As the Euro faces a messy collapse, and we see this naked political tool of integration failing, the implications go way beyond the Eurozone. What is certain is that Britain's relationship with the European Union 'inner core' must change. When Merkel now talks openly of a political union on top of a banking and fiscal union, the end game is closer than ever.
The choice is clear: either this country goes 'all the way in' - becomes an enthusiastic pro-federalist EU member state that abandons our country's freedoms and self governance - or 'all the way out' - which I define as having only a trading relationship with the EU based on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) giving us the same access to the single market, but abandoning the political union (for example abandoning the harmonization of our taxes, social security, pensions and divorce laws as the Valean Report proposed just last month).
But now we see an option of sitting on the fence between the two: that of 'renegotiation'. This is the EU referendum version of the Scottish referendum's 'devo max' - the middle way between an In / Out vote. The theory goes that rather than the frightening notion of being able to run our own country, we must remain subservient within the EU but renegotiate some of the most unpalatable aspects of that relationship, because that's safer, less frightening and more doable.
Well, I have a number of questions about renegotiation:
1. Under what legal powers is renegotiation allowed ? Can enthusiasts for renegotiation explain what EU treaty or other EU law allows a member state such as the UK to change previously agreed aspects of the treaties unilaterally ? EU treaties are pretty rigid and specifically designed not to undo the integration they have achieved to date. There is no facility to renegotiate this way.
2. What successful examples of EU renegotiation are there ? Was it Harold Wilson's entirely cynical and disgraceful 'renegotiation' of 1975 which led nowhere? Is it Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's brilliant, energetic campaign to reform the CFP and stop the appalling practice of dumping dead fish back in the sea (discards) - because its sensible and practical reforms have not been adopted. The reality is that the EU works on a ratchet effect: the intention is to swallow the prey not to allow it to wriggle free.
3. How can any renegotiation be made irreversible? Of course Mrs Thatcher did brilliantly by renegotiating the budget rebate, though it was money not a policy competence. But where is it now and how long will that rebate continue to exist ? Blair gave £1 billion a year away to curry favour with European elites and now the EU wants what remains on the next Summit agenda in order to end it, leaving us paying even more than £60 million a day in membership contributions. So even when you think the EU has allowed renegotiation, it's only a temporary pause in the ongoing march of the all harmonising superstate project.
4. Isn't renegotiation today more feasible though because if EU doesn't relent we will leave without it ? Firstly, proponents do not realize how determined the federalists are to create the United States of Europe - they will not tolerate any one member state to get in its way, the fulfillment of Jean Monnet's dream: A single undemocratic, autocratic, bureaucrat-run European State which has eliminated its constituent nation states and thereby banished all war. They are prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to achieve this end. These are the same people who turned a blind eye to Greece joining the Euro to serve their political agenda.
5. How do you renegotiate in practice ? This I struggle to visualize. Imagine the scene: a Brussels meeting of 27 Fishing Ministers, secret as they all are. The British Fishing Minister gets up and says that Britain wants to renegotiate the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) so that Britain, which had 70% of Europe's fish before it joined the EEC with a measly quota of around 12% now, can get back more of the fish in its own territorial waters from say Spain or Denmark ? Iceland is asking right now to run its own fishing policy as part of EU accession negotiations but without any sign of flexibility and thereby no chance of Iceland joining. Well, once the other 26 Ministers have stopped laughing, giving the shrinking of stocks and forecast end of cod for example, the UK Minister will have got nowhere. Nor will the Employment, Immigration or Agriculture Ministers, or any other UK Minister. The EU is too far down the path of integration to turn back to suit any one member. They'd rather we leave.
6. Do we have the time to renegotiate ? I mean that advances towards an EU superstate are now so fast and serious that an adequate timescale for renegotiation is questionable. In 2014 the UK will be forced to sign up to a barrage of Justice measures which will be deeply unpopular. The Fiscal Union Treaty will apply to all EU member states in 2017. The only way to negotiate quickly is to announce full withdrawal and concentrate the minds of the remaining EU nations on safeguarding access to their biggest market by the deadline we set - 16 of the 26 have deficits with us. 3 million UK jobs (10% of our economy supporting 30 million jobs) rest on our EU trade, but 4 million Continental EU jobs rely on UK trade.
7. Surely 'Out' does mean renegotiation - but meaningful renegotiation ? Even the Lisbon Treaty allows for a member state to leave the EU and Article 50 obliges the EU to agree a Free Trade Agreement with a member state that leaves. A Free Trade Agreement, like the 53 that the EU already has with nations around the world including Norway and Switzerland, is negotiated - I know, I work on many FTAs in the International Trade committee of the Parliament. They are not rigid templates, each has significant negotiated variations including emissions trading, human rights or even immigration matters (which I don't welcome - it should be about jobs and market access). Clearly non-EU states in the European Economic Area and European Free Trade Area have also negotiated agreements with the EU, but have far more freedoms including fishing regimes that would make Fearnley-Whittingstall leap for joy. In this meaningful renegotiation, in contrast to comic renegotiation, the UK could negotiate access arrangements for EU fishermen to access our regained 200 mile territorial limit waters under international law along Icelandic lines.
A UK/EU Free Trade Agreement could be very straightforward: if it merely replicated the trade access we get to the single market as now, and the Continental Market to ours (our massive trade deficit with the Continental EU means we import £3 billion more in goods and services a month than we export to them - and are their largest single trading partner). We do not have to spend years negotiating away tariffs or non-tariff barriers as was done for South Korea FTA and is being negotiated now with Japan.
Also, independent non-EU European states can negotiate additional EU bolt-ons should they wish. I wouldn't do this myself, but Switzerland and Iceland have negotiated bolt-ons such as joining the Schengen passport-free area whilst we as an EU member have not, and Switzerland participates in other EU projects such as on research. It's all negotiable !
So, I remain deeply unconvinced that renegotiation within the EU is a real, credible or serious option. Such claimed Renegotiation would be a fudge too far.
The British people need and demand a clean and clear Referendum decision: All the Way In or All the Way Out ?
Follow David Campbell Bannerman MEP on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@DCBMEP