Monday, 7 March 2016

EU subordination does not work for Britain

I'm just chewing my way through the Port Services Directive. I can see why British ports are seriously upset by it, and it's not right for us, but on the whole I don't think it's terrible. What bothers me is that it's a one size fits all proposal and whenever you see something like this, it is usually just a single component of a much larger agenda. In this it's the Single European transport area.

One of its aims being to establish a fully functioning, EU-wide TEN-T core network integrating all forms of transport by 2030. It sets out 40 specific action points and lists 131 concrete initiatives for the next decade to build a competitive transport system that will remove major bottlenecks and move people and goods efficiently and safely throughout the European Union (EU).

Like the ports directive, we are powerless to stop it unless we can drum up support for the British objections. And there's no reason why we could because there's a lot to be said for such an agenda on mainland Europe where the commonalities and crossovers are huge.

Roads in Germany are much the same as those in France and Poland and they all drive on the wrong side of the road. Their cities are similar, many of the roads were built around the same time, and there is there is far greater cross border mobility what with there being no seas to cross at great expense. Why should Europe object?

This is why we do need a distinct relationship with the EU. This is why we would want special opt outs. We are a different country with unique needs and capabilities and we need the right to say no. Moreover, the ports directive goes a long way to liberalising EU ports in ways that simply isn't required of the UK. In fact, I can't imagine anything worse than a transport policy for Britain designed by anyone other than the British.

That is not to say there are not elements we would want, but there are real and practical reasons why we would want to veto certain measures - anything from width of bridges to noise pollution measures. A one size policy will never fit all.

In this we are better off seeking a common set of values and adhering to common standards as agreed by the UNECE and having looser conventions rather hard coded rules. That is what most people assume directives are - and to my mind, that is what they are supposed to be - but in reality they are far more demanding - and we have to swallow them whole.

While it's true that Brexit in the first instance still means we would adopt such a directive, it does give us a free vote and a veto at the UNECE level (the real top table where the nuts and bolts are forged) and the EEA veto - which probably should be used on something as potentially destructive as the Port Services directive.

While I could really go to town on a post like this, it's actually besides the point. These measures are about as "ever closer union" as it gets and still we have no real means of exemption. Our relationship has not changed. As much as the prime minister has lied through his teeth and the EU is not being reformed either, it is actually only Brexit that can deliver the change in relationship the PM pretends he has secured - having the best of both worlds of single market membership and none of the political union.

It's unrealistic to ever expect we will have total control because we will always seek cooperation but it's clear that while we are in the EU we don't have the necessary influence to stop harmful regulation and if we did, it would be harmful to the rest of the EU - which could do a lot worse than to implement such measures.

In short, we will never get what we need from the EU, we will always be outnumbered because of our distinctiveness, and on those few occasions where we get our way it is we who are holding the EU back. It seems to me like everybody wins from Brexit. Subordination does not work for Britain. Multilateralism and cooperation will.

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