European Integration With or Without Britain

WASHINGTON, DC – When British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed with the European Union in February on revised terms for the United Kingdom’s membership, he insisted that the EU be recognized officially as a “multi-currency union.” With clear limits on European integration in place, on currency and other issues, Cameron believed that he would be able to win a popular majority in favor of the deal – and thus of remaining in the EU – when the UK holds its referendum on June 23. Yet, rather than providing such clarity, the pact uses contorted language to avoid such an official declaration – and the explanations that would have to come with it.

To be sure, the February decision did give Cameron enough to enable him to campaign against Brexit. By specifying that the UK and Denmark are under no obligation to adopt the euro, Cameron’s counterparts did effectively confirm the EU’s status as a multi-currency union.

But the decision also reiterated the goal of creating an EU “whose currency is the euro,” and reaffirmed treaty provisions stipulating that other non-euro states, such as Bulgaria and Poland, must adopt the euro when they meet the pre-determined conditions. (Sweden has no permanent opt-out, and does meet the conditions for euro adoption, yet somehow manages to avoid joining the monetary union.)

That ambiguity was born of an unwillingness – or inability – to provide a clear description of how a multi-currency union will function in the long term. It is a tough question – one that will have to be addressed, regardless of the referendum’s outcome. After all, if British voters choose to leave the EU, a similar problem would arise in any post-“Brexit” negotiation to keep the UK in the single market.