Wednesday, 23 January 2013

David Cameron as the Sorcerer's Apprentice

We have both been waiting for this speech for a while now. So, the British PM promised the UK that a referendum will be held by no later than November 2018 on British membership of the EU. This is in more than five years’ time. What does Europe’s press have to say about it? Spiegel Online’s header, “Alone against All,” is quite revealing of the site’s opinion about Cameron’s speech. Another article in the same publication discusses that Britain has already seized being a proper member of the EU, due to its refusal to join Schengen, EMU, ESM, EFSF, the ‘banking union’, the working hours directive, and many other projects that lie very much at the heart of European integration. Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung argues that no EU member state contributes less to the EU than the UK (in terms of money per capita). The French Le Monde, calls Cameron the “tightrope walker of Europe,” equally hinting at the obvious risks involved in an EU-referendum. The Guardian too, is very sceptical of Cameron’s speech, arguing that he may “live to regret his gamble.” Then of course, there is the usual anti-EU propaganda you find in most other British newspapers, with the Daily Express hailing the speech as “historic,” and as being a victory for the paper itself, as it has long campaigned for an in-out referendum. Our impression that Euro-scepticism in the UK is largely due to negative press has once again been confirmed, as the rest of Europe seems to understand the idiocy involved in potentially leaving the EU.

UK drifting away...
What angers us are particular parts of Cameron’s speech. In principle of course we are the first to agree with ideas about reforming the EU quite radically. However, the EU becomes meaningless if member states begin to pick and choose the policies that they want to opt-in to. Either you are in or you are out. The naivety involved in believing that the UK will be able to stay inside the common market while opting out of everything else is striking, and conjures up inevitable conflict between the UK and the rest of the EU. Martin Schulz recently compared David Cameron to the sorcerer’s apprentice who has unleashed forces beyond his control. We could not agree more. One thing that Europe would surely rid itself of if the UK were to leave are incompetent politicians. Cameron is vastly underestimating the impact of EU membership for the success of a European economy, and he is obfuscating the deeper problems that will arise in a UK without European regulations. The working hours’ directive has the intention of preventing people from working too much. The implementation of such a directive should be in everyone’s interests, and the claim that the directive is not suited to the UK context seems bogus considering that a British government signed up to it. Whatever the EU is today has also been shaped by the UK. To say that this is not what the British people signed up for is like saying that British governments were not democratically elected.

Cameron has no clue what he's doing
In principle we agree with a referendum about the EU in the UK. However, there must also be the option of opting in to the euro, to Schengen, and to all the other accomplishments of the European integration project. Focusing British membership of the EU around the single market is ridiculous, because it involves the rest of Europe paying for it so that Britain can benefit. If British membership is going to be that selfish, we want the UK out. What is the use of a single market without a common currency anyway? The euro was introduced to complete the single market, and Cameron’s claims that membership in the single market and membership in the euro are two different things, is just propaganda. Having both lived in the UK for some time, we know the impact that exchange rates can have on one’s life. In 2008/09, when the euro was nearing parity with the pound, we found ourselves suddenly having lots of money, while the import-dependent British economy was entering a deep recession. Membership in the single market requires membership of the euro. Either Britain goes the whole way, or Britain steps out of the way.

Cameron is right about one thing though: Europe is in flux. The prospect of an EU referendum will support the Scottish calls for independence, because if Scotland stayed part of the UK, England might vote the Scots out of Europe. Welsh nationalism might be fuelled by similar considerations. We really don’t think that Cameron knows what he is doing.

What next? Five years is a lot of time. Governments change, ministers come and go, and the EU surely won’t be the same anymore. We wouldn’t be surprised if tides turn during that time, and if Europe becomes more popular again. The propaganda veil of the British having an ‘island mentality’ is pretty thin after all, and the realisation that the waste machine that is the financial industry cannot be the foundation of an economy might yet cause metanoia.

Alexandra Athanasopoulou & Harald Köpping

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