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23 October 2013

UK/Germany to lead on EU reform?

"There's a historic opportunity for Britain and Germany to lead the work of improving the structures of the EU, together with other like-minded countries", writes the Spectator. Other media coverage included the UK government's report on reducing red tape and further liberalising the single market.

A Spectator blogpost argued that while the British Parliament continued deliberating the EU Referendum Bill, it was worth reflecting on the relationship between the UK and Germany which could determine the future direction of the whole European Union.

"David Cameron made a big speech on the EU at the start of the year stating his five principles of wanting more competitiveness, flexibility, a rebalancing of powers between nation states and Brussels, democratic accountability and fairness." What was especially appreciated of his speech, according to the authors, was his genuine desire to work with like-minded partners to help reshape the European Union into that more competitive and flexible entity.

"Germany is one of the leading economies in the EU and the largest net contributor to it. So, centre-right politicians in German have the same strong interest as those in the UK in making Europe less bureaucratic and more competitive. And these politicians share many of the concerns David Cameron highlighted in his January speech.

"There is one big difference between the countries. Because of its geography and history, Germany places an emphasis on the political importance of a common Europe, whereas the UK’s focus is on trade and the single market. But despite this the countries share many objectives, and the differences there appear to be between them owe more to language than substance. Conservatives in the UK stress the need for an open discussion with European partners about the balance of power between the EU and individual nation states. German politicians emphasis the principle of subsidiarity which is core to the German understanding of how politics should be conducted. Ultimately both arrive at the same conclusion.

"There’s a historic opportunity for Britain and Germany to lead the work of improving the structures of the European Union, together with other like-minded countries. There are areas of common ground for discussion on budget discipline, free trade and efficiency in the public sector to name but a few. This needs the engagement of the UK. The consensus view in Germany, across the political spectrum, is that the EU is a better place with Britain in it. And that like Germany, Britain derives an economic benefit from its membership of the EU. Perhaps it is time for British and UK-based international companies which share this analysis to be more vocal and co-ordinated in spelling out that message."

In line with the UK's demands, the German Association of Family Businesses has called for the EU Treaties to be "fundamentally recalibrated" to allow powers to flow back to Member States in a letter to German MPs. The letter argues: "A key element for the sustainable improvement of the situation [in the EU] is the principle of liability. The future of Europe cannot be jeopardised through the progressive pooling of debts with foreseeable cuts to the German budget or the disempowerment of national parliaments in favour of centralisation in Brussels."

The German newspaper the Local reports that the UK was indeed wooing Germany in the EU red tape dispute. Britain was banking on German support to push through reforms to cut red tape across the European Union, which it believed costs the continent billions of euros and strangled economic growth, the newspaper said. A German government spokesman told The Local they welcomed the British report and findings which it said made important points in the efforts to cutback bureaucracy and reduce the burden of red tape.

The main findings and tone of the report are broadly reflective of what Cameron would like to secure in talks on EU reform, writes the EU Observer: A more liberalised single market, with particular focus on the EU's fast-developing digital economy, and an ambitious EU/US trade deal would both be close to the top of his wish-list. The Commission swiftly put out a press release in President Barroso's name broadly endorsing the paper, but offering a gentle reminder that the EU executive is already acceding to its requests.

On the European Movement's euroblog, Almuh Möller warned that if Britain was to be successful in winning over Germany on EU reform then it needed to understand how Germany’s federal system, with its intricate balance of competences between the various levels, is an integral part of modern Germany and key to German thinking on Europe.

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