No new EU treaty before 2017: the media
finally catches up

By Richard A.E. North

I have to express my appreciation to the anonymous Boudicca who, in response to the Tim Shipman piece in The Sunday Times yesterday commented: “This really isn’t news“. She added: “Dr Richard North explained a year ago why the EU’s processes meant it couldn’t possibly negotiate and agree a new Treaty by Cameron’s deadline“.

Shipman was waking up to the idea there will be no EU treaty change before the referendum, something which has actually been obvious to us at for over two years, something which we have repeated on many occasions, warning as early as December 2013 that a full-on treaty change simply wasn’t going to happen.

But such is the self-referential nature of the media that, now they have “discovered” what has been obvious for years, it has to be knowledge that has recently emerged, Unwilling to admit they’re so far behind the curve, they pretend they’ve just discovered the information, making the usual arrogant assumption that no one else could possibly learn anything without being told it by the legacy media.

Thus we have to go through the charade of reading that, “David Cameron’s quest for a new deal with Brussels has (just) suffered a triple setback with senior figures warning that there is no prospect of him securing an EU treaty change before his in/out referendum planned for 2017“.

Typically of Shipman, he can’t even get his head round the fact that this has become a “remain-leave” contest so, lagging behind as always, he is still using redundant terminology.

And while we saw the timetable set out last June in the Five Presidents’ Report, this egregious hack has to pretend it is of more recent origin. Thus he says that the European Commission “said last week that discussion of a new treaty – seen as necessary to enshrine new rules to prop up the eurozonewould not begin until the summer of 2017, with a formal treaty not drawn up until later“.

So, while we’ve known about it for nearly three months, it was only “revealed” to the Sunday Times last week by Valdis Dombrovskis, the commissioner in charge of implementing the Five Presidents’ Report. Asked when and how treaty change would take place, he is cited as saying that: “Until mid-2017 we can do without legislative changes. Then we will set up an expert group, which should come up with proposals that might eventually require treaty changes“.

This came from a speech to the European Parliament on 16 September on “EMU deepening”, where he actually reminds us that the Commission intends to prepare a White Paper on the second stage by 2017, which emerged from Juncker’s “state of the union” address, two weeks ago.

Nevertheless, after these breathless discoveries, Liam Fox is called in aid, to tell us that “any deal resembling a ‘post-dated cheque’ that involved promises of future treaty change would be ‘utterly unacceptable’ because it would mean relying on the compliance of countries such as France and Denmark who would have to hold referendums to support the changes — “meaning they could be undone“.

Not for Fox – or the Sunday Times – however, is there any mention of “associate membership” or of the so-called “Danish option” which would aim to cement in future intentions, with the promise of a second referendum to close the deal. The superficial assessment offered is that treaty change after the referendum is simply “unacceptable“.

With that, we are led to a supposed “third roadblock”, where the Sunday Times has it that the Poles have vetoed any discussion of Mr Cameron’s goal to limit migrant benefits at the European Council meeting summit on 15-16 October, because there is a Polish election on October 25 and it would cost the government in Warsaw votes.

A source familiar with the discussions is said to have declared: “Cameron wanted to get a deal done as early as December but you won’t be able to nail it down in just one summit. The Poles have made it very clear there can’t be discussion of cutting benefits before their election“.

The thing is, though, that this is so much fluff. We’ve known for months that the “renegotiations” are going nowhere, which means that Mr Cameron will have to fall back on post-referendum treaty change, against the promise of “associate membership” as a way of forging a new relationship with the EU.

And that – a dynamic to which the Sunday Times remains oblivious – is where the battlefield lies. It is all going to boil down to who is able to make the better, more credible offer and, more particularly, whether we trust Mr Cameron to deliver – something you will not get from the legacy media.

The actual issue is relationships. We need a new relationship with “Europe” and the choice will be between Cameron’s way and our way – supranational or intergovernmental. That is the binary choice, the determining factor being one of trust.

Richard A.E. North is a British blogger and author. He is the co-author, along with Christopher Booker, of The Great Deception, a comprehensive history of the European Union and Britain’s relationship with it. His Brexit campaign blog EUReferendum was rated by the Financial Times as the UK’s most influential political blog in 2006. North was previously research director in the European Parliament.