The view from Europe: To regain its credibility, there are some areas where the EU should just butt out

We need a clearer definition of where the EU's responsibilities end

My political party ran its last European Elections campaign under the slogan: ‘Cooperation, Yes. Superstate, NO!’ Therefore it will come as little surprise that I much liked David Cameron’s speech on the European Union.

Across the European Parliament, ‘The Speech’ was often seen exclusively through the prism of the UK’s relationship with the EU. The main question was whether Britain will be able to negotiate itself a different kind of relationship with Brussels.

However. the point that was too often glossed over was the Prime Minister’s first preference: reform of the entire EU. For me, ‘The Speech’ sounded the starting gun on a debate about what kind of EU we want. It finally asked the question about where powers and competences are best exercised if we want to retain cooperation, but end this uncertain drive towards every decision being taken at the European level through its static structures.

Around a decade ago the then German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer coined the expression ‘Kompetenzkatalog’. The phrase was intended to set out clearly where competences should lie in the EU: at the local, regional, national or supranational level. I am in favour of a much clearer definition. For almost twenty years now the EU is supposed to have worked according to the principle of subsidiarity: the imperative that decisions are taken as close to the affected people as possible. In reality, only lip service has been paid to this concept.

So a clear delineation between competences that are the preserve of the EU, and those that it should butt out of entirely would help make the EU run more efficiently and to regain some of its credibility.

Instead, we see ongoing vagueness in the EU’s treaties. For some, each treaty represents another step towards a federal Union. However, if that is really the end goal then all leaders need to be honest about it with their electorate. Instead of the EU being seen as a project that will never be finished, let’s have a serious debate about how we want it to be when the ‘project’ reaches its end point, and let’s set a date for achieving it.

In my view, that endpoint is different to the EU we see today. I see an EU of strong cooperation and open trade through the Single Market. However, I do not see an EU that continues down a road of ever-closer union, ever-growing budgets and ever-expanding statute books that only serve to further distance the ‘project’ from its citizens.

So if we can have a serious debate about where power should be exercised, without those calling for it being labeled ‘anti-European’, then I believe we can make the EU a key component of a more competitive and open Europe.

Repatriation should be the choice of any country. No integration is irreversible and nor should it be. But I will continue to work hard to secure the Prime Minister’s first choice: a major reform of the EU. I will work to ensure that all European Member States can enjoy the best arrangement for them, so that their people are able to cooperate, live and trade, whilst knowing that the EU’s primary purpose is to serve them in the limited areas it has responsibility; not to take on new responsibilities at the expense of democracy. Let the debate begin.

Peter van Dalen MEP is a member of the Christian Union party in the Netherlands and is in the European Conservatives and Reformists Group.

This article is part of the 'The View from Europe' series on Independent Voices. To read the latest from Guy Verhofstadt, Leader of the Liberal and Democrats group in the European Parliament, click here.