Would not the British government by doing itself and its EU partners a considerable favour if it were to present the changes it would like to see as a limited extension of a well-tried EU practice: the 'variable geometry'?
[...] And yet “variable geometry”, that jargon-impeded piece of EU practice, has been alive and well and proving its value across a whole range of EU policies and decision making since the 1990’s. It is neither a British invention; nor is it exclusively applied to the UK; nor is it inimical to the further development of the EU.
The most obvious example of variable geometry is the euro, whereby the UK and Denmark are explicitly permitted to decide if and when to join the eurozone and use the euro as their currency. [...]
And then there is Schengen, with a different cast of members outside it (Ireland, UK, Bulgaria, Romania, Cyprus and Croatia). [...] The same is true of Justice and Home Affairs legislation where yet another constellation of Member States (Ireland, the UK, Denmark) have the right to opt-in or opt-out of specific measures.
Of course there are plenty of people in Brussels who think this is all very regrettable and should never have been allowed to happen – that there is indeed a whiff of heresy about it. [...] There clearly are large parts of EU legislation and policy making – the vast majority if it in fact – which must be applied uniformly right across the EU if a level playing field is to be established and maintained. Oddly enough, perhaps, that view is frequently shared by the British government – just listen to what they have to say in the completion of the Single Market, or animal welfare, or the environment, or trade policy. So there is no fundamental difference of view here, simply the need to move cautiously and circumspectly when applying the concept of variable geometry.
If this is indeed a reasonably accurate picture of the present state of affairs within the EU, would not the British government by doing itself and its EU partners a considerable favour if it were to present the changes it would like to see as a limited extension of a well-tried EU practice? [....] It is surely time for British politicians to realise that, like the character in the Molière play who said he did not know what prose was and was told that was what he was speaking all the time, it is time now to put the case for flexibility in less exclusive terms and ones which fit the reality of life in Brussels and the common interests of all its members.
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