One of the recurring threads of the EU referendum campaign has been the need for reform. What gets lost in that is that the EU has been on a continual process of reform from its inception.
While proponents of Brexit argue for reform in a way that sometimes leaves me wondering whether their comments are based on their fantasies of the EU or reality, the EU has been getting on with it.
On 16 March, Guy Verhofstadt tweeted his pleasure at the EU Council adopting measures for better law-making in the EU, published on European Council’s web site. Frustratingly that didn’t get much attention in the British media.
The dates in that document are interesting — ideas put forward for discussion by the Commission on 20 May 2015 — well before attempts at “renegotiation” were under way, so there is no sense that this arises from British pressure. The proposal has worked its way through the system in a way that enables proper discussion. As a democratic body, the EU is bound to have a complex decision-making process, to allow for proper engagement with those we elect to the European Parliament and the (elected) governments of the nation states, so there is wisdom in this taking a while.
Surely Britain’s place should be at the heart of this sort of process — leading the improvement of the EU and working collaboratively with others — not sitting on the edge and threatening to leave.
But some perspective is also needed. In the European parliament, Guy Verhofstadt gave a brilliant speech about the deal done over Brexit, which had squeezed time for discussion of the plight of refugees from Syria. Entirely reasonably, he ends “We should do more on the refugee crisis. We should do as much effort solve the refugee crisis as we have to give a solution for Brexit.”
As I write this, the front page of the European Council web site has an article “Migration crisis: reaching an agreement with Turkey”. It is a strong reminder that there are major issues at stake affecting millions of people.
Proponents of Brexit talk as if the EU is an inflexible monolith. Yet here is evidence of ongoing reform in the EU and of engagement with a major humanitarian crisis which affects the whole of Europe and on which we need to work together. It is a gentle but powerful argument for remaining in the EU.