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The Progressive Policy Think Tank

Democratic leadership needed for EU as part of radical reform agenda

Brussels's failings need to be tackled, but that's no reason to leave.

The EU needs a single leader with a democratic mandate to help drive through radical economic reform, according to a new report published today (Monday) by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).  IPPR's report - published ahead of the EU council meeting on Thursday and Friday - says that the EU should have a smaller budget and be more focused on promoting growth.  

With only 11 per cent of voters feeling that their voice counts in the EU, the report argues that the EU must reform its institutions so that they are more responsive to public opinion, ensure its officials are accountable, and make its agenda more relevant.

A single figurehead leading the European Commission and Council is needed. This person would be taken from the party bloc that is victorious in the 2014 European elections. Such a leader would have the democratic legitimacy to take action and end the paralysis of executive decision-making which has crippled Europe during the economic crisis.

IPPR argues that supporters of the EU need to be in the vanguard of calling for radical reform - and that pulling out of the EU is the wrong option for the UK.

Will Straw, IPPR Associate Director, said:

"The gravy train of MEPs commuting between Brussels and Strasbourg has become an expensive laughing stock. The EU's structural funds have been misspent, the common agricultural policy is counterproductive, and more than ever before voters feel like they are being taken for a ride by the EU. Supporters of the EU should be facing up to these issues and tackling them, not defending the indefensible. That is a gift to eurosceptics who want to see the UK pull out of the EU.

"EU institutions are in desperate need of reform; but that is no reason to leave the EU. Rather, the UK should work with other member states to ensure that a reform agenda is successfully pursued. The EU budget is a starting point. David Cameron should offer up the UK's rebate in a 'grand bargain' to obtain reform of the Common Agricultural Policy in the next EU budget."

The report says that giving up the rebate should be used as bargaining tool in exchange for a smaller EU budget focused on growth. It says that if the UK uses its veto to allow the old, inefficient budget to be rolled over, Britain will end up paying more to the EU in real terms.

IPPR's report also recommends that the inevitable referendum on Britain's membership of the EU should be an in/out question. This would ensure it was both clear and decisive. The report argues that a referendum should be timed after the next general election, when questions about the Eurozone's institutional make up have been resolved, and reform has removed some doubts about the worth of membership. It argues that the positive case to stay in Europe is strong, and that a referendum could be won if there was sufficient time for a pro-European campaign to emerge in advance of the referendum.

It adds that national parliaments should be given a greater role in scrutinising new EU legislation and identifying old legislation that could be amended or repealed. Closer cooperation should only take place were public opinion supports it, as it does in relation to non-military threats such as climate change, organised crime and terrorism, tackling protectionism and the rise of Asia, and irregular migration.

Notes to editors:

IPPR's new report - Staying in: A reform plan for Britain and Europe - is published on Monday 19 November 2012 and will be available to download from http://www.ippr.org/publication/55/9862/staying-in-a-reform-plan-for-britain-and-europe or http://bit.ly/IPPR9862

For more information on the rebate see here: http://www.ippr.org/press-releases/111/9841/uk-should-offer-up-the-rebate-to-negotiate-eu-budget-cut

For more information on the referendum see here: http://www.ippr.org/press-releases/111/9871/uk-should-hold-in-out-referendum-on-europe-after-next-election

The report argues that the following steps are necessary to achieving a greater degree of democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU:

  • A single figure from the party grouping gaining most votes at the 2014 European election should become the next president of the commission and council. This should go hand-in-hand with a rebalancing of the EU's institutions away from the commission, with the power of initiation residing in the council and parliament.
  • Individual commissioners should be accountable to their national parliaments for the work of the whole commission.
  • A renewed focus on improving the stock and flow of EU regulation should be undertaken, with old regulations being scrapped on a simple majority council vote.
  • National parliaments should be given an enhanced role in blocking new legislation and identifying old legislation that could be amended or repealed. National consultations should take place to devise lists of EU legislation that citizens would most like to remove or significantly amend.
  • Diplomatic energy should be focused on non-military threats, including climate change, organised crime and terrorism, protectionism and the rise of Asia, and irregular migration.

Contacts:

Tim Finch, 07595 920 899, [email protected]