Streamlining EU reforms are essential, but not those urged by Cameron

#CriticalThinking

Picture of Vula Tsetsi
Vula Tsetsi

Secretary General of the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament

When the UK’s prime minister David Cameron promised that if re-elected in 2015 he would hold an in/out referendum during 2017 on EU membership, he in effect spelled out the prospect of the UK leaving the union. What nobody knows is whether Cameron is genuinely trying to shape Britain’s long-term position in Europe or merely reacting to pressures from his Eurosceptic MPs?

David Cameron’s opposition to Jean-Claude Juncker as the new European Commission president showed the limits of the blackmail strategy; the “Brexit” threat does not necessarily induce flexibility in other member states, and fortunately the debate on the future of the EU cannot be monopolised by any one country.

Beyond the institutional issue, a closer look at Cameron’s proposals reveals their significance for the Green agenda in Europe. Many of the policy areas that we Greens seek to strengthen – environmental legislation, the low-carbon economy, labour rights, human rights, a progressive migration policy and reform of the financial sector – would be undermined by Cameron’s EU reform agenda.

From an employment/migration perspective, the most crucial question is the free movement of people. Cameron has called into question one of the fundamental goals and founding principles of European integration. And his wish for an “à la carte” EU where member states can pick and choose the elements they accept and which policies they want returned to national competence, is creating an unacceptable situation. Cameron’s negative attitude towards free movement is based on a denial of the evidence, and demonstrates the degree to which he now represents populist euro-scepticism.

From a climate policy viewpoint, it would be a bad idea to leave these policies to member states. Renationalisation would be an invitation for “a race to the bottom

From a trade perspective, Cameron sees trade policy as an instrument for eliminating rules and technical regulations that he considers to be “red tape”. This is illustrated by the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations between the EU and the U.S. with its focus on harmonising rules and technical standards. We Greens believe legislation to protect the environment, consumers and public health, or to regulate finance, is by no means superfluous EU bureaucracy but rather crucial cornerstones of a sustainable market economy.

From a climate policy viewpoint, it would be a bad idea to leave these policies to member states. Renationalisation would be an invitation for “a race to the bottom”. Current ambitions on climate policy are already far from sufficient, yet only common efforts by EU members acting as a single entity can set greenhouse gas reduction targets that would apply to all actors in the internal market. Challenging EU climate policies will only prevent binding EU renewables and energy efficiency targets from being set. And that in turn would dangerously delay effective climate action and its benefits in terms of job creation, energy security and the promotion of a Green Economy.

On data protection, the UK seems openly hostile. Ever since the Lisbon treaty came into force, data protection has been a binding fundamental right that requires uniform protection throughout the EU. The UK’s position that data protection legislation cannot be developed at the expense of economic growth ignores this fact.

Beyond the more predictable policy divergences, we Greens oppose Cameron’s ambition of changing the very nature of the EU, including treaty references to an “ever closer Union”. EU reform should not be a one way street with transfers of competences from Brussels back to the member governments. It is logical that the EU should not undertake activities that are better dealt with nationally, but it is also of major importance that there is a treaty basis for those areas where the EU should act.

The UK, being in neither the eurozone nor Schengen, already “enjoys” an opt-out from police and judicial cooperation, yet wants a seat at the table for future negotiations. An even longer list of UK exceptions could seriously undermine the EU project.

We in the Greens continue to support much needed reforms to make EU decision-making more democratic, accountable and transparent and to promote policies which ensure European solidarity and open up more opportunities for EU citizens. But these goals will not be achieved with Cameron’s agenda which mainly seeks to reduce the EU to a deregulated free trade area. And it is precisely this lack of regulation in the financial and economic sector that has contributed to the crisis Europe faces today.

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