Wednesday, September 3, 2014
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Britain’s European Home

BRUSSELS – British Prime Minister David Cameron's long-awaited speech on Europe, to be delivered in the Netherlands, may well mark a turning point with respect to Britain’s position within the European Union. Any attempt by the United Kingdom to repatriate powers to Westminster is likely to be a drawn-out and cumbersome negotiation. As previous experience has shown, internal discussions on constitutional competences – essentially political navel-gazing – can distract attention from the far more pressing issues of economic growth and jobs.

Attempting to revisit major parts of the acquis communautaire (the body of EU law), and picking and choosing the bits of which the UK approves, could set a dangerous precedent. Indeed, it could lead to piecemeal legislation, disintegration, and potentially the breakup of the Union. However attractive repatriation may seem on the surface, it would involve long and complex procedures – with no guarantee of a favorable outcome.

Ultimately, of course, whether to repatriate competences or exit from the EU are decisions for the British government and the British people to make. But it is my strong belief that full UK membership is in the interest of the British and Europe alike. The single market benefits the British economy enormously, and the EU remains by far the UK’s biggest trade partner, accounting for almost 50% of British exports.

In a globalized world, it is not in the UK’s interest to downgrade to some kind of second-class EU membership, as this would merely weaken its own influence in Europe and beyond.  Certainly, Britain’s friends recognize this. In recent days, the United States has rightly warned that a possible referendum in the UK could mean that the country turns inward, while Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has said that a British exit from the EU would be a “disaster.”

Leading British business figures, too, have cautioned Cameron that he risks destabilizing the UK economy inadvertently if he seeks a wholesale renegotiation of EU membership. Their voices, however late in the day they have come, should be heeded.

The eurozone is integrating more deeply and rapidly not on a whim, but out of sheer necessity. The UK has chosen to remain outside the monetary union with a clear opt-out from the common currency. So, while the Cameron government’s support for deeper eurozone integration is welcome, the eurozone cannot and will not be shaped from outside and according to British interests.

The UK is not in a position to block the other EU member states from deeper integration, given most other member states’ political will to move forward. Indeed, last year’s negotiations on the “fiscal compact” should already have demonstrated to Cameron the difficulty of exercising the so-called national veto.

Still, the UK has played a leading role in designing key EU policies, including measures concerning the single market, overseas development aid, trade, and climate change. UK leadership in these areas has been highly appreciated – and would be sorely missed should the British decide to leave. In the field of Justice and Home Affairs, for example, the UK has so far played a major role in shaping EU policies that all member states must adopt in less than two years.

But the Cameron government appears to be preparing to opt out of these policies completely. Surely it cannot be expected that the EU institutions and the other 26 member states will stand idly by while the UK opts out of more than 130 of those measures – in essence re-erecting national borders in the fight against cross-border crime – and then seeks to rejoin a select few that it considers to be in its “national interest.”

Attempting to repatriate competences from the EU may play well in Britain’s notoriously Euro-skeptic media and parts of the Conservative Party, but I would question whether it is truly in the UK’s long-term interest.

The EU is much more than a set of rules governing the internal market and the free movement of goods, services, capital, and people. It is a unique and historic project that has unified the European continent. Nation-states have pooled sovereignty voluntarily, because they believe that, together, they are stronger. I believe in the UK’s role in helping to lead this project – in Europe’s interest and its own.

I suspect that Cameron is playing a dangerous game for purely tactical, domestic reasons. I believe him when he says that he wants the UK to remain a member of the EU. But he increasingly resembles the sorcerer’s apprentice, who cannot tame the forces that he has conjured – forces that want to leave the EU for ideological reasons, to the detriment of the British people.

January 1, 2013, marked 40 years of British membership of the EU. The Union is likely to become even more significant in the next 40 years, which is why the UK should remain fully committed to shaping its future.

Read more from our "London Not Calling" Focal Point.

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  1. CommentedAntónio Correia

    The Maastricht Treaty was announced as a "great leap FORWARD". Since then, only "FORWARD moves" have been allowed in the Maastricht-born "European Union" - mainly the creation of the "single currency" and the birth of a Eurozone with more and more states involved, according to their will and their capability of meeting the doubtful set of "Maastricht criteria" when joining the "single" currency area. Any move which may be seen as a "backward move" has been strictly forbidden, even if nobody can take for granted that this disunited "European Union" is moving forward to something that looks like the promised land. In fact, it is increasingly clear that this road is a "road to nowhere", besides being increasingly painful for more and more member states to go ahead, under the approach which has been adopted to "keep the markets calm" and "save the Euro" - while avoiding the appropriate fiscal transfers and resorting to lending under AUSTERITY constraints. In these days, the European Union is repeatedly following the recommendation: "Keep moving FORWARD, either slowly or rapidly, either jointly or at several speeds!".

    Yes, as Paul Krugman recently said, "The Euro is a shaky construction". Besides ignoring the macroeconomic imbalances within the EU, in the "Maastricht criteria" for Eurozone membership as well as in the subsequent "stability" pacts, the Euro has been designed and confirmed – by Delors et al and followers – as a "single currency" instead of a (much more realistic) "common currency". Now, it is very clear that this was a very bad choice, namely because other components of Delors's dream are missing - such as a European budget amounting, at least, to some "3% [!] of the European GDP".

    Two decades after the Maastricht Treaty, a COMPLETELY NOVEL EU TREATY is mandatory - not a mere set of "positive" , incremental amendments -, so as to avoid a sad situation, in the near future, where the foreseen "European common home" becomes replaced by a true "European house of correction". We need to build a true European Union through a cooperative European disunion, where the Euro survives as a "common", parallel currency - INCLUDING FOR THE UNITED KINGDOM and the other nine "non-Euro states" - but no longer as the "single currency" for a fraction of the EU (currently 17 out of 27 member states)

    [ http://building-a-true-european-union.blogspot.com ]:

    ” – The Euro should be a COMMON currency within the future EU – including the EU27 members outside the current ‘Euro Area’ – but not necessarily the SINGLE currency.
    - In this context, the coexistence of TWO parallel currencies should be allowed in each EU member state (under certain conditions, established in a novel European Treaty), within the framework of an appropriate “Cooperative European Disunion” .
    - Besides the “Common Euro”, the complementary currency in each member state could be either a “national currency” (…) or a completely new currency, shared by that member state and some other “compatible” EU member states, taking into account both the relevant macroeconomic issues and appropriate geographic, historic and cultural issues.”

  2. CommentedPhilip Palij

    "essentially political navel-gazing" indeed.

    May I remind you of the fraudulent entry of Greece into the Eurozone. May I remind you of the incompetent handling of the Eurozone crisis. May I remind you of the EU to spend within its budget.

    If you regard Britain seeking to preserve its democracy, economy and sovereignty as navel gazing then you truly represent why Britain should re-negotiate at the very least and exit if at all possible.

    Then you can find some other foolish country to spend billion upon billion on useless wasteful pet projects all unnacountably.

    No home fore Britain in that madness Mr Shulz. Think again

  3. CommentedJoshua Ioji Konov

    The European Union shows inadequate handling of the economy by only concentrating on the debt issues, and actually expanding its bureaucratization that policies benefit only big businesses and big investors... Mr. Cameron standing supports Britsh interests in a short and even long terms if the EU policies are not improved... whereas the US, China and Japan use more aggressive and some time unorthodox approaches and the results for them are far better than the EU's..

  4. CommentedShane Beck

    The more interesting question is whether the EU should tolerate a United Kingdom that is half in and half out of the European Union. If the EU has the will and capacity to integrate more fully both politically and economically the answer is obvious- the EU must kick the UK out of the Union. To do otherwise would doom the whole project to sabotage and failure

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