Left on the outside again over the EU patents court

This weekend, David Cameron said that Britain benefited greatly from its EU membership and that leaving it would not be best for the country. But, he said, that didn’t mean we should support the status quo: things needed to change.

He’s not wrong there. The status quo does indeed need to change, because the UK has never been less influential or less engaged in Europe, and it is largely the Prime Minister’s fault. Cameron may like to tell his party that the UK is “winning the arguments” in Europe, but the evidence all points the other way.

This week, after 30 years of negotiations, the European Parliament was due to approve plans for a new European Patent and a new European Patents Court to go with it. It might sound obscure, but it is in fact a crucial policy designed to boost growth, create jobs and reduce administrative burdens. Patents are a vital part of innovation, research and development, but they are more difficult to establish in Europe than elsewhere, because of the costs of making separate applications in 27 member states. No wonder Europe has fallen behind the USA and China on the number of patents granted each year. To secure valuable jobs and growth, this should be a high priority right now for all European governments.

Yet David Cameron has again failed to make an impact in Europe. The one remaining point of disagreement over where the new court would be located – London, Paris or Munich – was resolved earlier this year in direct talks between the French and German governments. That in itself was a damning indictment of our Prime Minister’s lack of clout amongst his peers in Europe. Their compromise will see the main patents court located in Paris, with specialised subsidiaries in London and Munich.

Powerless to influence the debate over the location of the new court, Cameron has now kaiboshed any chances of having the proposal approved this week by making impossible last-minute demands. He has now insisted on revisiting another part of the proposal, despite the fact that an agreement had already been reached by all parties on this text.

Whatever the merits of his position (he has called for the new patents court to be independent from the existing European Court of Justice), Cameron has been unable to make a convincing case for it or gain any significant support outside of his own minority ECR group. Both centre-left and centre-right MEPs stood up in the European Parliament’s plenary session this week to denounce it. With Parliament refusing to accept this change without reopening the full legislative process, it is not at all certain that the Prime Minister will get his way.

So it seems Cameron may have failed to make any changes to the proposal for a single European Patent. Merely, he has delayed it, and inflicted further damage on the UK’s influence in Brussels. Meanwhile, the UK is waiting desperately for policies like this one to boost investment and create jobs. If this is all reminiscent of last December’s “veto that never was,” that is no coincidence. The UK has once again found itself on the outside of the European debate, and it is more obvious than ever that it is ordinary people in the UK who are losing out.

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