Cameron facing rebuff on renegotiating EU powers


   By a Newsnet reporter 

Prime Minister David Cameron’s bid to renegotiate the UK’s EU membership terms is looking increasingly unlikely according to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.
The committee of MPs said it was “sceptical” on whether the UK would be able to repatriate substantial powers from the EU without the support from other member states. 

The Prime Minister has promised to renegotiate the UK’s terms of membership of the EU, and to put any new settlement to a referendum to be held sometime after the next UK General Election due in 2015.  However the cross party committee said that it was unlikely that other EU states would agree to “special treatment” for the UK in the form of opt-outs, but said that the UK Government may find more support for reforms to the EU as a whole. 

Any failure to make progress in talks with other EU states will strengthen the growing clamour on Conservative backbenches for UK withdrawal from the EU.

The committee reported:

“The committee is sceptical that other member states would be willing to renegotiate existing EU law so as to allow the UK on its own to reduce its degree of integration, especially where this could be seen as undermining the integrity of the single market.

“Other member states appear to want the UK to remain an EU member. However, the government could not successfully demand ‘any price’ for promising to try to keep the UK in the Union.”

Committee chair, Conservative MP Richard Ottaway, said that it was too early to tell whether Mr Cameron would be able to negotiate a “new settlement” – which is seen as key to the Prime Minister’s attempts to keep his eurosceptic backbenchers in check.  

Mr Ottaway said:  “Reform and renegotiation in the EU takes time and is often complex and difficult.

“It is important for everyone in the UK to understand that we are involved in a collective process with 26 other countries, whether we are trying to reform a single piece of EU legislation or leave the EU.

“In many respects, we are nearer the start of a process than the end… We are clear that the government’s best overall policy is to remain constructive, engaged and thinking in terms of the EU as a whole.”

But Mr Cameron’s plans have already met with a major set-back from the most powerful EU members.  Germany and France have snubbed Mr Cameron’s review of the relationship between Brussels and member states.  Berlin and Paris have refused to participate in the so-called “balance of competencies” study, which is examining whether any powers should be returned to national parliaments from Brussels.

The study, being undertaken by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, entails a questionnaire sent to EU member governments asking them for their opinions on the impact EU legislation has had in a number of areas, including the environment, energy, and the single market.

A French diplomat described the study as a “British domestic political exercise”, the diplomat added: “We have therefore decided we would not participate.”

The Foreign Office is due to report the findings of the study next month, however it is understood that only a handful of EU member states have responded to Mr Hague’s enquiries. 

The snub follows a private warning made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Mr Cameron earlier this year.  In a sign that Germany is growing increasingly frustrated with UK euroscepticism, Ms Merkel reportedly said that she would grant little of substance to Mr Cameron.