Iain Anderson is co-founder of Cicero Group and is an expert in global political risk and economic public policy issues. He has worked for a range of Conservative policymakers. He writes in a personal capacity. Follow Iain on Twitter.
When it comes to Europe, there are a lot of sore heads right now in Whitehall. The latest EU:UK row on bankers bonuses has not done anyone any good. The relationship with Brussels just seems to get more and more strained.
Much has been done to try to deepen relations with Berlin, in particular – and this has paid some dividends lately, most notably during the recent EU Budget negotiations. But on many of the day-to-day EU legislative dossiers, there seems to be a growing resignation that the UK can shift the dial.
What to do about it?
The main problem continues to be a lack of focus on EU policy from UK policymakers until the last possible minute. The ‘veto’ in November 2011 and banker bonuses are clear examples of that, but it also rings true elsewhere. Just think about tax policy.
Before the last election, the Conservative Treasury front-bench talked about having a permanent ministerial presence in Brussels. I believe that idea needs to be revived right now. Perhaps our Europe minister needs to be located at UKRep – the UK’s EU Embassy – rather than in the FCO.
But more than that, we now need to beef up UKRep significantly. Our ability to influence outcomes needs to improve, and we can only do that if we have a more senior and a more political presence in Brussels.
We also know that 2014 will see a new EU Commission appointed as well as new MEPs elected. We all know the dangers there!
I think the Prime Minister needs to actively get stuck into the horse trading on ‘who gets what’ round the EU Commission table – now. And the UK needs to consider how to land a key economic post, be it for the internal market, tax, or competition.
There is no point waiting until the final moment. We need to identify a candidate in the next few weeks who can be promoted for the role – and we need start to campaigning for them around the EU. We want a strong, muscular UK voice at the Commission table in a key role.
Let's not wait again until the last moment. Like it or loathe it, EU policymaking is just too important to ignore.