The recent brouhaha over the appointment of Jean Claude Juncker as the new President of the European Commission is a bit of a mystery. Why is David Cameron and the UK government so frightened of a former Prime Minister of tiny Luxembourg? The Commission has little, if any, real power within the EU. Can anyone remember any, any initiative from the current incumbent, José Manuel Barroso? Apart from some injudicious comments on Scottish independence? Barroso is a bit of a non entity within the corridors of power in the EU. Does anybody really think that Mr Juncker is going to single handedly force the EU into some kind of Federal superstate, so beloved of the Eurosceptics?
The shadow boxing around Juncker is just a side show for the real thing. Which is the attempt by our current Tory led government to renegotiate Britain’s treaties with the EU. Alas, nobody seems to know just what the renegotiation might look like. Much of the pressure for this seems to come from those who want the UK to leave the EU altogether. UKIP and a substantial minority in the Tory party fall into this group. As does much of the mainstream press emanating from London. However most of the Tory party, including David Cameron and George Osborne, want the UK to remain in the EU, and hope that somehow, a deal can be done with the other 27 member states.
This though is where it gets interesting. Just what do the eurosceptics, as opposed to those who want to leave, want? A lot of vague talk about regulations and competitiveness, but little in the way of specific proposals. This morning on radio 4, we had more of this waffle, though David Davies, the former Tory leadership challenger, at least made some attempt to go a bit beyond generalities. He mentioned limits to the free movement of people and the amount of regulations that were handicapping British businesses. At the same time Mr Davies extols the virtues of the Single Market. It makes one wonder if any of these people know what the Single Market involves? For the free movement of people is one of the four pillars of the Single Market, the others are the free movement of goods, services and capital. Together they make up the Single Market. It is a bit naive to pretend that you can curtail one without someone else wanting to curtail the others.
The other issue that Mr Davies raised was the excessive number of EU regulations that apparently are handicapping British firms. Due to these dastardly regulations British firms cannot compete in the global market. It was notable that Mr Davies did not give a single example of these regulations, nor did the BBC interviewer deem it appropriate to ask for some examples. Why let details spoil a good diatribe? Even more surprisingly the BBC interviewer didn’t bother to ask why unnamed regulations were a handicap to British firms, but not apparently a handicap to German, Austrian, Finnish firms for example. It would seem most unlikely that there are any EU regulations that only apply to British firms. So what is Mr Davies actually objecting to? The inability of British firms to compete with their continental counterparts? After all EU regulations, by definition must handicap all EU firms. Has Mr Davies and the Tory party given up on the UK being able to compete on a level playing field with Germany and the other member states? Is the only way that British firms can compete in the global market by operating under lesser regulations than the others?
What exactly are these regulations anyway? Across the EU, the member states have all agreed that an integral part of the Single Market is Health and Safety. Al,l that is except the UK apparently. When eurosceptics object to the EU, they are mostly objecting to the various Health and Safety regulations that have been introduced to ensure there is a level playing field for all firms and producers. These regulations are designed to protect both consumers and workers. It is no wonder that Mr Davies and his eurosceptic friends are unwilling to specify which regulations they object to. It is not much of a rallying cry to say, leave the EU so that you as a consumer will have less rights and that you as a worker will have less protection. For at bottom this is what the eurosceptics want. A UK free from just about all kinds of health and safety and social rights. Their way forward for the UK is as a low wage, low standard economy for the majority and a safe haven for the very rich in the City of London. If you want to protect your rights as a consumer and as a worker, then they are much more likely to be secured in an independent Scotland than remaining in backward looking UK.