Looks like Dave’s finally making vague moves to lay out his approach to the EU in somewhat more clear terms than “we don’t like the EU much, but we won’t tell you quite how much” and “We’ll quit the biggest centre-right group in the European Parliament – in the face of opposition from almost all the Tory MEPs due to the inevitable loss of influence that will bring – but we won’t tell you when, exactly”.
But has he actually clarified anything, or just taken a line out of Sarkozy’s book and learned how to say nothing much at all while rattling on for quite a while? Hard to say, sadly…
In any case, this week’s EU week in Toryland.
Today we get Camoron (I’ll leave that in as a Freudian typing slip) telling Blair to “come clean” on the EU, by which he seems to mean “destroy Britain’s diplomatic bargaining position by outright rejecting any sort of constitution in any shape or form”.
This follows his article earlier in the week, co-written with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, “Building an EU that we can all be proud of“, and his speech in Brussels, which purportedly set out the Cameron Tories’ approach to the EU. (That approach being “cautiously, because we don’t really understand it”, from initial glances…)
Elaib at England Expects has fisked Camon’s speech fairly nicely (albeit from a rather different ideological standpoint from mine), but still, let’s not be unfair. Sooner or later the Tories are going to come up with a workable and sensible EU policy – why not now?
On the surface – as so often seems to be the case with Cameron – all seems well, with much of the rhetoric being stuff I can fully support: First from the article:
“Fifty years after the Treaty of Rome, we have a new Europe, facing new challenges and with a new generation of leaders. But we have the same EU, still too attached to the tenets of centralisation and regulation and still too interested in itself, rather than worldwide challenges… A new, positive agenda for Europe means reconnecting it to these urgent priorities. It means moving towards a new flexibility and dynamism.”
Then from the speech:
“People in Europe have an ever-increasing feeling that something is going wrong, that an untransparent, complex, intricate, mammoth institution has evolved… grabbing ever greater competences and areas of power; that the democratic control mechanisms are failing: in brief, that it cannot go on like this”
So, nothing radical there, but acknowledging the need for serious reform. Good stuff. But what sort of reform, exactly? Cameron again relies heavily on his “3G Europe” buzzwords “globalisation, global warming and global poverty”, but it’s unclear precisely what his solutions to any of these are – or indeed whether at least one of them even exists. Is the “green Tory” thing he seems so keen on really so much of a potential vote winner that he’s going to apply it to the EU as well? I can’t see it myself, and here it seems little more than a distraction from the key issues.
Still, back to what he actually says. He says his plan is to “work to create a flexible Europe by building alliances with those who share our interests and our ideas”. Which means precisely nothing.
What is Cameron’s vision of “a flexible Europe”? Sounds good, certainly, but does this mean a “multi-tier” Europe, a “two-speed” Europe, a “core” Europe or something else as yet unproposed? As Nanne at DJ Nozem explained at the weekend, there’s all sorts of different options, and nothing that anyone’s worked out sufficiently for it to be plausible to implement.
Nonetheless, journalist and Tory MEP Daniel Hannan was surprisingly impressed with this passage from Cameron’s speech in particular:
Just as member states have in the past agreed to transfer competences to the EU, so it should be possible to move in the opposite direction. How can we enshrine the principle that powers can be returned to member states â€” not as a vague aspiration, but as a central element of the legal architecture of the Union? What are the tasks that we can return to national or local governments?
Reading between the lines, this does indeed seem to be suggesting a multi-tier Europe, where the UK (for example) can pull back a bit while more enthusiastic member states can press on. It’s certainly not clear, however – and does, as Hannan points out, go against the founding Treaty of Rome’s specific commitment to “an ever-closer union”.
Hannan, it would seem, is quite happy with his leader’s new approach:
David Cameron is not simply drawing up a wish-list. He is proposing a structural overhaul, so that powers could, in future, pass up and down between Brussels and the national capitals as the states decide…
The core, Carolingian nations would doubtless want to continue with their palaeo-federalism: a European Army, a European police force, a European president, a European constitution. But the trading, maritime peoples on Europeâ€™s periphery might begin to loose their bonds: to remain in a free trade area, but withdraw from the accompanying political structures. They might, indeed, link up with the EFTA countries, which already have such a deal and which, largely in consequence, enjoy the highest GDP per capita in Europe…
David Cameron spoke with the air of a man who had given his words considerable thought. The text itself bore the tell-tale spoor of reworking by several hands. And, most important, the words came accompanied by action: an international commission on the repatriation of power, and a new group in the European Parliament to act as its delivery vehicle.”
It is this international commission – the Movement for European Reform which will decide if this new drive succeeds or fails – because it looks like it is the commission which will come up with the actual policies and proposals (which, as so often with Cameron, don’t yet appear to have been formulated…)
Cameron, to be fair to him, has identified the majority of the EU’s biggest problems. If Hannan’s reading of the new Tory approach is correct, Cameron is also pushing towards a version of the multi-tier Europe that I personally favour as a (very complex and potentially disastrous, admittedly) solution to the current EU deadlock. The fact that he makes noises supporting future Turkish, Ukrainian and former Yugoslavian applications for membership is likewise welcome. Whether his odd initial alliance with the Czechs will last, let alone expand into a genuinely continent-wide reform movement, is unclear. But he seems to be full of good intentions – and shush about that “road to hell” business…
But will the Cameron-backed Movement for European Reform be able to come up with any concrete, workable proposals – or is this yet another, albeit slightly fancier-looking stage in the ongoing Tory approach to the EU – never do today what can be put off until, preferably, you’re no longer in a position to have to make a decision on it. Is Cameron serious with this attempt to build a consensus on radical reform for the EU – which should only be welcomed – or is he simply prevaricating once again? Unfortunately, it seems we’ve also got little choice but – to borrow a phrase from John Major that seems strangely appropriate once again – to wait and see…
Stranger things have happened than the Conservative party shaking off its internal divisions over the EU and coming up with workable alternatives. I can’t think of any off the top of my head, it must be said, but still…
Update: More takes I’d missed:
You can’t please all of the people all of the time, it’d seem. Cameron appears not to have pleased many people at all… I’ll continue to withhold judgement until I can tell what, if anything, it is he’s intending.