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British PM Cameron opened Pandora’s box over Europe

Cameron announced UK referendum “about Europe”
These are the special moments when politicians say something in public which they will regret some day for sure. This time British prime minister David Cameron put a referendum about “Europe” on the agenda.

True, he did not say when the referendum will be held and he said it will not be an “in/out” referendum meaning it won’t be just the decision about sating in our leaving the European Union. But he opened that discussion and gave it a higher political legitimisation.

UK the awkward partner
The voices for quitting EU membership have never been extinct since the UK joined back in 1973. But it was never an outspoken official policy by any British government. The fought hard for British interests in Brussels gaining the reputation of being an “awkward partner” or even being anti-European. But leaving was never really an option. Cameron agreed on this pointing out that the single market is good for Britain.

British tradition still obstacle against being “good Europeans”
Every kid in the UK knows “1066” – the last time the British island was conquered successfully from the continent. Every successor after William the Conquerer failed invading the UK. Thus the British people have a long cultural history without mixing up with cultural experiences from continental Europe. I think this is one of the main reason why the UK is so reluctant to pass over British sovereignty to a European Union of whatever shape.

The problem is that the nation state is out of fashion. And especially the 21st century will show that one European country no matter what size cannot prevail over the challenges of globalization: migration, poverty, digital and financial world market, environmental problems, non-proliferation, failing states, terrorism and so on and so forth.

Britain living still in old times
Many books about the relationship between the UK and Europe state that the British governments did not join in the very early days of the EU e. g. the Schuman Plan and the Treaties of Rome because they still lived in the 19th century British empire which already crumbled or was at that time due to decline. After realising that the British would do better in than outside the Union they just joined in the 70s.
I don’t think that the overall majority of the British people already shifted as described. You can’t blame them for this – remember the almost over 1000 years of tradition developed on that special island. Giving it up in just 60 years is pretty hard. Therefore British people are no reluctant or even anti-European – they have to learn that the nation state is not the future and that the British people will find prosperity and peace only in a (political) united Europe. This will take time, maybe time the UK does not have. Therefore it is not good that the UK still has its seat at the UN Security Council, being just one of two nuclear countries in Europe and still believe in the “special relationship” towards the USA. This still gives the UK the feeling of being special and maybe superior to other European countries.

Totally wrong signal by Cameron
Having said all this I can only say that the referendum cameron is talking about is the totally wrong political signal. Even with putting limits to the question of the referendum who knows what the referendum will look like when the time has come? Will Cameron then be still PM? As a leading political figure (even as a conservative politician) he must recognize that the only way for every European country including Britain is to stay very close together to have at least a voice in the concert of the coming decades in world politics.

The PM should have worked in the other direction: explaining Europe and convincing for the European project. If one day this referendum will be held and the UK will skip the EU or parts of the political framework the political elite will discover how big this failure will be. One can only hope that some day very soon leading political figures in Britain will go another way which is heading towards the EU and not away from it. It is the only longterm perspective the UK has.

 

Published inEuropean Union

7 Kommentare

  1. Iwantout Iwantout

    Tony Blair tried very hard indeed for 10+ years to win the British over to the EU and failed. Many other very senior leaders from the main parties have also tried, Michael Heseltine,Ken Clarke, Paddy Ashdown, Neil Kinnock etc etc. All have failed.

    Most of us don’t feel European in the same way those of you from Germany, France etc do. It is just the way we are. We want to trade and do not want the political elements of the EU.

    As you say the referendum is drawing nearer and then we will all see what the people say.

    • kielspratineurope kielspratineurope

      I understand that a European feeling is something which is not very popular in the UK. The question is whether you can afford sticking to this feeling having in mind the challenges of the coming decades. The big task for British politicians is to combine this national proud of the British citizens with the need for European cooperation to tackle the problems of the 21st century. If you just practice “European trade” you will some day recognize that you are left behind. Hopefully at a time when it is not already too late. The other thing is often quoted: Better inside and influencing the process then outside and just watching without having the opportunity to shape solutions to your need and will.

  2. Iwantout Iwantout

    At the risk of over stating matters, it is not just a question of the European feeling not being popular in the UK, it simply does not exist to any extent. A silly illustration, people are still buying blue covers for their red EU passports (look on Amazon) because UK passports used to be blue before the EU made us all European citizens without asking us. These covers do not contain the words European Union. That is meaningless I know but it demonstrates an outlook. When this is coupled with Eurobarometer results showing that for years the UK has had only about 20 – 30% of the population saying membership of the EU is a good thing it suggests that we do not feel the same way about the EU as other nations.

    I would argue that the big task for British politicians is to have the courage to ask the British what they want for a future. Without exception they have failed to do so because they already know the reply that is likely. I would ask why you as a democrat want to refuse this opportunity for the people to speak?

    For your information I do not think of myself as part of a 19th Century Empire, I am a citizen of a major economic, scientific, political and military power which has a longer independent history than most other countries with a tradition of democracy. A tradition which has nothing like the same roots in Europe and is even threatened today – read Mario Monti’s interview with Der Spiegel 06/08/12. I do not believe for one moment that we are a superpower or even special, but I believe that we are still in a position to manage our own destiny without the need to become part of a US of E which does not seem to be heading in the right direction. Clearly you believe that is not the case, we will have to disagree.

    Concerning trade, approximately 2/3rds of French and German exports are to other EU countries. In the case of the UK it is less than half. (That is not to say you are not an extremely important market to us obviously.) Effectively we have never integrated into the trading regime to the same extent as other countries, partly due to the obstruction to service industries practiced by the EU. The ‘influence’ you mention amounts to 8% of the decision bodies, it is therefore pretty marginal.

    For whatever it is worth I suspect that the pressure for a referendum is now so overwhelming that David Cameron essentially had no choice but to talk about one, if he doesn’t offer one, other politicians will and he may find himself struggling to be re-elected. The big question is whether he will be able to avoid offering an in / out question.

    In the final analysis most people in the UK do not see a US of E as the way forward for us, sorry. As an individual I do genuinely wish you all the very best of luck in your ambitions but it is probably best if you no longer expect us to be part of this project.

    Just as an historical aside which is completely unimportant but provides a bit of interest, you mention 1066, probably the most well-known date in our history. Can I point to 1106 and the Battle of Tinchebrai when an Anglo – Norman army under Henry I invaded Normandy and defeated Robert Duke of Normandy, a sort of return match which led to the control of Normandy by England for a hundred years.

    • kielspratineurope kielspratineurope

      Sorry for the delay and thank you for your detailed opinion about the topic. I think you pretty well give an impression on how many British citizens define themselves and how they feel about Europe and their country. Let me stress that I pretty much like the UK, I studied in Coventry, and I like the people and their customs and habits.
      I’m not arguing in favour for the United Staes of Europe but for a more integrated Europe. This not because I think that we need a European superstate but because I think that we can handle the challenges of the coming decades only together. I guess this goes for Britain as well. Even if the country might be structured differently than many countries on the European continent the challenges are the same. That is why we have to go together as Europeans and not as separated nation states which only do commerce with each other.

  3. Iwantout Iwantout

    I am glad you have a deeper understanding of the UK than many who write about us from a “European” perspective. I would also return the compliment; I have visited Germany many times and have always been impressed.

    The problem I have is that I cannot see how a more integrated EU can ultimately be anything other than a US of E. For example, I accept entirely that in order to survive the current Euro crisis the Eurozone countries will have to adopt standard fiscal standards. To implement those standards the ESM / Commission will have to approve each countries suggested budget. The individual countries therefore lose their ability to act independently. Effectively they become regions of a U S of E even if it is not given that name.

    My own belief is that you are correct that there will be times when we will want to work together to face challenges, but that can be decided on a case by case basis. There are many issues that involve international agreements and I fail to see why we must belong to a fully integrated EU in order to take part in the negotiations. I understand the argument that as part of a large bloc we are more protected from the rest of the World, but from my perspective the bloc itself is deeply flawed in a great many ways, not least its lack of democracy, levels of bureaucracy, corruption, lack of competitiveness and distain for the ordinary people. (This is not to say that I think for one moment that the UK is some wonderful example of how everything should be.)These issues are sufficient to more than negate the positive values of the EU.

    If you and I accept, if only for the purposes of this debate, that the future of the EU is inevitably closer integration and the UK is clearly unsupportive and indeed positively obstructive, then it makes sense certainly for the EU, to encourage the UK to hold a referendum to ultimately decide its position, this is where your original article started.

    That leaves us only to decide the nature of the question to be asked. Mr Cameron has indicated it would be on UK membership after a renegotiation of terms, always assuming the EU is prepared to undertake such a renegotiation and provide terms sufficiently appealing to us. Of course a no vote would effectively mean we will disengage, thus it seems any UK referendum on the EU is likely to be an in / out vote.

  4. Iwantout Iwantout

    Four years on and the question is answered. Our future is outside the EU. I am happy but frankly amazed that we were ever given the chance to voice our view in the post democratic World that surrounds the EU.

    I wish you the very best of luck and am sure that after the initial emotional response has died down we will come to a mutually acceptable and beneficial trade arrangement.

    • karstenlucke karstenlucke

      My dear “Iwantout”, finally you got what you wanted. If this is good or bad will only show the future and I bet many will regret it. The first Brexiteers already denied what they promised just before the voting – good start. Hope the British elite will stick to the result, right now I only here silence from Johnson & Co. It also appears that many who voted out now realise what it will mean and I guess if they would get a second chance they would think it over.

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