UK manufacturers’ positive manifesto

The EEF, Britain’s manufacturer’s organisation, has just published Europe – A Manifesto for Growth.

In the words of their Chief Exec, Terry Scuoler,

We strongly support Britain’s continued membership of the EU.

And not unreasonably, they have their own set of proposals for the future of the union, focusing on policy and delivery. This is a welcome and constructive contribution to the debate, which stands in marked contrast to UKIP’s dogmatic rush-to-the-exit or the dangerous semi-exit approach of the Conservatives.

Here are some of their proposals and my thoughts on the details:

  • Reducing the number of European Commissioners. This was actually agreed when the Lisbon treaty was negotiated, but subsequently blocked by Ireland. I trust the EEF will be targeting the Irish government to rethink their position.
  • Creating a new Brussels-based ‘red tape taskforce’, similar to the Better Regulation Executive in the UK. They’re pushing at an open door here. We already have the REFIT programme, which targets unnecessary business burdens. (Of course, when we get them right, Europe-wide rules are anyway an exercise in cutting red tape, replacing 28 divergent and conflicting national rules with a common set of rules for the common market.)
  • ‘Clustering’ the Commission’s Directorates General where there are too many of them. EEF believes this would deliver better policy integration as well as reducing costs. Internal Commission organisation will be a hotly discussed subject with the appointment of a new Commission later this year, so this is a timely proposal. (But, of course, the Commission only proposes new rules. It doesn’t decide on them: they can only be adopted by elected national governments in the Council and directly elected MEPs in the European Parliament.
  • Britain taking a leading role in Europe, focusing on lucrative multi-billion-pound trade deals and extending the highly valuable single market. There is widespread support for this across the political spectrum in the UK — bar UKIP and the Eurosceptic half of the Tory party — and indeed among most other European countries.
  • A one-in-one-out principle for proposed EU laws. I think this is a bit simplistic. We should always seek to make necessary laws and avoid unnecessary ones, but whether a law is valuable or not depends on its own merits, not on the merits of others. So whether this principle results in more or less legislation should depend on whether each law is justified or not, rather than on a mathematical formula. Anyway, at the moment, the standard that must be met in order to make any laws at European level is a high one. The EU can only adopt laws in areas where all countries have agreed that it should, and any specific law then requires approval by no fewer than 74% of ministers’ votes in the EU Council, and a majority in the European Parliament too.
  • Produce an annual statement of the cost of any new EU proposals to business. The European Parliament should scrutinise and throw out unnecessary red tape. This one is a bit timid. Every proposed new law or regulation should come with an impact assessment on what it costs us (or saves us). This is too important to bury in an annual statement after the event.
  • Exempt start-up businesses from new legislation, and propose a lighter-touch regimen of red tape for all small and medium-sized enterprises. This one is tricky. Should new businesses be exempt from the ban on asbestos, or rules to prevent money laundering? Presumably not! Other rules, such as certain reporting requirements, can certainly be looked at. Though the bulk of those are national, not European.

All in all, EEF members will, I hope, be happy with Labour’s approach to the EU: focused on growth, with constructive and continuous reform, striking the right balance between what needs to be done at the level of the single market and what should be done nationally: as decentralised as possible, centralised only when necessary.

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