What is “a reformed European Union”?

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of a reformed European Union or leave a reformed European Union?”


That’s not the question of course, but you could be forgiven for thinking it might be – given the consistent and deliberate references the PM and his supporters make to it…The-EU-Referendum-Live-Poll-banner-1



What does the PM mean when he says “a reformed EU”?  




It’s notable that the PM chooses to say a reformed EU rather than the reformed EU.

a” is used before a ​noun “to refer to a ​single thing that has not been ​mentioned before… and when you are not referring to a ​particular thing”.1)Cambridge Dictionary: “a”[[contid]]

the” – on the other hand – is used before a ​noun “to refer to a ​particular thing (or things) that have already been ​talked about or are already ​known…”.2)Cambridge Dictionary: “the”[[contid]]

“By using “a” rather than “the”, he is saying that this “reformed EU” is something that voters have not seen or experienced before.”

By using “a” rather than “the”, he is saying that this “reformed EU” is something that voters have not seen or experienced before. It also hints at the existence of at least one other version of the EU (an unreformed EU presumably) that he’s not asking us to vote for.

Furthermore, by saying “a” rather than “the”, there’s the intimation that future developments will determine more specifically what “the reformed EU” looks like – since it has yet to become a known and familiar quantity.




Reform means to make an ​improvement… by ​changing a person’s ​behaviour or the ​structure of something. 3)Cambridge Dictionary: Reform[[contid]]  David Cameron uses the past tense, so we are to understand that these reforms have taken place – or will have taken place (if not taken effect) by the time the public votes.

He’s clearly referring to his reforms – those that the Government says have contributed to securing the UK “special status” within the EU.

This is the EU he wants the UK to vote on – not the previous one. Not the one that pre-dates his reforms.


Some room for confusion


By combining “a” and “reformed” – he’s being unspecific about something that is actually quite specific.  The implication therefore is that the “reformed EU” is not yet reformed – the process has yet to be completed – and this would be accurate, since most of these reforms still need to be written into EU law.The-EU-Referendum-Briefing-banner-1

The problem is that many people have interpreted this lack of specificity as him implying that the EU is still undergoing reform and will reach a state of being fully ‘reformed’ at some point in the future.  So, understandably, many people are getting the impression he’s saying the EU is reformable and there’s more reform to come – but that’s not what he means.

Cameron could of course have put it in the present tense – “a reforming EU” – acknowledging the fact that his reforms have been accepted, and are in a process of being incorporated into law.  This could help his campaign by creating an impression that the EU is going to go on changing for the better, but it also risks making his own “already secured” reforms sound less concrete.


Has the EU been reformed?


Do David Cameron’s reforms – which got the backing of other heads of state in the European Council  – justify calling the EU “reformed”?

Both sides of the debate are sceptical. The British press heaped ridicule on their ineffectiveness and how insubstantial the reforms ended up, but even pro-EU voices suggest they were “a side show” or are already happening.  In our analysis of the Government’s pro-EU leaflet we highlighted how many aspects of the new deal’s ‘protections’ are actually fairly well covered already via the UK’s European Union Act 2011.

“Do David Cameron’s reforms . . .  justify calling the EU “reformed”? Both sides of the debate are sceptical.”

The deal that David Cameron struck is also some way off what he set out to achieve, as this BBC breakdown reveals. Had David Cameron secured his full demands, he may be touting it as “a completely transformed EU” perhaps?


Is it to help his reforms stick?


Full Fact did an excellent analysis on each of the reforms that David Cameron secured with the European Council, and found that 4 out of 7 of the agreed reforms could be reversed by other member states.  Of these 4, the emergency brake on immigration (access to in-work benefits) was a high risk item, and the others at a low-to-medium risk of “not sticking”.

“There’s only one thing David Cameron would like to see less than a second referendum (after a successful first), and that’s for the EU to quash his moment of glory by not implementing his reforms.”

Against a backdrop of calls from Leave campaigners that the deal isn’t legally binding, and the Government’s insistence that it is, David Cameron needs to ensure that his deal does stick – and that he gets the credit – should the UK vote to remain.The-EU-Referendum-Predictions-banner-1

If for any reason it looks like they might not stick (as they go through further EU approvals), then Cameron can quite rightly point out that the British public voted to remain in based on him selling them a reformed EU – one with his reforms applied – not without.

In other words the whole referendum result could be called into question if his reforms aren’t implemented by the EU.  There’s only one thing David Cameron would like to see less than a second referendum (after a successful first), and that’s for the EU to quash his moment of glory by not implementing his reforms.

Of course it’s beneficial to the Government’s case to tell voters time and again that they are voting on “a reformed EU” – a new EU that’s going to be working for better for Britain.  There is a risk though… if voters think that David Cameron is still trying to “sell us” the enormity of his own reforms they may start to question his sincerity.



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4 years 10 months ago

So is this really a vote out or a vote for either a refomed or unreformed EU ?