The future of the European Union: UK Government policy - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

6  Conclusions: maintaining UK influence in the EU

165.  The debate over the future of the EU and the UK's place in it now engages the most fundamental questions. Given that we intend our Report to help inform and guide public debate, in conclusion we simply set some of them out. We find the questions to include:

Is the central element of the EU the Single Market or the Eurozone? Effectively: whose EU is it, anyway?

What is the minimum level of integration to which a state must commit in return for the rights that come with EU membership? Or, what is the minimum level of integration to which a state must commit in return for the rights that come with full EU membership?

What is the Single Market to be understood to be? Where, if anywhere, can the boundaries be drawn between the Single Market and other policy areas?

166.  We are struck by the extent to which the Single Market may be coming under strain: from closer Eurozone integration, and the pressures which that is causing for moves away from majoritarian to more unanimous decision-making; perhaps from the Prime Minister's wish for the repatriation of powers to Member States; and from the possible prospect of a greater degree of differentiated integration more generally.

167.  Our discussions with interlocutors from around Europe have also made clear to us that each state's stance towards the EU is intimately bound up with its wider view of the way in which it wishes to approach its international challenges and place in the world. In Paris and Berlin, despite the two countries' policy differences we gained the impression that both France and Germany have decided that they are not large or powerful enough to be successful alone, and must proceed as part of the EU. In this context, we note the recent concern of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy that the National Security Committee does not seem to be engaging with the national security implications of the UK's relationship with the EU.[341]

168.  We have found two arguments about UK influence running throughout our inquiry:

whether the UK should participate in all integrated measures and policy areas in order to avoid being marginalised, or may still exert influence effectively without doing so; and

whether 'raising the price' of UK cooperation, such as by vetoing EU Treaty change or raising the prospect of UK withdrawal from the EU, increases the UK's influence in the EU or weakens it.

We expect these two arguments to continue to feature prominently in the debate on the UK's EU policy in coming years.

Maintaining UK influence in the EU

169.  A number of witnesses said that, apart from the politics of a Member State's EU policy, a Member State also exercised influence in the EU by virtue of the quality of its personnel and administrative capacity. Michiel van Hulten told us that the UK wielded influence in the EU partly because it "has always had the best civil servants and [...] been the best prepared at meetings",[342] while Sir Colin Budd said that the UK's EU policy coordination system was "the envy of our European partners". Sir Colin said that the system required "optimal coordination" between the Cabinet Office, the FCO, and the UK's Permanent Representation to the EU; effective EU sections in other Whitehall Departments; and the full use of UK Embassies in other EU Member States.[343] The FCO is maintaining a full complement of Embassies around other EU capitals, and told us that it was protecting policy jobs in them (although some were being filled by locally-engaged rather than UK-based staff).[344]

170.  We recommend that the Government should always bear in mind the extent to which exercising influence effectively in the EU can depend on administrative and diplomatic capability and coordination.

171.  The nationals of a Member State who are on the staff of the EU institutions are widely acknowledged, including by the Government, to be important informal channels of Member State influence in the EU.[345] We have taken a consistent interest in the presence of UK nationals on the staff of the EU institutions, not least because the Government has declared increasing their number to be an important objective.[346] We gathered significant data on this as part of our present inquiry, and decided to publish it as a short separate report in order to draw greater attention to the issue.[347]

172.  Sir Colin Budd told us that, in the EU, "The race tends to go to the proactive, well organised alliance-builders, who maintain effective networks". Sir Colin said that all UK Ministers with EU business needed to "nurture constantly" bilateral links to all the other Member States;[348] but Charles Grant said that UK governments had not always been good at cultivating relationships with Member States beyond France and Germany.[349] However, in his first major speech in office, in July 2010, the Foreign Secretary said that it was "no longer sensible or indeed possible just to focus our effort on the largest countries at the expense of smaller [EU] members [...] For the UK to exert influence and generate creative new approaches to foreign policy we need to look further and wider".[350] The FCO told us that the Rt Hon David Lidington MP, Minister of State for Europe, was the first UK Europe Minister since the EU's major 2004 enlargement to have visited all the Member States while in office.[351]

173.  When we visited Berlin in October 2012, we heard that the UK and Germany had established regular meetings between the Cabinet EU Affairs Sub-Committee (which comprises largely Ministers of State) and German State Secretaries dealing with EU affairs. In April 2013, the FCO told us that the body had held three meetings and that it expected to meet again late in 2013, after Germany's federal parliamentary elections. The UK has no equivalent arrangement with any other EU Member State.[352]

174.  We welcome the Government's recognition of the importance of fostering bilateral relationships widely with other Member States around the EU. We commend the Government for devoting increased resources to this objective, in the form of FCO Ministerial time. We particularly welcome the establishment of a regular meeting between junior UK Ministers and their German counterparts. We recommend that the Foreign Secretary and Europe Minister should encourage ministerial and senior official colleagues from other Departments also to visit EU capitals widely, to help to build alliances in support of key pieces of EU business.

175.  In conclusion, we reiterate the importance of the Government's tone, language and overall approach in retaining influence in the EU. We recommend that the Government should frame its approach and its language in pan-EU rather than UK-only terms; and should remain constructive, positive and engaged.


341   Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy, Second Report of Session 2012-13, The work of the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy in 2012, HL Paper 115/HC 984, para 12. The Joint Committee took evidence on the EU's role in UK national security in April 2013: uncorrected transcript of oral evidence taken on 22 April 2013. Back

342   Q 96 Back

343   Ev 62 Back

344   Ev 88 Back

345   For example, "Discover EU Careers - A message from the Foreign Secretary, William Hague", FCO press release, 1 March 2012 Back

346   William Hague, "Britain's foreign policy in a networked world", FCO, London, 1 July 2010 Back

347   We expect to publish our short report on UK nationals on the staff of the EU institutions shortly after publication of our present report, before the 2013 summer recess.  Back

348   Ev 62 Back

349   Q 40. Dr Bond argued that the UK should prioritise relations with the other large Member States, but "not neglect" its relations with medium-sized and small ones; Ev 59. Back

350   William Hague, "Britain's foreign policy in a networked world", FCO, London, 1 July 2010 Back

351   Ev 87 Back

352   Ev 88 Back

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Prepared 11 June 2013