The following Platform Piece by Jim Nicholson MEP appeared in the Newsletter on Friday 31 October 2014.
"With a Westminster election coming up next May, the Prime Minister David Cameron will no doubt be focussed on European matters as he bids for a second term as Prime Minister.
Whilst the economy can be expected to figure high on the agenda in a general election campaign, deep-seated concerns over Europe and the electoral threat posed by UKIP makes it certain that Cameron will require some significant concessions from Brussels to placate many in his own ranks.
The latest developments suggest Cameron will face an uphill struggle.
The shock demand for the UK to contribute an extra £1.7bn to the EU Budget, because our economy has grown faster than expected, is beyond belief.
To many people it will feel like the UK is being penalised for economic recovery, whilst other countries with stagnating economies are being rewarded with rebates.
This will heighten tensions in UK-EU relations, already strained by recent comments made by outgoing President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, deriding the UK’s ability to renegotiate its place in the EU.
Barroso’s comments may just have been about settling old scores with the UK or the Prime Minister, but EU politicians need to realise that such remarks only serve to create anti-European sentiment.
The results of the European elections in May clearly show that the public demands reform of the EU. The new Commission gives reasons to be cautiously optimistic; in some policy areas there are very good nominees and the new President has made reassuring noises about change.
Jean-Claude Juncker’s proposals include reducing red tape, breaking down the silo mentality of the various policy departments, the need for a Commissioner tasked with assessing whether EU regulation is necessary and a commitment for more transparency in the on-going EU-US trade negotiations.
I welcome the pledges made by Juncker but worry they will fail when Eurocrats influence the new Commissioners and hinder reform. This Commission will ultimately be judged by the public on its deeds not its words.
The UK requires a renegotiation of its precise relationship with the EU on issues that impinge on the every-day lives of British citizens. There also needs to be a referendum, held sooner rather than later, to accurately confirm nationwide opinion on the matter – but there must be an informed debate, with all relevant information given to the electorate.
Europe is not some abstract concept that we in Northern Ireland can disregard. It is a critical arena and any UK Government cannot ignore the views of the British electorate.
Quite simply the Prime Minister must marshal enough support to persuade Juncker and his Brussels cabinet that changes are necessary and inevitable.
For the future stability of this country, for the benefit of Northern Ireland in particular and the United Kingdom generally, these issues must be resolved."