More powers for Brussels!

An East of England emergency ambulance (picture Oxyman)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the European Union has too many powers. Politicians from across the political spectrum call for “reform” to reverse what they claim is an ever-centralising trend.

Of course, there is no logic in the argument that a test of whether the EU is up to date is whether it is giving up powers. The powers that the EU ought to have are those that the member states cannot exercise effectively on their own: no more and no less. Maybe the passage of time means that some of the powers of the EU can be returned to the member states, maybe not. There is no certain claim that they must be.

(That is not say that there are not aspects of individual policies that might be unnecessary at the European level, but that is not what our reformers are arguing.)

Given that the public climate of powers for Brussels is so hostile, how come powers ever end up there in the first place? Here’s an example.

I received a message entitled “Please support the right to free healthcare within the EU”. The message reads:

“I don’t know if you will be able to assist but I have created a government petition requesting free healthcare for UK citizens resident in Spain. The wording of the petition is as follows:

“Many UK citizens, currently living in Spain are unable to obtain healthcare. This is because the reciprocal agreement is that healthcare will only be paid for a maximum of two years. There is “freedom of movement” within the EU so why is it that after paying into the NHS for many years there is not “freedom of healthcare benefits”. At this time of economic crisis it is virtually impossible for British citizens to find work in other Member States and many are living below the poverty line.”

You can find the petition on the Number 10 website at http://petitions.number10.gov.uk/expathealth/

Up until now, it has been taken as read that healthcare provision is a matter for the member states and not for the EU. The public health provisions in the Lisbon treaty are carefully and awkwardly worded so as to limit their effect to public health alone and not to impinge on broader health policy.

Article 168(7) reads: “Union action shall respect the responsibilities of the Member States for the definition of their health policy and for the organisation and delivery of health services and medical care. The responsibilities of the Member States shall include the management of health services and medical care and the allocation of the resources assigned to them.”

This seems to exclude an EU policy on who is eligible for healthcare and who can pay for it. But, as a result, we have an apparent mismatch between free movement and residence rights on the one hand and healthcare provision on the other.

Conventional wisdom says that it is wrong that there should be more powers for the EU. But conventional wisdom is often wrong.

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