Guest blog by Alison Thorpe, Chargé d’affaires, British Embassy Stockholm.
The summer is here, the sun is shining and the Ambassador is away. But it’s never quiet in politics.
Earlier today, the British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, launched in parliament a review of the balance of competences between the UK and the European Union. The review will be a thorough and detailed analysis of everything the EU does and how it affects the UK, following a commitment, under the coalition Programme for Government to examine the Balance of Competences between Britain and the EU.
That’s all very well, but what does it really mean? Does is mean, as the Daily Mail newspaper’s rather sensational headline put it this morning that “it’s about showing how the EU interferes in British life”?
Absolutely not! The Coalition Government is clear that membership of the EU is in the UK’s national interests. But Europe today confronts three urgent challenges:
First, how to stay competitive in an increasing global market, generating growth and jobs for the citizens of the EU;
Secondly, how to ensure stability and growth in the Eurozone, which is vital to the UK’s own economic recovery ( did you know, for example that 40% of all UK exports are sold to the EU!) ;
and thirdly, the challenge of legitimacy: making sure that Europe remains relevant and credible to its citizens.
These challenges have prompted a lot of well publicised discussion in Britain about whether UK interests would be better served by us leaving the EU. The answer is, quite clearly, that they wouldn’t. But the fact that we are even having this debate is evidence that we need to deepen public and parliamentary understanding of the nature of the EU membership and provide a constructive and serious contribution to the wider European debate about modernising, reforming and improving the EU in the face of the collective challenges we all face.
Such a review cannot be a rush job. It is important that we take a thorough and comprehensive look at all the issues. So the review will continue through 2014.
And who is going to conduct the review? Well the short answer is we all are. Back in the UK, Government departments will undertake the review for the areas of EU competence for which they are responsible. For example, the Department for the Environment, food and rural affairs will be responsible for conducting the review on the EU’s competence on Fisheries, and will be jointly responsible with the Department for Energy and Climate Change for the EU’s competence on the Environment.
But the review will also be an outward facing exercise. The British government will be consulting and inviting evidence from everyone with a knowledge of and interest in the exercise of the EU’s competences, including, of course, committees of Parliament and the devolved administrations but also businesses, civil society, other interested parties and individuals with expertise in and experience of each area. So we will be equally interested to hear from car manufacturers about EU product standards, as from NGOs about EU environmental policies, or security experts about combating organised crime.
But this isn’t just for those who live in the UK. We will also be inviting our European and G20 partners, as well as the EU institutions and other international bodies, think tankers, journalists, basically anyone who has an opinion, to contribute evidence if they wish. At the end of the review all the evidence given will be made publicly available and will be shared with our partners. After all the analysis we produce may be of use and interest to other EU member states its citizens.
In the meantime, do keep an eye out for further updates on www.fco.gov.uk and if you have views that you would like to contribute, then I would encourage you to do so. And if you want to read a far more articulate blog on this subject than mine, do please check out the one for David Lidington, Minister for Europe on http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/davidlidington/2012/07/12/reviewing-the-balance-of-competences-between-the-uk-and-eu/