Andrea Leadsom is the Member of Parliament for South Northamptonshire. Follow Andrea on Twitter.
The over-arching theme of
this series has been the need to ensure that the EU fully serves its members’
interests, rather than those of the European “Project”.
The focus in the first two
articles was on what matters most to the British people: how to reform the EU
so that Britain, and other Member States, can compete
successfully in the global economy, and how to reverse
the woeful, over-bureaucratic stupidity of so many of the EU's laws.
When we founded the Fresh
Start Project (FSP), we were determined to get away from the “in/out” angry
debate, and instead to analyse the current relationship in great detail and
then propose specific and substantive reforms to tackle the EU’s many
But perhaps the most
fundamental and damaging failing of the EU is the clear “democratic deficit” –
the sense among British voters that our sovereignty is constantly undermined in
ways that were never part of the “Common Market” we signed up to. This
must be resolved in any discussion of EU reform.
Without resolving the
democratic deficit, there will be no future for Britain in the EU. So
this will be my focus in this third and final piece.
The democratic deficit is
real and considerable, and it markedly reduces the control which British voters
exert over whole swathes of their everyday lives. The only way to give them
back the control they need, and are entitled to expect, is through significant
The best way to ensure
democratic accountability is to connect decision-making in Europe more closely
with national governments and national parliaments, and through them to citizens.
The best decisions are made by those closest to the people affected. And the
best way to realise this is to return a number of competencies back to Member
States, and to apply rigorously the principle of Subsidiarity.
The Fresh Start Project has
proposed a series of far-reaching institutional reforms to do just that.
What follows is a set of
proposals that show the sheer scale of reform that is needed, but also show the
way to a far more nationally accountable EU:
A pervasive characteristic
of EU institutions is that they are opaque. Their lack of transparency
contributes to a dearth of engagement with the real world outside the Brussels
bubble. A new Freedom of Information Act should be introduced, and applied to
all European institutions.
A major failing of the
present set-up is that key institutions such as the Parliament and the
Commission have strong incentives to centralise power. To make matters worse,
the people they employ are inevitably almost exclusively Europhile. Worse
still, the governments of some Member States are all too willing to enshrine in
EU legislation (and thus by default in domestic law) policies which they would
simply not get through at home. By way of illustration, if the Working Time
Directive was UK, as opposed to EU, legislation I have no doubt that it would
have been reformed by now.
Against this background,
national parliaments need to be empowered to resist the centralising tendency,
and strong enough to deploy all the powers at their disposal.
One way to do this is to
make the “Yellow and Orange Card” system more effective. This system,
introduced under the Lisbon Treaty, allows national parliaments to reject new
initiatives proposed by the Commission if enough of them voice their opinion.
mechanism has so far been used only once. In order to increase its
effectiveness, the threshold for the issuance of the yellow and orange card
should be lowered and the amount of time given to parliaments to scrutinise
proposals should be lengthened. COSAC, the EU body that brings together national
parliamentarians, should be made more effective. To that end, it should meet
more frequently, and be totally independent of the European Parliament.
In the same vein, the
orange card system should be upgraded to a red card one – this would allow a
group of national parliaments in the EU to block a new Commission proposal
The real game-changer,
however, would be if the card system were expanded so that it also applies to
existing Regulations and Directives. Such an enhanced card system would
offer the possibility of change to the acquis
communitaire – the body of EU law, which has developed over time.
Many vested interests would
be appalled at such a prospect. So those committed to meaningful reform will
need to be willing to go further still – if a red card can't be agreed, then
for instance providing the option at the time of a change of national
government for the incoming administration to opt out of any EU Directives or
Regulations which any of its predecessors had signed up to.
Finally, all new EU Directives
should have a sunset clause – that is, a date on which the rule expires unless
inefficiency and integration by the back door are everywhere. Many agencies
duplicate work, and reinforce the federal agenda rather than the Subsidiarity
principle. The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the Committee
of the Regions should be abolished. The Commission should lead the way with
significant administrative savings, including a reduction in the tiers of
management, salaries, allowances and changing the pension age and terms.
The three-city functioning
of the European Parliament should stop. Abolishing the Strasbourg seat would
save at least €180 million per annum. This move would be equally important
symbolically. In fact, the European Parliament itself has voted to stop the “Strasbourg
circus”. But the EU Treaties prevented this. In reality, the French need
to be “persuaded” to bring this about. The Secretariat of the European
Parliament should also relocate entirely, in this case from Luxembourg to
The creation of the
Eurozone raises a raft of critical institutional issues. In summary, the EU
institutions and voting structure need significant reform to deal with the
implications of Eurozone fiscal integration. There is the very real possibility
of sovereign governments being outvoted in Brussels under Qualified Majority
Voting, and thus of laws being foisted upon nations against the will of their
governments. The recent legislation limiting bankers’ bonuses clearly
illustrates the dangers.
Fortunately, it’s not difficult
to come up with solutions. One way would be the expansion of the “Emergency
Brake” procedure, perhaps accompanied by the greater use of enhanced
cooperation of willing Member States. The Emergency Brake would allow any
Member State that considers a proposal to be a threat to subsidiarity or to an
important national interest to refer that proposal to the European Council –
where unanimity, and hence a national veto, would apply. Those states which
wanted to press ahead with a measure could do so under enhanced cooperation,
but only on condition that this did not impinge on the other Member States or
the Single Market.
An alternative would be the
extension into the majority of policy areas of the double-majority system of
voting, introduced in the European Banking Union discussions. This would ensure
that the Eurozone is not able to caucus together to outvote the non-Euro
members. The FSP is by no means alone in backing such an approach. For example,
senior German officials have indicated that such a solution to protecting the
interests of non-Euro members is on the table.
The FSP has also argued for
significant cuts to the EU budget – specifically through repatriating regional
policy, reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and reform of the EU’s institutions.
There is far too much waste and too many overlapping institutions.
As the Prime Minister said
in his excellent Bloomberg speech in January, “democratic consent for the EU in
Britain is now wafer thin,” and therefore that “the EU is seen as something
that is done to people rather than acting on their behalf.”
As the next Election draws
closer, I'm sure that voters will increasingly recognise that only the
Conservative Party fully grasps the need for reform of the UK’s relationship
with the EU, fully understands what needs to be done, is well-placed to secure
the right outcome and has the courage to give the British people the referendum
to which they’re entitled.
In conclusion, negotiating
the changes needed to ensure global competitiveness and the elimination of the
democratic deficit must be the Government’s absolute priority.
Get these two right, and
the British people may decide to stay in the EU. Get them wrong, or fail to
address them at all, and the people will almost certainly choose for Britain to
go it alone.