The United Kingdom is a key member of the European Union. Its business focus, long democratic history and global perspective greatly contribute to a balanced EU. But in British Prime Minister David Cameron’s attempt to clarify Britain’s ambiguous relationship with the Union, and his wish to consult the British people in the process, the wider implications of his renegotiation are neglected. The issue is not only important to the British people —the EU’s 27 other member countries also have a high stake in the outcome.
The current EU Treaties grant a Member State the right to leave the Union — not the right to threaten to leave in an attempt to wrestle advantages from its partners. This risks creating a dangerous precedent.
The draft agreement proposed by Donald Tusk creates legal confusion. It was presented as a “new settlement for the U.K. within the EU” in the form of an international agreement, outside the EU legal order. Up until now the EU Treaties were the only “settlement” for EU members. Do we change the Treaties without saying so?
To make things worse, the nature of the settlement is uncertain: it has been presented as both “legally binding” and only “interpretative.” The agreement must be ratified by the British people but at this stage no one can say whether national parliaments or citizens of the other member countries will be consulted.
The safeguards related to ordinary treaty revision have been ignored, meaning that institutions such as the European Central Bank or the European Parliament were not formally consulted. This could be damaging to the quality and democratic legitimacy of the text. Negotiations are being conducted behind closed doors. Although the British referendum will eventually decide on the integrity of the Union, the British Prime Minister has refused to appear at a European Parliament plenary to discuss the issue publically.
The substance of the settlement is also cause for concern. David Cameron has stated that the euro area needs to take measures to secure the long-term future of the single currency, and yet this element is missing from the settlement. It will only be dealt with in a future Treaty change, if there ever is one.
This would have been the occasion to put forward a much needed initiative on advancing the euro area. What we need are more democratic and better controlled institutions, an independent budget for the euro area, and an outer circle for those countries reticent about an “ever closer union.”
The U.K. agrees that the integrity of the Single Market must be respected, and yet the initial settlement reneges on previous agreements concerning financial services, notably the “single rulebook” for banks, insurance, markets. The current agreement would place the City of London outside the joint rules.
Concretely this means there would be no level playing field, and no genuine Single Market for financial services anymore.
Cameron is right when he says that “people across Europe want the European Union to help generate growth and jobs.” This negotiation was an excellent opportunity to undertake bold commitments to improve Europe’s competitiveness. Yet the settlement is disappointing in this area too.
Since the beginning of the renegotiation David Cameron has insisted on the need for a “fair” deal for the U.K., stating that no Member State should be discriminated against, irrespective of their currency. But the U.K. has never been discriminated against. It has made the sovereign choice to stay outside the euro, which is different. Like Denmark, it enjoys an opt-out.
Twenty-six out of 28 members are committed to joining the euro area and, paradoxically, Tusk’s agreement might eventually create a discrimination against the euro area: The U.K. would continue, through its members of Parliament and its EU commissioner, to weigh in on decisions concerning the monetary union but members of the euro area would have no say on British monetary or fiscal policy decisions, despite the fact that interests and concerns overlap.
A fair relationship should be based on a simple principle: Duties and rights should be aligned. The U.K. is under no obligation to be a member of the euro area, nor to contribute to the euro area fund, but it cannot ask for any control over it.
At the end of the day, it may have been a better idea to go directly for a treaty change. A formal revision with a convention including national parliaments, the European Parliament and the member countries, would be more democratic, it would also put all member countries and European citizens on an equal footing.
The “settlement” leaves the key question unanswered. Do we believe that our collective future hinges on national democracy and our ability to defend member countries “against Brussels”? Or do we think that, in 2016, given the pace at which the world changing, Europeans would benefit from pooling sovereignty and developing accountability at the appropriate level? Both choices are legitimate. But a decision must be made. No-one benefits from Europe fighting against itself.
By Sylvie Goulard, a French MEP and member of the group the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in the European Parliament