Open Europe Blog

Do Ed Balls and Ed Miliband see eye-to-eye on the EU?

Anyone following Labour’s election campaign up until now would be forgiven for thinking the party was fighting a general election as opposed to a European one – any references to Europe were hard to come by. However, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has emerged with a hard-hitting piece in yesterday’s Evening Standard in which he argues that:

“Europe needs to work better to respond to public concerns, deliver better value for money for taxpayers and secure rising prosperity.”

“First, we need the EU to be better focused on creating jobs and growth. An EU Commissioner focused on growth, and an independent audit of the impact of any new piece of EU legislation on growth, would be key to helping re-focusing the Union on this key task. And we need to drive forward the completion of the single market in digital, energy and services.”

“Second, our reforms will help ensure that EU citizens seeking work here contribute to our economy and society. So we will extend the period of time that people from new member states have to wait before being able to come to the UK to look for work. We will work to stop the payment of benefits to those not resident in this country, consult on changing the rules on deporting someone who receives a custodial sentence shortly after arriving in the UK, and have called on the government to double the time that an EU migrant has to wait before being able to claim the basic Job Seekers Allowance.”

 “And third, any agenda for change in Europe must also address people’s concerns about how power is exercised at a European level. So we have called for national parliaments to have a greater role in EU decision making by being able to ‘red-card’ any new EU legislation before it comes into force; for serious reform of the EU Commission.”

This commitment to reform is very welcome, even if this is merely a re-statement of existing Labour EU policy. It’s worth noting that these reforms are not a million miles away from David Cameron’s own priorities for EU reform – especially the further restrictions on EU migrants’ access to benefits and the red card for national parliaments. Yet more evidence – as we’ve pointed out before – that tone and rhetoric aside, there is a surprising degree of consensus among the main parties when it comes to the substance of EU reform. 

As the New Statesman‘s George Eaton pointed out recently, there is a lot of frustration within Labour over how to deal with the EU question:

“Other shadow cabinet members complain of the party’s failure to promote its commitment to reform the EU, which they regarded as a quid pro quo for Miliband’s refusal to guarantee an in/out referendum under a Labour government.”

It appears that Ed Balls is among the Labour heavy hitters keen to address this disparity.
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