Wednesday, December 23, 2015

When will the EU lift the taboo on the Australian solution for the refugee and migrant crisis?

Published on CapX

So far, the EU’s response to the refugee and migration crisis, which witnessed  1.2 million illegal crossings into the EU this year, has failed. Seven EU Summits were held this year but unlike with the “Seven Summits” mountaineering challenge, not much glory was achieved with it.

One measure EU member states agreed  was an EU scheme to “relocate160,000 refugees who have already arrived in the passport-free Schengen-zone. So far however, they only managed to relocate 200 people, on top of a few 1000 resettlements from refugee camps outside of the EU. The fact that it’s obviously not possible to stop people from moving within the Schengen area didn’t stop the EU Commission from putting a lot of energy in the scheme, in the process even damaging the EU’s image in central- and Eastern European countries which were being outvoted on the issue. It seems impossible to explain the simple fact that in a passport-free zone means one can’t keep people in one country to either German Chancellor Angela Merkel, obsessed by the desire to relocate a number of refugees some say she has invited, or the EU Commission, obsessed by using any crisis to grab more powers even if it means tarnishing the EU’s reputation.

A second measure was the creation of so-called “hotspots”,  EU-run reception centres in Italy and Greece, where migrants and refugees would be identified and fingerprinted.  So far, only two are functioning and the experience can’t be called successful: apart from the fact that they’re overcrowded, they also seem unable to make sure all arriving refugees actually register there.

Now the EU’s focus has shifted to create a new EU border and coast guard force, basically replacing current EU border agency Frontex. The EU Commission even dared to propose that the force would be allowed to operate on the territory of a member state which doesn’t want this, although this “invasion clause” is facing a lot of opposition from certain member states, with Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski complaining: “There would be an undemocratic structure reporting to no one knows who.”

More border guards in itself won’t prevent people from being able to just continue their journey once they have made it to a Greek island, for example Lesbos. When one rewards refugees who risk their lives by allowing them to just continue travel and not await their asylum application, it’s only logical that ever more people are going to try to make the dangerous journey. There are reports that Greece has transported refugees from the Greek islands to the mainland. Also, the efforts of the Italian Navy and multilateral Operation Triton to save people from drowning in the waters between Libya and Italy should be lauded, but the fact that these people are being transferred to the Italian mainland gives them an incentive to make the risky journey. This year, the UN reckons 706 people have died trying to reach Greece, 2,889 people trying to reach Italy and 100 trying to reach Spain.

There is an alternative. Unlike the EU, Australia has created a safe shelter outside of its territory to divert those attempting to make it to Australia illegally. Therefore, the country has closed a deal with Papua New Guinea and Nauru. The EU has no such deal with any third country. It can only choose between pushing back migrants and refugees to unsafe countries (or countries unwilling to take them back, like Turkey) or rewarding them for taking huge risks by bringing them to the EU’s mainland, which unintentionally becomes a ferry service for human smugglers.

Since Australia’s policy was implemented, there has been criticism of the conditions in the refugee camps, where also several people have died in isolated instances, but only a limited number of boats were caught trying to make the journey to Australia. Importantly, only one single death has been reported while no asylum-seeker boats have managed to arrive. Meanwhile, in the EU, 3,695 people have been dying this year, which means more than 70 every week, and that’s only those on record. That’s not including the 23,000 people which would have lost their lives in the last 15 years while attempting to reach Europe before this crisis.

Even if it may have been easier for Australia to do this, one shouldn’t forget that the country also witnessed disasters with hundreds dying at sea before implementing its successful policy. If only the EU would manage to half the number of people dying at sea, that would already be a massive step forward.

One would therefore expect the EU to consider this approach, preferably without repeating Australia’s mistake of providing bad conditions in its off-shore refugee shelters. Instead, Australia’s is solution has been quickly brushed off the table by the EU Commission, claiming that it wouldn’t be in line with the international legal principle of non-refoulement", which forbids forced return. That’s a questionable claim, given that people would be sent to an off-shore refugee shelter actually owned by EU states where they would retain fully the right to apply for asylum, unlike what’s the case currently in the EU’s “hotspots”, where respect for asylum seekers' rights is doubtful.

The EU could just perfectly copy the good aspects of Australia’s solution (create an offshore refugee shelter) while avoiding the bad aspects (bad conditions in refugee shelters). Germany’s own refugee shelters aren’t exactly a shining example of good governance, so it would be even better to try to set up not just an offshore refugee shelter for refugees but a proper city for refugees, governed by officials from countries with a high degree of rule of law. This solution, which I have dubbed “free havens”, has also been made by US business man Jason Buzi, who wants to give refugees their own Refugee Nation, by prominent US academics Anne-Marie Slaughter and Paul Romer and by Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris, the 10th richest man in Africa, who  has offered to buy an island off Italy or Greece in order to rehouse hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Syria and other conflicts.
Obviously a major challenge would be to find a proper location, either within EU territory or outside of it. If an Egyptian businessman manages to identify a number of – naturally empty – islands, it may be feasible within the EU’s borders. Alternatively, one of the world’s many uninhabited places would be an option. It may cost a lot, but so does the current approach, which may ultimately cost Germany alone up to 900 billion euro according to some of the wilder estimates.

Even this wouldn’t solve everything, given that at the beginning of this year, according to EU border agency Frontex, “most of those  who currently reside in the EU illegally, originally entered in possession of valid travel documents and a visa whose validity period they have since overstayed”.  That’s also one reason why it wouldn’t make sense to abolish Schengen, which brings great personal and economic benefits of passport-free travel for citizens and companies. Neither should Schengen be the main reason for European countries to cooperate on border control. Refugees make it into Schengen while entering Greece, and then immediately leave the passport-free zone again when crossing the Balkans. The reason why European countries must cooperate here is due to the simple fact they share a natural sea border: the Mediterranean. Even if Greece and Italy would be kicked out of Schengen, it would make sense to help them guard Europe’s natural sea border.

Former Australian PM Tony Abbott has summarized it as follows: "If you want to keep life safe, you've got to keep the boats stopped." He has the facts on his side and slowly even the EU is somehow stumbling towards this solution. Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo boasted after last week’s Summit that she had convinced the other EU leaders that “the solutions lie beyond, not within the EU’s borders.” After the failing attempt to relocate people within a passport-free zone we’ll probably now just have to wait for the EU to figure out that rewarding people who manage to cross the border with the right to continue their journey will undo all efforts to increase the number of border patrols. Whatever one thinks of the Australian solution: it deserves to be considered due to its success in terms of almost completely avoiding people dying at sea, certainly in the face of the tragic failure of the EU in this regard.

Pieter Cleppe represents independent think tank Open Europe in Brussels


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Denmark’s upcoming EU referendum: Would a ‘No’ vote be a shot across the bow for those resisting UK demands?

Published on Open Europe's blog and CapX

Denmark will this week hold a referendum on whether to replace its full opt-out from EU justice and home affairs cooperation with a UK-style 'opt-in' model. Open Europe's Pieter Cleppe looks at the key issues at stake and what the referendum means for David Cameron's EU renegotiation.

Tomorrow, eyes will be on Denmark for its upcoming referendum on whether to replaceits full opt-out from EU justice and home affairs cooperation with an ‘opt-in’ model, as the Danish government calls it, while others have called it moving to “a partial opt-out”.
Importantly, even if the Danes were to vote ‘Yes’ to dropping the full opt-out, the Danish government will not participate to the EU’s joint asylum and immigration policies, as was agreed by five Danish political parties. Instead, the country would join 22 specific EU legislative acts.

In the light of the precedent of Germany and the EU forcing Central and Eastern European countries to take in refugees, centre-right Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has promised to submit any plan to join EU asylum and immigration policies to a referendum. However, the ‘No’ camp have suggested that this is only a promise and that if the Danish people vote to end the full opt-out, the Danish Parliament will be able to avoid a referendum on participating in EU asylum and migration cooperation if there is a simple majority for it, instead of a five-sixths majority now. This is quite significant. Right now, almost two-thirds of Danish MPs support a ‘Yes’ vote, while voters are equally split on the issue.

In any case, the main reason for the Danish government to hold this referendum is that EU legislation covering Europol has become supranational, following the Lisbon Treaty. Some of those campaigning for Denmark to give up its full opt-out, for example the Social Democrats, have  argued that “in order to fight cross-border crime, such as child pornography and human trafficking, we need to remain part of Europol cooperation”. One of their posters, which plays up fears that it would become harder to fight paedophile networks if Danish voters were to keep the opt-out, seems to have backfired, after it was branded by a Danish author who is also a paedophile victim as “distasteful”.

Others, like the Eurosceptic Danish People’s Party (DF), have argued that a “No” vote does not even necessarily exclude Denmark from Europol, as a “parallel agreement” would allow continued participation.

What is the relevance for the UK referendum?

If the Danes vote to keep the opt-out, the reaction of the rest of the EU will be telling: will we see a flexible EU, which respects the decision of the Danes and is happy to conclude a deal specifically designed for them or will we see an inflexible EU, which refuses further debate and kicks Denmark out of Europol? We should remember how the EU has so far been very reluctant to negotiate with Switzerland after a majority decided in a referendum that there should be limits on the freedom of movement of people. The reaction of the EU institutions to a possible Danish no-vote will be yet another element convincing the middle ground in the UK whether it’s possible to reform the EU or not.

Most polls show that around one third of Danes are not sure how to vote, while the yes- and no-sides are neck and neck. Cameron may be helped or hindered in different ways by any possible result. As said, a no-vote may help his renegotiation as it may focus minds in Brussels that it’s not just the UK which is keen to insert some flexibility into the EU. On the other hand,  if the Danes were to vote ‘Yes’, this could perhaps make the referendum campaign for Cameron a little easier, as no-votes on the Continent could well embolden the Leave-side in the UK. In the end though, the easiest referendum campaign for Cameron would be one which is preceded by the UK obtaining material concessions and perhaps negotiators in Brussels can do with a small wake-up call from Danish voters.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Four reasons why we shouldn’t transfer more powers to the EU to deal with terrorism

Published by CapX and Open Europe

The attacks in Paris have predictably resulted in a whole set of new proposals to deal with the enormous challenge to fight violent salafi terrorism. Apart from the question whether we should give up liberty for more security and still deserve both in case we do, there is the question whether it’s a good idea to centralise security provision and in particular hand it over to the European Union. Here’s why we should be wary to trust the EU with this.

1.      The experience with the EU’s data retention directive should serve as a warning not to let the EU take care of our data

The EU already has a lot of powers in the area of justice and police matters, which we discussed with Open Europe in our 2009 research paper “How the EU is watching you”. One good example is the infamous “Data Retention Directive”, which requires telephone operators and internet service providers to store data regarding every phone call, text message, email and website that their users access and make it available to government authorities. This was passed in 2006 despite warnings by academics from the Dutch Erasmus University that 'in virtually all cases' the police could get all the traffic data they needed, based on average availability of telephony traffic data of 3 months. The European Parliament, supposedly a check on the EU machine, happily approved the rules, which however ended up in trouble when facing proper democratic checks: national parliaments and national Constitutional Courts. Sweden’s Parliament postponed the implementation of the directive, leading to Sweden having to pay a fine of 3 million euro to the EU in 2013. Already in 2009, Romania’s Constitutional Court declared the EU directive “unconstitutional”, something which its German counterpart did in 2010, criticising the absence of safeguards for privacy. Only four years later, in 2014, did the EU’s own top court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), come to a similar conclusion and annulled the legislation. The EU Commission has said it isn’t planning new EU data retention legislation.

The conclusion which should be drawn from the experience of the EU’s data retention directive should be obvious: there are insufficient checks and balances present at the EU level to trust it with policies governing an area so sensitively linked with the rule of law. Only the force of national democracy could reign in this dangerous piece of legislation.

2.      Deciding to store data is one thing. Sharing them across Europe yet another

The perpetrator of the recent attempted terrorist attack on the Thalys – train between Amsterdam and Paris was known by the security services of Spain and France, but this intel hadn’t been passed on to their colleagues in the Netherlands. Also a number of the terrorists acting in the Paris attacks were known – and interrogated – by the Belgian authorities. So it would make sense for national security services to share more intel on suspected terrorists, countering their mentality to jealously guard their secrets.

During the last year however, the focus at the EU level has oddly been more on sharing info of innocent citizens. EU countries are currently trying to agree on a Passenger Name Records (PNR) database. The idea is that member states would not only collect and retain information on anyone flying into or out of the EU but would also share the data. Over 60 different kinds of data of travellers would be collected, including their travel routes, IP-addresses, hotel bookings and diet preferences. This despite the EU’s top court’s own ruling that data retention without any link to a certain risk or suspicion isn’t proportionate and that human rights campaigners have warned that creating lists of people with alleged similar characteristics “usually produces mismatches”, which may end up in wrongful arrests.

One of the supposed safeguards would be that “PNR data may only be used for the purpose of fighting serious crime and terrorist offences”. It’s likely that this safeguard won’t be respected in reality. The “European Arrest Warrant”, another EU scheme whereby countries decided to extradite their own nationals to other EU states via a very simple procedure, was also supposed to be limited to these kind of offences. In reality however, European Arrest Warrants have been issued also for minor crimes, as for example theft of a piglet.

Another EU initiative is the Prum Convention, an agreement which allows for the automatic exchange of DNA, fingerprints and vehicle registration data among EU member states. Already before the attacks in Paris, France has demanded to have fingerprints and facial scans of everyone entering or leaving the EU collected. The EU’s Prum scheme currently has an error rate of 67% in fingerprint matching, due to the fact that it only requires six fully matching elements, while the UK system requires 10, for example. This was one of the reasons why the UK opted out of it in 2014. The UK Parliament will later this year vote on whether the UK signs back up to it. The UK Home Office has warned that British police risk being overwhelmed with DNA and fingerprint requests from other EU  countries, while there could be an increased risk of innocent Britons being accused of crimes since some EU countries use lower quality DNA matching criteria than the UK. 

Many people would agree storing data can make sense, but only if there are proper democratic checks in place. It can be questioned if Parliaments from other countries will be as keen to monitor how their security services deal with data from non-nationals as they would be when dealing with data from nationals. Whether the European Parliament can be trusted to monitor EU data sharing, I’ll discuss next.

3.      The European Parliament isn’t an effective check on any future EU security apparatus 

The European Parliament has been complicating handing over data to the US, voting down the “SWIFT” deal on banking data transfers to the US, while applauding a recent ECJ ruling against handing over consumer data to the US through the “Safe Harbour” deal. Still, the impression remains that for some of them this may have been more inspired by anti-American instincts than a genuine concern for privacy, given that the same assembly’s Civil Liberties and Justice Committee approved a draft for PNR only in July, while also having rubber stamped the data retention directive, as discussed.

Instead of standing up for civil liberties, some of the nominally “liberal” MEPs seem to be keen to create a police apparatus at the EU level, with Swedish MEPs Cecilia Wikström and Jasenko Selimovic now calling for a “European FBI”. That’s coming from the “liberal” ALDE faction, which supposedly cares about civil liberties.

Already now there is a whole range of EU intelligence services, which face little democratic supervision, something which has been criticised by former independent Austrian MEP Martin Ehrenhauser, without much result however. Whereas Europol and Frontex are subject to some parliamentary oversight, the Intelligence Analysis Centre (IntCen), the Satellite Centre (SatCen), the Intelligence Directorate (IntDir) and the Situation Room are not. They are part of the European External Action Service (the EU’s Foreign Ministry), and do not even disclose their budget. When the European Parliament’s Budget Committee had the chance to force them to disclose their budgets, the Committee declined to do so, according to Ehrenhauser, who added that the creation of IntCen’s predecessor, “SitCen”, even violated EU Treaty Law.  Instead of at least scrutinizing the finances of these embryonic secret services, MEPs prefer to call for giving them more powers instead, something the EU Commission now also wants, demanding to create “a European CIA”. This despite the fact that IntCen has been criticized for the quality of its reports, as Member State officials are quoted saying “they receive the same level of information and analysis but faster through magazines (e.g. Time, the Economist, Newsweek) or open source news providers."

To those having watched the European Parliament more closely, this all won’t come as a surprise. As opposed to more critical member states such as the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden, the institution happily approves the EU’s spending of 144 billion euro every year, despite the stringent criticism of the EU’s own accounting body, the EU Court of Auditors. Is this an institution which could be trusted to stand up against a security apparatus? Asking the question is providing the answer.

4.      Assuming all EU member states have the same level of justice protection can lead to serious miscarriages of justice, as witnessed by the experience of the European Arrest Warrant

The “European Arrest Warrant, pushed through right after 9-11 by the Belgian EU presidency, basically forces states to extradite their own citizens if asked to do so. The problem is that it falsely assumes that all member states of the European Union offer the same standards of legal protection and equally fair trials – a thought so naïve it can only be taken serious in Brussels.

The reality unfortunately looks different: when a British citizen was extradited to Portugal for a crime allegedly committed, his trial over there was described by British judges as “an embarrassment and a violation of his right to a fair trial.” NGOs have expressed concern about the EAW being used to punish petty crimes instead of fighting terrorism or cross-border crime. Particularly Poland has drawn criticism for its excessive use of European Arrest Warrants, having issued thousands more Warrants than any other country.

Making the whole thing even more bizarre, one can be extradited in another EU member state for something which doesn’t even constitute a crime in one’s home state, something Austrian cartoonist Gerhard Haderer  had to learn the hard way. In 2005, he was convicted to a six month sentence in Greece, after depicting Christ as a binge-drinking friend of Jimi Hendrix, surfing naked while high on cannabis. The artist didn't even know that his book, The Life of Jesus, had been published in Greece until he received a summons to appear in court in Athens. In the end, only an appeal to the Greek Supreme Court saved him from ending up in a Greek jail without having committed a crime. Taking into account the increasing number of “hate speech” laws introduced in various European countries, and the unclear legal status of online commentary, it doesn’t take too much fantasy to imagine some of the dangers.

Another case saw British student Andrew Symeou being extradited to Greece in July 2009 to face charges in connection with the death of a young man at a nightclub on a Greek island, after Symeou had already returned home to the UK. Andrew was extradited despite evidence that the charges were based on statements extracted by Greek police through the violent intimidation of witnesses, who later retracted their statements. He spent over ten months in terrible conditions in a Greek prison, was released on bail but then remained unable to leave Greece. He was finally cleared only months later, four years after the facts. Given that the Greek legal document requesting extradition was flawless, there was no way UK courts could have denied his extradition, apart from perhaps refusing to implement EU rules, something a number of EU countries initially tried.

The human consequences resulting from a misplaced trust of EU member states in each other’s justice systems should carry a warning not to repeat this mistake. Cooperation on justice and police matters isn’t a bad idea in itself, but control over this sensitive policy area should always firmly remain with national democracies.

Pieter Cleppe and Leo Traugott represent independent think tank Open Europe in Brussels

Friday, November 13, 2015

Contribution to Flemish Parliament hearing on TTIP

Here I provide evidence on negotiations for the EU-US trade deal TTIP at a hearing of the Flemish Parliament, noting how reducing already low barriers may still make a big difference, amongst others for European car producers and chemicals. I dismissed claims that “regulatory cooperation” would constrain national regulators, explaining that it would be very hard to agree to make EU and US regulations more coherent. I also pointed out that TTIP is really about anti-discrimination, as it still allows countries to choose to regulate a lot or not, but only bans them from being protectionist, saying: “It will still be possible for France to ban cigarettes, if it likes to. It will only not be allowed to ban American cigarettes”

My contribution at the hearing can be watched from 1:09:40 in:

An assessment of Cameron's proposals to reform the EU

Published on MNI Euro Insight

Yesterday, David Cameron stepped up his efforts to obtain reforms of the European Union, detailing his demands in a letter to EU Council chairman Donald Tusk.

Cameron’s idea is to move the debate from the technical preparatory level to the political arena, so he’ll reach a deal, ideally as soon as possible, which he then can submit to the British people in a referendum on whether the UK should remain in the EU, to be held no later than 2017. Given the elections in 2017 in France and Germany and as the UK is taking up the EU Council Presidency then, Cameron is keen to host the referendum in 2016. Also, the longer he waits, the more the EU issue will interfere with the struggle within the Conservative Party to succeed Cameron, who’s likely to step down before 2020. A grand deal before Summer 2016 would thus be ideal.

In sum, Cameron and the UK government are demanding three main things. Hereunder I sum up the most important elements:

1.      The UK wants more control over EU decision making:

-          The UK wants to “enhance the role of national parliaments” through “an arrangement where groups of national parliaments, acting together, can stop unwanted legislative proposals”. This could be achieved through an interinstitutional agreement upgrading the current “yellow card” – system. This is a mechanism which allows a number of national parliaments to raise the alarm if they don’t like certain Commission proposals. The mechanism is hardly used, given that the Commission can just ignore these cards, which it has done, but this could change if the EU Commission agrees with the EU member states to treat every “yellow card” or “orange card” issued by - one third or a majority of – national parliaments as a “red card”, meaning it would drop proposals in that case. Interestingly, both the EU Commission and the EPP, the biggest group in the European Parliament, have reacted to Cameron’s letter that to “increase the role of national parliaments” is “feasible”. A big majority of Germans support the idea. The Commission could in theory always break its word, but is unlikely to annoy the UK just for the sake of saving one single piece of legislation. In any case, the arrangement could be written into the EU Treaty at a future occasion. 

-          The UK also wants more control over benefits for EU migrants, demanding EU changes which allow the UK to prescribe “that people coming to Britain from the EU must live here and contribute for four years before they qualify for in-work benefits or social housing”. There is a lot of support for this in Northern Europe, but legally it’s not so easy to enshrine, because it could be seen as “discrimination”, which is banned under EU law. The definition of “discrimination” however depends on the question whether non-UK citizens are in the same position of UK citizens, who have been contributing in taxation- and from what point they should be considered as “full taxpayers”: after having contributed for 6 months, 2 years or 4 years? It’s all quite arbitrary really. The EU can be flexible about this, however, which was proven by a recent stance by the EU’s top court’s advocate general, while also the UK has said to be flexible and open to solutions. One idea is apparently to also require UK citizens to wait for four years after they’ve reached adulthood. 

-          Unlike what’s often assumed, Cameron is not demanding restrictions on free movement of people, except then for “new members until their economies have converged much more closely with existing Member States”. In any case, it’ll take a while for Serbia, Montenegro or Macedonia to enter the EU.

2.      The UK wants more protection from the EU’s machinery:

-          First of all, this entails a “formal, legally-binding and irreversible” end to Britain’s obligation to work towards an ‘ever closer union’ as set out in the Treaty. According to Bruno Waterfield, the Brussels correspondent of The Times, “language has already been found” on this matter “to ‘allow for different paths of integration for different countries’, now it is just a question of haggling with the French over the use of words.” For those who think this is all symbolic: At least for the new president of the EU Court of Justice, “ever closer union” isn’t just an empty phrase but a guide to interpret the Treaty.

Secondly, the UK wants to make sure the EU’s single market doesn’t break up as a result of Eurozone integration. In practice, one could imagine how British, Polish, Danish or Swedish banks who wouldn’t comply with the Eurozone’s extra regulations for banks, within the framework of its “banking union”, would at some point lose access to the Eurozone market. We’ve already witnessed some tension on that front with the ECB demanding that clearing houses based in the UK or other non-Eurozone countries would have to move inside the Eurozone to continue to do business in euros. Luckily, this was blocked by the EU’s Court of Justice, but the UK wants stronger safeguards.

Cameron has stated: “We do not want to stand in the way of measures Eurozone countries decide to take to secure the long-term future of their currency. But we want to make sure that these changes will respect the integrity of the Single Market, and the legitimate interests of non-Euro members.”

With Open Europe, we’ve suggested that three non-euro states should be able to block EU decision making. This isn’t a complete novelty for the EU, but is along the lines of the EU’s “Ioannina compromise” and an arrangement decided for the European Banking Authority (EBA), where a majority is needed amongst both Eurozone and non-Eurozone countries for a decision to pass. Our solution can be implemented without Treaty change, by writing it into the existing EU voting procedures in the Council of Ministers and via a separate intergovernmental legal agreement. A legal fudge could be found to bridge the time until the next round of Treaty change, at the occasion of a possible new Eurozone treaty, which The Times’ correspondent thinks may be agreed at the end of 2018.

3.      The UK wants the EU to become more an engine of growth, instead of a drag on it

Last but not least, the UK wants a more ambitious push on economic competitiveness consisting of further deepening the single market, cutting red tape and concluding trade deals with other global economies. In particular, Cameron writes:

“For all we have achieved in stemming the flow of new regulations, the burden from existing regulation is still too high. So the United Kingdom would like to see a target to cut the total burden on business. The EU should also do more to fulfil its commitment to the free flow of capital, goods and services. The United Kingdom believes we should bring together all the different proposals, promises and agreements on the Single Market, on trade, and on cutting regulation into a clear long-term commitment to boost the competitiveness and productivity of the European Union and to drive growth and jobs for all.”

It will be relatively easy to get other EU leaders to endorse the principle of the competitiveness agenda, but the question is what concrete progress will be made on top of the reforms initiated already by the EU’s Better Regulation Commissioner, Frans Timmermans. Perhaps a concrete step would be for member states to agree to open up their services markets to each other, a long overdue measure which is only getting more urgent with the arrival of e-commerce. Given that a number of member states, including Germany and France, remain hostile to this, it could happen through a “coalition of the willing”, as we’ve suggested with Open Europe.

Unfortunately, what isn’t on the agenda, is serious EU budget reform, reform of the European Court of Justice, devolving employment policy back to member states and restoring UK judicial control over justice and home affairs laws. Still, it would be a good start to reform of the EU if the UK’s efforts would now lead to a European Union where national parliaments can actually block proposed Commission initiatives, where a possible destruction of the EU’s internal market by Eurozone coordination is being addressed and where a new drive is being given to open up Europe’s services markets.