Europe Proves Tricky Again for Cameron

Labour Party

Last week the coalition government’s Europe Bill was voted through the first stage of the parliamentary process.  The bill is the result of Cameron’s promise to the eurosceptic wing of his party to hold a referendum in the instance of any further treaty changes and to ‘enshrine the primacy of parliamentary sovereignty’.

I have followed the progress of this particular policy with interest as it seems an area where the Tory party and coalition government are liable to run in to difficulties.  And I was proved right when the eurosceptic wing, whom the bill was trying to appease, stated loudly and clearly that the bill did not go far enough.

In the end the rebellion was neither strong enough nor large enough to defeat the bill, but I doubt very much that this is the last of Cameron and Hagues’ problems.  The most vocal of the rebels, Bill Cash MP, is unlikely to ever be truly satisfied unless we have a retrospective referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, which is impossible, or withdraw from the EU altogether.

It is worth noting that the Lib Dems, a broadly pro-EU party, also voted for the bill.  This is almost certainly because they recognised it as largely meaningless.  It is unlikely to have any real effect the UK’s relationship with EU.  I guess that means that in a way I agree with Bill Cash and his ilk, not something you’re going to hear me say very often.

Culture and Education Committee to Tackle Agents in Sport

Labour Party

Since the Lisbon Treaty, the European Parliament has been given extra powers in the area of sport, with the Culture and Education Committee taking the lead.  So, yesterday in a meeting of the coordinators from each political group we decided that we should table an oral question with a debate about one of the more important issues facing sport today; the issue of players’ agents.

We’ve all seen the attention grabbing headlines about the likes of Paul Stretford, Wayne Rooney’s former agent, but the problems surrounding this issue aren’t limited to the U.K. or even football.  In 2007 the European Commission issued a white paper on sport that, amongst other things, discussed the problems of player’s agents.  It said that there have been numerous reports of bad practices including corruption, money laundering and the trafficking of under-age players.  Not only is this damaging for the individuals involved but also the profile of sport generally.

Unfortunately not much has happened since then, so I think it is a good move on the part of the Culture Committee to try and put this matter back on the table.  The is a Europe wide issue, with players from various sports moving between countries and sometimes continents and at the moment the laws surrounding player representation is patchy across member states.  Perhaps we can look in to a pan-European licensing system for agents and/or an agent’s register to help clean up this rather murky world.  This is not to say that all agents are corrupt, but EU legislation could help by recognising good agents and stopping bad ones.  I look forward to a lively discussionin the European  Parliament and I hope we can find a workable solution.

David Davis puts the Cat among the Pigeons

Labour Party

David Davis

It’s gratifying to be proved right, though rather less gratifying when it’s on such a fundamental subject as Britain in the EU.

Since I posted yesterday, David Cameron has been put in a very invidious position by the ex-Tory Shadow Home Secretary David Davis.  Davis has, in effect, issued a direct challenge to Cameron’s authority on Conservative policy towards Europe.

Writing here in the Daily Mail, Mr. Davis has called on the Tory leader to offer the public a referendum on the future of Britain’s relationship with the EU.  Davis’s challenge is, of course, a direct result of yesterday’s announcement that Cameron has abandoned his “cast iron” pledge that the Tories would hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

Cameron and the Tories have consistently and constantly argued that the Labour Government should have held a referendum on Lisbon.  What price honesty now, Mr. Cameron?

As we all know, the Conservatives made their U-turn after the Czech government caved in and signed up to the Treaty yesterday, removing the final obstacle to its ratification.  I would have thought Cameron and co might have anticipated this happening and made their policy accordingly.

For David Davis all seems startlingly clear.  He proclaims today:

“What we should do is, in my view, clear. We should have a referendum, not on the treaty, but on the negotiating mandate that the British Government takes to the European Union.

“The question should contain four or five specific strategic aims which clearly summarise our objectives.

“The sort of things we might include are: recovering control over our criminal justice, asylum and immigration policies; a robust opt-out of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights; serious exemptions to the seemingly endless flood of European regulations which cost the UK economy billions of pounds each year; a recovery of our rights to negotiate on trade; exemption from European interference into trade in services and foreign direct investment rules; and an exemption from any restrictions on our foreign policy.

“The referendum should be the first piece of legislation in the new parliament, and should be held within three months of the election.

“Some fear this would become an ‘in or out’ referendum, a decision on whether to continue our membership of the European Union. It would be nothing of the sort. Killing this tired old canard is one of the reasons the referendum question has to be absolutely clear in language and intent.

“Of course it is possible that we will not achieve every change we want.

If that is the outcome, we should give the British people the right to accept or reject it in a further referendum.”

So that’s all right then Mr. D.  Hold a referendum which will have no status whatsoever with the EU Council of Ministers, the European Commission or even the European Parliament and then seek to impose Tory Party prejudices on the EU as a whole.  Wow, that’s one hell of a policy.  I’m glad you believe it Mr. Davis because I can assure you no-one in the EU will give it even the smallest chink of the light of day, your referendum notwithstanding.

This David Davis nonsense only serves to highlight Tory wrong headedness on Europe.  The Davis faction, which to an outside observer seems to be the Tory grassroots, most Conservative MPs and the majority of the Shadow Cabinet, are quite honestly living in la la land.  It will simply not be possible to do what they want.  It is not a credible policy.

Since the Lisbon Treaty for the first time allows existing EU member states to withdraw from the European Union, the only referendum which makes any sense at all is the one on whether the UK remains in the EU or comes out.    

 David Davis in his article rejects such a referendum on EU membership, presumably because he thinks the he and the anti-Europeans would lose.

 The views of the Tory Party, as opposed to those of David Cameron, on Europe obviously remain confused to put it mildly.  It will be interesting to see whether my hunch that Cameron will go with his Party turns out to be correct.

David Cameron sits on the Horns of a Dilemma

Labour Party

EU CameronThe time has now arrived for David Cameron to come up with a new Conservative European policy.  Since Czech President Vaclav Klaus has ended all speculation and signed the Lisbon Treaty, the Tories no longer have even the slightest amount of wriggle room.  Cameron’s muddle through and hope for the best approach will no longer wash.  But what decisions will he take, or perhaps more to the point, what decisions will his Party allow him to take?

Many Tory MPs, most of the grassroots and right wing newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph want a hard line on Europe.  It never ceases to amaze me just how much time and energy the Tories are prepared to waste on the European Union.  I am utterly convinced that the Eurosceptics are fighting a lost cause; Britain has been in the EU for over 30 years and over half our exports go to EU countries.  We are in the EU and in Europe.  It would be madness to leave and expose Britain to an extremely uncertain and isolated future.  I believe the British people understand this and if push came to shove would make their views known.

However, Cameron no longer has the luxury of time on his side.  He needs to be credible from today right up to the General Election.  Will he follow his Party or go with the centre-right heads of government in the European Council?  The European leaders whom Cameron may once have viewed as his allies in Europe are almost to a man and woman fed up with the Tories leaving the EPP to set up their own Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists Group.  There is little doubt that they will tell him that the EU works on the basis of compromise and that if the Tories seek to undo the Lisbon Treaty which has been the best part of 10 years in the making, and which grants Britain various opt-outs, British influence in Europe will suffer.

So heads (credibility with EU leaders) you lose with the grassroots and tails (popularity with Tory members) you lose with the heads of state.  If I were Mr Cameron (thankfully there’s no chance of that), this is a dilemma I would rather not have to face.  My strong hunch is that Cameron will go with his Party just as he did when he promised to take the Conservatives out of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament in order to get himself elected Tory Leader.  The Conservatives have, after all, already decided that, should they form a government, they will introduce a law stating that future change to EU treaties will require ratification by referendum.

Going with Party rather than seeking influence in Europe’s corridors of power would be utter lunacy.  Surely any intelligent and right thinking person can see that Britain needs influence in the EU.  The EU is both our present and our future.  While I, for one, would never argue that the EU as presently constituted is perfect, influence gives Britain the opportunity to make improvements and stand up for our national interests.  Since the Tories have in the past claimed they do not wish to completely withdraw from the European Union, where is the logic in any future policy which may give away British influence?