Even its most enthusiastic supporters recognize that the European Union is badly in need of reform. And the strongest form of the case for remaining a member can be summed up as “Let us stay in the EU and work from within to reform it”.
To many this will sound a persuasively reasonable case. The problem with it is that there is no mechanism by which the UK, or any other EU member country, can work to reform it. It is legally beyond the power of members to do anything other than follow the directives issued by unelected Commissioners in Brussels.
David Cameron went on his much-publicised trip to Europe with the intention of renegotiating the terms of Britain’s membership. He came back claiming to have got the agreement of the other 27 members on migrant benefits; debate over ‘problem’ Eurozone laws; and an opt-out of the “ever-closer union”.
Within weeks of his announcing even these meagre concessions, senior EU officials had dismissed Cameron’s claims.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz told Sky News that everything could be reversed, including legally binding decisions. He said, “Nothing in our lives is irreversible. Therefore legally binding decisions are also reversible – nothing is irreversible.”
Worse still, it soon became clear that under the Vienna Convention on treaties, Cameron’s agreement was only “legally binding” in the limited sense that a court must look at it and take it into account. It doesn’t follow that the court must accept it – and the ruling court in this instance is the European Court of Justice – an EU institution, which so far has shown little interest in ruling in Britain’s favour.
Even these concessions were extracted from Brussels by the UK only because of the imminent threat of withdrawal – and these have quickly proved to be cosmetic only rather than any real attempt at change.
So, if the Prime Minister of the UK negotiating face to face with the Prime Ministers of the other 27 member countries, cannot achieve any kind of reform, how – exactly how – are we going to reform the EU?
I challenge any supporter of the case for remaining to spell out, in detail, the specific mechanisms by which the EU can be “reformed from within”.