The British Referendum:
David Cameron: Best agent for the “OUT” vote!
Despite all his protestations, David Cameron is paving the way for an overwhelming victory of the “leave the EU” campaign. The leak of the four “demands” published in the Sunday Telegraph constitute its most recent and irrefutable demonstration. Indeed, they are either without object or, at best, a clumsy attempt to pre-empt the outcome of a future overhaul of the EU Treaty. The foreseeable consequences are the disappointment of the largely undecided British elector who will be tempted to “go it alone” (with or without the PM’s endorsement).
The first “demand” is an “explicit statement that Britain will be kept out of any moves towards a ‘European super-state’. This is hardly necessary because such moves imply Treaty changes for which unanimity is required, giving the UK a veto or the option to withdraw from the Union according to the procedures of the Lisbon Treaty.
The second “demand” is the “recognition that the EU is a “multi-currency union”. This is an unalterable “fact” as long as the Eurozone does not extend to the entire Union. Britain benefits already from an exemption to join the Eurozone so it needs no additional assurances.
The third requires instituting “a red card system which would allow groups of national Parliaments to block proposed EU laws and scrap existing laws”. This clearly would require Treaty changes. It is preposterous to require that the 27 Member States commit ahead of time to such a change which would necessarily emerge (if at all) from a broader renegotiation of the Union’s institutional architecture. The principle at stake is the hierarchy of laws which, if the British proposal was accepted, would clearly subordinate EU law to national legislations. It would render all future EU attempts to legislate not only more difficult but also, because of the possibility of repeal by national parliaments, institute a high degree of legal uncertainty inhibiting significantly trans-border investment decisions. The laborious functioning of the EU would be stifled even further.
Fourthly, “a reorganisation of the EU to safeguard the rights of the nine non-Eurozone member states”. This demand is also preposterous to the extent that it imposes on the Eurozone Members the exact kind of limitations to their sovereignty that the UK wishes to preserve for itself. Would, for instance, the PM “agree that, in case of Brexit, he would safeguard the rights of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish citizens to remain Members of the EU”?
That the EU needs profound reforms is an undisputed fact. To the extent the referendum takes place before the end of 2017 as promised, the question should be rephrased: “does Britain stay in the EU to participate fully in the renegotiating of the treaty so as to protect its interests or does it leave, abandoning its capacity of influencing the outcome”. A vote to stay “in” does not pre-empt the possibility of leaving the EU later if the UK is not satisfied with the outcome of the proposed treaty changes.
It is interesting that David Cameron seems to have shelved requests for amendments in a number of EU directives and regulations (immigration, benefit rights, working and social rights, free movement of people with the EU, etc.) all subjects where several other Member States are also in favour of change. These can indeed be obtained to a large extent through the normal EU legislative process and should avoid creating new “exemptions or opt-outs”.
Based on the formulation of the latest British “demands” the EU should refuse to negotiate anything ahead of time. The Commission should redirect its special purpose task force towards preparing a reformed institutional framework for the Union, where the UK would have ample opportunity to present its requests.
The European Council has a heavy responsibility in controlling the EU reform process. By allowing pre referendum negotiations it would transfer to the British the right of determining alone the EU’s future because the issue of the negotiations would only bind one of the parties.
Brexit can lead to two main scenarios:
It galvanises the other Members – freed from British obstruction – to changing profoundly the nature of the Union, allowing it to deploy its full potential including in the areas of defence, foreign affairs, economic and monetary affairs. EU reform proceeds rapidly without regard for British interests, aiming specifically at achieving “a closer Union”, a Eurozone enlarged to the entire Union and establishing a clear hierarchy in community legislation subordinating local and national prescriptions to Union law. The UK would find itself isolated and confronted with holding the “United Kingdom” together while negotiating simultaneously new relationships with its trading partners.
Alternatively, Brexit establishes a damaging precedent and reinforces the nationalist-populist “Eurosceptic” parties within other Member States. Reforming the EU becomes impossible and the single currency’s survival is constantly put into jeopardy. At some point either market forces or political events – international or domestic – lead to a breakup of the Union and the implosion of the Euro. The subsequent chaos would spread to the entire globe; it would not spare the UK. Its dire consequences could prove even more damaging economically, socially and politically than Brexit itself.
In conclusion, David Cameron is steering Britain - maybe unwittingly - on a very dangerous course. The European Council has the obligation to consider the interests of all of its members and not pander to the idiosyncrasies of one of them. Only Chancellor Merkel has the necessary stature to lead a radical challenge to the Prime Minister, leaving, as usual, President Hollande groping hopelessly for a compromise between the former’s incompatible visions?
God save both the Queen and the EU!
Lorgues, October 13th 2015
Paul N. Goldschmidt
Director, European Commission (ret.); Member of the Steering Committee of the Thomas More Institute.
Tel: +32 (02) 6475310 +33 (04) 94732015 Mob: +32 (0497) 549259