• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Agenda: Merkel knows Cameron is right to strike a hard bargain on Europe

As the debate continues about whether or not Scotland should stay in the United Kingdom, another referendum conversation continues apace:

the one around the UK's continued membership of the European Union.

Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel will address both Houses of Parliament at Westminster amid signs she is increasingly keen to seek a treaty change that will deliver the reforms Prime Minister David Cameron is seeking.

There is little doubt that Mrs Merkel will not want to see Britain leave the EU, not least because we are the second biggest contributor to the budget.

She has set herself the task of persuading other European leaders that the EU must deliver a package of reforms that will persuade the British to remain members of the club. But what shape might these reforms take? First, the European Commission itself must be reformed.

There are 28 commissioners and with Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia, Turkey and possibly Iceland waiting in the wings to join the EU, the terrifying prospect of 34 or more commissioners, each lording it over a massive department, teeming with highly paid civil servants and each determined to produce a welter of draft legislation and new regulations, makes the blood run cold.

Trimming the commission down to a workable 12 departments with the appointment of commissioners rotating around the member states is surely a treaty change that is long overdue.

There are other clear imperatives for Britain. New centralised rules and regulations for the 18 countries of the eurozone may not be appropriate for the UK and we need to ensure we have an opt-out to protect the UK's financial services sector, something that is, no doubt, at the top of the agenda for Scotland's finance bosses in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

We also need to repatriate regulations governing social and employment laws that control everything from the competitiveness of British business to the number of hours doctors are allowed to work in Scotland's NHS.

We also need to cut red tape and be given more control over immigration and criminal justice laws.

There are key reforms necessary on the wider front too. The EU cannot continue to preach austerity while it travels 12 times a year from Brussels to Strasbourg, maintaining a vast Parliament building in each city and blocking every attempt to curtail the costly travelling circus.

The European Parliament must instead be fully based in Brussels.

Similarly, the vast cost of working in 24 official European languages is unsustainable. Nato, with 28 member states, has two official languages, English and French.

Surely the EU could survive and slash costs with only a handful of official languages.

If all of these reforms were implemented, the UK could secure control over vital policy areas such as criminal justice, the social chapter and employment and financial services.

In addition, the EU as a whole could run on a more streamlined and cost-effective basis.

What is unclear is whether Scotland will be able to reap the benefits from these efforts.

With the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy both recently agreeing that an independent Scotland would find it "difficult, if not impossible" to accede to the EU, it is clear that Scots would have no say in what conditions we would have to accept from Brussels to rejoin the European club; if, indeed, we could rejoin at all.

With Mrs Merkel on side, there is a real prospect that the UK will be able to enjoy the fruits of a recast relationship with the rest of Europe.

This is the type of influence we can wield at Europe's top table and it would be desperately unwise for us to put this influence at risk with a Yes vote in the referendum this September.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

215683