British negotiators are seeking to hammer out a mutually acceptable deal with Brussels and other EU states ahead of the forthcoming membership referendum. Andrew Tyrie has submitted a proposal which, he argues, would enable Britain and other states more control over what EU policy applies to them, more freedom from the centre of the union, and more democratic accountability, without requiring treaty change. He suggests inserting a new body to scrutinise legislation and restore some power over decision making to national parliaments.
Tyrie’s idea might, in theory, solve some of the problems confronting David Cameron, but many will question the chances of the proposal being taken up in practice.
Tyrie’s arguments include:
Recent Treaty changes, notably at Lisbon, have weakened the role of national governments through the Council in EU law-making. This role must be restored, and a counterweight built to integration.
This should be through the new body under the auspices of the Council , with high-quality staff and led by Commission-level political appointees, and with a mandate to monitor and help enforce subsidiarity. It could be called the European Subsidiarity Council.
The new organisation would advise the Council on new legislative proposals. Its recommendations would enable the Council, by qualified majority vote, to require that the measure be withdrawn on subsidiarity or proportionality grounds.
It would also subject the EU’s existing stock of law and regulation, the acquis communautaire, to continuous review on subsidiarity and proportionality grounds; it can bring transparency to the unacceptably secretive process of ‘trilogues’ which have, in recent years, become central to EU law-making.
Britain is seeking to renegotiate its relationship with the EU. The Union itself is in the midst of an economic and legitimacy crisis. The two developments are linked.
This article does not seek to identify all of Britain’s demands in renegotiating its EU membership. Nor does it seek to address all the arguments for and against Britain’s EU membership; that is the subject of other assessments. The judgement in an EU referendum will have to be made on much wider criteria than the concerns addressed here. Its primary focus is instead on a much narrower, largely institutional but crucial issue: to identify the means by which the “ratchet” embodied in the commitment to “ever closer union” can be ended. It should give way to—mixing metaphors—a demonstrably two-way legislative street.