Our secret columnist in Brussels Schadenfreude speculates as to what he expects to be the main happenings in the British membership of the European Union saga over the next three years. Be warned, some of it makes for gruesome reading
1 - The anti-EU parties will increase their strength in the next European Parliament. They will not be anywhere near a majority but they will vote against all legislative proposals and generally make noise.
2 - This will encourage British Europhobes, including Conservatives, to multiply their demands for withdrawal from Brussels rule. Both the United Kingdom coalition government and the opposition will say unfriendly things about the union at large and about British membership in particular.
3 - The UK Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in the coalition will drift apart on European matters. The split will become marked when the Tory leadership brings out the results of the ‘balance of competences’ review and the conclusions, which it draws from it.
4 - After the initial discussion of the aforesaid results, the Conservative side of the UK coalition will in its own name set out in fine detail what it means by a ‘new settlement’ with the EU. The political timetable requires that this should happen at the latest by the end of 2014
5 - Soon after this publication, the British Conservative leadership will bring out a white paper containing the list of the changes that it intends to negotiate in Brussels. It will call for a meeting of the European Council, at which it will present its demands and ask for the arrangements for them to be discussed. The others cannot decently refuse, although they will be unenthusiastic. The UK government will seek to secure at least some progress by the first quarter of 2015 in order to have positive statements in its manifesto for the June general election. Assuming that a Conservative government remains in power thereafter, it will continue to negotiate in Brussels and will report on progress.
6 - By early 2016, it will become clear if the negotiations are producing solid results. If they are, the UK Conservative government will feel encouraged to continue – leading up to a settlement by early 2017. On this basis, the administration will put though the UK national parliament an ‘in-out’ referendum bill and advocate ‘in’. If per contra, the other EU member states have substantially failed to respond the British proposals the UK government will break off, call a referendum and advocate ‘out’. The majority of voters will predictably agree.
7 - If the UK remains ‘in’ the terms of its settlement will require a new treaty, in which many other matters will be swept up. The union will be highly introspective from 2017 on. What is new? I hear you ask.