Just had a squint at the UUP/Tory European Manifesto. Naturally enough you would expect a dose of scepticism. There is some of that in here (particularly around Lisbon Treaty) but there is a surprising amount that could keep a reasonable pro-European happy.
Consider this bit:
‘The economic benefits are also profound: trade between the UK and the ten countries that joined the EU in 2004 increased by almost 400 per cent between 1992 and 2005, ten times the rate of growth in trade between the UK and the rest of the world. Our MEPs will support the further enlargement of the EU, including to the Ukraine, Belarus, Turkey, Georgia and the countries of the Balkans, if they wish to achieve EU membership, however distant that prospect may be in some cases.
‘We will resist efforts to set target dates for future members or to draw up a ‘final border’ for the EU. As an interim measure, applicant countries should be able to participate in the EU’s Neighbourhood Policy, without that being seen as a potential alternative to EU membership.’
This looks like a constructive and positive outlook on the power and influence of the EU. (Though some of the thinking behind this might be more strategic. The Ukraine enlargement in particular would draw the EU into direct confrontation with Russia over energy issues… erm, wouldn’t it? I’d be interested in Chekov’s take on this bit.)
But as a concept surrounding broadening the fellowship of nations and promoting shared values and exploiting opportunities, then I like the look of this.
There’s lots of other stuff in the manifesto, but I’m only going to lift out the few things that struck me as I skimmed through.
- Problem: MEPs too distant from, and unaccountable to, their constituents.
- Solution: review the European voting system to consider how individual MEPs can be more closely linked to individual constituencies, while respecting the required element of proportionality.
- Problem: EU budget spends too much on old priorities, in particular agriculture and regional funding,
- Solution: shift spending to dealing with the new challenges Europe faces. eg. Up to £1billion every year could be saved, including proposing to abolish the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, and removing all subsidies for tobacco farmers.
- Problem: Brussels suffers a lack of transparency.
- Solution: All Conservative MEPs have signed up to ‘right to know’ regime, making them subject to most rigorous disclosure regime of their expenses of any national delegation in the European Parliament.
They’ve also come up with a series of regional and national committees to take some of the shine off gold-plating.
In the UK, we will examine carefully proposals for joint committees of MPs, MEPs and Peers, and in the devolved Parliament and Assemblies joint committees of MSPs, MLAs or Assembly Members and MEPs, to oversee the implementation of EU laws and guard against ‘gold-plating’.
Opposing gold-plating is one thing, but I’d be concerned if these committees turned out to be little administrative oubliettes designed to cripple EU legislation. And if one regional committee was more effective at opposing ‘gold-plating’ than another, then isn’t there a danger that this system could produce inequalities and create ‘sinks’ where gold-plating burdens linger on? The success of these committee could vary depending on the quality of the participants.
So I understand (and agree with) the motives behind this, but I would like to see more detail on how this could work in practice.
This manifesto also links EU governance with the expenses row. I think that’s overplayed. I’m not sure that the proposition of electing fallible human beings to a place that’s corrupt and corrupting is such a smart line to take (given the moat-cleaning activities of certain Tory MPs). But the Tories have pledge to go to Brussels in a crusade to clean it up – so having creating this bugbear, they’d better bloody well slay it. Let’s see how they go about doing it.
Overall? I can find enough in this to justifiably conclude that the Tories are no longer bonkers about Europe. Moreover, through this document, you could see how the integration/partnership between these two parties is more steadfast/seamless than ever. Don’t think you could squeeze a rizla between them now. Or, in the words of Malcom Tucker, ‘they’re as tight as arse cheeks’.
On the basis of this document, the ‘new force’ looks very good on paper…