Probably not. To get an idea what the new Conservative/ LibDem coalition is thinking about the EU you just have to read two short documents:
Last week an interesting memo leaked from William Hague who is now the new British Foreign Secretary:
The Tory letter on Europe in full.
There is also a section in coalition agreement titled”Relations with the EU”:
Coalition Negotiations Agreement
Just a short comment:
A lot of no’s and red lines. A referendum lock on any new EU treaty (ok, nothing is in the pipeline at the moment..) or “if sovereignty is transfered” (whatever that means…). It is a nice gesture to include the idea of “one seat for the EP” – but it is not likely to happen (just ask any French minister…). And that the UK will not introduce the Euro in the next 5 years is also not a surprise (Maastricht criteria anyone?). Everything is very vague – probably to please the anti-EU Tories as well as the pro-EU LibDems. It is disappointing that there is no positive idea, no willingness to engage creatively, no project that the UK government wants to push forward. Some innovative climate change legislation maybe, completing the single market, an increased cooperation in defense matters (St.Malo was a good start!) or even a CAP reform (and the British rebate is a great bargaining chip!)…there are quite some possibilities without any ‘sovereignty issues’ attached.
Unfortunately, William Hague, the new Foreign Secretary, is a convinced anti-EU politician. Usually he is an outspoken euroskeptic who has been instrumental for numerous Conservative/euroskeptic policies and ideas. One example is the infamous post-ratification referendum.
On a more positive note, David Lidington, a moderate Tory, was appointed as the new Europe minister. In the early 1990s he supported John Major’s backing of the Maastricht Treaty . Interestingly, the former “shadow Europe minister” Mark Francois did not get the job. He is another hard-line euroskeptic who was behind the Tory idea of leaving the EPP group in the European Parliament. (thanks to GGBrunt for the clarification)
Nick Clegg, the deputy PM, and most of the LibDems in the newly formed cabinet are amongst the most pro-EU politicians in the UK. Kenneth Clarke, the (only?) pro-EU Tory in the cabinet became Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, which is a good position for him to deal with or veto the most radical ‘power repatriation’ ideas of the Conservative Party. The cabinet is indeed an interesting mixture and we have to wait how it develops.
David Cameron, the new Prime Minister, strikes me as very pragmatic. At the moment I think he will not do anything radical because it will be difficult to keep the LibDems happy if he follows the euroskeptic wing of his party. Even before he came to power he ditched the idea of having a post-ratification referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon. I think he is quite realistic what he can achieve with the coalition and what not.We might see some more parliamentary scrutiny and possibly some more opt-outs. I don’t think anything will be successful that involves opt-out from existing agreements that would need the consensus of the other 26 EU states. I think he knows that and he deliberately has been very vague when it comes to details. He does seem to recognize that the topic might develop into a major problem for the coalition.
At the same time we should not expect any great initiative coming from Downing Street in the next years. Unfortunately Britain is likely to keep a distance to the EU and we will definitely get a more ‘radical’ rhetoric from the government – especially from William Hague.