Thursday, 3 January 2013

After 40 years it is time for action on the EU

This week marked the 40th anniversary of Britain’s membership of the EU but there it is no cause for celebration, rather a debate about how we can knock the EU into shape in future. David Cameron will shortly deliver his long awaited speech on the future of the EU and, in the last week, there has been some movement from other EU leaders with recognition that there is no way Britain can agree to deeper political integration and that a new arrangement is, therefore, needed.

The first thing David Cameron needs to do in his speech is to untangle what negotiations can take place right now and in this parliament from those which must be postponed for another day and until after the next election. There are two major areas where the current coalition government (Lib Dems and all) will necessarily end up in a renegotiation with the EU. Firstly, the brinkmanship over delivering a real terms freeze to the EU budget which has been led by Britain is likely to continue well into the New Year. David Cameron must stand firm on this. We should not be making cuts in Britain only to give inflation busting budget increases to inept officials in the EU.

Secondly, the British government has already made clear that it will exercise a right it has under the Lisbon Treaty to axe 130 EU directives that Gordon Brown signed up to relating to justice and home affairs but will then seek to pick and choose those it wants to cooperate with and those which will be vetoed for good.

Many Conservatives, myself included, want to see a more fundamental renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU with powers returned in many areas while we remain a committed member of the single market. But, because of the views of the Lib Dems, this more fundamental renegotiation has not been possible in this parliament. Ironically, the intervention of UKIP at the last General Election might have denied the country a Conservative majority and undermined the cause they claim to believe in.

David Cameron must now flesh out in more detail what a future renegotiation would look like and seek a mandate for that position at the next election. This could include taking powers back in areas such as social and employment policy, a looser relationship with the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy and the return of regional policy which could mean we have more to spend on regeneration in Cornwall.

There is likely to be growing pressure for a new treaty to re-order the EU over the next eighteen months which could, finally, give Britain the new deal it has waited a long time for which could then be put to the country in a referendum.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.