Author Topic: UK seeks allies for EU reforms without treaty change  (Read 292 times)

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UK seeks allies for EU reforms without treaty change
« on: July 09, 2013, 03:09:18 AM »
Via the BBC:

The UK government hopes to achieve some "important reforms" in the EU without going as far as treaty change, the UK's Europe Minister David Lidington says.

"I am optimistic that we can win support from other countries," he said.

Among those reforms would be creating a fully functioning single market for services and a bigger role for national parliaments in EU affairs, he said.

On the question of reform "it's a caricature to portray us as isolated," he told reporters in London.

He was presenting the Conservatives' ideas for a new UK "settlement" with the EU, at a briefing organised by the Association of European Journalists (AEJ).

Treaty change is a thorny issue for European politicians. The Lisbon Treaty took nearly a decade to negotiate, and repeatedly referendums have seen voters reject EU plans.

EU social and employment policy has long been seen as an area where Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservatives would like to repatriate powers to the UK.

Conservatives argue that businesses and public services are overburdened with EU employment regulations, such as the Working Time Directive.

But Mr Lidington said that "on social Europe we haven't been putting forward the opt-out" because the Liberal Democrats - the Conservatives' coalition partners - "took a different view". "We have to take account of negotiability," he added.
Pressure for referendum

In a landmark speech in January, Mr Cameron pledged to renegotiate the terms of the UK's EU membership. He aims to put that new settlement - a looser form of UK membership - to a referendum, if the Conservatives win the 2015 election.

On Friday a bill to guarantee an in/out UK referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017 cleared its first parliamentary hurdle. Support among Conservatives was overwhelming, but the Lib Dems and opposition Labour MPs abstained in the vote, so there is still much uncertainty about the referendum plan.

The Conservatives are conducting a "balance of competences" review - an in-depth study of legislation to find areas where powers could be repatriated from Brussels.

The Dutch government recently completed its own competences review, saying the time of "ever closer union" in all EU policy areas was over.

Glenis Willmott MEP, leader of the UK Labour group in the European Parliament, expressed surprise at Mr Lidington's comments playing down any UK renegotiation of EU social and employment policy.

"I am a little bit baffled - we were never sure how they would do this," she told BBC News, referring to the Conservatives' renegotiation plans.

The UK is signed up to the EU's Social Chapter, which sets common rules on workers' rights, including paid holidays and time off for pregnancy and maternity care.

But the UK has an opt-out on the Working Time Directive, allowing staff to negotiate overtime deals with employers on a voluntary basis.

Some European politicians have voiced concern that unpicking EU social legislation could undermine welfare provision, which is more generous in some EU countries than others.

Some argue that removing such protections for workers in one EU country would be unfair, threatening a "race to the bottom" which would hurt high-welfare countries such as Sweden and Denmark.

More at link.
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