Philip Hammond has given an interview to the FT today on the forthcoming EU renegotiation. It includes a particularly interesting section on the scale and form of any changes agreed:
“I’m sure there are lots of people who will think it is all about the process, whether some protocol or article are better. For the vast majority of the British people the important thing is where we end up, the outcome.” While noting Mr Cameron’s conclusion that some reforms would require changes to EU treaties, Mr Hammond said: “It does not mean we need treaty change for the politics — the issue is how to protect the [measures] from legal challenge.”
This is a slightly odd distinction. There are two reasons why treaty change is required for anything like a meaningful deal.
First, the scale of the reforms David Cameron himself laid out in his Bloomberg speech inevitably involve changing treaties. Take ending “ever closer union”, for example – that isn’t just a policy, its written into all of the treaties since Rome. To end it as a driving principle of the EU would require, not unreasonably, deleting it from the documents that lay out those principles and give them legal force.
Second, treaty change is required to make any reform permanent. Hammond himself hints at this when he talks of “how to protect the [measures] from legal challenge”. As long as the EU’s courts remain supreme (and, as in the previous point, as long as they’re working to an agenda of endless integration) then no reform will be safe from erosion our outright over-ruling. Ending the supremacy and power of those courts requires – you guessed it – treaty change, as they were established and empowered by the treaties.
All of which is why the idea that the process and the outcome are somehow divisible is a mistake. Without the right process to ensure any outcome is lasting, the outcome could be made irrelevant the day after the talks end and any new settlement is agreed. It’s technical stuff, but unless it is done correctly the real world impact can never be delivered.
All of which contributes to my view that the renegotiation is, at best, threadbare – and that there is almost no chance that a combination of our fellow EU members and the EU Commission agreeing to the scale of change necessary to satisfy even Cameron’s original stated aims, still less anything more radical.