I am convinced: It is worth fighting to keep the UK in the EU
Following the General Election, the Government has embarked upon a renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the European Union. The outcome of this renegotiation will be put to the people of the UK in an in/out referendum in either 2016 or 2017.
During this period of renegotiation and during the referendum campaign itself, Endeavour Public Affairs will be publishing a series of articles from a range of influential people on both sides of the debate. The fourth article is from David McAllister MEP.
David McAllister is the son of Scottish parents, a former Prime Minister of Lower Saxony, a close confident and advisor to Angela Merkel, and he has been tipped as a future Chancellor of Germany. In the European Elections of 2014 he was elected a Member of the European Parliament at the top of the CDU’s list of candidates in Lower Saxony.
To follow David McAllister on Twitter – @davidmcallister
The British reasons for joining the EU more than 40 years ago were different. As Sir Simon McDonald, former UK ambassador to Germany and now Under-Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, put it last November in the German weekly magazine “Die Zeit”:
‘Great Britain is different. We stood on the sidelines when the first six partners signed the Rome Treaties in 1957. When we joined the EU in 1973 we had just dissolved the greatest empire of all time and had to look to new horizons. We were less concerned with cementing peace in Europe (which is what the founding members had done) than with securing our prosperity. Unlike all other new members, however, our membership was not followed by an economic boom. Instead, we experienced the worst recession of the post‑war era. That triggered a debate – a debate on whether Europe was the right answer to the strategic question of our place in the world. That debate has never ceased. Many of my fellow countrymen once again need to be convinced that Europe is the answer for us. It is part of our democratic tradition for us to consult the public on such fundamental issues.’
In the run‑up to the referendum, the actual negotiations on substance are now going to start. The British demands will be discussed officially for the first time at the next European Council meeting on 17th and 18th of December in Brussels.
The Prime Minister is clear about putting an end to Britain’s obligation to work towards an ‘ever closer union’ in a formal, legally binding and irreversible way. In earlier statements, David Cameron spoke about either deleting the goal of ‘ever closer union’ from the preamble to the EU Treaty or at least it no longer applying to the United Kingdom. A political solution might be the text proposed in the June 2014 Council conclusions in which ‘ever closer union’ is interpreted as follows: “The concept of ever closer union allows for different paths of integration for different countries, allowing those that want to deepen integration to move ahead, while respecting the wish of those who do not want to deepen any further.”
London is demanding to reduce the flow of new legislation and to reduce tasks that could be dealt with better on national rather than European level. The European Union is a constant process of reform. Existing laws and processes are constantly being renegotiated. The Commission of Jean-Claude Juncker has increased efforts to promote better regulation. They are reflected in its current work programme which is intended to cut red tape and reduce administrative costs.
Other Commission initiatives such as the new Single Market Act, the expansion of free trade, the Digital Single Market, the Investment Plan for Europe, the Capital Markets, and the Energy Union are clearly along the lines desired by the UK.
The Prime Minister has proposed a new arrangement where groups of national parliaments, acting together, could stop unwanted legislative proposals. He also wants to see the EU’s commitments to subsidiarity fully implemented. In principle, the Treaty of Lisbon has already significantly improved the national parliaments’ powers of scrutiny. This includes that national parliaments may now exercise their powers, if they consider that the principle of subsidiarity has not been complied with. They may exercise their veto, reject the draft legislative act and bring a case before the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) via their member state. In Brussels we are currently exploring further options on how best to increase the role of national parliaments and to strengthen the relationship with them.
A further proposal of the Prime Minister is that people coming to Britain from other EU states must have lived and contributed for four years in the UK before they qualify for in-work benefits or social housing. Another is to end the practice of sending child benefit overseas. These demands are not readily reconcilable with existing European legal rules. In principle, the four fundamental freedoms of the EU, the free movement of goods, the free movement of services, the free movement of capital and the free movement of workers are inviolable. All EU citizens have the same rights: There can be no discrimination between EU citizens.
It is a fact, however, that no unemployed person may travel to another member state and claim immediate social benefits from the state. It is also a fact that no one may claim unlimited right of residence without having sufficient resources and a real chance of employment. Reforms are possible as regards immigrants using the welfare system. For instance, the rules for EU migrants who do not attempt to find employment in their host country could be clarified on the basis of CJEU case-law.
The outcome of the referendum is unpredictable. Ultimately, the result will depend solely on how many people in the UK actually turn out to vote on the Thursday in question. The danger of an EU exit should not be underestimated. The stakes are high!
In Brussels we ought to take the UK’s concerns and fears seriously. Let us make it clear that the European Union brings with it many advantages and not just disadvantages, even though it is the latter which, unfortunately, dominates British public perceptions at present. Only by working in partnership can we resolve so many problems facing Europe.
I am convinced: It is worth fighting to keep the UK in the EU. Of course, this does not mean that the UK should be allowed to dictate terms to the European partners. A ‘fair deal’ must and can be sought – a deal which is fair for the UK and fair for the EU as a whole.
Britain is stronger in Europe and Europe is stronger with Britain!
Published: Tuesday 08 December 2015
© Copyright of Endeavour Public Affairs 2015
Photograph: © Copyright of David McAllister MEP
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.