Coffee House

David Cameron has to explain exactly how he intends to reform Britain’s EU relationship

28 June 2014

12:00 PM

28 June 2014

12:00 PM

The results of last month’s European elections demonstrated an appetite for change in Europe among voters – all parties seem to agree on that. Which is why David Cameron went into the most recent set of EU Council negotiations with cross-party support to secure a candidate for Commission President that would make achieving that kind of change and reform easier, not harder.

Today there is a widespread and profound sense of disappointment at David Cameron’s apparent failure to build an alliance to secure an alternative candidate for the role. He weakened his own hand in these vital talks by seeming to choose public criticism at the expense of private influence – all of which feels like a worrying foretaste of his ability to deliver on any other promised EU priorities in the future.

As David Cameron’s stock in Europe seems to be slipping, the case for an increased role for the British Parliament in scrutinising the Government’s handling of European affairs strengthens. So whilst the Prime Minister’s negotiating approach to try and block Juncker fell well short, there are a number of reforms here at home that he could implement immediately to enhance the role of the UK Parliament on issues relating to Britain’s relationship with Europe.

MPs who served in Parliament before 2010 will remember that the House of Commons used to have the opportunity to debate upcoming EU Council meetings before they took place. Sadly the current Prime Minister scrapped this shortly after he took office, and UK parliamentary oversight of EU affairs risks slowly being weakened as a result.


By contrast, Ministers in the Netherlands appear before relevant select committees in advance of EU Council meetings to outline and explain the Dutch government’s policies on the items that feature on the upcoming EU Council agenda.

So to address this issue, Labour would reinstate debates in the House of Commons ahead of EU Council meetings, and we would consult on the creation of a dedicated EU Select Committee to provide further detailed and comprehensive oversight. A crucial moment in the coming weeks will come when David Cameron nominates Britain’s next Commissioner to the EU. If he is serious about giving our Parliament more clout then he could act now to give MPs the chance to scrutinise his choice before they head off to Brussels.

At the moment, the Prime Minister alone can decide who his nominee for Commissioner is and the only scrutiny the UK Commissioner is set to face is from MEPs in the European Parliament during the formal hearings. Members of the Commons EU Scrutiny Committee have already raised this issue with David Cameron directly, and given the importance of ensuring the UK’s next Commissioner in Brussels champions reform, I believe there would be support across all parties for the Prime Minister to accept the Committee’s proposal.

For months now, the Prime Minister has been unable or unwilling to set out the real detail of his reform agenda. But if indeed David Cameron is now serious about helping to reform Europe to make it work better for Britain, then granting the UK Parliament a chance to quiz and question his choice for the UK’s next Commissioner would be a bold and welcome step.

And if he took this step now, then he would have Labour’s support.

Gareth Thomas is the shadow minister for Europe

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Show comments
  • an ex-tory voter

    David Cameron is justifiably and correctly seen as weak and clueless by the EU and his fellow European leaders. He is also attempting to remain within and to change a European Union which no longer exists in the form in which he apparently sees it.
    His failure will continue, he will achieve nothing and will eventually be removed by the electorate, or by his party. The Tories will then either select a genuine eurosceptic leader or face death by a thousand cuts as their support and membership bleeds away to UKIP.

    • Wessex Man

      This is no Tory Party, it hasn’t been since the fruitcakes and nutjobs took it over by stabbing Maggie Thatcher in the back, It’s lost over half it’s membership since Call me Dave the Husky cuddler became leader. His Cabinet apart from the inept Lib/dums are made up chillingly unknowing snobs who have never worked in the real world, hang on a minute the same applies to the Lib/dums.

  • HookesLaw

    I don’t think we need expect any objectivity fro a Shadow Minister 12 months out from an election. And we do not get it here.

    • Wessex Man

      Well you would be the one to realise that as you never have any yourself.

  • Conway

    Has anybody proof read this? “has explain”, “sense of disappointed”, “he weekend his own hand”, “when DC nominate’s Britain’s next Commissioner”, “the PM can decide who his nominee for Commissioner and …”! It doesn’t inspire confidence.

    • Ed B

      Two possibilities:

      1. The article was hacked by evil tory sub-editors to make it look like the Right Honourable Member for Harrow West is an illiterate dunderheaded nincompoop.
      2. The Right Honourable Member for Harrow West is an illiterate dunderheaded nincompoop.

      You decide.

  • FrankS2

    What Junckergeddon makes clear – if it were not already – is that no reform of the EU is on offer or even achievable. What is Labour’s policy (if any) on this?

    • HookesLaw

      What is needed and will be what any negotiations are about pre 2017 is reform of our relationship with the EU. We may effectively become associate members as the Eurozone becomes more politically integrated. The existence of the Eurozone is going to change the EU. Cameron has said we do not want ever closer union. So one way or another things will change that is almost certain.
      But that is not going to make that much difference in terms of our membership of the single market.

      • Wessex Man

        Now listen Hooky babe Cameron has promised lots of things then promptly forgotten what he pro zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  • FrankS2

    These Commons debates on forthcoming EU Council meetings – did they have any influence on the Council’s decisions? Just wondering.

    • HookesLaw

      Those Commons debates – did they lead to a referendum before Lisbon?

      • Wessex Man

        Do you know or care what you are wittering on about, just wondering?

        • Aberrant_Apostrophe

          As long as he stays within his elastic range, Hookey’s OK. Anything beyond that and he, well, just snaps.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    Shadow Minister rearranges deckchairs while a tsunami of Eurine heads for him.

  • Bellevue

    Gareth Thomas is the shadow minister for Europe…….. and he cant spell!!! Weekend, indeed. Just about sums the Labour party up really.

    • FrankS2

      “weekend hand…” the one he used to write this with, perhaps. On the other hand, don”t your spellchecker bight your hand.

      • Wessex Man

        er pardon?

        • FrankS2

          The article says: “He weekend his own hand…” (par two). Just a silly quip on a typo, really!

          • Wessex Man

            thank you.

  • NBeale

    The last thing you want in tricky negotiations is to set out your negotiation position publicly in advance.

    The Council Decision that “The UK raised some concerns related to the future development of the EU. These concerns will need to be addressed.” gives a lot of leeway for progress. And there is a huge majority in the Council for reforms to keep the UK in.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      It’s not “tricky negotiations”, and the first thing you want to do in any negotiation is to set out your requirements. These should always be robust, and supportable. You’ll have to support them through the first couple rounds of negotiation at least, meaning they’ll get out to the world in any event, so you should set them out up front yourself, as any fule kno.

      Apparently you haven’t done much negotiating. Neither have the poshboys, obviously. The fact that their first cut at this is to disregard the above requirements is the surest sign that they are not serious or qualified.

      • NBeale

        Hmm – I did my first serious financial negotiations in the business world 37 years ago. You?

        More to the point, can you find a single serious negotiation textbook that suggest you make your real position public in advance? Thought not.

        • HookesLaw

          Correct – and by that I think you mean you set out what you would be willing to accept.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            …and by that you mean whatever nonsense Call Me Dave spits up, you socialist Camerluvvies will lap up.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          …only 37 years negotiating, lad? You’re a young pup then, is it?

          …and sophistry really isn’t the way of negotiation either, lad. I’m not interested in what you claim exists in “textbooks”.

          More to the point, can you find a single serious case of Western political bargaining where the going in positions are not illuminated to the voting public and supportable therein? Thought not.

    • Fred Smith

      I disagree. The fundamentals of his position should hardly be a secret.

      Anyway, accepting your point purely for the sake of discussion, he also has to convince voters in the UK that he’s serious, and with one thing and another, he’s scarcely the kind of bloke who’s going to be given a signed, blank cheque. His big problem is trust, having squandered credibility for nothing much with the Cast Iron Promise.

  • Denis_Cooper

    Why not explain the truth about what has happened?

    From the Treaty of Rome in 1957 through to 1995 the Parliament or Assembly had no involvement at all with appointments to the Commission, those decisions were always the exclusive preserve of the member state governments.

    Then the Maastricht Treaty changed that from 1995, with the member states granting the Parliament not just the right to be consulted over the appointments
    but the power to veto a Commission if MEPs didn’t like its composition.

    Obviously once you have given MEPs the power to veto a whole Commission on whatever grounds they choose then they can start to say that they will not accept a Commission including this specified person, or they will not accept a Commission unless that other specified person is the President.

    And the latter is what MEPs have just done, having got themselves sufficiently well organised that a majority will stand together and say that the next Commission must have Juncker as its President, they won’t accept anyone else; and the EU leaders on the European Council have just given in and appointed him rather than getting into a protracted fight over it.

    And who agreed to the Maastricht Treaty, who jubilantly claimed that it was “Game, set and match for Britain”, and rammed the Bill to approve it through the Commons on a confidence vote because a small minority of the Tory MPs opposed it?

    The Tory traitor John Major, that’s who.

    • John Clegg

      Oh yes, the man with the “hurtie” wisdom tooth when Margaret Thatcher needed his support. I remember the b*****d.

  • global city

    Gareth, you and your creepy party sold our democracy to Delors on the promise of killing representative democracy and ushering in socialism through EU regulation… and then allowed Blair to utterly debase what was left just so that he could become king of Europe.

  • McClane

    ‘Labour would …’

    I stopped reading at that point.

    Labour simply wouldn’t do anything. Except tax and spend.

  • Full Name

    ‘Cameron’s “Barking Cats” are coming home to roost.’

    >”that would make achieving that kind of change and reform easier, not harder.”

    This is a huge lie. The appointment of an Establishment figure and the considerations of how the EU institutions operate. Let’s see in summary:

    1. 40 years on the one hand
    2. Ever Closer Union on the other

    That is headline, the detail could easily be provided.

  • Smithersjones2013

    All very interesting but when is Miliband the Misfit going to set out the extent of the betrayal of this country to the EU he proposes?

  • Kerr Mudgeon

    “has explain”; ” disappointed”; “weekend”; ” nominate’s”; “who his nominee for commissioner”; “there would support”. What an appallingly typed article! O for a proofreader!

  • chudsmania

    I can only assume the author had a liquid lunch with Jean-Claude Junker before posting this. A 10 year old could have made less mistakes than Mr Thomas has here.

  • Patonback

    There you have it in a nutshell Andy. Double dealing seems to be a speciality of the EU in order to further its Federalist agenda. i hope Cameron learns a valuable lesson from this. 26 leaders representing nearly 500 million EU citizens have just ignored totally what just happened at the EU elections and decided to go for ever closer union. It is also a great concern that the expansionist policy of the EU monster has just signed trade agreements with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, ignoring completely Russian interests and concerns. This approach is a danger to peace, but I fear they will only learn when it is too late. The UK must now leave.

  • Iain Hill

    He has to look for items which are major enough to satisfy his Eurosceptics and yet trivial enough to secure the consent of EU leaders. Doubtful if any such exist.

    He is therefore into the Harold Wilson situation of window dressing total lack of progress as a triumph of negotiation. Doubtful if he has the skills to do it.

    • Wessex Man

      but it’s not going to worry you, you will be living in independent Scotland by 2017, this I know because I prey for it every night!

  • Andy

    Thomas should have listened to what Merkel said yesterday at her press conference. She encouraged Cameron to oppose Juncker and then she stabbed him in the back and peeled off one by one those other countries that had initially opposed this idiot. She is a lying b*tch and you can obviously never trust a word she says. It just showed what a pile of crap the EU actually is.

    • Fred Smith

      It also shows how bloody naive Cameron is when it comes to the EU, and what noddies he thinks we are, in turn.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        The second part of that sentence is true, obviously, but as for the first part, Dave is quite clear on what he wants from the EUSSR, let’s make no mistake on that.

        • Fred Smith

          He wants to stay in but has to put up a bit of a show of not liking it. He takes us for fools in that his reform blather is not remotely plausible; he can’t say exactly what he wants changed, or how it would be done, least of all by 2017. Furthermore, enough senior figures in the EU have stated publicly that the fundamental reform he’s chuntering about just isn’t happening.

          He was naive in thinking the cat was in the bag with regards Juncker not getting the job. So that was a suitable subject for a bit of a show; a foregone conclusion, and something he could be seen in the UK to fight and win – not that it would make a blind bit of difference which euroclone was appointed.

          Then he found out that the cat wasn’t in the bag at all, and he ended up with egg on his face. Now the spin machine is trying to salvage something for him for ‘standing up to Europe’, whereas the fact is he’s just a loser.

          I don’t believe for a second that he started this fight believing that Juncker was a shoo-in and he’d get a few marks for effort. His belief was that Juncker wouldn’t get the job anyway and that in the UK, he’d be seen as bringing that about; influence in Europe and hope for the reform agenda.

          Epic fail.

          He might want to stay in the EU, but he certainly doesn’t seem to understand it.

          • HookesLaw

            Clearly you never read anything he says.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              …why bother reading or listening to anything Call Me Dave says, lad? He lies just as easily as he takes his next breath.

            • Fred Smith

              I certainly don’t believe anything he says.

      • Tom M

        That post is closest to the mark so far.
        Just what sort of negotiator does a bit of wheeling and dealing to achieve a quiet consensus he is happy with and then tells the world what he is going to do with whom before the vote.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      I’m not understanding your position here. Merkel is giving Dave exactly what he wants, a false confrontation, to distract and distort his aims, which are the same as Merkel’s and the EUSSR’s.

      Why blame her? She’s just giving Dave what he’s asking for. Nobody cares about this Juncker muppet, least of all Dave, other than as a bit of smoke screen.

  • Chingford Man

    Typical pointless bilge from a fanatically pro-EU socialist slagging off another bit of LibLabCon. Select committees, that’s what we need, eh? People like Thomas just want lots more immigrants coming to places like Harrow West for their payroll vote.

    We want out of the EU so we can govern ourselves.

    • Iain Hill

      Scotland would rather govern itself and stay in the EU.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        No, the jocks would rather stay fixed on the suckling teat of socialist government.

      • Wessex Man

        If I had a vote in the referendum north of the border, I’d vote yes just to get rid of you.

        • Chris

          Salmond’s main hope of victory was to jibe at the English in the hope he’d tell them where to go, with policies such as tuition fees and talking constantly about ‘superior Scottish tolerance and compassion’.
          To his astonishment, the English haven’t really taken the bait, and seem largely unbothered.
          PS anyone who thinks there is more autonomy in the EU with your monetary policy controlled by London is a buffoon.

          • Wessex Man

            Being a member of Ukip and a campaigner for an English Parliament do you think I want what you imply?

            I’m more than happy to see Scotland go on it’s not so merry way, by which I mean this referendum debate has now become so vicious, that whatever the outcome the bad feeling will be there for an awlful long time.

            • Chris

              No I do not, I was simply stating that to taunt the English was Salmond’s best hope of victory.
              I agree Scotland will be divided either way unnecessarily in my opinion, however I think the best hope of it subsiding it with a no vote. If they vote yes the harsh facts of life will catch up with them and they’ll behave like pathetic little losers wondering why the brigadoon fantasises of the SNP never emerged.

      • Bluesman_1

        Which one?

      • Hamish Redux

        That’s a contradiction in terms.

  • Fred Smith

    Too much talk about irrelevancies, such as personalities, for an article headed,
    “David Cameron has explain exactly how he intends to reform Britain’s EU relationship”.

    Surely the matter the article should be addressing is how the mechanism within the EU of achieving his supposed aims would be engaged and what it is; an IGC and so on, how likely it is that he could even start the process successfully, leave alone achieve anything, and how realistic it is to do this by 2017.

    This Juncker circus hasn’t got him off to a very good start, has it?

  • RavenRandom

    It’s become very clear. Most EU nations want greater integration. Britain does not. We want a free market and no more. You can negotiate forever and never square this circle. Nothing wrong with their stance, nothing wrong with ours.
    Listen to the people and become a free trading independent nation again.

    • Hamburger

      As only about 25% of the Europeans voted for pro-Europe parties. Hardly a majority in my view, roughly the the same amount voted for anti European parties. The rest could not see the point of voting, which is in the circumstances understandable.

  • beenzrgud

    Cameron rocked the boat and got stabbed in the back by his so called allies. It’s not a good omen for future negotiations !

    • global city

      Cameron was NOT rocking the boat, not in the slightest!

      I saw the news footage of him and the other three ‘leaders’ in the rowing boat on that lake in Sweden. He was sitting ram rod still and clearly absolutely sh*tting himself.

      • beenzrgud

        Well done, very droll.

        Merkel looked slightly uncomfortable in that boat too. I think the thought that she may be thrown overboard had crossed her mind at least once. If I were any of the others then that idea certainly would have appealed to me.

        • global city

          Thanks. All of them are obvious landlubbers… hence the love of the land obsessed EU!

  • Ricky Strong

    I try to remain optimistic but increasingly I’m finding myself resigned to fact that this country is done for. We are £1.2 Trillion in debt and counting – where is this great prosperity we were promised from the EU project?

  • Blindsideflanker

    “David Cameron has explain exactly how he intends to reform Britain’s EU relationship”

    Cameron can’t because he doesn’t know. He said the Lisbon treaty was an affront to our Sovereignty and said he wouldn’t let matters rest there, but instead did. It was only when UKIP came snapping at his heels did he wake up to the issue, and then he gave the job of identifying a negotiating position on the EU to William Hague and the Foreign Office, the former has lost all interest in politics, and the latter are the most fanatically pro EU Government department, and the ones to have negotiated away all our sovereignty in the first place, so hardly the department of state who are going to think it an error.

    Not surprisingly the Foreign Office came up with the most anaemic and tepid document they could, thinking they they could do a rerun of the Wilson con, which leaves us with Cameron wittering on about red tape and competitiveness, hardly a battle cry to set alight the country, meanwhile the people are thinking of getting our fishing grounds back and stopping mass immigration.

  • Ed B

    I have no idea what this article is about because I couldn’t concentrate after stumbling over these two gems in paragraph two: “there is a widespread and profound sense of disappointed at David Cameron’s[…]”, and “He weekend his own hand in these vital talks[…]”.

    Is the author a follower of John Prescott, by any chance?

    • realfish

      Correct Ed. But I’ll have a go.

      Beyond the sneering and jeering (also evident in the reporting of this by Thomas’s colleagues in the BBC), it says nothing, apart from, ‘We (Labour) would wring our hands and say a lot before EU meetings (but would be similarly impotent, having given away Britain’s influence and sovereignty by signing the new EU constitution, in Lisbon, some years ago).’

    • William Haworth

      Maybe he’s a victim of Labour education policies.

    • Aberrant_Apostrophe

      I didn’t make it past the title:

      “David Cameron has explain exactly how he intends to reform Britain’s EU relationship.” [sic]

      Has the Speccie changed proof readers to those employed by the Grauniad?

    • stalin son

      There are at least 7 errors (grammar). Does it need’ a editer wot cud edit?’.

      • Redrose82

        And he’s a shadow minister. At least we can take consolation from the fact that it’s not education.

      • Makroon

        It is a sad comment on the decline in Welsh education standards under Labour.

    • Redrose82

      He should give up his present job and join the other 13 year old kids running Newsnight.

    • The Masked Marvel

      Hey, it works just as well if one starts from the end and reads backwards.

      And if he took this step now, then he would have Labour’s support.”


      But if indeed David Cameron is now serious about helping to reform
      Europe to make it work better for Britain, then granting the UK
      Parliament a chance to quiz and question his choice for the UK’s next
      Commissioner would be a bold and welcome step.

      Uh-huh. No point in reading further.

  • DaveTheRave

    Our membership cannot be successfully re-negotiated… period. That is clearly, demonstrably obvious, from the goings on about the EU ‘President’, to the Irish vote of ‘No’ some years ago in regard to the treaty, which was summarily disregarded while the commission insisted Ireland vote again… the correct way. We are not dealing with democrats here.
    Therefore there is no point in hanging around for a referendum date. We need one this autumn, or sooner.
    The question should be something like: ‘Do you wish this country to become progressively part of a total political union with the member states of the EU? Yes or No?’
    The agenda is clear and set, a United States of Europe is forming whether we like it or not. Most of ‘our’ politicians, whatever their party, are already signed up for this and have not been honest with us, to say the least.
    Now is the time for honesty.

    • Iain Hill

      Surely we already know the answer without wasting money on a referendum. We want a looser, but cooperative, trading relationship with the EU, not union.

      Two things stop us from securing that skilfully right now – Tory post-imperial obsession about “leading” other countries, in whatever organisation they participate, and Cameron’s inability to manage his right-wing, which is the cause of the whole fuss.

      • Wessex Man

        but it won’t make any difference to you, you will be living in an Independent Scotland by then, so mind yours!

  • Clarice Newone

    UK should leave the European Union

    • Geronimo von Huxley

      Woman!!! Why don’t you leave the EU if you don’t like it there man and man, stay with me in my tipi!!! Insane!!!!

      • Wessex Man

        Yuo certainly sound it.

      • Aberrant_Apostrophe

        Sounds as though someone is having a whale of a time at Glasto…

  • goatmince

    David Cameron is a martyr.
    The EU needed someone to oppose the Juncker appointment to make it
    appear as if it was not a totalitarian 100% unanimous voting club.
    Cameron delivered that outcome.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …is that the consensus of your sockpuppet army, lad?