Coffee House

The EU renegotiation pantomime

23 January 2013

5:35 PM

23 January 2013

5:35 PM

Today’s midday press briefing at the European Commission was of course dominated by questions about the Cameron speech. This was despite efforts by Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen, Barroso’s spokesman-in-chief.

First she tried to downplay the implications of the speech by making an anodyne statement welcoming democratic debate in member states. Then she announced that questions on Cameron’s speech would be limited to three. A growl came up from the press corps that indicated she should think again. So she took more questions. She just didn’t much answer them.

I asked Pia if she could describe for me any existing mechanism under present treaties by which Britain could claw back powers which have already been surrendered to the EU. She gave only a brief reference to treaty change, then refused to take a follow-up question. Yet giving a follow-up is the usual procedure.


I wasn’t surprised. What the Commission won’t come out and say – because it would hand another weapon to eurosceptics – is that it is legally impossible for any EU institution or EU member states to hand back powers to Britain, even if they want to.

Legal mechanisms for handing back powers – ‘competences,’ in the jargon – do not exist. A whole new treaty would have to be created, re-jigging the legal basis of the EU. Is that going to happen? No. Anyway, it would be the work of a generation, not of the few years between now and the middle of the next Government.

Such a treaty change would have to assume that all the other member states could indeed be persuaded by a Tory politician to declare null and void the Treaty of Rome’s imperative of ‘an ever closer union.’

‘Ever closer’ means, and has meant from the start, that powers run on a one-way street. This is the founding doctrine of the true faith of the European Union believers. It is as essential to the EU as the doctrine of transubstantiation is to the Catholic Church: if that doctrine falls, it all falls. Which is why the powers won’t let it fall.

However, what happened today at the commission press briefing was confirmation that no EU institution is likely to advertise that fact to the British. The eurocrats would rather let Cameron go on for years in what, in the end, can only be a pantomime of negotiation.

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Show comments
  • Linda Hudson

    Tis the season of pantomime, It is certain the E.U. will not disappoint, encore!

  • moraymint

    Outstanding analysis … with no chance whatsoever of being heard on the BBC.

  • Bellevue

    Could we please have more from ME Synon……I always try to read her blogs at the Daily Mail, but she doesnt write often enough for me. She really knows what she is talking about in matters EU.

  • Walter Ellis

    As someone who used (a long time ago) to attend these daily briefings, I can tell you that they don’t actually matter very much. The spokesperson (Porte-Parole) is a middle-ranking official whose main job is to deflect criticism and pour oil on troubled waters. When big questions arise, it is the Commissioners themselves, especially the President, whose views count – and such views are formed only after lengthy discussions on the thirteenth floor.

    Years ago, Mrs Thatcher secured her rebate against all predictions that such a flow of money in the wrong direction was impossible. She got her money because she convinced her fellow EC leaders (a) that her case was logical and (b) that she wasn’t going to be put off by specious talk about what was “communautaire” and what wasn’t.

    The law is what you make of it. Opinions change to fit the facts. That is why we have courts of appeal and supreme courts. That is why we have legislatures.

    David Cameron has a real chance of achieving his goal. He has set himself a huge and complicated task, but if he measures up over the next five years to the image of himself he projected during yesterday’s speech, then he may yet find that there are others out there, including Angela Merkel, who are prepared to listen.

  • paulus

    What are you banging on about ? no such mechanism exists ? the EU and its treaties are human constructs, they are not immovable paradigms constructed by the laws of physics.

    You just begin your negotiations with the intention of telling them to fuck off and then start from their. Who do you think pays their salaries and pensions ? we do. If we walk they will be brassing them selves arounfd the streets of brussels to get the bus fare back home.

    We pay the piper we call the tune

  • Brian Mooney

    Brilliant, Mary Ellen Synon. Ever closer union is not just in the EU DNA, it is its entire raison d’etre from the start.

    Although made up of heads of government, the European Council that will negotiate any treaty changes is an EU institution. In Cases 11/00, 15/00, the European Court of Justice ruled that EU institutions are bound by the EU’s goals –
    “The main goal of the EU is the progressive integration of Member States’ economic and political systems…” as the EU notes on its own website.

    Trying to repatriate powers would go against fundamental EU Law, so what odds that in 2017/18, lots of unending discussions on technicalities are still in place, and the ‘referendum’ has to be put back to after 2020….?

    That’s assuming Cameron gets re-elected in 2015; currently a tall order as people don’t exactly trust him after the last broken referendum promise and his three line whip against backbench MPs.

    • DWWolds

      Cameron’s promise over the last referendum was dependent on the Lisbon Treaty NOT being signed. It was. And it was Brown who sneaked through the back door to sign it. He justified doing so by claiming there did not need to be a referendum because Lisbon was not a constitutional treaty. It was.

  • Boudicca_Icenii

    We KNOW that there is no mechanism for renegotiation/repatriation of significant powers. It’s the MSM that fails to make this point loud and clear whenever Cameron waffles on about it.
    Cameron just wants to get through the 2015 GE and, hopefully, win a majority. He hopes his caveat-fenced offer of a Referendum (with no hope of success) will claw back enough votes from UKIP and the BOO tendency. It will then become clear that the EU will not negotiate, there will be no repatriation of powers and therefore no Referendum.
    The man is a serial liar – and unlike Blair, he isn’t much good at it.

  • Noa

    An excellent piece by the ever excellent Mary Ellen Synon. We should be reading much more of her in the Coffee House and Spectator.

  • anyfool

    This is the most asinine article yet, no tools for handing back powers, where in the Eu rules were the tools to let deficits rise above 3% when they set up the Euro.

    The Germans do not need tools as the have the biggest tool in the box, the money, if Merkel say she will help Cameron “who by the way has more say than the non entities yapping on about what they will allow” the rest will say yes Miss and that is what will happen.

  • barbie

    What about this article 50 we have heard so much about? Does that not give nations the ablitiy to recall all members to negociate laws? Perhaps Fraser you could enlighten us on this question. That’s the problem we are told nothing, not encouraged to explore. Now we see their latest quest is to judge and inpede the free press and even sack journalists, this is what the British hate. We have a free press here, so how that would work I’ve on idea, but you can see we would only be allowed to read what they wanted. No thanks.
    I’m afraid this speech was a pig’s dinner, to runny with no meat, we won’t wait five years, why should we? I don’t think, as time goes on, this speech will mean anything, and the Conservatives themselves will realise their chances are now devoid of being believed. You can thank Cameron’s stance for that. Freedom does not come easy or cheap, we’ve been here before, and Germany too, should realse we don’t surrender, we fight for what we want. We should quit while we can without falling out. No waving pieces of paper this time, we won’t be conned a second time.

  • Bluesman

    Article 50.

  • HooksLaw

    Its not a good day for the Spectator. Now we have 2 of its columnists either telling lies are being so ignorant that they do not justify their expense accounts. I guess it suits the Barclay Brothers to employ thick people.

    In the commons library you can find…
    ‘The EU Treaties as amended by the Lisbon Treaty provides for the first
    time a Treaty base for the return, as well as the increase, of powers’
    The comment also says it might ‘in all likelyhood’ require treaty amandments, not a new treaty.
    ‘In the area of criminal justice the EU Treaties already provide the UK with a mechanism for opting into EU measures or not.’

    That means the whole basis of this article is a fraud.

    • fubarroso

      Instead of linking to a Parliament opinion site could you please link to the appropriate Article(s) in the Lisbon Treaty that provides for the return of powers?

      • HooksLaw

        Why don’t you show they don’t exist.

        But you can also go to the good old Guardian which points out the…

        Ordinary Revision Procedure (ORP):
        The lengthy way of revising an EU treaty which involves the convening
        of an inter-governmental conference (IGC) – the European Council in a
        special session – and in some cases a convention comprising
        representatives of EU leaders, the European commission, members of the European parliament and national parliaments. Unanimous agreement is needed in the IGC.

        Simplified Revision Procedure (SRP):
        A new way of revising EU treaties established in the Lisbon treaty.
        Unanimity is required in the European council, though a convention and
        an IGC are not needed under this procedure. It cannot be used to extend the “competences of the EU”, boosting its powers.

        See? geddit?
        The author of this post is either thick or a liar and you clearly are an ostrich with his head in the sand.
        In any even the whole basis of the post is a fraud and the editor of the Spectator was stupid enough to allow it.

        • fubarroso

          Ah that Article 48 stuff – and the chances of the other 26 unanimously agreeing to the return of powers to the UK is? Nope sorry Article 50 is the way to go (i.e. out)!

  • David Lindsay

    Imagine, just imagine, that Cameron pulled this one off. Imagine that we arrived at a point where the two options on a ballot paper were a renegotiated settlement acceptable to his lot, and outright withdrawal.

    It would unite the Left on the EU like nothing since a section of it first inexplicably decided that it was a bulwark against Thatcherism (several years later, Thatcher herself even more oddly seemed to begin to agree with them), as there have always been a few people on the Old Right who have thought of it as a bulwark against Americanism.

    For if the only alternative were whatever can be sold to the remains of the Conservative Party, then the only viable option would be whatever else was on offer. Namely, withdrawal.

    As would then be advocated in the strongest possible terms by the whole of the Left. It would be the Thatcherites who were campaigning to stay in. Well, of course. It was ever thus.

    • barbie

      He won’t pull it off, his party are getting really angry with him, he may not last that long, in fact he may be challenged for the leadership well before the next election. Clegg says its not in the ‘national interest’, since when have they thought of our interests. Most of us want out, and if they really considared our national interest they’d let us decide, preferably in the last six months of this awful coalition. Well before the next election. The Germans have suggested today we should do it now sooner than later. If he held it now he would win the next election, he’s missed a goldne opportunity. Not good management. The Conservatives will fall apart by this speech when they realise what’ he’s done.

  • Alexandrovich

    They’ll probably give us everything we want. Then, after reading the small print, we find out it’ll take 67 years to phase in…

    • telemachus

      Sounds like Merkel wants to talk and appear to give in but she like Cameron will not survive the general election
      Please focus on what Miliband plans-healthy integration

  • Rhoda Klapp2

    This is the sort of realistic analysis I’ve been asking for on other threads. Thanks, Spectator.

    • Daniel Maris

      I agree – this seems much closer to reality.

      I think in order to keep the UK on board they might offer some minor concession like resiling from some of the social stuff as Leon Brittan suggested (and if he suggested it you can bet it reflects Brussels thinking).

    • Dimoto

      Yeah, dead realistic Rhoda.
      No competence to hand back powers (he says), but full competence to break every treaty rule that exists, if the precious Euro is under threat.
      Pull the other one.
      If Cameron gets some opt-outs, approved in a subsequent referendum, it would at least prevent a future compliant Labour government giving them all up again.

      • Rhoda Klapp2

        He? She, I think. Mary Synon, that is. The rules that aply to us say exactly what it says above. The powers’ ability to make up rules as they go along to fix the euro on the fly or merely to postpone the inevitable, well, that rule-breaking doesn’t apply to us. Cameron won’t get anything like what he seemed to be referring to in the first part of his speech. He might be able to protect the city. He won’t get access to the services bit of the single market, we are mugs to put up with what that has done to us already. But the most important observation is that there is no incentive for the EU to give us anything. If they can put if off for a mere couple of years (a skill at which they are unmatched) they can deal with Miliband. They can easily make Cameron look stupid and deal with the outcome of an election. How is Cameron going to present that? Sulky? Defiant? Faux victorious? All losing postures.

        • Dimoto

          Correct. apologies to the lady.

          Only if you subscribe to the UKIP narrative, that the EU is run by a shadowy cabal of fanatics.
          In the real world, it’s still run by the (eminently biddable) nation states.
          No guarantees, but lets wait and see, eh ?

          • telemachus

            These at present are France and Germany
            What we need to aim at is a triumvirate of the 3 most economically powerful instead of always slagging off our inevitably long term partners

  • Baron

    ME Synon: “…powers run on a one-way street. This is the founding doctrine of the true faith of the European Union believers. It is as essential to the EU as the doctrine of transubstantiation is to the Catholic Church: if that doctrine falls, it all falls. Which is why the powers won’t let it fall”.


    The best way out for Cameron is to persuade skeptics in other member states that the unification of Europe from above driven by the political dream of the Euro fanatics presents a danger not unlike that which brought down the USSR and its satellites. It too lacks the willing and eager endorsement of the plebeians of Europe. The cultural differences between the European races may be bridgeable, but not at the speed that the bureaucrats are pushing for, the debacle of the synthetic currency is a case in point. It’s not the question of the learning curve to live in a closer entity, more that of the forgetting curve still tarred by the recent past. We should allow for the latter to flatten and, who knows, in few generations along the road, the unwashed of Europe may seek a closer union not because they will be told to, but because they will want to.

    • Daniel Maris

      Baron – You’re the one talking the bollocks. Most “plebeians” in the EU are reasonably satisfied with it. Even the Greeks for chrissake don’t want out of even the Eurozone, let alone the EU. There is maybe some depth of scepticism in

      Sweden and Poland…that’s probably about it really.

      • Baron

        The EU’s own Eurobarometer survey, covering 27,000 throughout the EU, showed only 49% support for the EU. In Britain support for the EU was only 27%. Even in Germany only half the population have confidence in the EU.

      • chudsmania

        Eh ? Its not like the Greeks are reliant on EU handouts to stay afloat is it ? Just a thought……..

        • Fergus Pickering

          Kept afloat just like an African state. They’d do better to take courage like the Greeks of old. But unfortunately…

  • 2trueblue

    Well Cameron will not be the only one to question it? Now that statement has been made, those who also want to renegotiate issues will be thinking where to go from here. Interesting.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    It’s going to be interesting to see how Farage works this out, now that the Cameroons are now allegedly “negotiating”, on something or another, God only knows what.

    If Nige decides to press the EUcrats on those negotiations, publicly, it could elevate him and force the Camerloons’ hand. So I can’t really see any “negotiations” of substance taking place, because both the EU and Dave understand it could hurt them. But the absence of negotiations might be problematic as well for the Cameroons, given the 2014 EU election. Once the lines are firmly drawn and all side deals hashed out, Farage won’t be shy about unloading on any remaining opposition, and he may then make himself into the Cameroons’ worst nightmare in 2015.

    One can imagine the back channel talks between the Cameroons and EUcrats prior to today: “Whatever you do, don’t give that Farage character any incentive or space. All our sweet sinecures are subject to extinction, if he gets his way. “

    • HooksLaw

      You are good at imagining things

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Well, I’ve tried to imagine you as a conservative, but that seems a bit too far fetched.

        • HooksLaw

          I am more of a true conservative than you are.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            No, you’re a tribalist, and we conservatives are definitely not that.

            • Colonel Mustard

              You have one thing in common. You are both abusive and rude to people you disagree with.

              • the viceroy’s gin

                …well, field marshal, in addition to being a whiny blowhard, you are a tribalist as well.

  • Adrian Drummond

    Don’t they just hate democracy?

    • Bert3000

      You like democracy? Let us have the ‘ever closer union’ we voted for in 1975 then

      • foxoles

        That wasn’t on the ballot paper, or in the government leaflet, as well you know.

        • David Lindsay

          It was on the ballot paper. Don’t try and kid yourself long after the event.

      • CharlieleChump

        We were lied to.

        • David Lindsay

          No, you were not.

          • Colonel Mustard

            Lied to may be too strong an assertion but the leaflet sent to voters by Harold Wilson certainly causes the eyebrows to raise in the context of all that has happened since 1975. And context is everything when it comes to history.


            • David Lindsay

              That was not the only contribution to the debate, including on itself.

              • Colonel Mustard

                Of course not. But it was a very influential one on voters who understood little about the true nature of the “project” and it was supposed to be enough upon which to form a voting intention. Then, as now, the debate was obscured by rhetoric and denouncement, too often articulated in the negative – a form of emotive blackmail.

                Even last night the BBC were pushing this alarmism by stating baldly that without the EU Britain’s industry and businesses would suffer. It was delivered as a given assertion without answer to the question I kept asking at each news piece – why?

      • The Wiganer

        Does that mean we should have kept the same government from 1975 too?
        Or is that just a ridiculous statement, like yours?

      • barbie

        We didn’t vote for ‘ever closer union’ we voted for a free trade area within the Common market. We’ve been conned all along, and parties here have been complicit in it.

        • David Lindsay

          That simply is not true.

          • Fergus Pickering

            It may or may not be. It doesn’t matter. That is what we THOUGHT we were voting for. Lindsay is just saying we were deceived because we were stupid so hard cheese. We should all be clever like him. In fact only clever people like him should get to vote on anything. .

            • David Lindsay

              Not at all. I can see no way that you did know what you were doing. You regret it now, but that is something else.

              • Fergus Pickering

                How OLD were you in 1975, Lindsay?

                • DWWolds

                  By the look of the photo on his personal blog about two.

            • HooksLaw

              You are right Lindsay is wrong.

          • Barbara Stevens

            I voted in 1975 and I voted NO. We were told it was for a ‘Common trading area, called then the Common Market’. We were told it was to increase trade within member states, only. Nothing was said about political union. That came with the Maastrict Treaty. So you are wrong. I know what I voted for.

      • Enbrok

        No we never!!!