De Baere and Eeckhout et al: Europe, the Prime Minister, and the facts – seven questions for David Cameron

Dear Prime Minister,

Much has already been said about your speech on ‘the future of Europe’, delivered on Wednesday 23 January at Bloomberg, and much more remains to be said. As academics in the fields of EU law and international law, we express our hope that the debate on whether or not the UK should remain in the EU will be conducted on the basis of as complete and accurate a set of facts as possible. We would like to ask you a number of questions with that in mind.  They are questions which you have left unanswered, despite the crucial importance of such answers for the debate.

What would “a new settlement in which Britain is at the forefront of collective action on issues like foreign policy and trade” entail? Will you be advocating the repatriation of some of the EU’s trade competences to the Member States, thereby allowing the UK and others to take individual or collective initiatives in that regard? Conversely, will you be arguing in favour of reinforcing the EU’s single voice in external trade, which has enabled it to create a more level playing field in trade negotiations from Washington to Beijing? Would more collective action in the field of foreign policy entail more initiatives such as the military operation in (or above) Libya, which was indeed collective, but mostly outside the framework of the EU? Or would it entail a reinforcement of the European External Action Service, headed by Baroness Ashton? Does the repeated blocking by the UK of collective EU statements in the UN (as reported in The Guardian ) represent the UK being at the forefront of collective action?

Can your proposal to “work together against terrorism and organised crime” be squared with your avowed desire to opt out of a great number of EU measures put in place precisely to combat cross-border crime? The potentially self-defeating effect of such an opt-out has been highlighted a number of times by British former or current officials (see the Financial Times).

What do you mean when you ask the British people not to be “misled by the fallacy that a deep and workable single market requires everything to be harmonised”? Incidentally, you are absolutely right that complete harmonisation is not desirable, which is of course why the Commission abandoned the idea in its 1985 White Paper  on completing the internal market. It is also why the European Court of Justice, which you accuse of having “consistently supported greater centralisation”, has introduced the principle that Member States can keep their own product regulations, which must be recognized by other Member States.

What are the “huge number of expensive peripheral European institutions” and in what way is the Commission getting “ever larger”? Surely the London branch of the Unified Patent Court, for which you fought so hard, cannot be an example of an “expensive peripheral European institution”? And would the amazing expanding Commission be the same that has proposed a 5% cut in staff combined with an increase in weekly working hours and lower salaries in certain areas?

In what way does the EU not have “enough focus on controlling spending” and what “programmes that haven’t worked” do you want to shut down? It is of course perfectly true that the budget is large: 140 billion euro in 2011 to be precise.  Nevertheless, the EU budget represents around 1% of EU-27 GDP whereas Member States’ budgets account for 44% of GDP on average. The average EU citizen in most Member States has to work well into the spring and summer until they have paid their tax contribution, while he or she has to work only four days to cover his or her contribution to the EU budget.

In light of your wish to address ‘the sclerotic, ineffective decision-making that is holding us back’, can we ask whether you are in favour of more majority voting?  That has always been the key to more effective decision-making.  Or is there some other solution of which we are unaware?

In what way is the “more flexible, more adaptable, more open” European Union you advocate different from today’s EU?  The UK, as you rightly point out, is not in the Eurozone, or in Schengen, and is capable of opting out of EU policies in matters of international crime and immigration.  It has not signed the fiscal compact (even if the current government is just as austerity-minded as Germany).  Is the EU not adaptable, if one looks at the numerous Treaty changes there have been?  Is it not open, having expanded so dramatically?

It would not be correct for us to ask you these questions without at least helping out with answering some of yours. Let us start with one: “And I would ask: when the competitiveness of the Single Market is so important, why is there an environment council, a transport council, an education council but not a single market council?” Well indeed why not. The answer, it turns out, is rather simple. There is an internal market council. It was integrated with the industry and research council configurations in June 2002, in what is called the  ‘Competitiveness Council’.

As you accurately put it: “It is time for the British people to have their say.” We hope that they will get the opportunity to do so on the basis of facts.  We hope you may be able to answer our questions, so that everyone – including other member States – develops a better understanding of what kind of EU reform you are advocating.

Yours sincerely,

Anthony Arnull (Birmingham)     Catherine Barnard (Cambridge)

Andrea Biondi (King’s College London)     Hugh Collins (LSE)

William Cornish (Cambridge)     Nicola Countouris (University College London)

Paul Craig (Oxford)     Egle Dagilyte (King’s College London)

Geert De Baere (Leuven)     Piet Eeckhout (University College London)

Pavlos Eleftheriadis (Oxford)     Amandine Garde (Durham)

Markus Gehring (Cambridge)     Alicia Hinarejos (Cambridge)

Angus Johnston (Oxford)     Claire Kilpatrick (European University Institute)

Panos Koutrakos (City University London)    Maria Lee (University College London)

George Letsas (University College London)     Virginia Mantouvalou (University College London)

Cian Murphy (King’s College London)     Ronan McCrea (University College London)

Eva Nanopoulos (Cambridge)     Niamh Nic Shuibhne (Edinburgh)

Federico Ortino (King’s College London)     Robert Schütze (Durham)

Joanne Scott (University College London)     Eleanor Spaventa (Durham)

Anne Thies (Reading)     Alexander Türk (King’s College London)

Lorenzo Zucca (King’s College London)

Suggested citation: G. de Baere and P. Eeckhout et al, ‘Europe, the Prime Minister, and the facts – seven questions for David Cameron’  UK Const. L. Blog (1st March 2013) (available at