By Conor Brennan
Director of Business for New Europe, Phillip Souta, said businesses were “worried the UK is becoming isolated from the EU” at a Review of the Balance of Competences event at the European Parliament offices in the UK this morning.
Speaking alongside a panel which included Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP, Sajjad Karim MEP and David Seymour (currently Consultant Editor to Nucleus), Phillip Souta said that talk of an exit from the EU had now become “mainstream in the UK.” He stated the reason the review had come about was because of political pressure and it should be remembered the review cannot be entirely divorced from a political context.
Phillip Souta highlighted the campaign for EU reform lead by Andrea Leadsom MP and described the suggestion of a rolling in / out option for progressive UK Governments as “a recipe for legal uncertainty” and would have a negative impact on businesses. Concluding, he argued that reforms were needed in the EU and that the review could be a positive exercise.
Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP conceded she had initial reservations when the government announced a review of the balance of competences between the EU and the UK but was more positive about the assessment “by the day” and believes this could be an “extremely valuable exercise.”
Using the European criminal justice system as an example, Baroness Ludford highlighted the advantages of the UK using the EU where it was best deployed. The recent European Arrest Warrant issued for Jeremy Forrest, a teacher who had absconded with his 15 year old pupil to France, was a perfect example, she claimed.
Baroness Ludford praised a recent speech by Polish Foreign Minister, Radosław Sikorski, which called for the UK to re-engage with the EU.
The Review of the Balance of Competences should be fed into the decision making on the possible opt-out of the crime and policing laws in 2014, according to Baroness Ludford. She continued, a mass opt-out of these laws should not be made on “knee-jerk political dogma.”
Finishing, Baroness Ludford stated she remained enthusiastic about the review and on completion it could become something which is offered to the UK’s European neighbours as a model for their own engagement with the EU.
Sajjad Karim MEP stated that everybody agreed there was a case for reform in the EU but previously there has not been a mature debate in the UK on the EU. He said that he believed the review, initiated by the government, will support a mature debate on the role of the EU in Britain. According to Sajjad Karim this review is an assessment on the “grandest scale” and he hoped people in the UK would engage with the review and submit evidence.
In the following discussion, Baroness Ludford said she hoped the review would highlight benefits of the EU which many people may take for granted. For example, she highlighted that one million people from the UK live within the EU and exercise the free movement of people benefits associated with the EU.
Phillip Souta stated that 50% of the UK automotive industry exported to the EU and uncertainty on the role the UK has in the EU would not bode well for this industry.
Chairing the panel discussion, David Seymour said that often businesses were accused of blackmailing the UK if they publicly supported the EU and he was glad to hear Phillip Souta relay concerns of UK businesses.
The introduction of a single European Parliament seat in Brussels was an important reform that needed to be enacted in the EU replied Baroness Ludford to a question regarding reform in the European Union.
However, Mr Souta said he believed a change in the electoral process of MEPs would have a greater impact on the democratic deficit experienced in the UK on European matters.
Speaking before the panel discussion, a representative from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office outlined the general premise of the review set up by the government and confirmed more information will follow in the coming months.