Open Europe Blog

Go local

Today we publish a report, written by ex-head of Policy Exchange Anthony Browne and our Director Mats Persson, suggesting a fresh EU strategy for the UK government – European localism. In yesterday’s Sunday Times, we trailed the piece, arguing:

“closer union cannot continue for ever. In some ways the EU is already more centralised than a country — individual American states have more freedom over sales tax than do EU members. And what was right 50 years ago is not necessarily right now. When challenges change, so should institutions.

The euro crisis has tested to destruction the principle of ever closer union — its momentum required Greece to join the euro when it was not ready, directly leading to turmoil. As the crisis has unfolded, the debate has moved to an existential question: what kind of Europe do Europeans want?”

We go on to say:

“Popular support for the EU has plummeted even in the countries that were once most supportive and national parliaments have grown restive because their powers are being usurped. The euro crisis is also forcing Europe to develop a more variable approach to co-operation, with countries integrating at different speeds.

The EU is ripe for change and this presents Britain with an opportunity to push forward its own strategy — which we call European localism. Since it joined in 1973 Britain has never shared the strategic vision of ever closer union, but nor has it had an alternative strategy of its own. As a result it has remained disengaged from Brussels, focusing on defensive tactics limiting the perceived damage of European legislation, rather than trying to steer the direction of the EU. This is an unsatisfactory position.”

But, we argue, in the wake of the crisis,

“Britain can position itself as the champion of European localism, taking the principles and rhetoric of localism widely endorsed at a national level and applying them at a European level. The same arguments apply: if you devolve where possible and centralise only where necessary, you get better democratic engagement, more flexibility and better policy making.”

As we note in our press release, in terms of concrete proposals, this would include:

  • Parliament should be given the right to approve the UK appointment of judges to the European Court of Justice, to hear their views on European integration, just as Congress approves presidential appointments to the Supreme Court in the US;
  • The Government should consider taking the European Commission to the European Court of Justice for breaches of subsidiarity, the legal principle underpinning localism that is now enshrined as a founding principle of the EU in the Lisbon Treaty;
  • The role of national parliaments should be strengthened by a new “red card” mechanism, whereby if two thirds – or in particularly sensitive areas, half – of national parliaments express concerns about EU legislation or European Court of Justice rulings, then the EU would have to abandon legislation or overturn the ruling;
  • The UK Parliament should work with other national parliaments to set up an “Inter-parliamentary Task Force on Localism”, acting independently from EU institutions, to ensure that the EU does not involve itself in issues that should be left to national governments;
  • A new mechanism should be introduced enabling member states to repatriate powers over certain policy areas, even if all 27 countries do not want to do so, resulting in a variable, more democratic Europe where powers can flow both to and from Brussels;
  • The Government should use its legal rights under the Lisbon Treaty to unilaterally repatriate up to 90 Justice and Home Affairs laws, and should prioritise other areas where it wants to repatriate powers;
  • The Government should subject all significant EU proposals to a robust subsidiarity test, and should hold the European Commission to account for rejecting parliament’s complaints about breaches of the subsidiarity principle;
  • The Government should lobby for a new European Subsidiarity Court, to uphold breaches of subsidiarity;
  • The Foreign Office should set up a ‘European Localism Unit’ to drive the localism agenda across Whitehall departments affected by the EU;
  • Form a ‘localism bloc’ of like-minded EU nations, starting with a conference in London.

As we conclude in the Sunday Times piece, This “is a strategy that should command wide cross-party support in Britain and enable us at last to engage fully in the EU.”

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