Article by Robert Colvile
'The problem then is that anything on that level will also have to be approved by the EU. And I don’t just mean the Council of Ministers (which is the body most likely to be on our side in all this, since it represents the EU’s nation-states). I don’t even mean the Commission and the European Parliament, who are likely to be far more hostile. I mean every other nation in Europe.
Now, the think tank Politeia – who hosted a really good discussion of this issue at the Conservative Party conference – have come up with a trick whereby we could theoretically get a new deal without changing any EU treaties (which boils down to withdrawing and then re-entering on the new terms about a minute later).
But if that won’t wash, then treaty change will be needed. And that means asking every single nation in the EU – some of them, like France, in the middle of election campaigns – whether it approves this special new deal for Britain, which gives nothing to anyone else. It’s really, really hard to imagine national parliaments endorsing that without a murmur, or a demand for their own special concessions in return – let alone those countries where this kind of thing is subject to a referendum.
In short, there are some (narrow and obstacle-strewn) paths to David Cameron getting a new deal that will be acceptable to Brussels and to the British people. We could wrap up the British deal as part of a wider restructuring of European institutions, probably triggered by a new instalment of the Eurozone crisis (fingers crossed, everyone!). We could find some sort of legal trickery that doesn’t trigger the treaty changes, and rely on the Council of Ministers to ram it down the rest of Europe’s throat.
But other than that, there seems to be a wide divide – especially now free movement has become the symbol of this whole process – between what Cameron can get and what he can sell. If anyone’s got any ideas of how to fix that, I'm all ears.'
This article makes an important point that is seldom made. The prime minister talks about the re-negotiations as though it is just a matter of arguing with continental politicians. Yet just as he is accountable to the British voters, the European politicians that he must negotiate with are answerable to their own voters. Are the people of Europe really going to give up a right and freedom that they enjoy without expecting their leaders to put up a fight or at least demand massive concessions from Britain in return?
As I said before, David Cameron is talking like Alex Salmond; he thinks negotiation means asking for what you want and getting it for nothing.