The UK renegotiation of EU membership

by George Hatjoullis

David Cameron has laid out the principles behind his proposed renegotiation of The UK’s continued membership. The strategy makes sense! Whether it will make sense to the Little Englanders and Xenophobes that populate the Brexit camp remains to be seen. I doubt it. However, it may be enough to swing the undecided voters that like the idea of being in the EU but are unsettled by stories of predatory immigrants and mass immigration. It is now down to the delivery.

Cameron makes clear that the EU and the eurozone are not the same thing and the UK cannot remain if the needs of the latter are pursued at the expense of the former. Quite right! This is a topic that I have discussed at length in earlier posts. The eurozone cannot survive let alone prosper without ever closer union. Indeed, a federal structure is inevitable. The relationship between non-euro EU members and eurozone members has never been properly designed because it was assumed that all would eventually join the eurozone. Cameron raises the question of whether a workable structure can be achieved. The answer is that it certainly can and safeguards are required. Issues that affect all members should be decided by all members. This makes sense but needs to be spelled out and a procedure established to ensure it takes place. This negates the exit camps argument that all existing EU relations can be achieved outside using the Norwegian example. The Norwegians complain that their relationship requires they abide by the rules but get no say in making the rules. Cameron’s objective is to ensure that EU rules are determined by all EU countries. In terms of the relationship with the EU, it is better to be in than out provided the separation of eurozone and EU is established.

On the thorny question of immigration he has a subtle but sensible proposal. Free movement of labour should not be extended to new members until they have achieved economic convergence with the more established members. This also makes sense. The more advanced economies will tend to suck in labour because of higher wages and better job opportunities. This is not necessarily in the best interests of the new members. It helps growth in the established member states but can create (and has created) political and social tensions. There is a case for slowing this process down and this can benefit all member states. A more aggressive ‘regional policy’ might be included to help boost productivity and employment in the new members states. Freedom of movement between economies of a similar stage of development is unlikely to create stress but when the development is widely different it can become a one-way movement. Some initial control is not unreasonable.

The relationship with the European Court of Human Rights is a more controversial topic. It really comes down to which courts have primacy in this area, UK or the ECHR. So long as the ‘Human Rights’ are clear and established, and decisions are in the hands of the UK judiciary, then the risks are not large. The risk is of political interference in Human Rights for expediency. The problem is not in giving UK courts more say but in what say they have in relation to successive UK governments. This may be too subtle a point for most voters. The devil is in the detail. From a referendum point of view, it will help Cameron if he can claim UK courts have primacy.

The renegotiation is beginning and is meaningful. If Cameron can achieve what is being sought (and there is no reason he should not), and if he can sell the achievement, then Brexit is unlikely. The big risk is in the salesmanship.