After yesterday's post on the UK and the European Social Contract, which was written from the general point of view of the Member States and the compromises between their national social contracts, I thought I'd just note a few aspects of the current public debate in the UK on the EU. I'll not cover any specific groups, but just the general state of the public discussion.
1. Renegotiation for...? Despite all the talk of bringing back powers from Brussels, there isn't exactly a clear idea of what powers should be brought back. Social policy seems to be the only area that's highlighted, but the tone of the debate suggests that it matters more that a big victory is achieved by the UK for bringing a policy area home (and that the papers can run with this), rather than there being a specific goal. While it's understandable that the government wants to keep its cards close to its chest so it's easier to claim a victory, if there's such a public groundswell against the EU relationship, it's remarkable that it hasn't crystallised into a key demand yet.
2. The Internal Market as an Ideal. The internal market is viewed as an ideal in isolation to the rest of the EU and simply as a free trade zone, whereas it's deeper than that and requires an extension of the national social contracts (into a form of European Social Contract like I argued yesterday) to maintain its legitimacy.
3. There is no set of plans or reforms that have been demanded for which repatriation of powers is necessary. This links into the previous points, since it's very vague what areas the government will seek to bring home, and the social contract aspect of the EU isn't fully understood (not that it is elsewhere, but there does tend to be a greater understanding of the connection between economy and society in these terms). How does the UK want to change its own social contract? There have been arguments in the UK over financial regulation and whether it should be made easier for businesses to fire people. The lack of ideas and debate about what the UK will be following this repatriation of powers is amazing. What is the UK prevented from doing - or what kind of country is it prevented from being?
4. A referendum on a negotiated settlement could easily fall prey to a Eurosceptic (right) - (ambivalent/more pro-EU) left-wing alliance too. Without a clear sense of direction or purpose over what the UK will do or become with repatriated powers, there is a danger that a referendum would fail due to an alliance between Eurosceptics who reject it as too weak, and those who fear that the national social contract will be redrawn in a way they don't want. I would guess that as the debate becomes more specific over policy areas (e.g. social policy), there will be more questions raised over what will be done with these powers (e.g. maternity leave). It will become easier to paint the renegotiation as an attempt to achieve deregulation and a shrinking of the state, and this may feed in to the referendum campaign.
5. Assumption of alliances. I mentioned this yesterday that for renegotiation there is an assumption that the Northern Europeans want the UK in the club to balance out the others and will help the UK with its deal. However, if the UK withdraws from more legislative areas or sets that as its goal, then it signals that it will be a less useful and influential ally in the future for these countries, making it less attractive for these Member States to spend their political capital in Britain's favour.
It seems to me that there needs to be a debate on how the UK wants to change itself and how it sees itself as a country before it decides how it wants to change its relationship with the EU.