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Schadenfreude – A way forward for Britain in the European Union

Our secret columnist in Brussels Schadenfreude sets out a realistic blueprint for reform of the European Union. Will British Prime Minister David Cameron, under serious pressure from his Eurosceptic backbenchers, take note? We doubt it very much but enjoy the prose

All us Brussels-watchers are agog to know what British Prime Minister David Cameron has in mind for his ‘new settlement’ with the European Union. Perhaps he does not know either.

He set up a “Balance of Competences” Review, which called for evidence from a wide cross-section of interested organisations and think-tanks in Britain. The general belief was that the ensuing reports would show where United Kingdom interests were being damaged by EU decisions, which needed change or cancellation.

In the half dozen reports so far published the authors do not seem to have found anything needing re-settlement. There are suggestions that some matters might be disposed of by mutual agreements – in which participation would be voluntary – rather than by regulations.

One example is the protection of the environment. One report actually says that there is no present problem in the sector and in fact, in future, the EU might need more competence here.

The only known demand is for the suppression of the hallowed ambition ‘ever closer union’. There is not a hope in hell of that desire being fulfilled. But in his ever-present desire to be helpful Schadenfreude has some suggestions for the way forward:

1. Go back to former Tory Prime Minister John Major’s achievement and restore the opt-out from the EU social chapter. Once Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair gave it up but there is no obstacle to putting it back in.

2. Be resolute in giving effect to the treaty option of withdrawing from everything in the freedom, security and justice Chapter – and opt back in only to what has fully proven beneficial, like Europol.

3. Juice up subsidiarity – the doctrine that decisions should be taken as closely as possible to those affected by them. Set up an independent scrutiny panel of recognised impartial experts in public administration to give or withhold a fiat for new legislative proposals.

4. Support ‘in and out’ – the idea that for every new regulation adopted, one will be cancelled.

5. In the same spirit, require all or most new regulations to have a sunset clause – expiring unless that are expressly renewed.

6. Insist on a standard clause explicit in every eurozone decision – ‘this decision does not apply to non-members’.

7. Make constructive use of the treaty option for a limited number of member states to act without the participation of all. Historically this has been understood to mean that a like-minded group could integrate more closely than the membership at large. But it could equally well work in reverse – partners could agree to refrain from joining in a new measure or from deciding henceforward that they do not wish to be bound by an existing one.

8. Require every proposal with cost implications to be scrutinised by an independent authority, with a published report.

9. Require any new acceding country to be subject to an [x] year quantitative restriction on intra-EU migration.

10. Review the plethora of EU agencies that seem to be inspired by the idea that each
member state should have at least one.

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