Friday, 27 June 2014

What's wrong with Juncker? Or, the British Question

The Economist has some nice-ish things to say about Mr Juncker (e.g. "probably the least bad choice"). I was pleased to see that he is "On the “social” wing of the Christian Democrats", which sounds like it comes from Borgen. I think it means he is well to the left of Nick Clegg.

But that aside, what does he stand for? Well, I have been to his campaign website (so that you don't have to). It is fair to say that I went for the merchandise but I stayed for the policies. More interesting than I thought it would be - see below the break for what he says about the British Question.

His 5 priorities are not too bad. They are:

1. Jobs. Can't complain about that one.

2. A "new European Energy Union". Me neither. Is there an old one?

3. A free trade deal with the US. He says "It is anachronistic that, in the 21st century, Europeans and Americans still impose customs duties on each other’s products. These should be swiftly and fully abolished." Well, good for him.

4. To "continue with the reform of our monetary union, and to do so with Europe’s social dimension in mind". That's the sort of thing the EU is all about and I don't think you can blame Juncker for having to say that sort of thing.

5. His fifth one is the interesting one. Here is what he says (emphasis in the original):

"A fifth and last priority for me as Commission President will be to give an answer to the British question. No reasonable politician can ignore the fact that, during the next five years, we will have to find solutions for the political concerns of the United Kingdom. We have to do this if we want to keep the UK within the European Union – which I would like to do as Commission President. As Commission President, I will work for a fair deal with Britain. A deal that accepts the specificities of the UK in the EU, while allowing the Eurozone to integrate further. The UK will need to understand that in the Eurozone, we need more Europe, not less. On the other hand, the other EU countries will have to accept that the UK will never participate in the euro, even if we may regret this. We have to accept that the UK will not become a member of the Schengen area. And I am also ready to accept that the UK will stay outside new EU institutions such as the European Public Prosecutor’s Office, meant to improve the fight against fraud in the EU, but clearly rejected by the House of Commons and the House of Lords. We have to respect such clear positions of the British Parliament, based on the British “opt out” Protocol. David Cameron has recently written down a number of further key demands in an article published in the Daily Telegraph. As Commission President, I will be ready to talk to him about these demands in a fair and reasonable manner. My red line in such talks would be the integrity of the single market and its four freedoms; and the possibility to have more Europe within the Eurozone to strengthen the single currency shared so far by 18 and soon by 19 Member States. But I have the impression that this is as important for Britain as it will be for the next President of the Commission. A deal that accepts the specificities of the UK in the EU."

Try as I might, I find it hard to see what is objectionable about that. There has to be an answer to the British Question, just like the Irish Question and the Schleswig-Holstein Question before it. That answer has to recognise that Britain will only stay in the EU on special terms; equally it has to recognise that the single market and its four freedoms are the basic elements of being in the EU. I would give full marks to Juncker for saying all of this upfront.

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