From Open Europe –
Cameron dodges question on repatriating powers in negotiations on new EU treaty
On the BBC Today programme, Evan Davis asked the Prime Minister if an EU treaty change to the rules of the eurozone would require a referendum in the UK, and whether Conservative MP John Redwood was right to call for such a treaty change to be used to negotiate a repatriation of powers.
In response David Cameron said: “I think we’re all getting slightly ahead of ourselves here. I mean, even the eurozone doesn’t have any unanimity about whether there should be a treaty. They clearly are looking at rule changes and things that need to be changed to make the eurozone work better, and we should encourage that because we want a working eurozone. The issue of the treaty hasn’t yet arisen properly, and it may do, it may not do. The rule for us is very clear – that we don’t support treaties that transfer powers from Westminster to Brussels.”
If the eurozone manages to successfully argue that EU-wide economic management can be introduced and carried out without a Treaty change, but under the terms of Lisbon, presumably Cameron would not feel that he objects to anything the EU demands of Britain. At least his words permit that interpretation.
Barroso is clearly intending such a course of action, from his suggesting Merkel was ‘naive’ in seeking a new Treaty, as the British would use their veto, or might use its use as a bargaining tool, as indeed is proposed by John Redwood in The Times.
Inevitably, in these circumstances, the EU will do anything to avoid a new Treaty, and equally will do anything required to achieve economic management of the EU.
But if German political opposition prevents Merkel from agreeing to greater responsibility for Germany in bailing out the rest of the eurozone, and she is compelled to demand a Treaty change by German Courts and their interpretation of Lisbon, Barroso and the EU will not find a way through to economic management without Cameron’s assistance. If Germany has tired of carrying the Euro, it is as good as over, regardless of the legal niceties.
From that point of view Cameron is right not to seek an unnecessary confrontation with the EU. If the Euro is holed beneath the waterline by the political situation in Germany, Britain need not earn a bad reputation as the country which caused the EU to fail. Cameron maybe rightly perceives that the Euro will founder all by itself without any need for Britain’s encouragement.
But if Germany reverses position and the coalition supports Merkel in pushing for a new Treaty, and the Courts’ legal objections are squared off by Parliamentary authorisation, the ball will be firmly in Cameron’s court.
The question will then be will he play hardball when the moment comes. John Redwood is right to get in early in proposing that Cameron uses Britain’s veto of a new Treaty as a negotiating device, if one is brought forward. The 118 Conservative backbenchers will no doubt not support Cameron if he backs down and his new coalition government could fall. Redwood is demanding the repatriation of social and employment policy as his minimum position for agreeing to a new treaty. He will have enough backers to bring the government down, but would obviously prefer not to.
What about the Lib Dems? Will they want an end to their day in the limelight terminated by the issue of the EU. I would doubt it to be honest. My money would be on Redwood getting his way with Cameron as events unfold, but, as Cameron says, why take up a theoretical negotiating position? The real situation will descend soon enough.