Left Out in the Cold? - An Ever Further Union

Foreign Affairs & Security
Tuesday, January 22, 2013

To many in Europe it would seem impossible to say any more that has not already been said about the relationship between the continent and the British Isles, in the context of the European Union.

David Cameron’s keynote speech today, and the inevitable dramatic and exponential increase in debate, conjecture and disagreement over Britain’s position within the European Union that it heralds, will seem incredible to continental Europeans.

The year which began in marking the 40th anniversary of Britain’s accession to the EEC, also marks a time when the broad citizenry of Great Britain are clamouring for more debate, more renegotiation and referendum on Britain’s relationship with the EU, when much of Europe have nothing to offer them but weary disagreement and disinterest. The problem is as fundamental as the vision for the European project, a vision not shared, and therefore tested most harshly at time of crisis. German Finance Minister Schauble commented in an October EPP Conference in Berlin, that in order to advance past the economic crisis in Europe;"We need to advance to shared sovereignty to survive", he has equally made clear his desire for Britain to remain an equal partner in the EU. Yet in Britain, already we have passed legislation to lock any further ceding of sovereign power to Brussels, and much of the Conservative Party and public at large demand further repatriation of powers. An opposite swift retreat from shared sovereignty, rather than an advance towards.

As Jacque Delores correctly assesses, in Britain we are solely interested in the economic accolades of union membership, and not only disinterested but strongly reticent towards any movement towards a federal European State or any ideological union. Always there are echoes and re-echoes of “In Europe, not run by Europe”, in the British EU debate,  current Foreign Secretary William Hague’s now widely supported ‘a la carte’ approach to the European project during his 2000 election campaign as leader of the Conservative Party.

The circumstance of modern Europe and the galvanisation of the European project that has accompanied the Eurozone crisis can only serve to divide those who are strongly committed from those who are not, and divide them in terms of membership of the EU. There now seems little room for those who wish to remain partly involved.

To truly understand the future of Britain’s position within the EU, Europeans must understand the politics within the Government of the United Kingdom, the Conservative Party, and its public at large. It is an issue which has brought down two former Conservative Prime Ministers, looms over a third, and continues to serve as a theatre of populist posturing for any politician willing to take part in the most controversial debate in the last two decades of British politics. David Cameron is likely to spend the remainder of his Premiership in frustrated and failed attempts to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU, with a full referendum on the horizon. He knows as well as his European counterparts that it is a fool’s errand to be swiftly rebuffed by the 26 other members not offered special treatment, but there is a feeling that it may just provide enough theatre to defer a referendum on EU membership which would very possibly result in complete withdrawal if held imminently.

Whatever 2013 holds in the saga of Anglo-European relations, in a week when the French and Germans celebrate the landmark 50th anniversary of the Elysee Pact with a symbolic and perhaps prophetic joint session of Parliament, ever closer union seems ever further away between Britain and Europe.

Ben Harris-Quinney, Chairman - Writing in La Razon.