Fraser Nelson is wrong: Cameron’s supposed EU re-negotiation allies are set on a very different path

european union starsLike so many Eurosceptics, Fraser Nelson was at it again this morning in the Telegraph: taking a couple of things they heard from foreign politicians and adding it all up to make something that matches exactly what they want: less Brussels.

Nelson was continuing his theme from the Spectator a couple of weeks ago, describing a Northern Alliance Cameron had been building to reform the European Union in his image. There is one problem with all that: it simply is not true.

In the UK, the Dutch are often seen as close allies of Cameron in his quest for renegotiation and less Europe, through opt-outs and repatriation of powers. This all hinges on a phrase that the Dutch Government wants “Europe if necessary – national where possible.” It has said that the era of “ever closer union in every possible policy area” was over.

Essentially, the Dutch approach focuses on a stricter adherence to existing principles of subsidiarity: do at a national level what can and should be done at that level. In some areas that are currently up for discussion, the Dutch Government would favour less or no action from the EU. It helpfully set out a 17-page list of examples of where they believe this should apply. So far, so good.

The bit every Eurosceptic seems to ignore is the first part: “Europe if necessary”. The Dutch Government is actually in favour of more European action in certain areas, just not every possible policy area. This is not entirely surprising: the polyglot Foreign Minister, Frans Timmermans, hails from the Labour half of the Dutch coalition, who are generally more pro-European than Dutch PM Mark Rutte’s centre-right VVD. These areas for further cooperation are, for example, a banking union and common energy policy.

The Dutch do not want to achieve this balancing of priorities through renegotiation or new treaties, as Timmermans set out in a wide-ranging speech in February (here’s an English translation). The Netherlands has never been in favour of opt-outs either. Would they support British renegotiation? No, said Timmermans in January 2013: “That’s up to [Cameron] and he also has to do it himself”.

The Dutch are not a lone voice in this, the Germans agree. Timmermans and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier set out a joint approach in an article in German daily Handelsblatt last week (Dutch, German):

We can only take on the challenges that lie ahead of us if we act strongly together. (…) We need to show convincingly that the European Union remains the best way to act in our interests internationally and find solutions for the big questions of the future.

The challenges ahead include economic globalisation, climate change, demographic changes and digitalisation of our lives. The two foreign ministers call on the new European Commission and Parliament to set out how it will focus and act on these bigger priorities, together with the Member States, and thus leave room for national Governments to act in other areas. Their solutions include a deepening of economic cooperation, efforts to stimulate growth and jobs and for Europe to “act big on these big issues”.

What these two alleged allies of Cameron set out does not sound like the renegotiation of his dreams. In fact, they go even further and set out that “we should not jeopardise the Europe we have built together. We do not call for ‘less Europe’, we want a ‘better Europe’”. Not only that, they call for strong and powerful European institutions to implement these decisions and for a better team spirit among the Member States to achieve this – perhaps a sly reference to the UK’s role in recent years.

While Britain’s Eurosceptics cling on to the odd phrase from Rutte, or a look from Chancellor Angela Merkel to point to progress towards their goals, the actual policy of their alleged renegotiation allies sets out a very different path for the EU. It would be worth taking note of this, otherwise they will be left bitterly disappointed in 2017.

* Henk van Klaveren is a public affairs consultant at and a former Liberal Democrat press officer.

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8 Comments

  • “We do not call for ‘less Europe’, we want a ‘better Europe’”

    An interesting rallying cry, as I think many want some form of European union, but not necessarily what we have today. Interestingly, a ‘better Europe’ does not necessarily mean ‘more Brussels’ and could actually result in ‘less Brussels’ in some areas.

  • This article is just noise. Everyone understands that ‘renegotiation’ with the EU, is a complete non starter, and something Cameron has thrown into the ring to stall a long overdue democratic choice from the voting public.
    We want an in/out referendum, and much sooner than 2017.

  • John Humphrys opines for Yougov:
    “By debating with each other, Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, and Nigel Farage, leader of UKIP, are making sure that what is supposed to be the central issue of the election is being fully aired: the future of the European Union and Britain’s place in it.”

    It’s probably a step forward if that is perceived to be the central issue, but that is not what the election is about. There’s a parliament to elect, with real things to do. It would be interesting if Nick Clegg told us one or two things the LibDems have done and want to do when it comes to the next debate.

  • “We do not call for ‘less Europe’, we want a ‘better Europe’”. Not only that, they call for strong and powerful European institutions to implement these decisions and for a better team spirit among the Member States to achieve this ”

    So basically, they want more Europe, but aren’t willing to say so. While all this gives no succour to Cameron, still less does it give any comfort to those of us who want the UK to remain within Europe.

    Just 10% of the electorate in the UK supports further integration, so the kind of push they are talking about is totally unacceptable to the vast majority.

    There is still a ticking time bomb under the UK’s relationship with Europe, whatever approach you take. It is still on the track to becoming a club of which it is increasingly difficult to remain a member.

  • jedibeeftrix 28th Mar '14 - 8:22pm

    Okay, then we’ll leave.

    The EU has a value as well as a price, and as the euRO federalised that value decreases.

    Is the party of in advocating “in” at any price?

  • RC:
    I cannot see your “basically, they want more Europe, but aren’t willing to say so”. “Europe if necessary – national where possible.” and “we should not jeopardise the Europe we have built together. We do not call for ‘less Europe’, we want a ‘better Europe’” is saying so.

    As the article states, these statements articulate the principles of subsidiarity. Personally I would like to go further and apply the same principle to Westminster, the regions and local government (Westminster if necessary – local where possible). However when it comes to global, continental and single market issues, clearly a weakened Europe would handicap action on a host of environmental, economic and as a consequence, social issues.

  • The Osborne/Schauble compact bears out the situation which I have set out in LDV before – the UK is on the pig’s back vis -a-vis the EU if we play our cards right.

    The UK does not have enough clout to redefine the fundamental principles on which the EU is based. However the UK is very important to Europe and certainly has enough clout to ensure that it is not forced into the Eurozone unless and until that is the clear wish of its people by future referendum. That is not going to happen anytime soon and may not happen at all. Therefore the EU will go forward on two levels – eurozone and non-eurozone. As Germany through Mr Schauble and all other members for that matter must recognise this means making proper provision to fully protect the interests of both these categories. Coupled with the increasing evidence that the call for sensible reforms in current EU practices and institutions is becoming more widespread there is every reason for the UK to work with others to achieve sensible reforms. The only way to do that is by enthusiastic commitment from the inside – and this must not be constrained by artificial and unnecessary timescales like “end of 2017”.

    In the meantime we have this beneficial situation –
    1. Full and equal access to the single market – bearing in mind that even if we were to attempt renegotiation of such access after exiting the EU we would have to conform to all its rules – like Norway.
    2. Unquestioned continuance – and probably extension – of lucrative third country industrial investment. Ignore current warnings from Nissan et al at your peril.
    3. Freedom for our citizens to settle anywhere in the EU or to roam with minimum restriction – millions of expatriate Brits across Europe must be deeply worried about the prospect of Brexit.
    4. Freedom to set our own interest rates and all the other powers accompanying the maintenance of a separate currency .

    What’s not to like?

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