Yesterday our Prime Minister avoided the Scylla of Nigel Farage’s political block at the EU Parliament only to lurch into the Charybdis of the Parliament’s President – the fatal embrace of one Martin Schulz.
I almost felt sorry for Dave as he executed his briskest of brisk walks up to the compulsory handshake for waiting cameras.
His tight smile said it all: Thank God this show only has another few days to go. Why am I here? The EU Parliament doesn’t have any power. Does it?
Well its President does, as he made clear at his post-meeting press conference. He didn’t mince his words :
One – whatever happens there will be no treaty change – the only changes Cameron will be given will be within the framework of the Treaty.
Two – work towards greater financial and economic harmonisation will proceed regardless, meaning the enforcement of further economic and monetary union. That was how I interpreted his Germanic English.
Three – don’t worry about the need to lift small business regulations – in case you hadn’t noticed they’ve been lifted. The EU’s already reformed this area. Hmm.
Four – welfare credits – “well ur um”, as Mr Schulz said. They would try and find a fair compromise.
You can’t say fairer than that can you?
Mr Schulz’s interview on Radio 4’s The World at One on Feb 5th should have left Mr Cameron in no doubt as to his concept of fairness – doublespeak for intransigence – in such matters. A transcript for the PM would have saved him and us time and money.
Schulz said there will be no budging on the free movement of people in the European Union.
“It is a fundamental right of citizens” which, furthermore, must be followed by a “free movement of immigration and welfare systems”, in turn following “an effective legislation between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers of the member states”.
So more integration with the EU not less. This might be stuff of Europhile dreams. Is it what the pro re-negotiation fence-sitter hopefuls are looking for ?
But would the EU Parliament back Cameron’s deal, Mark Mardell asked. (Welfare I think is what he was referring to). No to that too. Wrong question anyway. Parliament is only a proxy for the member states, Schulz explained. Didn’t Mark know?
“ ….the Union is built by its member states, and the European Parliament is an organ of that Union, built by the member states”.
Forget about democracy, that is not how the EU works, he might as well have said. Even if the member states agree at the summit tomorrow about this emergency (welfare credits) brake:
“…and British voters on that basis say, ‘We want to stay in’ then we have to start a legislative process because then the Commission of the European Union must make concrete proposals how that should be organised, how that should be put in a legal frame, and then starts the role of the European Parliament.”
To rubber stamp it? No, Mark didn’t ask this, but Schulz answered:
“For the time being, the Parliament can’t, and that’s what I discussed yesterday with the Prime Minister, go into the details, but the principle, from a principled point of view, once it is agreed among the member states, okay, then we will look into the details”.
Oh how kind – a concession! And how long is that likely to take? To appreciate the response I beg you to read the dialogue that followed in full:
“… er to, er, legislate for 507 million citizens in 28 sovereign countries, I think this is not easy. And here is diligence more important than speed, er, but er…
Mardell: (speaking over) Days, weeks?
Schulz: No, this is neither days nor weeks, this is months, but it is not years.
Mardell: And let me be clear, would this process in the European Parliament start immediately after the summit in two weeks’ time, or would it only started after a British referendum?
Schulz: No this is, it’s er, logic, it starts directly after, er, a British referendum, it makes no sense if the majority of British voters say, ‘We want to leave’, then er, er, it’s not necessary to start the procedure.
Mardell: But doesn’t that mean that David Cameron is going into a British referendum saying, if he gets a deal, saying, ‘This is the deal that’s on offer, if the European Parliament accepts it’?
Schulz: No, no, the other way round. Er, I must repeat once more what is now on the table is a question amongst the member states…and if they agree on that emergency brake, as a principle, (words unclear) elements of the so-called Section 4, then the member states have agreed, and then the Commission will make the necessary proposals. Then the parliament er, will, er, go in a, in a detailed legislation”.
So no. Mr Cameron won’t be able to go to the referendum promising he has got a deal. Not even the thinnest of thin ones. It can’t be promised.
So if Britain votes to stay in would Mr Cameron be able to put his foot on the welfare brake? Mr Schulz did not even bother to prevaricate:
“No, I think that’s not possible. If, er, with this, er…agreement on the 19 February, Cameron goes to the referendum, and British voters say, on that basis, ‘Yes’ then er, nobody, er, will put in doubt, er, that result, because before it was agreed, amongst 28 governments of sovereign countries, and the European institutions, this is…this is something and nobody would, after such a referendum, then put in doubt the basis agreed before, for that referendum.
…, the principle is agreed, but you need to apply in 28 countries such an emergency brake, er, very different (word or words unclear) legislation, because the British system is the British system, it applies to Britain, if you have another country, like my country Germany, we have a completely different system. If we want to put that system also applicable to Germany, we must legislate it, a very sensitive item, therefore I said and I repeat it, to legislate for 507 million people in 28 countries is not as, er, easy as it sounds, and therefore, once more, when the principle is agreed we must make appli— it applicable, but that will not last years, er, this is, er, er, intensive work to do, er, and we will start.”
In a word, any ‘emergency brake’ legislation would be subject to the EU’s Byzantine procedures, which could go on for ever or end up as nothing.
Last week Charles Moore described Angela Merkel as the greatest recruiting sergeant the Leave Campaign could wish for. I’d vote Mr Schulz a close second – not just for dissing Mr Cameron’s deal but for manifesting the EU behemoth we are shackled to.
(Image: Giorgio Tomassetti, Flickr)