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Dr Lee Rotherham: The TaxPayers' Alliance sets out how to repatriate powers from Brussels

Screen shot 2011-12-07 at 17.48.12When is a treaty change not a treaty change? When everyone in the negotiating room thinks they can get away with it.

Today’s EU Council will come up with a deal to "fix" the Eurozone, at least over the short term. Everyone there will know that this needs to be done within the framework of the existing treaties in order to avoid triggering painful referenda – the prospect of having just the one in Greece was bad enough. At most, the wheeler-dealers will invent a protocol to "clarify" where the Eurozone countries stand, and then hope the ECJ will back it up and incorporate the principle more firmly into the acquis.

In the meantime, the existing EU structures will step up. The Eurozone has for some years now had its own President bolted onto the Council of Ministers. A commitment from October’s Council meeting, to review its role at the end of the current President’s mandate, means that this is set to be further beefed up, by ultimately merging it with the new (strangely Zoolander-styled) President of the Eurogroup Working Group.

There’s also the option of rearranging Commission portfolios, given the considerable slack arising from every country having its own Commissioner despite the number of real jobs around for them (currently, one is in charge of ordering the IT). This process has already quietly begun, with discreet amendments to the Commission’s rules of procedures suggesting early moves to accommodate more robust Commission interference.

Whether a minimalist settlement survives is a matter that only the markets will decide, and the prospect is bleak. Realistically, over the medium to long term, that suggests a significant and formal treaty change would follow. But that’s not guaranteed, and if it does come it will focus heavily on embellishing the terms that will be resolved this week.

This is why it is so important for British negotiators to secure important, and concrete, concessions from the outset. In a paper from the TaxPayers’ Alliance, we look at some of the history, principles and objectives of repatriating powers from Brussels. Frankly, the UK’s relationship with the EU is busted, and there are only two options for fixing it – to get a lot of powers back and create a new modus vivendi, or to leave and then negotiate an association arrangement that excludes those powers.

Both approaches are viable, if undertaken by a determined government. Doing neither is not an option, since the default setting is for our terms and conditions to get worse. As we also point out, the last four Conservative leaders have all agreed with the need for change, highlighting areas that they personally believed did not belong at Brussels and should be returned. Meanwhile, we also demonstrate there has been plenty of precedent of countries playing hardball during negotiations. In Brussels, it is not only legitimate to be awkward: on the big issues, it is a fundamental necessity.

Thirteen of the areas we identify are essentially powers and budgets that need to be restored; a fourteenth highlights systemic failings that should be flagged up but would need major treaty change. But six are changes that the British Government could institute tomorrow if it were serious about reform. A summary of them can be found here. There is nothing revolutionary about any of them. They are common sense propositions, based on clear analyses and years of campaigning. The need to scrap the CFP, as just one instance, is costed for example here but dates back to a valiant campaign by the people in the industry who for several years won an actual policy commitment from the Conservatives.

At the other end of the scale, the principle of simply printing material sourced from Brussels on differently-coloured paper in Westminster (useful for gauging the level of Brussels input, assessing culpability for bad but unalterable legislation, and checking against domestic gold plating) comes from a Ten Minute Rule Bill by a Conservative backbencher in around 1996. Altogether, these twenty points provide a suggested hit list against which to judge what reforms are offered up when the British negotiators come back.

However appealing it may be to seize some small scraps of comfort, for example to briefly protect the City from a couple of rogue directives, such an approach would lack the vision and determination needed to settle the EU imbroglio for good. Federal structures inherently expand in times of crisis, and so even the current disasters of the Eurozone will act as a spur to further integration. It is thus an act of negotiating madness for the Foreign Office to seek to encourage rather than exploit this. As we will shortly be reminded by a film in the new year, this is not only the age of the handbag; on the Brussels stage, this is its last throw.


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