The reality of British 'repatriation' of EU powers
by our secret columnist in Brussels
With the inevitable compromises necessary along the way, would British Prime Minister David Cameron's plan to remove the United Kingdom from the remit of certain European Union laws mean much in reality beyond a few cheap headlines and an olive branch to his backbench Tory MPs? Our resident satirist Schadenfreude finds out
British Prime Minister David Cameron has unfinished European Union business – perhaps, a lot more than observers are aware of. Apart from defending the United Kingdom against what one of his team described in a gloriously mixed metaphor as "the stifling straitjacket of red tape", he is committed to "repatriation". This means taking Britain out of some EU regulations. They are either turned into less onerous homemade versions or dropped because they stifle business enterprise.
Cannily, there is no repatriation checklist. If there was and it was published, such a list would be criticised for lack of boldness and for lack of regard for "hard working people". You have to try to infer what may be on it. Top must be the EU Working Time Directive. In the UK Conservative Party lexicon, this was smuggled in as health and safety whereas it should have been under social policy from which Britain had an opt-out. Criticism is directed at damage done to the training of junior doctors, who traditionally work unsocial hours. In the familiar litany, it is alleged that other member states simply disregard the restriction whereas the UK never does. The companion contention is that Britain overdoes or "gold-plates" EU regulations.
The other repatriation candidates are less clearly marked. Somewhere near the top of the list must be fisheries control. The thesis is that fishermen are deprived of their rights in British waters. The intention must be to allow them bigger catches either because there are fish in plenty or by reducing the permissible catches of fishermen from the rest of the EU. Unless the UK can produce evidence that the European Commission's scientific predictions of future stocks are false, getting the existing control system changed to the disadvantage of other member states will be hard going. Even Luxembourg, which has no sea fisheries, reserves the right to a catch quota.
The UK has an opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Freedoms, which accompanies the Lisbon Treaty, insofar as its provision may be in conflict with British law. With the current agitation about the exaggerations of human rights, the whole charter must be a repatriation target - the more so if ever the UK entirely domesticates the subject by passing new laws. Other subjects, for the time being, are in a decent obscurity. They are probably in the area of industrial relations, which ex-commission President Jacques Delors championed partly because of his social convictions – partly, because he wanted to show that single market was not a creature at the beck and call of big business.
Cameron also wants endogenous reform of the EU regulations affecting business, without so far offering an inventory He will oppose any new restrictions. The area in which he cannot be bested is taxation, which requires EU unanimity. Battle lines are being drawn around a financial transaction tax. Germany wants it and wants it for the union, having rejected the idea that it could be done by "enhanced cooperation" - a Lisbon Treaty provision which enables a group of member states to move on together using EU facilities if the whole number is not available. It has happened only once; to enable divorcing couples to decide which jurisdiction they want to be heard under.
So when does repatriation take centre stage? Wait and see, but it is a pledge that cannot be put off too long. Will it get a result? There is usually a compromise. You ask for eight and you settle for five. You make a fuss about A, which you do not really want, and lose. In compensation, you get B that you want but did not make a scene about. You bang on until there is agreement by exhaustion, of others. You have to be able to say that you won, something.
The 'new diplomacy'
The latest musing from our resident satirist, who has worked for many years deep inside the bowels of the EU machinery. This week, Schadenfreude
eavesdrops on a telephone call between David Cameron and Angela Merkel - or does he?
The only way to repatriate powers back is to leave the EU. There is an EU legal ratchet called 'acquis communautaire' that would make this impossible within the EU.
Mark Taylor - New Alliance