The European Union (EU) has become a topic of lively debate following Prime Minister, David Cameron’s speech (23/01/2013) about holding a referendum in the next Parliament, should the Conservatives be voted into power. The in-out referendum would address a new relationship within the EU in an attempt to claw back powers from Brussels to London, asking the electorate to approve a looser relationship with Brussels or quit the EU altogether. This is the first time there has been a referendum in Britain about Europe since 1975, under the governing of Prime Minister Harold Wilson.
In his speech, Mr Cameron outlined demands to extend the single market so customers can buy online goods anywhere in the EU in a bid to clinch trade deals with US and Japan and shrink the size of the European Commission. Cameron also wants several EU treaties rewritten to remove compulsion for all states to seek ever closer union. EU laws on environment, social affairs and crime would also be investigated as areas where national capitals could regain control. If Britain’s demands were not granted then Cameron added Britain ran the risk of drifting towards the exit of the EU.
Cameron’s presumption that the terms of the Lisbon Treaty can be renegotiated could be disillusioned however. Although Business leaders such as Xavier Rolet, chief executive of the London Stock Exchange, have advocated Mr Cameron’s proposals, British political journalist Andrew Rawnsley questioned: ‘Why (should) the rest of Europe want to reopen all the treaties to suit the interests of its most reluctant member and then leave Britain to decide whether it wants to carry on as even more semi-detached participant?’ This view was strengthened when the President of France, Francois Hollande, declared that the EU is not an à la carte menu where members can simply choose their powers.
Gunther Krichbaum, a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling CDU party, compared the situation to opening Pandora’s box, before remarking that, “Losing the single market for the UK would be an economic disaster.’ If powers were repatriated Mr Cameron would be highly dependent on Chancellor Merkel, who is the EU’s most powerful leader. Up to now Merkel has declared herself willing to talk about British wishes, but reminded, “there are other countries in the EU with different wishes and we must find a fair compromise.”
Other British politicians have seized upon the ill-timed nature of Cameron’s speech when economic confidence is still fragile. Nick Clegg, Leader of the Liberal Democrats warned, “These are jobs at stake, not some arcane constitutional debate,” which resonated with Vince Cable, Mr Cameron’s Business Secretary’s, caution that business needs certainty, which is at odds with ‘reopening the whole question of British membership’ during this period.
Another possible repercussion of an EU exit would be damaged relations between Washington and London. President Obama has already come out in favour of “a strong UK in a strong European Union,” with many interpreting the word “strong” to be a warning against Britain’s influence being marginalized through negotiations.
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