Nick Clegg in a speech today sheds some light on his party’s Europe policy and more specifically on his thoughts on an in/out referendum. He says:
We are no longer asking if Britain will have a referendum on continued membership, we are asking when Britain will have a referendum on continued membership.
The parties differ on the timing. The Conservative party want one in 2017, regardless of what’s happening in Europe at that time: it’s a date chosen for internal party management as much as anything else. The Liberal Democrats believe it will be far better to have the referendum when a serious change to Europe’s rules, affecting the UK, next arises. But we all agree that it will happen at some point or another…
If you want to know my position, it’s very simple: yes to staying in Europe; yes to reforming the EU and improving our relationship with it; yes to a referendum when the time is right.
On the face of it that is not a change. The Liberal Democrats have in the past promised in/out referendums on the EU to be held at the next treaty change. Cynics would point out that when the last major Treaty change came, on the Lisbon Treaty, the Liberal Democrats were less than enthusiastic on having a referendum. But, the wording here looks like a change in emphasis, opening up the possibility of future support – in turn perhaps also opening up for another coalition with the Tories.
What else is new? Nick Clegg has also made some welcome moves in other areas. For a former MEP and supporter of the Lisbon treaty’s transfer of powers to the European Parliament he is refreshingly honest about the need to reinforce the powers of national parliaments in the EU decision making process. He says:
I want to see a much more active role for national parliaments in scrutinising EU decisions and policing the principle of subsidiarity. We’re still not fully exploiting the provisions made for this under the Lisbon Treaty.
Beyond this his speech has some of the normal party political aspects. For instance he accuses the Conservatives of wanting a “unilateral renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU”, when what most are suggesting are EU-wide solutions – but he does rather half heatedly admit that:
Of course a future British Government will be able to cobble together a package of reforms with Germany and other member states with likeminded views on European competitiveness and so on.
Good, that is a start, so lets get on with it…