How would a new relationship with Europe work?
1. Can you achieve the looser relationship with the EU that Global Vision desires without leaving the EU?
The relationship Global Vision seeks - maintaining free trade within Europe and cooperation between governments in areas which are mutually beneficial while opting out of political and economic integration - would mean the UK would no longer be a member of current structure of the EU with its single Treaty base. We would seek a looser structure for our relationships with other European countries, closer to that currently enjoyed by Switzerland. However we believe it is sensible to seek to negotiate that new relationship as a condition for agreeing to allow others to proceed with the further Treaty changes that they seek in their pursuit of deeper EU integration - as for example in the draft Constitution. Since Treaty changes must be agreed by all members, both the UK and other EU members must agree on a single set of changes that satisfy all parties.
If the UK entered such negotiations clear about its objectives, we believe it would be in everyone's interest to come to an amicable, agreed solution. The EU has strong interests in maintaining close trade and security ties with the UK just as we do with them. Furthermore, some Eurozone countries are already discussing plans for closer integration amongst the Euro economies to form an ‘inner core' - which would necessarily exclude the UK as a non-Euro member. However if there was any reluctance by the other EU members to accede to our requirements we would, of course, have to keep in reserve the ‘last resort' option to simply leave the EU and negotiate a Swiss style relationship from outside. That is not, however, what we are advocating as the preferred route forward.
2. Would the UK still be in the single market?
Global Vision recognises that the most important aspect of pan-European trade in future will be to maintain a free trade area, with no restrictions or trade barriers imposed between European nations. The ‘single market' concept was developed in the 1980's as an additional construct that sought to further reduce trade barriers through harmonisation of rules and regulations across the EC. While it initially brought some benefits, in practice it has subsequently become the source of much of the excessive regulatory costs on business as the EU has used single market legislation to impose its social market model on the UK- levelling the playing field by bringing the UK in line with continental practice. It is this burden from which the UK economy now needs to escape in order to exploit global trade opportunities.
This is particularly true of the City of London, where the competitiveness of the financial sector in world markets is dependent on retaining the UK's light touch ‘principles based' regulatory framework. While there may be some sectors where UK businesses find it advantageous to conform to single market harmonisation measures to ease market access, the UK will be better off without those regulations being imposed on all sectors without any local discretion.
3. Won't we lose the ability to influence things if we don't have a seat at the table on single market discussions?
Decisions on single market regulations are taken by qualified majority voting. Currently we have 29 votes out of a total of 345 - just 8½% - which is insufficient to exercise any veto or protect vital interests. However we still have to abide by the result, and those decisions apply to the whole of the UK economy - 90% of which is not involved in EU trade.
Even if we are not part of the single market, individual businesses with a major presence in EU markets are still likely to be in a position to influence relevant regulations - and all businesses will be able to decide whether and in what way they adapt to business requirements in the EU alongside the demands they face from other world markets.
4. Would the UK still be in the EU customs union?
The UK would have a choice. A free trade area does not require countries to adopt a common external tariff and trade negotiating position; it just requires trade within the area to be unencumbered. The European Community adopted a customs union; the North American Free Trade Area has not. With the major worldwide tariff reductions already having been achieved under GATT there is less benefit from a large negotiating block. Conversely the EU now frequently appears to be adopting a more restrictive trade policy than the UK would like in order to protect local producers from global competitors - as, for example, in its restrictions on Indian shoe producers. Accordingly Global Vision argues that the UK, as a major trading nation in its own right, is likely to be better served in the current world environment with the freedom to pursue its own trade agreements - opening up trade flows with emerging economies whose economic development depends on that opportunity, and where our openness to global sourcing can benefit the UK too.
One consequence of this would be that border controls for goods traded between the UK and the continent would require more formal documentation; but the costs of this are likely to be very small compared with the potential trade gains. It has not stopped Switzerland continuing to grow its trade successfully with the EU; nor indeed the US, Japan and China and other successful traders that export goods and services to the EU from outside the European free trade area.
5. What does opting out of political and economic integration mean in practice?
The aim of Global Vision is to preserve a free trade area across Europe -as currently represented by EFTA - and to cooperate by agreement between governments on common programmes within a looser ‘European Club'. Each of these would require some common administration and an agreed budget contribution where appropriate. However many of the current activities of the EU Council and EU Commission are involved in the development and administration of EU Laws and Directives that would not apply to the UK, as is the EU parliament. Accordingly we would no longer be represented in normal EU Council meetings or in the EU Parliament, just as we are currently not represented in meetings concerned with the Eurozone. We would also no longer make an automatic contribution to the EU budget on the same basis as full members.
We would, however, want to participate in meetings of Heads of Governments and other national representatives across Europe to deal with common agenda items where we sought to cooperate on common programmes, and where we contribute to the agreed specific budgets of those programmes. The nature and formality of these arrangements would depend on how many other European countries opted over time to follow the UK model of a looser European relationship, and the linkage of those arrangements with wider international groups such as NATO and the UN.
6. Would the European Court of Justice (ECJ) still have powers to make binding rulings on UK courts?
The ECJ is responsible for interpreting EU laws for those members to which the laws apply. If we have opted out of political union and most EU legislation, the ECJ would no longer have jurisdiction in the UK.
We would, however, remain bound by the European Court of Human Rights to which we and other European nations are committed outside our membership of the EU.
7. What about free movement of Labour?
The UK has already opted out of the ‘Schengen agreement' which abolished border controls between participating countries, but under current EU law we do have an obligation to accept any EU citizen who can find employment in the UK. If we are no longer part of the single market we would have the choice whether to retain that policy or not.
So long as it was in the UK's interest we could continue to open our doors to continued migration. However, given the potential pressures on housing and infrastructure in some areas of the country - particularly the South East - the likelihood is that at some point the UK government would wish to exercise that discretion by limiting further migration. Whether or not other EU countries continued to offer free access to UK workers would depend on their own economic and social considerations. In principle we believe that it is right that these decisions are taken by national governments answerable to their own public rather than being imposed from the EU.
8. What would happen to the CAP/Fishing policy?
We could choose whether to negotiate to stay in or out, but in practice it is difficult to imagine that any UK government would not want to repatriate those policies and take back control of our own agricultural spending and trade relations.
9. Would we continue to cooperate on Foreign/Defence policy with the EU?
As an independent nation we would retain the rights we have now to determine our own foreign and defence policies. While our primary defence alliance is through NATO, it would of course be open to us to collaborate with our European neighbours on foreign policy and defence initiatives where we had common interests - but there would be no question of the UK having to follow decisions made by majority vote.
10. If we press for looser arrangements in Europe, do we put at risk the long post war peace we have enjoyed? Do we lose the benefits we have achieved from enlargement, encouraging more countries to adopt free markets and democratic government?
Global Vision supports continued cooperation and trade between European nations, and recognises the benefits brought about by enlargement. However we do not believe that this collaboration depends on the level of political and economic union now being legislated across the EU. Indeed a looser set of relationships across Europe would make it easier to embrace countries like Turkey into the ‘European Club' - a free trade area and set of cooperative agreements - without needing to envisage that country as part of a single EU political entity.
11. Would the UK lose influence within the EU if it renegotiates its relationship with the EU to one of free trade & cooperation?
The short answer is yes. But the influence the UK has within the current EU should not be exaggerated. The UK is frequently seen to be at odds with the Franco-German integrationist programme and this is irrespective of the political party in Government. The UK's determination to keep its own currency is indicative of its distancing from the EU's integrationist project.
It is, moreover, difficult to think of any major EU development within the last 15 years where the UK's desired objective of a "less deep", less integrationist Europe has been successful. On the contrary, the Treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice and the Constitution have all been for ever-greater integration.
The UK has, arguably, influenced the development of certain policies, for example, CAP reform and the Lisbon Agenda, but it is widely acknowledged that these developments have been generally disappointing and have fallen a long way short of the UK's objectives. Overall, the UK's influence on the EU's major developments has been minimal.
12. If the UK were to change its relationship with the EU to one of free trade & cooperation wouldn't we lose international influence?
The UK is the 5th biggest economy and the 3rd biggest trading nation in the world. It has unrivalled international networks, not least of all with the Commonwealth and the USA. The Commonwealth, arguably, is one of the UK's greatest future "resources" in the 21st century, a unique resource, but it is all but neglected by the UK's EU-focussed Foreign Office.
The UK has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (along with the USA, Russia, France and China) and is a member of the G7 of major economies. It has highly proficient and respected armed forces that underpin British military influence internationally - mainly through NATO and in alliance with the USA. This would not change if the UK changed its relationship with the EU.
Currently the EU mainly represents Britain internationally in trade negotiations because the UK is part of the EU's Customs Union. This is to Britain's disadvantage. The UK, as a member of the EU's Customs Union, cannot unilaterally negotiate free trade relationships with, for example, the USA and Commonwealth countries which would be to Britain's advantage. Many Commonwealth countries are poor. In addition, The UK is not a protectionist country - it believes in free trade. All too often, the EU behaves in a protectionist manner - for example CAP, "bra wars" and "shoe wars". Such protectionism hurts the less well-off in EU countries (including the UK).
Moreover, the UK believes in helping developing countries to grow out of poverty through trade but the EU's protectionism hurts developing countries.
In short, Britain would not lose international influence if it changed its relationship. It would gain.
It is also worth pointing out that Norway, outside the EU, has had a disproportionate international influence given its size. Not least of all with the Oslo Agreement on the self-government of Palestine (1993).
13. Hasn't the enlargement of the EU, encompassing the CEE countries, fundamentally changed the EU?
In a very obvious sense it has. The EU15 (pre May 2004) is now the EU27.
But when it comes to the EU's integrationist ("deepening") project there is no sign that enlargement ("widening") has had any significant impact. On the contrary, the Constitution is being pushed ahead with the agreement of the political elites in the overwhelming majority of the new member states [and despite the French and Dutch "no" votes]. The British conceit of "widening not deepening" is defunct. There is absolutely no sign that enlargement is cutting back, and will ever cut back, the "acquis" and return powers to the member states.
There are, however, political movements in some of the new member states, notably the Czech Republic, for a looser relationship with the EU. They look to the UK to promote this cause. Given Britain's limited influence as a full member of the EU, Britain can currently do very little. The clear way forward is for Britain to renegotiate a looser, freer relationship and promote the concept of a "European Commonwealth" (an "á la carte" Europe). This would, if successful, pioneer a looser, less tension-ridden Europe for the 21st century.
This is not letting the new member states down. This is giving them the choice of the sort of relationship with the EU that is right for them.
14. Would the other members of the EU be prepared to allow the UK to negotiate a looser relationship?
Yes, they would be prepared to allow this - especially if the UK Government had made it very clear that it would not be prepared to sign any further Treaty changes without EU agreement for the desired looser relationship. (Unanimity is required for Treaties to be altered.)
Moreover, Giscard D'Estaing, when drafting the Constitution, inserted a "withdrawal clause" with a view to letting any member state opt out of political and economic union if they wished. This clearly indicates a willingness on behalf of the EU to consider a changed status for a member state. The UK, with its anti-integrationist stance which is otherwise known as the "British problem", would be a clear candidate. But, equally clearly, the UK will be a better position to negotiate its desired relationship with the EU prior to the possible enforcement of the Constitution.
Greenland negotiated and changed its status with the EU in 1985.
As set out on the DTI website, ‘The UK is an open economy. More than many countries, our living standards and the competitiveness of our industry depend on our ability to trade and invest freely.
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