Should I stay or should I go? A view on the EU.
On the 23rd of January, a day after France and Germany were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ‘Franco-German friendship’ Elysée treaty, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron gave a rather sobering speech about Europe. He particularly emphasized two main points: first, the need to renegotiate Britain’s contribution within the European Union. Second, if re-elected, he promises to organise a referendum based on a simple question: ‘in or out’?
The consequence of this speech is double: it embeds an electoral promise on behalf of the Conservative party and opens a period of uncertainty for both the UE and Great Britain.
If for now such a scenario is merely hypothetical, a recent TIME poll has revealed that 40% of Brits would opt for a ‘Brexit’ (an exit of Britain) whereas 23% remain undecided. The referendum, however is most likely to be held, in 2017, since chances are weak that Britain will successfully renegotiate with the EU in 2015. Indeed, EU partners will not accept another step towards what some call an ‘Europe à la carte’ (pick-and-choose) from Britain, which, already, isn’t part of the Euro nor the Schengen zone.
This speech also triggered many unsolved questions : Euro-scepticism has travelled in every country member of the EU but why is it so present in Britain, despite Lisboa and the slowing down of a stronger integration the Brits didn’t want? Is it merely a xenophobic reaction? Furthermore, under what conditions would Britain really exit the EU? If this exit were to be complete, Britain should maybe consider that it would stop benefiting from the single-market where 40% of the country’s exports are directed to.
One may want to consider merely the enormous practical consequences such a decision would entail: all trade agreements will have to be renegotiated, unemployment will rise in Britain as thousands of British nationals employed for the EU will have to go home.
But most of all, Europeans fear that Britain’s step out of the EU would become a precedent thus leading to the entire collapse of the Union. Some already fear Hungary or Denmark might follow the same path.
But perhaps the option of a Brexit seems to forecast a greater harm inflicted upon Britain when considering the aftermath of this exit. Of course, exiting the EU would lead to Britain’s reinforcement of its other relationships, notably with the United States, reviving the ‘Special Relationship’. However, Washington, which relied on London to support its views within the EU, fears a Brexit would reduce American influence in Europe: “It is important to state very clearly that a strong UK in a strong Europe is in America’s national interest,” said a senior US administration official.
Without a stronger tie with the US and with the shadow of the 2014 independence of Europhile Scotland, what other option is left for Britain other than isolation ?
Most Europeans agree, however, that in his speech Cameron put his finger on Europe’s ‘sore spot’ as Presseurop, a Paris-based European news portal, explains. There exists a European ‘democratic deficit’ as National Parliaments remain more legitimate than European Institutions which, some say, have been established without the peoples’ consent. Maybe the scenario of a Brexit should be the real wake-up call for Europeans to demand a stronger integration, for good; as if a crisis weren’t enough, maybe there needs to be a real tangible threat, such as the Brexit.