New UK reports back EU powers, enrage eurosceptics
By Benjamin Fox
EU policies ranging from the single market and trade, to culture and transport, are good for the UK, according to a series of government reports on the balance of power between London and Brussels.
The findings are contained in eight reports published on Thursday (13 February), which form the second batch of the UK's “Balance of Competences” review, comprising more than 30 separate studies by a range of government departments.
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The remaining 18 papers are expected to be published later this year.
The reports were intended to form the basis for a future re-negotiation of the UK's EU membership.
Last year, PM David Cameron outlined plans to re-write the UK's membership terms followed by an “in/out” referendum in 2017 if his Conservative Party wins the next election.
However, Whitehall's analysis of the free movement of persons, which is expected to touch on the controversial issues of economic migration and welfare tourism within the EU, has been temporarily shelved.
Cameron's Conservative-led government has been embroiled in a long running row with the European Commission over whether economic migrants from other EU countries should be able to claim benefits, and has also mooted the possibility of imposing a cap on EU migration.
A row between Liberal Democrat members of the coalition government and home secretary Theresa May over the evidence behind her calls for tighter controls on migration is believed to be behind the shelving of the paper.
Eurosceptics are already unhappy the reports published so far have all offered qualified support for the way that Brussels is using its powers.
"The whole review has been commandeered by the pro-EU establishment and is going to be a total whitewash that claims EU membership has no downsides and only advantages," said the UK Independence Party (Ukip) in a statement.
"But for possibly the most important chapter of all to get held back altogether is totally unacceptable."
The reports are based on more than 600 pieces of written evidence from contributors including businesses, trade associations, think tanks and politicians, the vast majority of which have given broad support to the current settlement.
"Of the 14 reports that have now been published all of them have concluded that the balance of power between Westminster and Brussels is broadly right," Christopher Howarth, an analyst for the Open Europe think tank told EUobserver.
"For a Tory-led government this is a bit of a surprise to say the least.”
The report on trade and investment argues that EU trade policy has been beneficial for UK, despite the proportion of the country's exports going to the EU falling from 54 percent to 47 percent over the past decade.
However, the total value of its exports has increased in this period from £130 billion (€160 billion) to £240 billion (€275 billion).
"The balance of competence for the free movement of goods and IP [intellectual property] works in the UK's interests," another report says.
In a sign of just how surprising the outcome has been, Glenis Willmott, a senior MEP from the British opposition Labour party, also welcomed the texts.
"[They] highlight just how important European Union membership is to jobs and growth, showing the positive impact of the EU on the free movement of goods, trade and investment, research and development, tourism, and civil justice," she said.