United in Diversity

06-02-2013

[Two weeks ago] British Prime Minister David Cameron held a speech about Britain’s future in relation to the European Union. As did most of his predecessors, most notably: Winston Churchill who spoke about the “United States of Europe”(May 7 1948).

Mister Cameron however seems to think (wrongly) that the first and most important task of the European Union is peace. As the forerunner of the EU was actually the European Union for Coal and Steel(1951), an economic union before anything else, Mister Cameron’s presumption that the Union is made up of hippies, is completely mistaken.

The speech was highly anticipated by all political parties in the United Kingdom as well as in the rest of Europe . Mister Cameron also spoke about a possible referendum in the UK on the membership of the European Union. As the effect of this issue, and the other issues he spoke of, could be felt by more people than just those who get a vote in the possible referendum I decided to take a closer look at the speech and the intentions behind it.

 

In order to help paint a picture of what the possible ramifications will be of the speech and the motives behind it, I have spoken to Dr. Felix Roesch, senior lecturer of political science at Coventry University and his teacher’s assistant Brett Sanders. I asked them what they felt the reasons were for Mister Cameron to give this speech.

They feel that the two main reasons for the speech are the economic recession and the unease within the UK about its (supposed) loss of sovereignty to the EU. The economic recession forces all of Europe to look at the Union and to wonder if its financial plans are actually helping.  Dr. Roesch does feel that this is a very positive outcome of the recession: “The recession has stopped people taking certain things for granted and might facilitate reform within the EU.” As the crisis does not only affect the countries currently receiving money, but all the member states, all people in all countries within the EU should get a clear picture of what the EU does. But as Brett Sanders said: “All people within the EU should realise that the EU does not work as an entity unless all the member states agree.”

The greatest problem people in the UK seem to have with the EU is not the economic decisions they make but the apparent  lack of democracy within the Union and the feeling that the Union is doing things to them instead of for them. Dr. Roesch reminds us of the ‘light bulb’ decision: “The decision to pass the European law covering light bulbs was made by a committee and never even passed the European parliament. The committee was not only comprised of politicians but of people from the industry itself. And as all of them have a viable vested? interest in selling the more expensive (TYPE) bulb this could and should have been a more democratic process, especially now that the new light bulbs have proven to be a lot less safe then expected.”

The British think this example, of laws being struck down/effected over all of Europe without everyone having a say, is typical of the dangers of the EU. Most people feel that laws like these endanger a member state’s ability to make their own decisions and enforce their own laws democratically.

“This is the deeper problem facing the United Kingdom”, according to David Cameron, Dr. Roesch and Mr. Sanders. The loss of sovereignty is seen as a greater problem in Britain because, as Mr. Sanders said: “Britain has always been a nation with only one foot in the EU.” And Dr. Roesch  pointed out an interesting fact about Mr. Cameron’s attitude towards the EU: “If you looked at the writing on the wall behind Mr. Cameron you saw the slogan: “UK and the EU, not UK in the EU.”

Some might argue that this relation makes it hypocritical for Mr. Cameron to demand reform. Then again: one foot or two, we are all member states together, and must therefore respect all opinions even if these opinions are voiced by a man who has no intention of changing the EU but is simply scared of other political parties within his own country. In his speech Mr. Cameron said that that he is constantly cautioned by ‘voices’ telling him: “Not to ask difficult questions.” Most EU leaders have argued that this is untrue. They all seem to be in agreement with Dr. Roesch’s statement that now, during the economic crisis, it is a good thing to look at how the Union must proceed.

Another of Mr. Cameron’s statements  also said, on more than one occasion , that the UK has very strong ties with countries outside the European Union, although this does not seem to be felt so strongly in those countries anymore. The American President Obama  even issued a direct challenge to David Cameron over Europe, when he warned of the dangers of holding a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. After this, the senior United States assistant secretary for European Union affairs Philip Gordon, went even further by saying: “We welcome an outward-looking European Union with Britain in it. We benefit when the EU is unified, speaking with a single voice, and focused on our shared interests around the world and in Europe.”

It seems that Mr. Cameron is losing support around the world for the idea of a referendum. The statements made by the Obama administration even came before the Prime Minister had even delivered the speech.  Why would he promise a referendum if he is losing support for it? The answer seems very simple: British politics. The hardliners within Mr. Cameron’s own party have expressed a great interest in a referendum not only because of their personal views on the EU but also because of the growing support for a new party: UKIP. The conservatives seem convinced that they can remain in power if they seem to be working closer to the views of the independent party, ergo: the referendum. Many people both within and outside of the European Union have, however, warned Mr. Cameron: “referendums have often turned countries inwards”.

If the British people do decide to look inward they might not like what they see. The notion that Britain is still one of the greatest players on an international stage has been seen as arrogant for many years, but especially now during the economic crisis, Britain has perhaps even less to say then it thought. Therefore Britain would do very will to look inward, not via the referendum on the EU but by just doing so. The strong connection Europe had with foreign nations is dwindling fast because of the upcoming markets in China and the rest of the far east. Therefore it would seen only right that Britain, as well as other states within the EU looked at their position in the world and ask themselves not only the question Mr. Cameron has posed: “How can we move on together?” but also the more important question: “Who are we in this modern world, and where would we like to go?”

If, however, Mr. Cameron refuses to listen to any of his friends or allies and continues with the referendum there might be another problem he has to circumvent: Scotland. As both Mr. Sanders and Dr. Roesch emphasized: “The referendum on the EU in the UK is going to be dwarfed by the referendum promised to Scotland. And when Scotland does choose to leave the United Kingdom, will they join the European Union?” Perhaps Britain would do well to look at its own identity, as Scotland is about to do, before trying to look at its place within the EU.

Within the EU most people have, however, praised Mr. Cameron’s bravery. He stood up and challenged all of us to take a look at the way we are governed, which is not only our right, but also our duty in a democracy. The referendum might not be the right way to go, but taking a look at how the European Union affects daily life and work is on of the best ideas this Prime Minister has ever had. As the president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy reminded: “Britain is a highly appreciated, highly valued and very important member of the EU. I believe it is in British interests to stay, not only a member of the EU but a very active and full member, a leading nation in the EU. Of course it is for the British people to decide on their future.”

And if it comes to a referendum I can only urge the British public to remember how much stronger we are if united, and how no one would ever dare to take away their sovereignty. Then I would ask the average Joe on the street to name me more then 5 EU members before allowing them to vote, but that’s just my opinion: Understand something before you criticize it.

 

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