Bipartisan Policy

September 3, 2010 12:00 AM
By Andrew Duff in Liberal Democrat News

William Hague's approach to European affairs continues to worry us. His first major speech on foreign policy (1 July) paid scant attention to 'groupings such as the EU' (one wonders what other such groupings he has in mind). His contempt for the Lisbon treaty, which the fact of coalition has obliged him to accept, is scarcely concealed. Mr Hague proposes two shifts of UK policy: first, to parachute more Brits into the services of the Commission and, second, to be nicer to the smaller EU states. Commendable as both of these changes are, neither is likely to help much when the UK has to confront the big federal questions which loom over the EU agenda: budgetary and financial reform, economic governance, and common foreign, security and defence policy.

The prime minister compounds the problem by chiding France and Germany for obstructing Turkish entry to the EU. Mr Cameron misses the point that the UK (especially a Tory UK) is widely suspected of wishing to install Turkey only in order to weaken the Union.

Anxiety that the Tory leopard has not changed its euro spots is heightened by the election of arch-nationalist Bill Cash as chairman of the Commons EU scrutiny committee. This appointment does not bode well for those of us who are committed, as the Lisbon treaty enjoins, to improving interparliamentary collaboration.

Other signals are more encouraging. The External Action Service is nearly up and running, and no British obstacles are appearing to block the European citizens' initiative whereby a million signatures can trigger an EU law. The Treasury plays on the front foot in the negotiations on EU supervision of the financial sector, while properly keeping its distance in matters concerning the eurozone. The coalition has not yet diverged from the Labour government's tentative, case by case approach to opting in or out of emerging legislation on asylum, immigration and criminal justice matters. Sticking to the pragmatic approach will be the central task of the cabinet committee on EU affairs where, usefully, Chris Huhne deputises for William Hague.

But the big ticket items are still to come. The search for a bipartisan policy on Europe goes on.