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If the Prime Minister’s EU negotiations are to be judged a success the forthcoming In/Out referendum should not simply be a vote to approve or reject a list of concessions to the UK but rather a mandate for a path to rolling reform. The target should be a new settlement that leads to a genuine change of direction to Britain’s relationship with the EU. It may not be possible to achieve everything before the referendum but, in order to avoid a narrow victory for Yes or No, which would only estrange half the British electorate, fundamental reform will be needed that establishes a path to a multi-form EU.
Open Europe’s blueprint for reform identifies a series of 11 reforms under three headings – Flexibility and the rights of non-Eurozone states; Competitiveness; and Democratic accountability – which would contribute to the overarching objective of setting a new direction for the EU.
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The Single Market should be the foundation for the EU. Upon this foundation, the EU should be flexible enough to allow the Eurozone states to unite politically as much as they wish, and other member states, including Britain, to be full participants in the market but free to opt in or out of common measures in other areas such as defence, crime, employment law and the environment. Further integration by some should not discriminate against those who do not take part. This would establish an EU in which ‘ever closer union’ would no longer be the guiding principle for all.
Boosting trade across the Single Market and with global partners should be the EU’s primary aim. The Single Market is a more solid bedrock than a vague aspiration for political union. Not only would this principle put Britain more at ease in Europe, it could also attract Norway and Switzerland, creating a more dynamic market.
Though it requires common rules and institutions, trade is created by businesses and entrepreneurs, not top-down from Brussels. The burden of regulation must be reduced. Europe should embrace its member states’ diverse approaches to labour markets, innovation and public services as experiments that can become best practice rather than stifling national differences with one-size-fits-all solutions.
The Single Market should place greater emphasis on services, digital and energy – removing trade barriers to the services sectors alone could boost EU-wide GDP by over 2%. EU spending needs to be overhauled. Its common budget should be devoted principally to projects too expensive for countries to undertake individually. A modern EU budget would not spend well over half of its money on agriculture and on recycling regional development subsidies between wealthy states.
Decisions involving sacrifice, whether economic or social, need democratic assent. Across the EU, average turnout in the European Parliament elections is 43%, compared to 70% in national elections. The answer is simple: national parliaments should be the ultimate democratic check on EU decisions.
The free movement of workers helps to allocate human capital across Europe but if public support is to be maintained, free movement cannot involve unrestricted access to disparate welfare systems. Meanwhile, foreign policy, pollution and cross-border crime are areas where common challenges can be best met through cooperation between national governments rather than being outsourced to the EU.
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