Wednesday 23 January 2013

Cameronian Europe is a Europe that is "done to people"

David Cameron's speech on Europe (full text here) didn't reveal much new on his thinking on Europe, but it is an important speech for the stark way in which the political lines are drawn. There may be little that Cameron actually wants or is able to repatriate apart from the Working Time Directive (his speech highlight more areas that powers had been or were being repatriated than areas for future negotiation), but the speech serves as a high-profile espousal of a certain ideology on Europe, along with some of the contradictions and bind-spots it has.

Central to this ideology is a very particular view of the single market. It is the fundamental reason for the EU's existence, and everything else that is defined as non-market is a distraction and a mark of waste. But this stance is also a denial of politics: it refuses the reality that the single market is an expansive concept that covers many areas, and that there can be many types of policy to deal with. Cameron asked:

"...when the competitiveness of the single market is so important, why is there an environment council, a transport council, an education council but not a single market council?"

He's right, there is no single market council. There is, however, an Economic and Financial Affairs Council, a Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Council, an Agriculture and Fisheries Council, and a Competitiveness (internal market, industry, research and space) Council. You may also notice that there's no single British minister for the market, but there is at least one British minister for each of these Councils (and parliamentary committees as well). This is because there are different policies and politics behind each of these areas - and therefore if you're going to have a single market, you're going to have to accept that there should be a room for these politics to play out.

There's also a Council for Employment and Social Affairs, but to hear Cameron and others speak, this is a corruption of the EU's single market purpose. But to strip away the social aspects of the EU would undermine the political basis of the single market - and the single market is just as much a political project as the Euro. Without common minimum social standards, there would be a race to the bottom as it is recommended to people to deregulate to undercut other Member States, or dissatisfaction would build at how other Member States are undercutting their own social protections. This is not an EU through which people can vote for a more left or right-wing single market through national and European elections, but setting up a mechanism for a Europe that just happens to people, with a bigger disconnect than today.

When it comes to the institutions, Cameron is contradictory. He wants a more fluid Europe of 27 speeds, but decries the complexity of the EU institutions: something that would increase to manage this 27 times 27 Europe of different relationships. He says that people can never be properly democratically represented at he European level, but wants to have fewer Commissioners than Member States, undercutting national representation in one of the major institutions. The other Member States are hardly going to accept an EU that reduces their political representation, and nor would it pass parliamentary votes or referendums in other European countries (Commission representation was a sticking point in the Lisbon referendums in Ireland and will likely be a sore point with small Member States).

The vague nature and the reality of negotiations mean that nothing so radical will happen, but the underlying ideology behind the speech and the direction of negotiations mean that no realistic negotiation will ever satisfy it. Politics cannot be drained from the European Union: even if it was reduced to just the single market, these issues are political and need a political and democratic forum to discuss and decide on these issues. The EU cannot be changed into a simplistic enforcement mechanism for the Tories' own market policies across Europe.

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