LibLink: Guy Verhofstadt – David Cameron wants a two-speed Europe


Guy Verhofstadt heads the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in the European Parliament and is the former Prime Minister of Belgium. In the Independent he examines David Cameron’s stance on Europe under the headline “EU referendum: David Cameron should spell it out. He wants a two-speed Europe“. He writes:

This week, or so we are told, the Prime Minister will set out his Christmas list of EU reforms to the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk. A broad agreement on the UK’s renegotiation package is envisaged at the December summit of European leaders. There will be battles and setbacks in the weeks to come, but there are reasons to think a deal can be found.

Many in continental Europe strongly agree with David Cameron that the European Union of today is not fit for purpose and is in need of fundamental reform. Most accept that the direction of travel has shifted towards some form of “two-speed Europe”, broadly based around eurozone “ins” and “outs”. And clarifying these two types of membership would surely be progress, compared with the chaotic multi-speed, hotchpotch EU of today. Maybe it is time for Cameron to be explicit and use the expression “two-speed”.

He continues:

One of the most challenging areas in which the UK will seek reform relates to free movement and social security co-ordination. Changes to the underlying principle of free movement of labour would be a challenge to one of the key themes of the single market and will be firmly resisted by other EU countries and the European Parliament, but it should be possible to reach agreement over reforms to Europe’s social security rules.

There has to be some treaty change, though, whether driven by Britain or by the eurozone countries’ need to be better integrated. But this has been ruled out because Angela Merkel and François Hollande won’t consider it until 2017, after their respective national elections (way beyond Cameron’s referendum deadline).

So, to increase the credibility of the deal, Cameron must follow another path. He has to push now for an agreement between European leaders that guarantees a timetable and a process for the opening of negotiations for treaty change in early 2017.

You can read the full article here.

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • john Stevens 9th Nov '15 - 4:13pm

    Except it is two destinations the PM seeks.

  • Britain doesn’t want a ‘two speed’ Europe though; that implies a common destination, just one which different countries are approaching at different rates.

    It implies that ‘ever closer union’ it still the goal, it’s just that some countries might integrate faster than others. but that all will, eventually, at their own speed, come into closer union.

    Whereas actually what is wanted is an EU which accepts that Britain will never have a union closer than it does now, and indeed would quite like a union which is significantly less close than at present.

    In other words, not so much ‘two-speed Europe’ as ‘Europe with a reverse gear’.

    Cameron has gone some way towards making this explicit by his statement that he wants the ‘ever closer union’ wording ditched.

    It would indeed be nice if he would be even more explicit about the price of Britain’s remaining in the EU being not simply a change in the speed at which the UK is integrating with the other EU countries, but a rolling-back of some of the integration that has already happened.

  • Dav

    Except maybe some people in Britain do want closer union. Not saying they’re the majority, but in the future who knows. I can definitely see the advantages of a united Federal Europe, with strong national and regional parliaments. Times change. Once, there a Wessex, then there was England, then there was Britain. Not saying it’s going to happen soon or overnight but do ever say never.

  • That should say ‘but don’t ever say never’ of course. God I wish there was an editor on this website!

  • David Evans 9th Nov '15 - 5:42pm

    ANMAW, just for the sake of completeness … and then there was a Republic of Ireland with a residual United Kingdom.

  • jedibeeftrix 9th Nov '15 - 6:10pm

    “Maybe it is time for Cameron to be explicit and use the expression “two-speed”.”

    Does he want that? i hope not.

    That would imply we’ll end up joining EUROpe in its glorious federal future as part of the euro, schengen, come economic policy, common law and justice, and common foriegn policy.

    What percentage of the British electorate would support that position? Vanishingly few, i’d suggest.

    No, what ‘we’ want is a home for essentially sovereign nations inside the EU, but outside the federal converged core ‘state’ of euro countries.

    Personally, i also want the options we negotiate for ourselves available to the smaller nations that currently have no option but to agree to ever-closer-union.

  • Dav, if you want eternal guarantees you will be disappointed. Cameron can expect to get a deal whereby the UK gets to stall its progress towards the goal of the European project, at the price of losing its ability to block the rest of the EU from continuing on. If Britain chooses never to resume movement, that is another matter.

    Of course, fifty years ago the British had different views on whether they wanted to be in or out of Europe, twenty-five years ago the views were different still, and in twenty-five years time, who knows what the majority will want? Best just set up a nice, flexible arrangement where we can accommodate your generation’s europhobia without locking and barring any doors my generation or future ones might want to go through in the fullness of time.

    Guy Verhofstadt is of course right. The treaties need to change and the complexity of the arrangements the union has built up over the years needs to be cut down. I would say that he would gain more traction talking about a Two-Tier Europe, of a federating core and a periphery of associated states, rather than Two-Speed. The arrangements for the periphery should be based on the general assumption that its members aspire to join the core, but would not require it.

  • Richard Underhill 9th Nov '15 - 9:11pm

    Regrettably the economic changes take longer than the political ones. Despite massive spending, and moving the capital, germany still shows evidence of the former east and west. The EU also does. The UK is one of the western nations.

  • nigel hunter 10th Nov '15 - 12:02am

    Cameron wants to keep his party together. The EU can split it. He is not interested in the national interest. Only unity for future power.

  • jedibeeftrix 10th Nov '15 - 9:12am

    “There may well be a duty to join the Euro on most of the “outs” but there is nothing to stop a government from dragging its feet or failing to meet the conditions, and yet there have been numerous entries to the Eurozone, since 2008”

    Do you approve of the governance of a society functioning in such a manner?

    The fact is that britain and denmark have de-jure opt outs, and sweden has a de-facto opt out, why should poland be obliged to join when neither its government or its people want to join.

    Shengen is the same situation.

    I find myself in the odd position of making the liberal case for defending the weak against a Liberal who takes the opposite view….

  • Where is the click to become a Jedi?

  • Denis Loretto 10th Nov '15 - 1:40pm

    The crucial concession that the UK needs is full benefits of EU membership guaranteed to countries that do not wish to proceed towards “ever closer union” (including eurozone membership). It seems to be constantly ignored that in principle that has already been conceded. In the bulletin issued after the European Council meeting in June 2014 – involving the leaders of all 27 members who were in the EU at that time – Clause 27 stated –

    “The UK raised some concerns related to the future development of the EU. These concerns will need to be addressed. In this context, the European Council noted that the concept of ever closer union allows for different paths of integration for different countries, allowing those that want to deepen integration to move ahead, while respecting the wish of those who do not want to deepen any further.”

    Note it does not say different speeds towards the same destination – it says “respecting the wish of those who do not want to deepen ANY FURTHER.” So the task is for the UK to ensure they will not be punished or impaired for taking such a decision. That should be deliverable and once settled the UK should be able with others to secure other reforms and improvements over a longer period. It is very important that this reform process does not end with the forthcoming referendum. Improvement must be a constant endeavour and the UK needs to take a leading role in it.

    The difficult issue in Cameron’s shopping list is the withholding of in-work benefits for migrant workers for 4 years. If that is not fully deliverable and all other demands conceded it would be quite incredible for Cameron to advocate withdrawal on that one ground.

  • Note it does not say different speeds towards the same destination – it says “respecting the wish of those who do not want to deepen ANY FURTHER.”

    But how can that work as long as EU directives automatically become part of national law?

    As soon as any directive is passed by QMV, then that automatically deepens integration as something which previously was controlled at a national level is not bound to follow a directive decided at EU level — that’s what ‘deeper integration’ means.

    In order to stop integrating any further, treaties need to be changed to (a) specify that no new EU directives, or areas of competence, apply to countries unless those countries explicitly enact them, at a national level, and (b) allows countries to opt out of whatever regulations / areas of competence have already been passed, that they no longer wish to apply to them.

  • For ‘is not bound to’ read ‘is now bound to’.

  • Denis Loretto 10th Nov '15 - 5:22pm


    How exactly the change is enacted is what the negotiations will be all about. Part of the deal – as George Osborne recently pointed out – is British acquiescence and indeed co-operation in the necessary agreement for eurozone countries to strengthen their own degree of integration to make the common currency work. In effect as Guy Verhofstadt says we are moving towards a “two-speed” Europe. I prefer the term “two-tier” and it is Cameron’s job to ensure that both tiers have full status as EU members.

    Just think what we have if this process can be successfully completed –
    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 make a major financial contribution and 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. They only manufacture here to gain access to the EU market – they can and will go anywhere they want.
    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 .

  • Just think what we have if this process can be successfully completed

    But none of that is adequate compensation for what we lose, ie, sovereignty, if the price we pay is getting into a situation where QMV allows foreign countries to impose upon Britain regulations which are not in Britain’s national interest, or which Britain simply does not want.

    The outcome must include a guarantee that the UK will not be bound by any regulation that the UK does not want to be bound by, no ifs or buts, no need to find eight other countries to weild a ‘red card’, simply if we do not want it we do not get it.

    Without that, all else is meaningless.

  • Denis Loretto 10th Nov '15 - 5:57pm

    Well Dav, if what you are saying is that in this uncertain world the UK is in the name of “sovereignty” better off entirely alone no matter what the economic effects, no matter what the benefits of partnership for people across our continent who have so much in common (and yet all too much history of past conflict) then I can only beg to differ.

  • if what you are saying is that in this uncertain world the UK is in the name of “sovereignty” better off entirely alone no matter what the economic effects, no matter what the benefits of partnership for people across our continent who have so much in common (and yet all too much history of past conflict) then I can only beg to differ

    If what you are saying is that in this uncertain world it is a good strategy for the EU to bind itself to follow regulations concocted by foreign countries whose interests do not necessarily align with ours and on some subjects are exactly opposed (eg, France’s aims to promote Paris, and Germany’s Frankfurt, as global finance centres which can only be achieved by damaging the dominance of the City of London), and to dilute our influence in the wider world by sharing representation (eg, on the WTO, or when negotiating trade deals with those countries whose aims do not match ours (eg, France’s idiotic desire for protectionism to protect its specialised industries, which makes it harder to conclude trade deals than if we were acting), then I can only say you are crazy.

    Europe is not a single country. It is made up of competing countries who necessarily share neither goals, nor methods of reaching them. As we have seen over the past few years, what is in the interests of, say, Germany, is not necessarily in the interests of, say, Greece. Do not kid yourself that the Germans wouldn’t do to us exactly what they have done to Greece, if they found themselves in the position to do so. Let’s make sure they never do.

    For as long as being in an alliance is useful to your own national interests — for as long as remaining in the EU benefits Britain — then by all means, do so. But if it reaches the point that an alliance is dragging you down, or has the potential to do so, then it is time to walk away. A treaty is not a marriage.

  • For ‘good strategy for the EU to bind itself ‘ read ‘good strategy for the UK to bind itself ‘. Too many sets of initials.

  • EU laws are not, as you say, “regulations concocted by foreign countries”.

    This is wrong. Thanks to QMV, it is possible for a number of foreign countries working together to pass regulations which are not in Britain’s interest, against Britain’s wishes, and against Britain’s votes, but which Britain is required by treaty to implement. This is especially concerning when it comes to, for example, the City of London, where foreign countries like Germany and France have reasons to deliberately try to harm the functioning of the City in order to make it less competitive against their own versions.

    Inside the EU, laws are made collaboratively, democratically and accountably

    And that’s the problem: it means that a (qualified) majority of foreigners can impose on Britain something which is not in Britain’s interests.

    We need to make sure that our relationship with Europe is a la carte, so we can pick the bits which are good for us and ignore the bits which are not in our interests, which were voted for by foreigners who have their own interests which often compete with ours. Our current treaties do not allow that; so they must be changed or we must leave.

  • Basically, we need preferably a veto power over any new regulation, or at least an automatic opt-out so that any regulation which the UK does not vote for does not apply to the UK even if it passes by QMV, unless Westminster deliberately decides to adopt it.

    It need to be made clear that the EU parliament is not a super-parliament to Westminster in the way that, say, Westminster is a super-parliament to Holyrood or Washington, DC is a super-parliament to Sacramento, where sovereign power rests with the super-parliament and is devolved to the more local body.

    It needs to be made clear that the power finally rests with Westminster, which may delegate it to Brussels if it is convenient for Britain’s interests to do so, but which can refuse to delegate, or reclaim delegated powers, any time such delegation would not be in the specific interests of Britain (even if they are in the interests of other EU countries).

  • Can you tell us how many times the UK has had to accept an issue it voted against, but that was adopted under QMV, on what subjects and issues were these votes,

    According to ‘Business for Britain’ this has happened 55 times; and while they are clearly biased, their document at includes at the end a list of the measures on which the UK voted ‘No’ in the Council, every single one of which was passed, and I see no reason to think they made the list up.

    It’s true not all of the measures are introducing new regulations; some, for example, are on setting the EU’s budget. But the numbers are far less important than the principle. It is appalling to have got into the situation where even in theory measures proposed by, and in the interests of, foreign countries, can be imposed upon the UK.

    The EU is not a country; the UK is not merely a region of a larger body; it is not legitimate for the UK to be outvoted in the way that, say, MPs from East Anglia or Scotland or Cornwall might be outvoted in a national legislature. The main thing which has pushed me towards voting ‘Leave’ is the realisation that a lot of those who want me to vote ‘Remain’ would actually welcome the further integration of the UK along with the nations of Europe into a federal super-state akin to the US, with the European Parliament becoming something like the United States’ Congress, the ECJ becoming its Supreme Court whose judgements are binding on national governments and judiciaries, and Westminster becoming merely another level of local government, above councils and devolved national parliaments but below Brussels.

    This is utterly unacceptable and to vote ‘Remain’ it is necessary to be assured that there will never be a country called ‘Europe’. This requires treaties to be changed to ensure that the UK can always act in its own singular interests, and can never be overruled by foreign countries as if it were merely part of a larger super-state instead of a completely sovereign nation in its own right.

  • Rather, it shows that as in any organisation, especially multi-state organisations, you win some and you lose some, and continue because the overall purposes of the organisation serve our country well

    Well, I think the key disagreement is clearly over whether the ‘overall purposes’ do ‘serve our country well’.

    If the ‘overall purpose’ is to become a super-state with a Parliament superior to national parliaments, making the UK not a significant global player in its own right but merely a region of a larger state, in which the UK can be outvoted just like East Anglia can be outvoted in Westminster, then that most certainly does not ‘serve our country well’, and unless there is some guarantee that that will never happen (that is, something significant and painful extracted from the negotiations, like treaties changed to provide either a veto or an automatic opt-out or something else just as significant, unlike just dropping a form of words) I, and many others, will be voting to ‘Leave’.

  • Re: ‘Business for Britain’ … “This “research” is, as you say, biased.”

    I came across this interesting report from the UK Chamber of Shipping – which seems to be saying stay in the EU but negotiate with your eyes wide open.

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