Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 6:45 AM
Public disillusionment in Britain with the European Union is such that Prime Minister David Cameron felt compelled last Wednesday to pledge to hold an “in-out referendum” on UK membership if he is re-elected in 2015.
The next Conservative manifesto in 2015 will ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative government to negotiate a new settlement with our European partners in the next parliament…
And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice. To stay in the EU on these new terms, or come out altogether.
It will be an in-out referendum.
(Cameron, The Guardian, January 23, 2013)
Except that Cameron stands even less chance of negotiating a new settlement with his European partners than President Assad stands of negotiating a peace settlement with Syrian opposition forces. Nothing affirms this quite like virtually all of Cameron’s European partners reacting to his pledge by giving him the proverbial finger:
If Britain wants to leave Europe we will roll out the red carpet for you.
(France foreign minister Laurent Fabius, Der Spiegel, January 23, 2013)
[C]herry-picking is not an option. Europe isn’t the sum of national interests but a community with a common fate in difficult times.
(German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, Der Spiegel, January 23, 2013)
Mind you, there’s no gainsaying that the UK needs the EU far more than the EU needs the UK. Many feared, for example, that the euro currency would fold if the UK did not adopt it. But the euro has thrived in spite of this.
Still, no less a person than President Obama felt sufficiently bewildered by Cameron’s pledge to advise him that:
The United States values a strong UK in a strong European Union.
(CNN, January 23, 2013)
In other words, notwithstanding the “special relationship” between the two countries, Washington considers London a bridge to Europe that, if broken down, would cause a devaluation of that relationship.
But I suspect Cameron’s pledge is nothing more than a brazen political ploy to appease the Eurosceptics in his Conservative Party. In fact, Cameron pledging to claw back power from the EU is rather like Mitt Romney pledging to repeal Obamacare: each knew full well that entrenched political realities made his pledge inherently unfeasible.
In fairness to Cameron, though, he is only trying to cherry-pick EU policies the way almost all British prime ministers have done – not as much to advance Britain’s national interests as to pander to rabid factions within their respective political parties.
Apropos of which, I’m on record giving Cameron’s immediate predecessor, Gordon Brown, the finger for trying to claw back powers from the EU just as Cameron is trying to do now:
[N]othing justifies my skepticism (over the viability of an EU constitution) quite like the Sisyphean attempts by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to reconcile the contradictions inherent in this treaty. Because, according to the BBC, he boasted in recent parliamentary debates – without any hint of irony – that he had secured ‘special treatment for the UK in a range of areas’ at the European summit and that Britain would keep opt-outs on foreign policy, labor rights, tax and social security.
But if Britain has already established the untenable precedent that it can ‘opt-out’ of all of the key provisions of the treaty, then what is the legal and substantive effect of this ersatz constitution?!
(“A Dead EU Constitution Resurrected as a ‘New Treaty’…,” The iPINIONS Journal, November 27, 2007)
What makes this cherry-picking so insufferable, however, is the plainly absurd claim by British prime ministers that allowing them to do so would be as good for the EU as it would be for the UK.
I don’t just want a better deal for Britain. I want a better deal for Europe too:
(Cameron, The Guardian, January 23, 2013)
Except that there clearly would be no Europe if each member state were allowed to bend the rules (i.e., to opt out of any policy or claw back any power it deems would serve its national interest). Which is why, instead of allowing Britain to undermine its core features by continually trying to do so, the EU should enact a policy to kick out any member that seeks such “special treatment.”
A dead EU constitution…