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On Europe, The Tories Have Discarded Sensible Policy for Knee-Jerk Reactions

31/05/2013 14:07 BST | Updated 31/07/2013 10:12 BST

William Hague surely understands that it is unrealistic and counterproductive to return the EU to unanimity voting. This would represent a fundamental rewriting of the Treaties that allows most decisions to be taken by a qualified majority of Member States (and a majority of MEPs) so that no single country can block decisions. Why would the other 26 Member States grant such an exception to the UK without also asking for a national veto? The consequence of that would be complete and utter stagnation and inaction when everyone is calling on the EU to show more decisiveness and efficiency.

Mr Hague has recently witnessed first hand the difficulties of getting all Member States to agree on lifting the arms embargo on Syria so that the UK and France can supply the moderate opposition forces with the means to defend themselves. If we wait for unanimity, whether on stronger bank supervision rules or targets for reducing CO2 emissions, we will never get anywhere. I would encourage all national parliaments to take a greater interest in EU matters and to scrutinise draft laws more thoroughly, perhaps following the Danish model, but this should be in addition to the European Parliament, rather than instead of it. Prior to 1979 the EC executive was accountable to representatives of national parliaments (rather than directly elected MEPs) but they lacked the time and expertise to monitor closely all that was happening. The case for directly elected MEPs is even stronger now.

Furthermore, Mr Hague overlooks the fact that the Lisbon Treaty (which he opposed) already introduced both a 'yellow card' and a 'red card' procedure allowing national parliaments to suspend the preparation of draft EU laws on grounds of subsidiarity (Article 7(2) and 7(3) of Protocol 2). One third of national parliaments can indicate their objection within 8 weeks under the yellow card procedure, forcing a rethink, whilst a simple majority of national parliaments can block a legislative proposal unless either the Council or the European Parliament disagree. It should be noted that in the recent example of EU over-reach, in the form of an attempt to regulate olive oil bottles in restaurants, Her Majesty's Government only abstained and did not attempt to block the proposal. In the end it was the Commission itself who saw reason and finally withdrew it.

In the Conservative Party's internecine warfare over Britain's role and future in the European Union, it seems that considered and sensible policy options have been discarded in favour of knee-jerk reactions. These kind of reactionary suggestions that are increasingly being thrown out as red-meat to satisfy rebel Tory MPs and Britain's increasingly populist press have little or no basis in reality. It is time that serious politicians, of all political persuasions start explaining the truth to the British public and stop raising false expectations of how the UK can unilaterally obtain exceptions to its membership conditions of the EU.

The answer to eurosceptics is not to cave in and imitate their cheap soundbites and populist rhetoric but to redouble efforts to improve and reform how the European Union works, alongside all other Member States. I do not defend the status quo and am a strong advocate for reform, but we need the UK to play a constructive part. It's a case of all hands on deck to plug the leaks and repair the sails, not abandon ship in the middle of a stormy sea.