Open Europe Blog

An emerging cross-party consensus on EU reform?

On Europe, Labour doesn’t exactly shy away from turning the debate into a discussion of “Tory splits”. Ed Miliband had another go in Wednesday’s PMQs, perhaps a vintage attack inspired by a folk memory of the advantage Labour gained from the Maastricht rebellions twenty years ago. He said: “When it comes to Europe, it is the same old Tories: a divided party, and a weak Prime Minister.”

It has been less clear, though, what Labour would actually do differently – to put it mildly. In the past, Ed M has also attacked the Conservatives for endangering the single market and jobs. In one such attack:

“Can he confirm that what he actually proposed was to unpick the existing rules of Lady Thatcher’s Single European Act as regards the internal market? Given that those proposals would have changed 25 years of the single market, why did he make them in the final hours of the summit?”

But this morning on the BBC’s Today Programme, behind the bluster, the big news is that he actually agrees with David Cameron (and a laterday Clegg) on more than anyone perhaps would like to admit: 

Miliband said he wanted “change Europe” to “better reflect our interests.” Who could object to that? He also said:
“I think we are moving to a more flexible Europe, a more flexible EU. Why do I say that? Because we will have some countries in the euro, Britain’s not going to be joining the euro, won’t be joining the euro if I’m Prime Minister, and therefore by the nature of it, we’re going to have some countries that are in the euro and some countries that are out. That makes, what I would call, a more flexible European Union.

“It’s a more flexible European Union. That needs to be reformed urgently to work in Britain’s interests.” 

This is almost exactly what Cameron says. Zero difference. But absolutely right. 
He also supports the Government’s “referendum lock”;

“Clearly there is legislation on the books which we don’t propose repealing, which says if there is a transfer of powers to the EU then there would be a referendum. If there is a transfer of powers, there’s legislation on the books that says there would be a referendum.”

Like Cameron, he also thinks that the UK needs to repatriate powers:

“Other areas, let me give you other areas. Regional policy, the way that a national government can have an industrial policy. I think there are areas where Britain actually needs some powers back.”

Reforming regional policy is a great area to target, so well done Ed. Bringing ‘powers back’ in order to have an “industrial policy” would, as he has accused the Tories of doing, clearly mean unpicking the single market – and is an open invitation to the French to let the state aid flow – so perhaps not the greatest idea. But let’s not split hairs…

Disagreements? Well:

“The debate here is between essentially those who say reform Europe and the European Union to change it to work in our interests, and I fear the Prime Minister’s strategy which is leading us towards exit, which would cause real damage to our economy.”

“I think in some areas, and this is a difference from this government – I say, for example, the European Arrest Warrant, which is something where Europe cooperates with the European Union, that helps our country… “
But he is only able to cite one policy example – the EAW – where he takes a different view to the government. And even here, from the Government’s point of view, the real question is reform of the EAW and the jurisdiction of the ECJ post 2014, and whether to opt back into this particular measure.

Leave aside the current shouting match – and look at the bigger picture of Britain’s role in the world and Europe – and this a country far more united on the need for anew relationship within the EU than the politicians would dare to admit.
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