Another twist in the debate about Europe

The first batch of results suggests the balance of power between Westminster and Europe is about right – which is bad news for David Cameron

Share

When the Prime Minister set out plans for a thorough-going audit of Britain’s relationship with Europe, the aim was to establish a basis from which to repatriate powers back to Westminster.

Instead, the first batch of results suggests the so-called “balance of competences” to be about right – which is good news for Britain but rather less so for David Cameron.

The Prime Minister has long been in a bind over Europe. Unlike the “swivel-eyed” backbenchers who want out at any price, his approach is more measured. There is much scope for improvement, he thinks; but, reforms accomplished, we are better off in. Faced with squalls of rebellion from Eurosceptic MPs spooked by Ukip, Mr Cameron tried to square the circle by promising not only to renegotiate our place in the EU but to hold an in/out referendum on the results of his handiwork.

To help things along, he ordered a vast stocktake (to run to 32 studies, in four tranches) to identify where Britain is most egregiously under Brussels’ heel. Except that the first six reports – looking at the single market, tax, foreign policy, healthcare, food safety and aid – failed to deliver. There are questions about some specific regulations. The Working Time Directive, for example, causes problems for junior doctors. And while most tax rules are set nationally, an EU-wide levy on financial transactions will hit the City hard. But these are mere quibbles; the broad picture is of a system in which Britain’s profits exceed its losses.

Although almost all foreign policy is decided in Westminster, we gain much from Brussels’ extra heft in trade talks. Similarly, while the single market comes with extra rules – sceptics’ loathed “red tape” – the boost to British business, both in Europe and globally, is of far greater consequence. Even the NHS gains more from foreign medics than it loses to health tourism.

No wonder Mr Cameron delayed publication until his MPs had safely left Westminster for the summer; and no wonder he refused the high-profile launch favoured by the Liberal Democrats. Still, Eurosceptics were quick to cry foul. Never mind the 500 submissions from which officials drew their conclusions; they are still a “Whitehall whitewash” from a pro-Europe “bureaucratic elite”. The star turn at the circus was, of course, Ukip’s Nigel Farage, who dismissed the whole business as “a futile and cynical PR exercise” proving the Prime Minister’s duplicity.

In fact, the reverse is true. At the outset, the notion of a review did, indeed, appear to be a propaganda stunt – one designed to cloak the Prime Minister’s pre-conceived agenda. It did not help that, of our 27 EU counterparts, only Italy and Bulgaria responded to requests for evidence – a comment not only on the distractions of the euro crisis but also on the conclusions drawn in European capitals from Mr Cameron’s altogether gauche diplomacy.

Now, however, any notion of a stitch-up must surely be abandoned. After all, no one is more incommoded by this week’s conclusions than Mr Cameron himself. Even his more moderate assertions about the need to re-set Britain’s relationship with Brussels have been cut off at the roots, and his attempts to tread the line between the country’s best interests and his party’s neuroses are now trickier than ever.

All of which only increases the value of the three further batches of competence reports due by 2014. This week’s fulminations about a Europhile plot only confirm – yet again – the extent to which the EU debate is one of politics and politics alone. What are needed, more than anything else, are some hard facts – whether or not Mr Farage et al want to hear them.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Seven per cent of young men have recently stopped using deodorant  

‘Sweaty-gate’ leaves a bad smell for PRs and journalists

Danny Rogers
Alison Parker and Adam Ward: best remembered before tragedy  

The only way is ethics: Graphic portraits of TV killings would upset many, not just our readers in the US

Will Gore
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory