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Peter Wilding: After Barroso, reform with allies to limit EU powers is within Britain's grasp

Peter Wilding is the Founder and Director of British Influence.  Follow him on Twitter

Screen shot 2013-09-11 at 15.38.37In his last state of the union address this morning, Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso finally woke up and smelt the coffee regretting Europe’s focus on red tape.

He admitted that Europe had meddled too much in some areas and now needs to focus on completing the single market with a respect national sovereignty and also avoiding any new powers for the eurozone against the EU as a whole.

Barroso, in the winter of his term and without the support of Germany in recent year, paid lip service to the hoary rhetoric of "political union" but failed to explain what he meant outside of the current snail’s pace stagger to banking union - which is a very different thing.

Matthew Elliot of Business for Britain writes in ConHome this morning about the inevitability to banking union. This is not simply a runaway, uncontrollable fact. The German constitutional court is a major impediment to deeper integration.

But there is no room for complacency, and a key task for Sir Jon Cunliffe his new role as Deputy Governor at the Bank of England, will be to ensure the European Central Bank does not overstep its remit and damage the City of London.

But we should not discount Barroso’s speech. The British and allied countries have pushed for real supply-side reform in the energy, transport, telecoms sectors and this was not only a key part of his speech but precedes a big policy announcement later today.

The broader focus on completing the single market reflects the resolve of the 18 countries, which supported David Cameron’s manifesto for reform last year plus the regular lobbying by the like-minded group of friendly ministers.

Naturally, Barroso had to say that Europe was not just about peace or prosperity but about the politics of bringing the peoples of Europe together. But his cupboard was bare of federalist ideas and yet full of hand-wringing assurances that Europe should do less, but better. Brits, forever spooked by the empty rhetoric coming from Brussels, should note that the force is with us on economic and institutional change. Yesterday’s demolition of the proposed Financial Transaction Tax is just one straw in the wind.

So, Barroso’s speech gently framed the battle of ideas developing over Europe. The UK, Germany, Holland and Sweden lead a group which is determined to change the EU. They agree that growth and jobs will only really come from breaking down remaining barriers to trade in goods and services and they also agree that the Brussels machinery is not fit for purpose. A stronger Council cracking the whip over a streamlined Commission and a tethered Parliament is a plan under development as we speak. And all want national parliaments to have a yellow and even red card to stop any overly meddlesome Commission proposal.

These are proposals that have support among other countries in Europe. Europhobes will of course ignore all this. For them the rhetoric is sexier than the reality. But the fact is that the British Government has a serious reform plan, has allies to support it and wants to push it through. If repatriation is on the agenda it is repatriation for all, not just for one. That is a better and more achievable solution all round.


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