Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Point Of View: What Kind Of EU Would The UK Be Choosing To Stay In Or Leave In A Referendum?

An article written for the British Influence in Europe website

Watching with amazement, as we do, the decline of British influence in Europe, another bad signal was sent last week by the tabling of an EU referendum Bill in the House of Commons. One recalls its predecessor, alas enacted in law in July 2011, which entrenched in the UK's rackety constitution the holding of a referendum whenever there is to be a deepening of European integration manifested in a change in the EU treaties.

This latest illustration of British europhobia calls for a referendum to be held before the end of 2017 to answer the question Do you think that the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union?. It would trigger the In/Out referendum which the Prime Minister launched so glibly in his January speech. We are told that this new Bill is unlikely to pass, but it would seem that a hefty number of MPs is minded to support it in order to mark their democratic credentials with the eurosceptic voter.

So what kind of EU would the country be choosing to stay in or leave? Certainly not the EU we have now. The status quo is not an option. Radical change is unavoidable if the euro and the wider European project are to be salvaged. And that change will have to come quickly ‑ surely by 2017. There are several pointers to what might come.

First, the EU must codify in treaty form what has been done by way of crisis management since 2008. This includes the intergovernmental Fiscal Compact Treaty which neatly and famously bypassed David Cameron and which itself carries a provision which will see its incorporation into the Union framework by, yes, 2017.

There are also important elements of recent secondary legislation, notably the colloquially named Six Pack and Two Pack, which need to be elevated into primary law. The new regulatory framework for the financial sector and the new powers of the European Central Bank to supervise Europe's banks need articulation by treaty. As will the armoury of new instruments still to come: the resolution mechanism, resolution fund, deposit guarantee fund, redemption fund and stability eurobonds.

As the European Union changes gear from fiscal discipline to fiscal solidarity, it has to have an economic government to manage the sharing of the burden between taxpayers. This government, based on the European Commission, will have a treasury secretary with a treasure, a new fiscal capacity for the eurozone with contra-cyclical purposes.

The process of treaty revision will begin in spring 2015 with a constitutional Convention involving the Commission, heads of government, MEPs and MPs. The Convention will seize the opportunity not only to address fiscal union but to rectify some of the less good features of the Treaty of Lisbon. The Germans, after their elections in September, will drop the fiction that a large treaty revision can be avoided. Paris has no choice but to follow Berlin's lead. Mr Cameron will continue to lay out his prospectus of European disintegration. We federalists are shortly to publish our own proposals in the form of a new Fundamental Law. President Barroso promises Commission ideas for treaty revision later this autumn.

Those who, like the Dutch government, grumble and play to the eurosceptic gallery but fail to engage in the treaty discussion will be left on the sidelines. So will the political parties in Britain if they do not stop obsessing with In/Out referendums and start to debate what kind of Europe it is that they want to stay in and help build, or leave.