08 MAY 2013

Fresh Start Project Visit to Berlin

By Andrea Leadsom MP.

I travelled with a group of colleagues recently to Berlin, to meet with German politicians, business leaders and think tanks to discuss ideas for reform of the EU. We wanted to share with them some of the ideas of the Fresh Start Project, and to understand the German perspective on European issues.

We were struck by their deep-seated commitment to the European Union that goes far beyond the economic benefits. We heard comments such as "I would rather describe myself as European then German" and "A common law from Scandinavia to Greece is an end in itself". These are not comments we hear often in UK political circles!

German MPs and businesses leaders typically started our meetings thinking that the Fresh Start Project is moving the UK towards exit from the EU. At the end of our meetings, having discussed the details of some proposals, they usually agreed that we face many of the same issues, and can work together to implement reforms.

For example, some German MPs were very interested in the proposal to limit EU structural funds to those states with an average GDP per head of less than 90% of the EU average. A number of them expressed support for a review of competencies, and potentially rebalancing some competencies back to member states. And the proposal to extend the double-majority voting mechanism, agreed for the European Banking Authority, to other areas of EU decision-making was met with interest and has the potential to be taken forward. "Ah, that was used in the Holy Roman Empire" said one of our German colleagues!

Many of the business leaders we met would support the return of the competence over social and employment law to member states, in order to create competition between regions.

There is much that we can learn from the German system-as one colleague put it, all the regulations come back from Brussels already Germany-proofed. In part, this is because their Parliament engages early in the decision-making process, with the relevant Parliamentary committee summoning ministers, discussing the issues, and coming up with a consensus 'German' view, way ahead of the negotiations in Brussels. We have a long way to go in the UK to reach this standard, but it is something we should strive for, without losing the benefits of our system.

We left our German colleagues with agreement that the discussions had been useful, and with a plan to continue to build a German-UK Parliamentary dialogue.

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Did the 'group of colleagues' you went with by chance include a D. Cameron or a W. Hague? I ask because your description of pleasant chats with the nice Germans uncannily echoes the Prime Minister's negotiating strategy to change the course of European History and move the Project off in a different direction. While the giant pan-continental wheels of ever closer union grind on - Mr Barroso has just given advance notice of plans for full federation - Fresh Start seem to think, with the PM, that all can be put right by 'building dialogues'! Please take stock of what is going on and apply the brains and energy of your initiative to what is actually going on. For a start let's have a revised Green Paper. The current one has 270 odd pages of what we want and half a page (Appendix 3 ) of how we are going to get it. It is fantasy to think that the Commission is going to grant a Convention, let alone an Inter-Governmental Conference, to discuss a British shopping list. So let's hear a plausible strategy for how we are going to get what we want.
- George Bunting

George, Thank you for the post. I, along with many analysts and politicians, consider it likely that the eurozone member states will require some changes to the treaties to ensure fiscal and banking union. And this presents the UK with an opportunity to put forward some proposals of our own. Regarding the content of the Green Paper, each chapter contains a number of ideas for reform that the UK can pursue without treaty change. And each of the subsequent papers, such as the manifesto and the paper on the NHS, contain specific proposal for how to deliver change. On your broader point on ‘building dialogues’, while clearly not sufficient in the their own right to deliver the significant change the UK people want, I believe that they are an important part. With best wishes, Duncan
- Duncan McCourt

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