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There are no shortcuts to reforming the EU

15 January 2014

What does a Tory eurosceptic look like? Loud chalk-stripe, a flash of red braces and the faintest whiff of a lunch-time gander at the Members’ wine list. Right? Wrong.

The economic trauma of the crash of 2008 is demanding that just as Conservative modernisation needs to be rebooted to suit the new Age of Austerity – with a focus on bold economic reformism to tackle welfare traps, worklessness and failing schools instead of the cultural gesturism of early modernisation – so too the crisis demands a rebooted euroscepticism.  The Tory Party in Parliament has been transformed by the arrival of the Cameron generation: more entrepreneurial, impatient, ambitious and global in our outlook.  In our 30s and 40’s, ‘Thatcher’s children’ have built careers in the world transformed by the reforms of the 80s and the enterprise economics she unleashed to such effect.  Today’s Euroscepticism reflects that transformation.  Far from the little England xenophobia of UKIP, the new generation of modern Conservative Euro-sceptics are bound by an entrepreneurial frustration at a European project which is too introverted and bureaucratic to win any Global Race.

As a co-chair of today’s Fresh Start Conference for EU Reform – a major gathering in London of over 200 European national and business leaders from across the continent – I know that todays euroscepticism is fundamentally different to that which haunted the leaders of a previous era.  The cultural and political fundamentalism of early Euroscepticism 1.0 – an implacable rejection of any loss of sovereignty to ‘Johnny Foreigner’ that might dilute ‘Britishness’ and a deep suspicion of anything ‘European’ has been replaced by a much cooler headed debate about the single market and our trading relationship with the fastest emerging markets around the world.  Globalisation, the end of the Cold War, the pace of technological innovation and the collapse of the Eurozone has made eurosceptics of us all. As the Eurozone nations reconstitute the Eurozone in the wake of the banking crisis our relationship will change. This is the UK’s opportunity to refashion a non-Eurozone membership which reflects our vision of being ‘in Europe but not run by Europe’.

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The Prime Minister’s groundbreaking Bloomberg speech last year reflected this truth and set the tone for the new debate. Though some noisier fringe elements would suggest otherwise, it was a call that has been heeded by Conservatives up and down the country. Against the backstop of a guaranteed 2017 In Out referendum, the hard graft of turning complaints about the EU into a practical Programme for reform has started. Today’s Conference is the first major step in demonstrating the Prime Minister and Conservative Party’s commitment to leading the renegotiation and reform movement.  We will only secure renegotiation with the support of other member states in a ‘grand reform alliance’, and to that we have to build those alliances and share our various wish lists to find common ground.

Europe is economically fragile. It desperately needs economic growth, trade and investment to create new jobs and businesses. While the US sorted out its banks and begun to return to some form of economic health, the eurozone is mired in a deflationary spiral, unable to quite commit to fiscal union yet powerless to be a force again until it does. Yet, as I point out in my Fresh Report on the EU and UK Science published last week, too often the EU is its own worst enemy.  Last year BASF, the multi billion pound agro-chemical major, announced it was disinvesting its agricultural genetics research programme from Germany and moving to the USA because of the increasing hostility to GM in the EU.  Rather than welcoming new technologies such as biotechnology, too often the EU stifles them with misguided regulations. Having spent fifteen years creating and financing new businesses in this sector, I know there are huge global markets eager for European life science exports in areas like healthcare and agriculture and renewable energy.  At a time when the sclerotic and uncompetitive Eurozone is struggling and needs growth, such needless own goals make no sense.

The Prime Minister has done more for the cause of EU reform that any other British Prime Minister since we joined. Including Margaret Thatcher. The easy options of UKIP – like Labour’s energy price freeze – grab a headline but fail the test of basic credibility. The work of reforming the EU is long, technical and unglamorous.  But it is the only way.  There are no short cuts to reforming a European project which has become far too much about political regulation and not enough about how we can make Europe more competitive globally, and attract more investment and trade with the fastest growing emerging markets.

Don’t believe the headlines. Far from pin-striped brigades in the Parliamentary tea room banging on about Europe, a new practical, global, entrepreneurial euroscepticism is the default mode of the new Conservative generation in Parliament.  Sceptical of Brussels’ over-regulation yet practical enough to know that a reformed EU is a cause worth fighting for. The long slog of renegotiation might be stodgier fare than the drama of storming out. But, as we all know, nothing worth doing is ever easy. The Prime Minister is right.  We should be ambitious for Europe and work to agree a reform package to make it more entrepreneurial and globally competitive.  We may not succeed.  But not trying would be a major derogation of our duty, and a potentially huge missed opportunity to unleash the new cycle of global competitiveness, trade and investment in Europe we so badly need after the crash of 2008.  Its Euroscepticism, but not as you knew it.  It’s a progressive agenda for reforming the EU for an age of austerity and global competitiveness.

George Freeman MP is member of Parliament for Mid Norfolk and author of the latest Fresh Start and Open Europe Report on ‘The impact of EU Regulation on UK Life Sciences’.


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Show comments
  • Frank

    George Freeman top contender for Order of Brown-nosing.

  • Richard N

    When you write this drivel, you KNOW that you are lying through your teeth – yet you still do it – all of you fake ‘eurosceptic’ MPs.

    There is NOT ONE genuine eurosceptic Tory MP. That is a fact. There are just people like this writer, who have cast themselves as ‘eurosceptics’ all their careers (which has enabled the Tory party to sell this country off in treaty after treaty, and – until very recently – STILL manage, against all logic, to cast themselves as the ‘eurosceptic party’ – which is both hilarious and tragic at the same time.

    Finally, people have woken up – and realized that the Tory party is the Traitor Party.

    This party which has signed away more of our independence to the EU over the last 40 years than even the Labour party, and which has a leader who constantly repeats that he will stay in the EU no matter what, and who broke his promise for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty – and eurosceptics are supposed to believe that this party of traitors and liars is going to honour some promise of an EU referendum – and only then if they win a straight majority – which is virtually impossible?!

    You must be joking. Many of you fake eurosceptic Tory MPs are going to be without your seats very soon. I suggest you write a CV – oh, but doubtless you’ve already used your connections made in the Commons to sit on several Boards, right?

  • Smithersjones2013

    Far from the little England xenophobia of UKIP, the new generation of
    modern Conservative Euro-sceptics are bound by an entrepreneurial
    frustration at a European project which is too introverted and
    bureaucratic to win any Global Race.

    Congratulations to George Freeman who rants on about ‘xenophobic little Englanders’ when the British Census identified that over 32 million people now identified themselves as “English only”.

    For attempting to alienate half of the UK population in one foul swoop George Freeman is awarded the Tory Dimwit Of The Week award and has automatically qualified for the Tory Dimwit of the year award!

    PS I am thinking of making this a regular feature because there is always another Tory desperate enough to make an idiot of him or herself

  • global city

    Little Englander xenophobia of UKIP, hey?

    Just shows how the Tories, any of them, really ‘get it’!

    If you thinnk a global focus, the Anglosphere, free trade with the World, with a particular emphasis on the Commonwealth, an immigration and works policy that reflects 90% of the countries in the developed world, tax breaks for the SME part of the economy that constitutes the greatest bulk of wealth creation and job provision…. and providing a decent educational opportunity for the bright kids from the poorest backgrounds… is xenophobic and chronically inward looking then more fool you.

  • CharlietheChump

    The EU elites will never willingly give anything up, you will have to take what you want from their cold, dead hands.

  • colliemum

    Precisely because you modern ‘Eurosceptics’ have belittled the “cultural and political fundamentalism of early Euroscepticism 1.0 – an implacable rejection of any loss of sovereignty to ‘Johnny Foreigner’ that might dilute ‘Britishness’ […], and are doing it here again, that people are saying enough is enough.
    What is it you don’t understand about loss of sovereignty? Are you happy that some unelected Eurocrat can decide how and what we can tax and spend? It would seem so. I hope you’ll understand that we then don’t need a Parliament and MPs at all – after all, your work isn’t needed any longer.
    And perhaps, just perhaps, it might occur to you that we already cannot afford to buy all those fabulous global products, thanks to being over-taxed and thanks to our global welfare system.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Footage from the Tory Politician of the year competition: Rumour has it Freeman may have been a contestant.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Oh dear same old lies. Same old abuse. Same old Nasty Party. Will these moronic Tories ever learn?

  • OriginalChris

    I really cannot comprehend Mr Freeman’s claim about little Englanders and UKIP. Their UK position is clear – we stop looking inward to the EU and instead look out to the big wide world. It is UKIP that seems to recognise the opportunities out there, and it strongly advocates forging/developing much stronger links outside the EU.

    • Kitty MLB

      Wholeheartedly agree Chris.
      A very happy new year to you.
      To answer a question you put to me the other day, I am still
      there sometimes- Although a lot of other people who are not Cameroons do not have a choice and have been ‘ disappeared’.
      It seems a year before the election some are trying to create a false image
      of ‘Cameroon togetherness’.

      • OriginalChris

        Thank you, Kitty, and a very happy New Year to you too! From a mysteriously “disappeared”, I am really very concerned by this apparent image creation you refer to. I think it is has some rather serious implications, which are not to the good.

  • fubarroso

    The EU Referendum blog has a nice photo of a poster at the Gare du Midi illustrating the French answer to the Fresh Start Group.

    • Denis_Cooper

      Well, Richard North can’t be quite right when he writes:

      “with the “colleagues” in the advanced stages of preparing for a treaty convention.”

      To have a treaty convention would first require somebody to propose EU treaty changes under Article 48 TEU, and as far as I know that hasn’t yet happened.

      “Article 48 TEU

      1. The Treaties may be amended in accordance with an ordinary revision procedure. They may also be amended in accordance with simplified revision procedures.

      Ordinary revision procedure

      2. The Government of any Member State, the European Parliament or the Commission may submit to the Council proposals for the amendment of the Treaties. These proposals may, inter alia, serve either to increase or to reduce the competences conferred on the Union in the Treaties. These proposals shall be submitted to the European Council by the Council and the national Parliaments shall be notified.

      3. If the European Council, after consulting the European Parliament and the Commission, adopts by a simple majority a decision in favour of examining the proposed amendments, the President of the European Council shall convene a Convention …”

      So this group of MEPs has to get a majority of all MEPs to agree to their desired treaty changes being submitted to the Council, which hasn’t yet happened as far as I’m aware, and then the European Council would have to agree to them being examined.

      I’m not saying that it won’t happen, just that it is not within the power of the Spinelli Group to make it happen.

  • Will Rees

    At your conference, i trust the procedural hoops and obstacles to EUropean reform will be outlined, as well as a realistic assessment of what can be achieved by 2017

    • Smithersjones2013

      as well as a realistic assessment of what can be achieved by 2017

      That ones easy. NOTHING!

  • Hexhamgeezer

    More straw men from Mr F than a scarecrow convention.

    There is zero evidence of a wish to reform (honest accounts anyone?) and zero evidence of potential allies.

  • an ex-tory voter

    A whole page of horse droppings. This could only have been dreamt up by someone with a background in marketing.

  • AnotherDave
  • Geronimo Huxley

    Isn’t it interesting. Britain is actually leading on an issue that concerns the entirety of the EU. Germany and France are listening when it comes to the reduction of budgets, red tape issues that are affecting trade are being addressed. Is that not what a constructive partnership should look like?

  • sfin

    Nice try Mr Freeman – but this sort of thing has been trotted out time and time again and, as I said on another thread, we are tired of being lied to over Europe.

    There is a truism in life – if you give someone power, they will only want more of it. Our political leaders, across the political divide, have a 100% record of ‘talking tough’ on Europe to their electorate…

    …Then they attend their first summit. The limos, the hotels, the food, the thrill of exercising power on a bigger stage, the sheer ecstasy of ‘influencing’ international negotiations. And they all – even Margaret ‘single European Act’ Thatcher’ come back to Britain and tie themselves up in knots using obfuscation, mendacity (or ‘being political’ as Blair called it) to try and convince us that we are not being drawn in to an undemocratic superstate.

    Enough is enough – this isn’t just about business (important though that is), it’s about sovereignty and democratic accountability. UKIP are the only party offering this – and if that makes me a “little englander” then so be it!

    • Daniel Maris

      Absolutely. Whether you are pro or anti EU, there should at least be a consensus that we should not lie to the electorate. Promising things that cannot be obtained through continued EU membership is one example.

      Only UKIP, if you are anti-EU, or Lib Dems, if you are pro EU, are really telling the British public anything resembling the truth.

  • Colonel Mustard

    “Far from the little England xenophobia of UKIP”

    Nothing like pointing the finger at alleged prejudice and bigotry with a bit of actual prejudice and bigotry eh? The clue is in the name – what part of ‘United Kingdom Independence Party’ did you fail to understand?

    Ah, the delights of our modern political class, immersed in propaganda and hyperbole, bereft of common sense and honesty.

  • Denis_Cooper

    “As the Eurozone nations reconstitute the Eurozone in the wake of the banking crisis our relationship will change. This is the UK’s opportunity to refashion a non-Eurozone membership which reflects our vision of being ‘in Europe but not run by Europe’.”

    Firstly, I can hardly believe that in 2014 a Tory MP is still regurgitating Hague’s 1997 mantra of ‘in Europe but not run by Europe’, as if over the intervening years nobody will have seen it for the patent nonsense that it has always been.

    Secondly, I’m quite sure that this Tory MP knows very well that apart from the UK and Denmark every EU member state is under a treaty obligation to join the euro, so that “non-Eurozone membership” will become an increasing lonely business.

    Back in 2010 when Merkel demanded an EU treaty change to legalise eurozone bailouts Cameron had a “golden opportunity” to demand other treaty changes in return, but declined to do so and simply gave her what she wanted; and what did Mr Freeman do when the Bill to approve that EU treaty change, without a referendum, came before the Commons? Followed the government line, of course.

    That 2012 Act of Parliament to approve the EU treaty change that Cameron agreed to give Merkel free gratis and for nothing in 2010 is here:

    “European Union (Approval of Treaty Amendment Decision) Act 2012”

    Now we are supposed to wait for the next “golden opportunity” and assume that the Mr Freeman and the rest of the Tory party would insist on that being exploited to the full, when almost of them were content to see the last one wasted.

    • HookesLaw

      Its the fact that we will not be in thew Euro which will dictate our inevitable renegotiation of terms with the EU.
      I do not see why this should be allowed to let in a Europhile Labour Party.

      • Denis_Cooper

        What, you’re worried about letting in a europhile Labour party rather a europhile Tory party?

        I well recall before the last election there was Tory talk of the “golden opportunity” for renegotiation that would come up when the eurozone states needed EU treaty changes, so we should all be patient and not worry about Cameron’s abject surrender over the Lisbon Treaty and duly vote for Tory candidates.

        Then that “golden opportunity” came along, thanks to Merkel’s fear of the German constitutional court, and Cameron made no use of it.

        Even after that, Cameron maintained the pretence that jam would be delivered at some future point; as the Tory MP Mark Reckless put it to him directly in the Commons on October 24th 2011:

        “The Prime Minister tells The Daily Telegraph today that we should use any treaty change to shore up the euro to get powers over employment and social policy back, yet on 25 March, he agreed to precisely such a treaty change, but did not ask for anything in return.”

        Do you really think that the Tory party can carry on fooling people, lying and deceiving and misleading like those wicked doorstep salesmen preying on the vulnerable that our politicians are always so ready to condemn?

        • OriginalChris

          It seems that there are difficulties now in giving this sort of information, and related material, on the “influential” Conservative website, just in case you notice an absence. Very puzzled as to what is going on.

      • Smithersjones2013

        Every other country is intending to join the Euro. So why would the EU even consider a unilateral agreement with the UK? After all didn’t Hague say that such expectations were unrealistic?

  • Denis_Cooper

    “Far from the little England xenophobia of UKIP”

    Ah, so this article by a Tory MP, in fact the entire “Fresh Start” nonsense, is really about heading off a perceived threat from UKIP.

    I was planning to vote for UKIP, but now that I realise that would be an expression of little England xenophobia I will of course vote Tory instead.

    You really are a bunch of twerps if you think you that you can succeed by constantly insulting those you wish to win over.

  • Reconstruct

    Certainly no shortcuts to reforming the EU institutions.

    But can you show me that a longer route really exists? I have seen no signs of substantive reform that have ever managed to loosen Brussels’ death-grip on Europe.

    If there is a route to reform, perhaps you could point it out? I suspect the only route to reform is a genuine threat to simply quit. Even then, I suspect they’d rather see the EU diminished by our exit than concede substantive reform.

    Show me some evidence that these people have it in them to reform!

  • @dahaigh

    Because the crash of 2008 showed us how we had far too much regulation and red-tape from Brussels

    • HookesLaw

      The crash of 2008 ws due to the EU? Thats a new one.

      • @dahaigh

        It showed we have far too many regulations on the free market, which works optimally and is self-correcting. Irony doesn’t work so well when written.

  • Kitty MLB

    Oh for goodness sake, you cannot place a plaster over a nasty growth-
    sometimes surgery is needed.
    Sometimes you need to admit something was a mistake and let it go,
    The EU is incompetent, greedy, untrustworthy ,against individuality,
    and grew far too large for its own good.
    Politicians here have been speaking down this once great country and belittling
    us for far too long, its not ‘ Little England’ to want your country back,
    a force in the world as Thatcher once said, we should leave the EU
    and so should the other countries of Europe.

    • telemachus

      Yes it is little england
      You little englanders are mired in a past of the television costume dramas
      Life has moved on
      We need to be part of a dynamic big whole
      Just today Ford has said it will pull out your little england if you little englanders get your way

      • AnotherDave

        Ford has already moved production from the UK to Turkey. Turkey is not in the EU.

        The move was financed by an EU grant.

      • john hughes

        dynamic codwallop. if its so good for britain convince me why its so good. not with threats that the eu will move production back to europe because we can do the same. we import 12% more from the eu than export to the eu. germany exports 13% of its world trade to the uk. do you think for one minute they would stop trading with us. also the french spain italy ect would lose out. germany alone would lose 2-3 million jobs alone. we would be at least 12% better off in our exports to the eu.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Yes it is Little England. As bigger bullies than you and your comrades have found to their cost.

      • Smithersjones2013

        In the census over 32 million people identified themselves as ‘English Only’. Over half the population potentially could fit your description. How good of you to try and alienate them .

        It always makes sense to alienate the majority.

    • Geronimo Huxley

      Guy Verhofstadt confirms he has a keen interest in reforming the EU.
      Circles close to Angela Merkel confirm she is keen to reform the EU.
      No one of influence opposes the efforts to reform the EU, only those who want out use this debate to obfuscate their real intentions.

      • Richard N

        When EU politicians talk about ‘reform’, they are usually talking about MORE centralization – that is their idea of ‘reform’!

  • telemachus

    No shortcuts
    Despite Osborne’s comments in the DT

    • Hexhamgeezer


  • AnotherDave

    There’s nothing xenophobic about UKIP, and there’s nothing entrepreneurial about Mr Cameron.

    • HookesLaw

      Yes there is on both counts

      • Alexsandr

        God, you are like a stuck record. UKIP is not about xenophobia. Its is about getting out of the failed EU. I like Europe and its people. But am baffled why they have saddled themselves with the monstrosity that is the undemocratic, over regulating EU

        • HookesLaw

          You only need to look at comments frpom UKIP activists to see what attract them to UKIP.

          • Alexsandr

            Frpom? is that Hungarian?

      • Wessex Man

        Is that the best you can do Hooky? you are turning as sad as Call me Dave’s broken record about a referendum that he will call in 2017, when he returns to power not needing any partners in crime, on terms he already knows he can’t!

        The days of the seventies are long gone when you could fool most of the people most of the time, this splendid little village built by buffoons called Westminster can no longer spin it’s way from election to election without us noticing you are all the same!

        • HookesLaw

          ‘is that the best anotherDave can do’ you mean.

          You sound pathetic quite frankly.

          • Smithersjones2013

            Afternoon Hooky. How’s our resident Toxic Tory? Still spewing your deranged venom are you?

            Its a good job you support the nasty party. I doubt any other party would have anything to do with you.

      • gerontius

        My wife is Polish. This evening I will advise her that, according to you, I am now a xenophobe.
        She will be puzzled by this affiction, but I’m sure she will try to be understanding and supportive..

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