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EU politics: the games they play

Richard North, 19/11/2012  


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It was only a couple of weeks ago that we had Auntie Beeb is telling us that Labour was "repositioning itself" on "Europe" (meaning the EU), at which point we noted that we were seeing the classic "convergence" between the two main parties, so that there was no serious difference between them on the issue.

Thus, since we are now seeing a week when David Cameron goes to Brussels to throw his weight about for domestic consumption, Ed Miliband has to keep pace and come up with some "robust" ideas of his own.

So it is that this absurd man is calling for "major reforms of the European Union to make it work properly for Britain". Smile if you must, but this includes the budget, immigration policy and "rules banning national governments from helping business" – all the dog-whistle stuff that keeps Conservative leaders so entertained.

Then, on the Beeb , we have shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander saying his party "could still be pro-European and argue for reform". This also puts Labour firmly alongside the Tories, so that there is not a smidgin of difference between them.

The ploy is all so predictable that you can write the script for Miliband. One thing you can't do is take him seriously. They are taking us for fools. We are seeing classic party political maneouvring, all leading to an end game where the parties attempt to park "Europe" and get back into their comfort zones with their "schools 'n' hospitals" agendas".

Meanwhile, Tory politicians are also doing their own manoeuvring. David Davis is suggesting a two-part referendum, first offering for approval a list of powers that we want repatriated, and then a second poll offering the choice of approving the deal negotiated or getting out.

One suspects that the "colleagues" might call his bluff if Mr Cameron tried this, refusing to negotiate and thus leaving the government high and dry, stuck with a referendum where "out" was the only serious option. And this is why, of course, why it will not be offered just yet. Mr Cameron will try to get away with a promise of renegotiation followed by a referendum, some time after the general election.

Now, very much as expected, that also looks like Miliband's direction of travel, with both leaders hoping this will be enough to slay the UKIP dragon. Possibly, though, something so transparently cynical might even further alienate voters, to the extent that the "UKIP effect" keeps the Conservatives out of office at the general.

However, UKIP is not the immediate problem for Mr Cameron. We  learn that EU officials have begun work on plans for a multi-annual budget that does not require UK approval. This could be seen as reinforcing the dynamic where, as we have previously reported, the "colleagues" might be quite happy to see the back of the UK.

On that basis, the outcome of the budget negotiations this week could be Cameron creeping back from Brussels this week, able to convince only the British media that he has scored a "victory", while actually suffering a humiliating defeat. But then, since he is more concerned to play to a domestic audience, that won't matter. The games, for the moment, are more important than the reality.

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