Much ado about “not much”
The E.U. – U.K draft deal is a monumental waste of time!
The politicians and the Eurocrats who have laboriously crafted the draft Council resolution presented last Tuesday by Council President Tusk will undoubtedly consider it an acceptable compromise. All parties will claim that these protracted negotiations have been successful.
Let us first give credit to those who have devoted themselves tirelessly to drafting an agreement that by its very nature was bound to disappoint all concerned. Indeed, the premises on which the negotiations were based, rested on incompatible objectives pursued by the negotiators and could therefore only deliver a flawed and ambiguous result.
At this point, prior to its likely endorsement by the Council in a form close to President Tusk’s draft, the frustrations and determination of the “Brexit” camp will only increase. In parallel, a false feeling of relief will embrace those Europeans who have managed, once again to kick the can down the road. Indeed, if the UK were ultimately to remain in the EU, most of the substantive issues will be decided by actual future practice rather than by the application of clear “irreversible and binding” rules. This announces continuous future challenges rather than a once and for all settlement.
In the light of the other many pressing problems facing the EU, including dealing with the immigration crisis, strengthening EMU, negotiating the TTIP, as well as implementing the ambitious agenda of the Commission (energy, climate, digital, CMU etc.), one must ask oneself whether in the end “Brexit”, with all its drawbacks for the EU, does not give its 27 remaining members their best chance to face constructively the challenges ahead. Indeed, the supposedly “symbolic” nature of the British exemption from participating in “an ever closer Europe” can be interpreted in many ways, including giving the right to the UK to “opt out” of any new EU legislation applicable to other members. Such an extreme interpretation is clearly unacceptable as it negates the principle of majority rule that prevails in most areas of EU competence. One can see how the ambiguity inherent to the draft lays the ground for endless controversy, leading to the paralysis of the entire community machinery and ultimately to the EU’s breakup.
Consequently, the unlikely scenario of failing to agree at the February Summit and simultaneously breaking off of further negotiations pending the result of the UK Referendum, would, nevertheless, be a far more desirable outcome, even if it increases considerably the likelihood of Brexit. Such an attitude would focus the attention of British Euro sceptics that many Europeans share their views on Brexit in particular in order to end the “special status” that the UK has already carved out for itself since it joined the Union.
A reformed EU is a very broadly accepted necessity but implementing an agreement along the lines suggested in the draft is the best recipe for making it quasi impossible to implement. The EU would be far better off being free to get on with its own reform agenda without having to take into account British interests any differently from those of other Member States. This may mean running the risk that Brexit creates a precedent and that countries, in which Eurosceptic parties are strengthening their appeal, may wish to follow suit. It is certainly not by giving in to populist demands that the EU will present an appealing alternative to nationalist promises that cannot deliver the political, economic and social protection that Europeans have taken for granted for so long.
The best contribution that the EU could make to the referendum campaign in Britain is to initiate immediately work on an in depth EU reform agenda that takes into account the interests of the majority of European citizens.
All members should be concerned with reforming the Schengen agreements. As a matter of coherence, the Schengen borders should coincide with those of the single market (the UK would have to be in or out of both). This is the only way to protect coherently the freedoms of movement of people, goods and capital embedded in the Treaty. It does not put into question the association of non-member states but clearly, the UK, Switzerland, Norway, etc., would have to bear their fair share of policing the Schengen area’s external borders. Common rules covering immigration should also be implemented.
For those Members who participate in EMU, further substantive transfers of largely virtual existing “national” sovereignty towards more effective “shared” sovereignty (without which the € and the EU cannot survive) will be necessary. Failing to reach an agreement (which cannot be opposed by non-members) should lead to initiating a (hopefully) orderly dismantling of the EMU/EU but the spectre of the unavoidable political, economic and social pain this involves should serve as a strong deterrent against such an outcome.
There are many additional areas of necessary reform including rethinking aspects of the institutional architecture of the EU so as to address adequately the questions of democratic representation and political accountability. This can only be achieved if there is an agreed hierarchy of norms trickling down from EU to National and local levels giving full weight to the principles of subsidiarity.
In this dangerous globalised world, it is high time to reform the EU to give it the necessary tools to protect its citizens. Brexit should stop being a distraction impeding the consideration of far more vital questions. Indeed, if the EU cannot reform itself and implodes, the Brexit debate will be without object and have proved to be one of the most monumental wastes of time for British and continental Europeans alike.
Lorgues, 04 February 2016
Paul N. Goldschmidt
Director, European Commission (ret.); Member of the Steering Committee of the Thomas More Institute.
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