18th Mar 2018

Cameron idea to repatriate EU laws is 'complete non-starter'

  • Andor: 'I find it curious that the unbridled power of the market should be viewed so positively' (Photo: Dees Chinniah)

British Prime Minister David Cameron's aim to 'repatriate' some EU social laws has been deemed as "complete non-starter" by the European Commissioner in charge of the dossier.

In a strongly worded address to a trade union audience in London on Monday (13 February), EU social affairs commissioner Laszlo Andor also took Britain to task for promulgating stereotypes, its dislike of employment legislation and the assumption that it can cherrypick EU laws.

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Andor noted that EU laws which have been agreed by governments and parliament - as social laws are - are binding on all member states.

If Britain wanted to be exempt from social and employment laws, the treaty would have to be changed - itself requiring the agreement of all 27 countries.

"I therefore think it is clear that repatriating social policy competence is a non-starter — legally, socially and politically," said the commissioner.

His rebuke goes against the heart of a policy announced by Cameron in order to keep his eurosceptic backbenchers on board when it comes to London's EU policy.

In return for not holding a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, Cameron promised to repatriate social laws and a sovereignty bill was later passed promising a referendum if significant powers are handed over to the EU in future.

Andor's speech also defends in detail laws that attract the most ire in the UK - rules for temporary workers and rules capping the working week at 48 hours.

The last two were among those singled out by Cameron at a speech at last month's World Economic Forum as "making life harder."

The Hungarian official, one of the few centre-left commissioners, also takes aim at what he reckons is Britain's extraordinary affection for a deregulated market.

He speaks of the "widespread — though not universal — and seemingly unreasoning belief in the primacy of the market in the governance of the economy. I find it curious that the unbridled power of the market should be viewed so positively."

Apparently intent on raising all the bugbears that EU officials can occasionally be heard to mutter about the UK (widely regarded as the most recalcitrant member of the Union) Andor also says he wants to "debunk the myth" of "unelected Brussels bureaucrats" - a familiar refrain in some of the UK's newspapers.

"May I take the opportunity to debunk a myth frequently heard here in the UK - that 'unelected Brussels bureaucrats' dictate EU health and safety at work legislation. I often muse at the term 'unelected bureaucrats' — as if many bureaucrats were elected! It also fudges the issue of accountability, which has nothing to do with being elected."

Andor's broadside comes at complicated time in London's relations with Brussels. At a summit in December, Cameron blocked other member states from going ahead with full-blown treaty change. They opted for an intergovernmental pact instead, excluding the UK.

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