All three major parties and much of the media have reached a consensus that the EU needs reform. It is true that they disagree on the means to achieve this but it is now generally accepted that some form of change must be the bedrock of the UK’s EU policy. This policy enjoys public backing with 55% of those polled by YouGov supporting continued British membership of the EU in the event of a successful renegotiation.
This then begs the question, which bits of the EU do politicians and the media think are so problematic that they must be reformed? To find the answer, I analysed thirty speeches, interviews, posts and blogs which tackle the question of EU reform/repatriation to see what policies high profile politicians and commentators want to change.
The results were as follows:
Immigration & welfare tourism 9
Single market regulation (no specifics) 8
Social and employment legislation (no specifics) 6
Minor issues / euromyths (e.g. jam jars) 6
EU budget & wasteful spending 5
Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) 4
Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) 4
Democratic deficit 3
Other institutional issues (national parliaments, bureaucracy) 3
Protecting the single market from eurozone dominance 3
Regional funds 3
Working time directive 3
Justice & policing 2
Renewables directive 2
Trade policy 2
Austerity policies 1
Energy efficiency 1
European Parliament’s two seats 1
Waste collection 1
The results will form the basis of several detailed blogs as the week goes on. For now, I will restrict myself to the following comments:
– This is not a scientific sample. Restraints of time and resources meant that the material I chose had to be targeted. So I focused on the recent comments of high-profile politicians such as Cameron and Milliband as well as extremely vocal figures such as Daniel Hannan MEP or Gisela Stuart MP. The sample also included columnists, editorials and op-eds from business figures. The full list is at the end of this post.
– Immigration and the spectre of benefits tourism has shot up the political agenda with the forthcoming removal of barriers to freedom of movement for Romania and Bulgaria. This fear seems to be shared across the political spectrum following Milliband’s mea culpa over the last wave of migration.
– Politicians and the media rarely give detail of their complaints. ‘EU regulation’ or ‘social and labour laws’ are bandied about by all sides of the political spectrum without giving concrete examples of what they mean. The only exceptions are the working time directive and the renewable energy directive. This can logically be attributed to a poor grasp of the detail and/or that the debate is prey to lazy assumptions which rarely face scrutiny.
– Minor issues, often completely inaccurate Euromyths, still play an important role in our national dialogue on the EU and it is not only eurosceptics that use them. These include jam jars, the shape of carrots and the jewellery that hairdressers can wear.
– Many commonly-cited policies are already the subject of legislative reform in the EU, e.g. the EU budget (5), the CAP (4), the CFP (4) and regional structural funds (3). If Milliband and Alexander are so keen to reform regional structural funds, have they given amendment and voting instruction to their MEPs? Have they promoted reform with socialist allies in other countries to achieve the desired result? Again, my initial conclusion is that the discourse has become divorced from reality.
– Finally, justice and home affairs are relatively low down the list of priorities despite being a high profile target for Tory MPs such as the Fresh Start Group. Is this because the UK already has opt-out procedures? Or are justice measures a target because they are a low hanging fruit for politicians desperate to show some ‘red meat’?
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9783545/David-Cameron-we-will-keep-out-EU-benefit-tourists.html – David Cameron
http://conservativehome.blogs.com/thetorydiary/2013/01/extracts-from-the-speech-that-david-cameron-would-have-delivered-today.html – the published parts of Cameron’s speech
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/david-cameron/9367479/David-Cameron-We-need-to-be-clear-about-the-best-way-of-getting-what-is-best-for-Britain.html – David Cameron op-ed in the Telegraph
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/dec/04/boris-johnson-uk-renegotiate-eu – Boris Johnson
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21002988 – Eric Pickles
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/eureferendum/9369912/In-full-Dr-Liam-Foxs-speech-on-Britain-and-the-EU.html – Liam Fox
http://johnredwoodsdiary.com/2013/01/12/movement-on-the-eu/ – John Redwood
http://www.talkcarswell.com/home/after-were-out/2575 – Douglas Carswell
http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielhannan/100196313/if-we-cant-do-a-deal-with-europe-leaving-it-should-hold-no-terrors/ – Daniel Hannan
http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/01/douglas-alexanders-speech-eu-full-text – Douglas Alexander
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/blog/2013/jan/17/miliband-today-europe-speech-live-blog – Ed Milliband
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/17/ed-balls-reform-in-europe-not-exit – Ed Balls
http://www.giselastuartmp.co.uk/2012/11/on-europe-there-isnt-a-third-way/ – Gisela Stuart
http://www.labourlords.org.uk/an-honest-assessment – Roger Liddle
http://www.libdems.org.uk/latest_news_detail.aspx?title=Nick_Clegg_speech_on_his_vision_for_the_UK_in_Europe&pPK=5eb7a48e-a3c5-4e9a-a542-5d2c38510a75 – Nick Clegg
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/blog/2013/jan/17/miliband-today-europe-speech-live-blog#block-50f7f15b95cb5d055131b62c – Vince Cable
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/20/eu-reform-cameron-miliband – David Owen
Op-eds from business leaders:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/19/britain-must-renegotiate-role-in-eu – John Longworth, British Chambers of Commerce
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/9813240/Lord-Wolfson-I-back-the-single-market-but-not-at-any-cost.html – Lord Wolfson, CEO of Next
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/12/britain-should-stay-in-eu – Roger Carr, President of CBI
Blogs, editorials and columnists
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/9813101/Norways-fax-democracy-is-nothing-for-Britain-to-fear.html – Christopher Booker, Telegraph
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/eureferendum/9800578/In-or-out-Its-a-question-for-Europhiles-too.html – Will Straw, IPPR
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jan/15/europe-leaving-makes-no-sense – Simon Jenkins, Guardian
http://www.brugesgroup.com/eu/how-britain-can-exit-the-eu.htm?xp=event – Professor Tim Congdon
http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/8814511/the-accidental-exit/ – James Forsyth, Spectator
http://conservativehome.blogs.com/thetorydiary/2013/01/camerons-europe-speech-should-contain-at-least-three-key-commitments.html – Conservative Home editors
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/telegraph-view/9808708/Heads-in-the-sand-over-Eastern-immigration.html – Telegraph editorial