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.”