UK promises thorough analysis of EU by 2014
By Honor Mahony
The UK government has announced it will prepare a wide-ranging study of the EU so that any future statements about 'meddlesome' Brussels may be backed up by hard evidence.
"Such a comprehensive piece of work has never been undertaken before, but is long overdue," foreign secretary William Hague told MPs on Thursday (12 July).
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"This review will be a valuable exercise for deepening understanding in Britain of the nature of our relationship with the European Union and how it has evolved over time."
Work on the "analytic exercise" - which may "give rise to policy conclusions" - will begin in September. Government departments will oversee assessment in their policy areas. Work on the review is to conclude in 2014.
It is set to be a massive job.
Trying to rise above domestic politics, where any mention of the EU causes ructions within his own Conservative Party, Hague presented the task as something that would be beneficial to all member states, as well as feed into current future-of-EU discussions.
"These are issues that affect all member states and could have a bearing on the future shape of the EU as a whole," he said, adding that the report will "provide a constructive and serious British contribution to the public debate across Europe about how the EU can be reformed, modernised and improved."
Carrying on in the public service vein, Hague noted that contributions may come not only from EU experts, including from businesses and NGOs in the UK, but from outside too.
"We will also invite our European and G20 partners as well as the EU institutions and other international bodies to contribute evidence if they wish."
A 24-page "Balance of Competences of the European Union" accompanying Hague's speech shows how the EU's powers have evolved over the years and notes many instances where the Union was legislating before it had the specific powers to do so.
London's specific EU bugbears are EU employment and social laws - considered unfriendly to business - which it wants to "repatriate."
Controlling the debate
Hague was careful to avoid any specific plans on what the government might do once the report is drawn up. However, Conservative backbenchers were keen to pin him down to a referendum.
"Questions about a referendum are separate," said Hague, adding: "It is not a consultation about withdrawing or disengaging from the EU."
He said he hopes the report would sort out where the EU was "meddling" and where it was beneficial.
But the London's Conservative leadership is having increasing difficulty managing the country's EU debate.
Diehard eurosceptics consider the eurozone's progress towards further integration as a good opportunity to re-assess Britain's EU membership, preferably by referendum. The review is in part a sop to these demands.
London's domestic debate is being closely watched in Brussels.
"I believe that Europe without Britain at the heart will be less reform-driven, less open, less international Europe," EU commission president Jose Manuel Barroso said in an interview with the New Statesman.
He went on to suggest that Britain would have little influence in the world if it is not an EU member.