Coffee House

Briefing: What is the EU ‘red card’ and will it make any difference at all?

2 February 2016

6:02 PM

2 February 2016

6:02 PM

The ‘red card’ on proposed EU legislation has been hailed by David Cameron as a breakthrough; the ‘Stronger In’ campaign have put it at the top of their list of renegotiation successes. But it already pretty much exists. The very similar ‘orange card’ was introduced by the 2009 Lisbon Treaty. (The European Commission’s website explains how it works.) Here’s a comparison of the two:

ORANGE CARD: 51% of the 28 EU parliaments can force a review by the European Commission.
RED CARD: 56% of the 28 EU parliaments can force a review by the EU Council.

Time limit
ORANGE CARD: 8 weeks
RED CARD: 12 weeks


ORANGE CARD: The European Commission decides whether ‘to maintain, amend or withdraw the proposal’.
RED CARD: The EU Council decides whether to abandon the proposal or to amend it ‘to accommodate the concerns expressed’.

In both cases, you have a few weeks to get more than half of Europe’s parliaments on the same side, and then an EU body decides what to do about the objections.

Maybe it would be different in practice. But there isn’t much practice to go on: unless Europe’s parliaments dramatically change their ways, we won’t be seeing much of either the red or orange cards. In 2008, when the orange card was about to be introduced, William Hague claimed mockingly that it was highly unlikely to be used: ‘even if the European Commission proposed the slaughter of the first-born it would be difficult to achieve such a remarkable conjunction of parliamentary votes’.

He was right – though not entirely. The orange card has never been used, but EU parliaments did once veto legislation. The ‘yellow card’, which has a lower threshold (33% of parliaments), has been deployed twice: once to challenge EU strike legislation, once against the creation of a EU Public Prosecutor. The EU abandoned the strike legislation but pressed ahead with the Public Prosecutor.

The ‘red card’ is unlikely to appear, unless European parliaments become a lot more rebellious. But it is equally noteworthy that the renegotiation has produced, as one of its headline achievements, what is basically an exercise in rebranding.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Roger Hudson

    Britain has never been supported by 14 other countries, it never will be, never could be. This ‘red card is nonsense, the whole short list of ‘demands’ is nonsense. I think I heard yesterday Cameron made an outright lie about the British parliament still being sovereign, does he think we are stupid’ (yes).

  • Conway

    But it is equally noteworthy that the renegotiation has produced, as one of its headline achievements, what is basically an exercise in rebranding.” No! I’m shocked, shocked, I tell you! I thought that nice Mr Cameron would be genuinely on our side and fighting for something useful.

  • anneallan

    A minimum of 14 jaunts to EU capitals, lots of kowtowing and Cameron returns with vague promises that no-one has any intention of keeping.
    Our inevitable defeat is expensively kicked down the road for another six months.

  • therealviffer

    Anyone else long since heard enough? Wahl bitte.

  • MathMan

    Cameron = Judas!

  • Jaria1

    By nature I’m against this rotten club having a say I know how we run our country but if we can have a ‘court’ to overturn unwelcome dictats then it rather gives us back what we voted for in joining a free trade market

  • Phyllyp Sparowe

    Given the double majority rule in the Council of Ministers wouldn’t this basically require a number of EU parliaments to vote down or against the wishes of one or more of their national governments? Is there even a mechanism for them to all have timely votes to effect a 56% review?

  • Bonkim

    Total waste of time – just vote to get out.


    If we can correctly guess whether there are wavy lines on the back of the card, we get to have our elected representatives define a law by themselves, instead of being told what to do by foreign bureaucrats? Is that how it works?

  • Jesus H Corbyn

    I think this is a pretty good deal actually

    will be voting REMAIN

    Stronger together

    • Bonkim

      Choose your friends wisely. Will vote to exit.

    • starfish

      well, that was a surprise

  • Malcolm Stevas

    This absurd “red card” idea and all the rest of Cameron’s two-faced bum-sucking are summed up well by Toby Young at The Telegraph as “a collection of empty concessions that won’t make the slightest bit of difference to our long-term relationship with the European Union”. We’re all ashamed of him and embarrassed for our country. He should be ashamed of himself.

  • Tony

    The whole thing is an embarrassment to the UK.

    • davidofkent

      Well, David Cameron certainly is.

      • Tony

        I fear all he has done with his charade is show us that we no longer govern our own country, clearly the EU is in charge.

        This stark fact must be a rallying point for the leave campaign.

      • Jaria1

        Is that the lefts only idea of being HM Oppositin . Blaming Cameron and his party in this case before you’ve had the options put before you.
        I spent some time as a negotiator and he has a terrible hand. Brussels knows that the referendum result will be to stay in so they can get away with giving little.
        Our best result would be to decide to stay out and have a second referendum where we would get far better terms

        • Conway

          Well, Corbyn is now fully signed up to staying IN, so there is no opposition to Dave’s attempts to keep us in.

          • Jaria1

            Surely it’s up to how the general public vote

            • Roger Hudson

              A free vote in the face of relentless propaganda is difficult.

              • Jaria1

                You could say that about any general election.
                However you will be pleased to hear that we are to be given a clear list of of pros and cons as far as remaining in the EU is concerned.
                I wouldn’t mind staying in if we could remain in charge of our own country and that is what most people thought they were subscribing to when they were last given a chance to give their opinion. Since we joined every Prime Minister has wanted to remain in the EU and has watched our Parliament lose more and more powers to Brussels which is rotten to the chore.

  • Will Rees

    Currently : where the European Council or the Council of Ministers is not acting on a proposal of the Commission or on an initiative of the Union Minister for Foreign Affairs, the qualified majority is obtained with 72% of the Member States

    reduced to 55% by non differentiation in Tusk’s letter.

    Eurozone = 67.8%

  • Denis_Cooper

    A good one from Patrick O’Flynn:

    “Cam’s “red card” is equivalent of a referee only being able to send off a footballer if more than half his team mates agree.”

    • Atlas

      It’s classic Cameron spin, the man is on a mission to keep the people of Britain subjugated by the EU and there is no level of dishonesty to which he will not stoop.

      • Conway

        Is there an echo or have you got your personalities mixed up?

    • flipkipper

      It’s classic Cameron spin, the man is on a mission to keep the people of Britain subjugated by the EU and there is no level of dishonesty to which he will not stoop.

  • Denis_Cooper

    From the “Will Parliament lose its power?” section of the Labour government’s official pamphlet delivered to every household during the 1975 referendum, urging us to vote to stay in the EEC:

    “Fact No. 2. No important new policy can be decided in Brussels or anywhere else without the consent of a British Minister answerable to a British Government and British Parliament … The Minister representing Britain can veto any proposal for a new law or a new tax if he considers
    it to be against British interests.”

    So would this proposed “red card” system give our Parliament back the power which it has lost since then through the wholesale abolition of the national vetoes, so that now it is hardly ever true that “The Minister representing Britain can veto any proposal for a new law or a new tax if he considers
    it to be against British interests.”?

    No, it would not, because it is not a veto which our Parliament can exercise unilaterally, it is just another form of transnational voting, and in fact it is not even a collective veto in any definitive way.

  • danoxford

    Absolutely no difference to the continued invasion and subjugation of the UK according to the undemocratic, corrupt and unaccountable EU plan.

    The fact that a British PM has to go cap in hand to the EU to beg for negligible concessions on who we are obliged to allow into the UK, and how much free stuff we then have to give them says it all.

    “There are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears, I need hardly say, are completely unjustified.”

    Prime Minister Edward Heath, television broadcast on Britain’s entry into the Common Market, January 1973

  • WFC


    It was quite funny on the World at One when the BBC interviewed a German spokesman, and the only example he would suggest was of the procedure being used against British interests.

    (Much to the chagrin of the BBC interviewer.)

  • The Meissen Bison

    The Cameron renegotiation has all the substance of an empty vol-au-vent case hit by buckshot.

  • James Chilton

    The existence of these disciplinary “cards” which are very seldom if ever used, suggests that the EU game is regulated by a society of lunatics.

    • Conway

      Have you only just noticed that?

      • James Chilton

        I believe I had noticed something of the sort.

        Actually, I was just playing with words suggested by the ‘red card’ business.

  • starfish

    And what % of the EU is within the Eurozone?



    • Roger Hudson

      Only the UK and Denmark are allowed not to use the Euro, the other 26 must use it , by treaty (eventually). All real EU insiders state that the Euro is the currency of the EU, logically a state has one currency.

  • Blindsideflanker

    I gather it isn’t even vetoing legislation, it is vetoing parts of legislation that could be better done at a subsidiary level. You know that great subsidiarity success John Major was supposed to have won for us in the Birmingham summit in 1992. Its great how they recycle things.

  • Swarm of Drones

    Commander in Chief Cameron asks for five things, 12 weeks go by and hurray comrades, Commander in Chief Cameron gets five things he asked for. Are the troops happy now?

    Come on now soldiers, show some appreciation will you.
    Three cheers for our Commander in Chief

    Hip Hip ……………
    Hip Hip ……………….
    Hip Hip ……………………..

    Tomorrow’s news won’t be that jolly when Second In Command Osborne reports on his debt figures.

  • DavidL

    Cameron’s deal is a sideshow. The issues are: where is the EU heading? Do we support the direction? And if not, what are the risks in leaving, and how do we mitigate them?

  • Thomas Katz

    “What is the EU ‘red card’ and will it make any difference at all?”

    of course not Britain is going to be subjugated under EU rule, Cameron has sold us out, get used to it!

    • The Masked Marvel

      Technically, Britain has already been sold out. It’s just obvious that Cameron isn’t trying to get it back.

      • flipkipper

        You tell him MM, tell him he owns nothing.

    • Jaria1

      Not so don’t forget we have the final say in the referendum

      • dickhut

        Yes and don’t forget the ‘know-alls’ got it wrong at the general election.

        • Jaria1

          Talking about the result not predictions. As it happens I think whether I agree with it or not the vote will be to stay in. Brussels know that and that’s why they arnt giving much away. It’s not being managed very well

  • The Masked Marvel

    Red Fig Leaf. Orange Fig Leaf. Yawn.

    • Holly

      Say that fast, twenty times..