Ending the ratchet: from ever closer union to a two way street

Britain should make reforms to EU institutions to end the ‘ratchet’ effort – embodied in the commitment to ever-closer union – central to its renegotiation plans.

In Ending the ratchet: from ever closer union to a two way street, Andrew Tyrie MP maintains that a more central role for national governments in EU law-making is essential. With this will come greater and much-needed democratic accountability to Member States’ national parliaments.

The principle that action at EU level should only be taken when demonstrable and substantial gains can be obtained – subsidiarity in Euro-jargon – should now be put at the heart of EU decision-making. It should be supported by a new decentralising body, attached to the Council, charged with the task of subjecting all new proposals to stringent subsidiarity and proportionality tests, and to ensuring – for the first time in the EU’s history – that theacquis is kept under continuous review according to these tests.
Reform is in Europe’s interests as well as Britain’s: the ratchet is contributing to a nationalist resurgence in many European countries. The paper argues that:

  • Recent Treaty changes, notably at Lisbon, have weakened the role of national governments through the Council in EU law-making. This role must be restored, and a counterweight built to integration
  • This should be through the new body under the auspices of the Council , with high-quality staff and led by Commission-level political appointees, and with a mandate to monitor and help enforce subsidiarity. It could be called the European Subsidiarity Council
  • The new organisation would advise the Council on new legislative proposals. Its recommendations would enable the Council, by Qualified Majority vote, to require that the measure be withdrawn on subsidiarity or proportionality grounds
  • It would also subject the EU’s existing stock of law and regulation, the acquis communautaire, to continuous review on subsidiarity and proportionality grounds; it can bring transparency to the unacceptably secretive process of ‘trilogues’ which have, in recent years, become central to EU law-making
  • The definition of subsidiarity should be strengthened and the ability of national parliaments to challenge Commission legislative proposals on subsidiarity grounds enhanced
  • The EU’s financial watchdogs, the European Court of Auditors and the anti-fraud agency OLAF, should be reformed and emboldened
  • The UK government should also demonstrate the practical implications of these plans by publishing an illustrative list of measures that should be considered for repatriation on the basis of the enhanced subsidiarity and proportionality tests.

Andrew Tyrie said: “Our negotiating position – as I understand it – can be more ambitious, in some respects a good deal more.

The ‘ratchet effect’ embodied in ever closer union must be ended. The EU needs a new body capable of challenging and counterbalancing that ratchet. The role of national governments and parliaments must also be enhanced. This can over time bring greater domestic control over our policy and law-making.

Parliamentarians and the wider public should recognise that the government will not get everything it needs or wants in these negotiations, but that should not necessarily be viewed as a defeat. We may get closer to achieving our aims if we say in somewhat more detail and more publicly what, in at least some areas, merits consideration for repatriation on subsidiarity or proportionality grounds.

Andrew Tyrie - Thursday, 17th September, 2015