The EU can be a winning card for Labour – but is not without its risks

by Jonathan Todd

EU debate is going to get hotter, I warned on Labour Uncut three years ago. And so it has. George Osborne spent the weekend defending the UK’s EU financing. Ed Miliband successfully led at PMQs on the paucity of David Cameron’s progress in renegotiating the UK’s EU membership. He is also expected to major on the issue in a speech to the CBI today.

UKIP’s rise and Cameron’s promised EU referendum, as well as the continued troubles of the Euro and contention about free movement of labour, mean that the EU won’t be as peripheral in UK politics as it has been for much of the UK’s membership. In this context, there are various points that Labour might keep in mind.

The UK government should do what it can to solve problems as they are perceived by the UK people

It might seem utterly obvious that the UK government should seek to serve its electors. But it’s worth reiterating. For example, over the weekend, “a senior Labour MP named as being involved in a plot to oust Ed Miliband,” reported the Daily Mail, demanded, “that the party toughens its stance on immigration”. What Ian Austin is reported as wanting is “a ban on benefit payments to new migrants who have paid nothing into the system, fingerprinting at the Calais border, and up-front payments by foreigners for NHS care”.

In spite of the prominence that ‘welfare and health tourism’ have in UK debate, these measures could be implemented by the UK without contravening EU rules. Eliminating ‘health tourism’, for example, is part of the motivation for the NHS Mutual that Frank Field has argued for on Labour Uncut.

It’s not the Commission that Field looks to for this mutual. It’s a Labour government. Labour should be clear about what we would do with the powers held by the UK government to improve the immigration system. Austin helps us in this direction.

The Eurozone crisis is not going away but the UK should be constructive in seeking solutions

“As political union is firmly off the table,” wrote Wolfgang Münchau of the Euro’s prospects in the Financial Times recently, “this leaves us with a choice between depression and failure – or both in succession.” These are not the impassioned meanderings of a Europhobe. It is just grim reality.

Given the considerable political backing that the Euro enjoys, consistently underestimated by Brits, failure remains unlikely. Depression is, therefore, likely, sadly. European leaders will do enough to keep the Euro show the road – avoiding failure – but cannot take the steps that Münchau associates with political union and which are more likely to avert depression: a Eurobond, a small fiscal union, transfer mechanisms and a banking union worthy of its name.

These steps would increase the growth rate of the Eurozone. While these steps are politically infeasible, there are other ways to secure growth, which the UK should support, not least as we enjoy a shared interest with the Eurozone in this growth.

The UK should make our peace with the European Commission’s past to shape its future

The acquis communautaire, the principle that any powers ceded by member states to the EU are ceded irrevocably, is not as well known or appreciated in the UK as it is elsewhere in Europe. When we keep banging on about free movement of labour, for instance, we chaff at this principle in a way that grates our partners. For them, the past is a closed box and the future is still to be determined.

If the UK gave more reassurance that we do not seek to unpick acquis communautaire, we’d be better able to shape the direction of the new Commission. We might, for example, ask:

  • Given that the Commission’s first Vice-President, former Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, has been charged with improving EU regulation, what might he be able to achieve for UK business?
  • As the new European Energy Union will focus on diversifying energy sources, what might this be able to do to increase competition and lower prices in UK energy markets?
  • What can Pierre Moscovici, the former French Finance Minister, responsible for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs Union, do with his mandate to fight tax fraud, tax evasion and aggressive tax planning to improve UK tax collection?

These are just some ways in which the new Commission might deliver improvements to the lives of British citizens if the UK were to engage constructively with it, rather than seeking to reopen debates that others considered long closed.

Labour should not be a status quo party

The certainty of continued UK EU membership has become Labour’s key business offer. Not a bad offer. But the Euro will keep struggling. For the first time since the UK became an EU member, it seems we are asking the UK to remain in a club not obviously characterised by rising prosperity.

Labour should manage the political risk associated with this by being clear about how we would improve the status quo. Both in terms of things the UK government should do to enhance the immigration system and sign posting the brighter future that constructive engagement with the new Commission would secure.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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10 Responses to “The EU can be a winning card for Labour – but is not without its risks”

  1. Paul says:

    But you don’t need to reverse the acquis communautaire to invoke the measures set out in Lisbon Article 45 (and dating to Rome) on temporary restriction on freedom of movement for “public policy” reasons. You would ‘just’ have to negotiate a settlement with all states which, under that provision (though 2004/38/EC would need redesign under ordinary legislative procedure), allowed richer members to take less accession country nationals while providing space (via Article 32 dispensation) for the latter to move quicker to convergence.

    Not saying that’s easy, or even desirable, but it’s just wrong to say it’s not possible. It’s even set out in the govt’s own (August 2013) Review of Competencies in this area, though the treaty and directives are easy enough to read.

    Labour could happily lead on this, in the knowledge that it’s doing something innovative but which will be long in development.

  2. wg says:

    The problem is that no matter how many questions Labour asks the commission, the commission will do whatever the corporate lobbyists say – business is not here for the sake of democracy; I note that there is not one mention of the TTIP in this article.

    Labour are still operating under a massive delusion – the party of the industrial worker is gone and in its place a convenient association of people with vague ideas of international socialism.

    They believe that they can achieve this by binding countries together and subjecting them to a harmonised social system – ignore the fact that we may not get the EU leaders we wish for, the more important point is that we can’t do anything about them once they become our leaders.

    For Labour to try and persuade us that the EU is ‘a good thing’ and that we can reform it to what we wish for is beyond futile. The EU corporates and their hirelings run the show – the more people they have running around the EU, and forcing wages and conditions down, the better.

    The ramming of the Lisbon Treaty down our throats was seen as a victory for Labour over ‘the Right’ – now we on the, ridiculously-named, Right can watch as Labour supporters absorb the EU/US ITTP agreement – an agreement, it is claimed, which will punish nations’ taxpayers for any loss experienced by corporates if the latter’s objectives are blocked (Fracking comes to mind here)

    What democratic powers to the people have in such situations – their governments and mandarins do the deals and it is left to the people to pick up the pieces.

    The man/woman on the street recognise this – they see that they don’t have any power; the more power the EU accretes to itself the more futile voting becomes.

    Especially for an ardent pro-EU party.

  3. Ex Labour says:

    Labour’s answer to “seeking solutions” has been on previous occassions to hand over what little power we had in various treaties.

    How does that benefit the UK Jonathan ?

    Also Blair signed a treaty on the basis that there would be CAP reform. The EU renegaded on this and there was no reform…..or rather was it Blairs spin to enable Labour to sign up to the treaty ?

    You are so niaive on Europe its and its relentless march to an EU political superstate. The public see with their own eyes what is going on, you cant spin that.

    Do you also see the irony in Miliband talking to the “predators” he denounced ?

  4. BenM says:

    Welfare and Health tourism are both myths concocted by people who are desperately trying to characterise dealing with foreigners as a forlorn exercise. It may be for a Tory PM now totally at the beck and call of his europhobe backbenchers. Labour need not be in hock to such reactionary forces.

  5. Madasafish says:

    The trouble with this article is that it enunciates things Labour should do.

    Recent statements on immigration policy to “seek change in Europe”.. don’t really address any of them.

    Labour should manage the political risk associated with this by being clear about how we would improve the status quo

    As they have enunciated no policy at all.. and object to any referendum on Europe, they clearly consider the “status quo” is fine and needs no change.

    If the party is policy lite , it’s a bit late to be thinking up new policies. Where is the Cruddas policy review? Dead, buried and forgotten?

  6. swatantra says:

    With the backing of the CBI Edm could find himself in No 10.
    But EdM needs to make it clear that all Businesses, Small Medium and Large, will have to work with Trade Unions, and have TU Member Reps on their Boards.
    This should go along way to improving industrial relations and motivation company loyalty.

  7. Mike Stallard says:

    “whatever the corporate lobbyists say”

    Don’t forget that this includes RSPB, RSPCA and Greenpeace who dictate our energy policy and insist on Global Warming. They also have deeply held convictions on renewable energy. And, as we are slowly discovering, renewables without nuclear/coal/gas/oil backup are either very expensive or else do not work when the wind or sun are not there at the right strength.

  8. bob says:

    swatantra says:

    The TU reps would then realise who they work for, the shareholders who can make or break a company in seconds.

    Little Red Ed, just McClusky’s glove puppet.

  9. Tafia says:

    Welfare and Health tourism are both myths

    In that case you will have no problem supporting legislation banning non UK citizens from access to any form of in or out of work benefit 0 including Housing Benefit, Child credits and free school meals etc for a suitable period – say 5 years after arrival. Likewise health. because after all, it’s just a myth.

  10. BenM says:


    Nope, no problem with that at all.

    As it won’t reduce the migration rate.

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