The future of the european Union: UK Government policy
Written evidence from the European Movement
1. This submission argues that the European Union represents the best way for European countries to cooperate on matters of mutual interest whilst respecting the political rights of their citizens. The increasing trend towards opt-outs and integration at different levels is a reflection of the different state of public opinion in different parts of Europe, but nevertheless there are some core principles which must be observed by all EU member states. The several opt-outs that apply to the UK will not necessarily deprive it of influence in Europe’s future direction, as long as the government acts positively towards the rest of the EU. This is not obviously the position of the government at present.
About the European Movement
2. The European Movement is a independent, not-for-profit and all party organisation that calls for closer integration at the EU level, with more powers for the democratically elected institutions of the EU and more popular involvement in its intergovernmental decision-making structures. It was founded in 1948 by Sir Winston Churchill, and its president is Rt Hon Charles Kennedy MP.
3. The case for the European Union is made stronger by the recent developments in the eurozone and around the world. That individual countries are no longer able to safeguard their own interests acting independently becomes clearer and clearer every day. To enable European countries to take care of their own interests and those of their citizens is the purpose of the European Union. This is true when considering the current economic crisis, the developing social and environmental challenges, or the growing change in the global balance of power.
4. We recognise that, for the time being, public opinion in some countries means that not every country can take part in every aspect of European integration. We regret the fact that public opinion feels this way, but the fact that the EU is a union of consent means that this must be respected.
5. It is therefore necessary to design the future European Union taking into account these variations in public opinion in different member states. This is a process that started in fact in the Maastricht Treaty with the opt-outs for the UK and Denmark from the euro, and has acquired many new dimensions since then. The notion of a finalité politique that was perhaps in the minds of some of the founders of the EU has been replaced by a more varied picture. Public opinion can change, meaning that the opt-outs that were once necessary might someday be relinquished, so the picture we paint here is not necessarily permanent. However, it may be said to be more than strictly temporary.
Core principles of the European Union
6. The design of the European Union under this approach, recognising opt-outs, must also specify those aspects of EU membership from which no opt-out may be permitted in order to ensure that the EU is not hollowed out into nothingness. There are some core principles to which all EU members must subscribe, and we list them here:
6.1 The rule of law – decisions taken through the European institutions must have the force of law, which citizens can see enforced through the courts, and not be merely political declarations to be made or dropped for political convenience. Both market credibility and public trust must be earned and cannot simply be taken for granted.
6.2 The supremacy of EU law over national law in those areas specified in the treaties – this is a long-standing principle of the EU that ensures that its decisions have meaning and that the member states can rely on each other to keep to the commitments they have made.
6.3 The role of the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers as the two chambers of the legislature – the directly elected European Parliament performs a vital role in representing the interests of the citizens in the European decision-making process, and the Council represents the interests of the member states. Both are important; neither should have supremacy over the other.
6.4 The role of the European Commission as the executive of the EU – there must be a part of the institutional system that represents the common European interest rather than the interests of any particular member state. Among other things, this is a protection for those member states not participating in any particular European initiative.
6.5 Transparency – the EU institutions may have been created as a diplomatic initiative but are now better understood as an expression of democracy. The standards of openness and transparency observed by the institutions should reflect their democratic role rather than their origins in diplomacy and international relations.
6.6 Minimal use of the veto power – it is for the time being unrealistic to propose that the veto power should be relinquished by the member states altogether, but its use should be absolutely a last resort. The threat of the veto creates uncertainty and discontinuity in policy – one country’s "red line" is another country’s "unreasonable veto" – which qualified majority voting does not. The academic literature shows that QMV encourages member states to join successful coalitions rather than to hold out in lonely opposition.
6.7 Subsidiarity – the idea that there should be no more centralisation than necessary and as much decentralisation as possible is another foundation of the European idea. Changes in technology and markets will lead to a reassessment from time to time of what is the appropriate level for each policy, or for different aspects of the implementation of each policy. Debate between the member states and the European institutions over the appropriate level is an expression of the success of this policy and not its failure.
6.8 Contributions to the EU budget – to be able to act effectively, the EU needs reliable and sufficient financial resources. The original vision that the EU should be financed wholly from own resources has been lost in a complex web of political compromises between the member states, made up of rebates, exceptions and correction mechanisms. It is imperative we replace this opaque system with something that resembles what the treaty originally intended, to function in a more transparent, simpler and above all fairer way. A more direct form of EU funding would signal an end to the clientelistic relationship between the union and its member states and at the same time strengthen the direct connection with citizens, by making clearer how much the EU costs and how it is being paid for.
Core powers of the European Union
7. Those principles of decision-making must apply to a minimum core set of powers, including:
7.1 The single market, with its implications for issues such as environment, social policy and international trade
7.2 The fight against international terrorism and cross-border crime
7.3 Human rights
7.4 Foreign policy, to the extent that EU member states have foreign policy interests in common
8. Opt-outs currently exist inter alia from the euro (the UK, Denmark and Sweden), defence cooperation (Denmark), Schengen (the UK and Ireland), the European patent (Italy and Spain), the euro-plus pact (Hungary, Czech Republic, Sweden and the UK). These and future opt-outs have to be reconciled with the organising principles of the EU (paragraph 6) and the essential powers of the EU (paragraph 7).
Britain and the EU
9. Britain belongs in the European Union. The principles outlined in paragraph 6 above are entirely consistent with the view of EU and of democratic politics as understood in Britain over many years. They imply that the EU is effective in the policy areas granted to it by the treaties but not beyond those areas. They grant citizens legal rights within the political process, in a way that no other international organisation can do.
10. That Britain is currently not a member of the euro nor of the Schengen area is a matter of regret. Nor was the UK an active participant in drafting the fiscal compact treaty. However, these exclusions do not have to imply a termination of British participation in the European Union.
11. There is still plenty of opportunity for a positive attitude on the part of the British government to exert a positive influence on the European Union, even given the exclusions mentioned above. However, that influence has got to be earned and cannot simply be assumed. The European Movement remains concerned that the current government is not doing nearly enough to earn that influence in the EU, a trend which if taken to its logical conclusion would render redundant the speculation by this and other parliamentary committees about the future of the European Union. It is necessary to act before it is too late.
28 May 2012