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Nothing less than EU treaty change can ‘save Cameron’s job’

Tinkering at the edges of the EU Working Time Directive or immigration policy will not be enough to assuage the nationalist sentiment, which now runs rife in the ranks of the Conservative Party, insists Andrew Duff MEP

Amid all the chatter about the British referendum on European Union membership, one thing seems to have been forgotten. United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron has made it plain that he needs a treaty change to mark his renegotiation of Britain’s terms of membership. What he wants exactly as opposed to what he needs politically is a different matter, and is likely to remain obscure until after the completion of the UK government’s unilateral review of EU competences and powers – at the end of 2014.

But such is the strength of anti-Europeanism in Britain that nothing less than a treaty revision will save Cameron’s job. Tinkering at the edges of the EU Working Time Directive or immigration policy will not be enough to assuage the nationalist sentiment, which now runs rife in the ranks of the Conservative Party and their UKIP fellow-travellers.

Yet, whether or not the PM anticipated this, the referendum will not be run according to his own agenda – whatever that turns out to be. It will not be a referendum on whether the UK wishes to stay in or leave the present union because the present EU will no longer be there to stay in or leave. The status quo is not an option. By 2017, on the assumption that the euro is to be salvaged, the pace of integration will have transformed the union.

The British referendum, therefore, will be about the approval of a new treaty which emerges from a convention and whose primary purpose is to install fiscal union. For most if not all of Britain’s partners, the new treaty will be a federal package deal – a deal which will probably have to include an official subsidiary status for the UK if the whole package is not to be firmly rejected by the British voters.

The Spinelli Group of federalist MEPs has just published A Fundamental Law of the European Union. It seeks to answer the question: how should a more united Europe best be governed? The express purpose of this document is to counter the trend to disintegration. It shows how a reformed EU could enjoy the powers and resources it really needs to get united and stay so. It establishes the constitutional framework for the resolution of the current debt problem and provides instruments for the joint and several liability of future debt, with a fiscal capacity for contra-cyclical purposes, additional to the EU budget, for the eurozone.

We plug the deficit of government from which the EU suffers in order to deliver much-needed public goods at home and decisive leadership abroad. We accept the logic that fiscal union demands federal government to manage the fair distribution of resources and to match the level of its political ambition.

We believe that stronger parliamentary democracy, in which EU citizens are enabled to hold to account those in charge, will follow naturally from the installation of stronger government. The reforms proposed in the Fundamental Law are aimed at strengthening the capacity of the EU to act effectively: overall, the governance of the union will be much more permissive and much less prohibitive. How many in Britain, one wonders, are prepared to square up to Europe’s real agenda of political union?

Andrew Duff is a Liberal Democrat MEP for the East of England and president of the Union of European Federalists

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