08 Dec 2014

British Balance of Competence Reviews, Part III: More reform than renegotiation or repatriation

Michael Emerson / Graham Avery / Miroslav Beblavy / Arno Behrens / Steven Blockmans / Hugo Brady / Alžběta Hájková / Karel Lannoo / Jorge Núñez Ferrer

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This paper, the third in a series for a CEPS project on the ‘The British Question’, is pegged on an ambitious exercise by the British government to review all the competences of the European Union on the basis of evidence submitted by independent stakeholders. The reviews considered in this paper cover the following EU policies: the single market for services, financial markets, the free movement of people, cohesion, energy, agriculture, fisheries, competition, social and employment policies, and fundamental rights.

The declared objective of Prime Minister Cameron is to secure a ‘new settlement’ between the UK and the EU. From political speeches in the UK one can identify three different types of possible demand: reform of EU policies, renegotiation of the UK’s specific terms of membership, and repatriation of competences from the EU back to the member states.

As most of the reviews are now complete, three points are becoming increasingly clear:
i) The reform agenda – past, present or future – concerns virtually every branch of EU policy, including several cases reviewed here that are central to stated UK economic interests. The argument that the EU is ‘unreformable’ is shown to be a myth. 
ii) The highly sensitive cases of immigration from the EU and social policies may translate into requests for renegotiation of specific conditions for the UK, but further large-scale opt-outs, as in the case of the euro and justice and home affairs, are implausible. 
iii) While demands for repatriation of EU competences are voiced in general terms in public debate in the UK, no specific proposals emerge from the evidence as regards competences at the level at which they are identified in the treaties, and there is no chance of achieving consensus for such ideas among member states.

Michael Emerson is Associate Senior Research Fellow at CEPS, Graham Avery is Senior Member of St. Anthony’s College, Oxford University, Arno Behrens is Senior Research Fellow at CEPS, Steven Blockmans is Senior Research Fellow at CEPS, Miroslav Beblavý is Senior Research Fellow at CEPS, Alžběta Hájková is Assistant to Miroslav Beblavý, Hugo Brady is visiting Fellow at the LSE, Karel Lannoo is CEO of CEPS, and Jorge Núñez Ferrer is Research Fellow at CEPS.