touch, rather as if it has not realised how much the EU has changed since 1973 or how strong the federal forces are today. The true reality is that the EU is getting on with the gritty business of salvaging the euro by creating a banking and fiscal union which will be run by something akin to a federal economic government.

It is this new Union, and not the old one of their fond but lazy imaginings, to which British politicians of all hues have got to engage. The self-styled euro-realists may mean well, but they will not be convincing at home or abroad by arguing for ‘more of the same – but less’. There is no mileage left in pretending to be a ‘critical friend’ of Europe, or in being defensive about the EU. A more flexible, pick-and-choose approach to the single market will surely ruin the single market. Rejection of more fiscal discipline blocks further moves to fiscal solidarity. Refusal to let the City of London join in the single supervisory mechanism of the European Central Bank will jeopardise the resolution of the banking crisis. Opting out of the EU’s efforts to integrate justice and home affairs policies will subvert the fight against international organised crime. Resisting moves to develop common foreign and security policy will blunt the EU’s role on world affairs. Objections to strengthening the executive authority of the Commission will stymie the emergence of democratic government at the federal level.

If Britain’s pro-Europeans are seriously committed to keeping Britain in Europe, they have some serious catching up to do with the real state of the Union.

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  1. It is not necessary to change the Treaties for reform of the Union. For making the Union a normal state in which citizens rule you don’t need a reform of the Treaties.

    It is possible to end the excessive staff salary and privileges at the European Commission to better integrate Commission officials into society. 40 000 applicants for 30 jobs, so they can demand two more languages and pay half the salary.

    It is possible to politically limit Commission roles to persons who previously served as MEPs in the European Parliament.

    It is possible to end the revolving door routines at the Commission that would be unthinkable on the national level. Think of persons like Detlef Eckert.

    It is possible to get the Commission to spent more time in the member states listening to real members of their constituency.

    It is possible to kick non-members of the constituency, mostly the swarms of US lobbyists, out of Brussels by a foreign lobby transparency act.

    It is possible to get a less power-distant person in the job of Commission President than Barrosso. Faymann seems a good choice.

    It is better to get a better role for Parliament via the inter-institutional agreements.

    It is possible to stop the stakeholder smusing at the Commission with its 1000s of HLG, expert groups, hearings etc.

    It is possible for MEPs to kick the US ambassador out of his office when he dares to interfere into internal matters of the EU as data protection of its citizens.

    It is possible for MEPs to opt for more language diversity to shield discussions.

    It is possible for the EU to decentralise in so far the Treaties permit and move away from Brussels.

    It is possible for the French state to donate buildings in Strassbourg that all business of the European Parliament could take place where it is supposed to have its seat

    It is possible for the host states of the institutions to make flights and train travel cheaper than the current ripoff.

    It is possible to sponsor civil society groups and non-governmental organisations from the member states which get involved in current regulatory debates via political party foundations.

    It is possible to financially support proponents of regulatory reform in the banking sector.

    It is possible to embrace ordoliberalism and end the competitiveness power weltanschauung.

    It is possible to refrain from undemocratic treaties with third nations as ACTA which go beyond the acquis (or where an acquis did not even exist).

    It is possible to apply institutional balancing mechanisms to fade out the agro state aid policies of the EU

  2. I fully agree with comment about the strangeness or tactlessness of the CBIE newsletter by Peter Wilding “All David Cameron has to do is lead, Europe is for the taking”. I was surprised to read it as I had been pleased to read about the launch of the CBIE and signed up for the updates. I am not aware of many other organisations in the UK that seek to articulate a pro EU view, compared to the voices of Eurosceptics. Apart from this rather bizarre comment suggesting Germany , France et al are looking to non Eurozone UK for leadership I have found the updates useful, including a link to you, and today’s comments on the Fresh Start report. With the fear of a referendum/brexit perhaps the CBIE is at least a step forward.

  3. “If Britain’s pro-Europeans are seriously committed to keeping Britain in Europe, they have some serious catching up to do with the real state of the Union.”

    Andrew, long blog about people who are not really your problem. Euroscepticism is increasing by the day! They, not Eurorealists are the problem.

    Yes a lot has changed since 1973 but not too much democracy has happened. We could say the Council is represented by elected leaders but all decisions are taken behind closed doors. Really we have increasingly been run by Technocrats/Bureaucrats.

    If your blog is to be believed we will not carry the day with all states, which you rightly say is how the treaties work. That being the case then we will have to give notice that we are leaving as per Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and negotiate from there.

    I know that you as a Liberal are deeply in favour of a Federal Europe but let me ask you this. If the member states that are net contributors to the budget were to have a referendum in the next six months, how many of them would vote to stay in? As changes happen over the next few years how many of the 28 (soon to be) countries will have a chance to agree this with their electorates?

  4. You are right to point out the need for consensus — or to use another word, democracy. The root of the problem and the cause for discontent, and the search for other solutions is due to one factor. Lack of fairness or justice in recent development over more than a decade. Various populations voted in referendums against Maastricht, against the Constitutional Treaty etc only to find that what they had rejected is brought in by the new class supporting intergovernmental centralism in the Council where the parties are complicit.
    The solution is to properly analyze the foundations of the Community system and why we do not have a real Community system today. The Nobel prize underlying the peace-making and unifying effect of the early Community shows its effectiveness. What we have now is a gross distortion and corruption dating at least from the de Gaulle years of Butter Bergs, Wine lakes. Unless politicians are honest enough to expose de Gaulle as an anti-Community approach rather than celebrating the Elysee treaty — which at that time in 1962-3 had huge opposition from democrats and the European movement — politicians will continue to live in a world of lies and deceit that will further blind their eyes from realism, justice and the way out of the present mess.

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