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December 9, 2022

UK: In or out Europe

Wednesday, January 23, British PM David Cameron delivered the much-awaited speech regarding the position of the United Kingdom towards the European Union. So high was the media interest for this speech of the head of the British government that, as ‘The Guardian’ writes in a column, some even feared “that so long and painful a labour meant David Cameron’s speech  would be a limp monster all the world would hate.” (worth mentioning, according to the said newspaper the reality evinced the appearance of a “healthy, bouncing thing“). But what has Cameron actually said in this much-awaited speech? Much-awaited, because some of the steps already made by the United Kingdom regarding London’s position towards the EU have raised concern in Europe over the fundamental geopolitical line of this country, in other words if London intends to resume its traditional policy of balance on the continent, which it tenaciously observed over the last centuries.

Among these steps, worth mentioning is the one that placed the UK outside the “fiscal pact” of the EU, which preceded an even deeper political unification of this organisation as a whole, not just the euro zone.So, what did Cameron say? First, if the Conservative Party wins the next elections, probably in 2015, then a referendum on England’s position in the EU will be held until the end of 2017: in or out the alliance. Furthermore, that holding this referendum will be a condition of forming a ruling coalition subsequent to winning the 2015 elections (allusion to the warning over the positions of the acting partner, the Liberal Party). Cameron stressed that it is a parallel between this plebiscite on the EU and the other referendum he agreed months ago on the independence of Scotland (slated for 2014). He also pronounced in favour of renegotiating the EU treaties or, in the absence of such an evolution, London will reach its goals by other means. According to Cameron, London wants the EU to give up the efforts to become an “ever closer union,” which translates in abandoning the target of founding an European federation and focusing instead on the formula of a “free trade area”. Worth noticing, the British premier avoided to elaborate on what he understands by reforming the EU, or the topics/areas of negotiation which the UK wants in order to stay within the EU. The press insistently referred to a real recovery of the national sovereignty attributes that should be “repatriated” following negotiations with Brussels, but Cameron was very reluctant about revealing which such attributes he has in mind. Also in his speech, Cameron emphasised that the acceptance of the European Court of Human Rights will depend on how it will be reformed. Two other topics revealed by the premier in his speech, which must be mentioned, are the fact that the renegotiation of England’s position in the EU would set on durable basis the collaboration with the organisation for a generation, and he does not share the idea that his country would be better outside the EU, like Norway or Switzerland now. International media immediately commented Cameron’s address. Many of these comments emphasised that the premier committed himself to a (risky) game, because it is unlikely that European states will accept a renegotiation of the base treaties of the EU (including the latest, signed very recently, in 2010, at Lisbon). If one reviewed all the headlines of the articles run by the international press about this subject, probably the word ‘gamble’ would be the most frequently used. On the other hand, one of the European arguments, used for the first time with the position and importance held in the EU by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to reject the British call to the renegotiation of the Union’s fundaments, is that it would open a true ‘Pandora’s box’ as other states, too, will come with similar demands.But it is worth noticing that, as emphasised by many columnists, at least one of the issues mentioned by Premier Cameron is very real. In the context of the euro crisis, measures have been taken in order to manage its consequences and prevent another such episode whose global impact is undisputable. The consequences are significant for the states of the euro zone, but equally for those that have not become members of this club yet. Or, such consequences must be identified, discussed and – above all – agreed by all involved parties (this not only about the United Kingdom and Finland, which did not join the fiscal pact), as one might expect these to have their own demands. From this perspective, Cameron’s request is legitimate and reveals a real issue of today’s EU and – most important – there are chances that other states might join, too. EU decision makers must concentrate on this signal sent by Cameron’s speech more than on the result of an ‘in or out‘ referendum with a calendar thus conceived that it can be annihilated by the very political evolutions of the United Kingdom (who can guarantee that the 2015 elections, if organised, will give the victory to the Conservatives?). However, the crisis experienced by the EU, caused by the euro crisis, is real and has reached an existential phase which will make absolutely necessary a debate followed by decisions. It is known fact, for instance, that assuming the ‘fiscal pact’ raised serious issues about amending the existing treaties of the EU, so the signal launched by Cameron is worth taking into consideration.At a different level of interpretation, the address of the British premier tries, through the positions and proposals it contained, to improve the position of his party on the national political stage. Thus, by proposing the referendum, even with a calendar that depends on unknown elements, he gives satisfaction to a certain part of the activists and fans of his own party, preventing secessions and defections to the UKIP – the party which demands the independence from the EU – while also countering the increasing appeal of this party in the eyes of voters. Achieving such unity inside the party between ‘euro-realists’ and ‘euro-philes’ is a must for the government at this difficult moment for the United Kingdom. At the same time, by advancing the proposal about a referendum in 2017, the PM planted the seeds of dissension in the main political rival, the Labour Party, and sent confusing signals to Scottish militants for independence, which see the accession to the EU as a strongpoint of their programme.If we see the foreign policy message as the key of Cameron’s speech, then we must also say that it should be granted very serious consideration by the decision makers of the EU. Europe cannot be whole and perform well globally scale without the United Kingdom, because of many reasons. An eventual decision of the United Kingdom to leave the EU would define a new and strong power pole on the old continent, sealing a split nobody needs in the era of globalisation.

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