Photo: Chatham House
              Photo: Chatham House

Harry C. Blaney III

On Tuesday, November 10th, British Prime Minister David Cameron sent a formal letter to the president of the EU Council to start negotiations based on four broad demands, (Letter From Cameron to European Council) with the threat of a referendum by the end of 2017 on the issue of withdrawal from membership in the EU. The letter and the referendum were both a historic moment and an act of high stupidity and irresponsibility.

Prime Minister Cameron is believed to want to stay in the EU, but to placate his Euro-Skeptic large grouping of Tory MPs, which now dominate the Conservative Party, and to keep himself in power, he agreed to hold a referendum after he would first try to negotiate “special terms and concessions” from the EU.

In effect, the demands are to give the UK special exemptions or exceptions as well as protection against the concept of an ever more unified Europe, to protect the UK’s “City,” as it is known, which is the financial and banking sector against what might be plans to create a unified and equitable set of regulations that would apply to all EU countries. This, to protect against the excesses of the banking meltdown of the global “Great Recession.”

Among other demands were that EU migrants should live in the UK for four years before claiming social benefits, opposing EU laws that require members to treat all EU citizens without discrimination. He would also set up an unspecified system by which the national legislators could override EU legislation and actions. He wants a “British Bill of Rights” to replace the EU Human Rights Act.

His bottom line, but not said, is to protect the highly profitable, but sometimes shady, UK  London financial institutions from oversight from Brussels and the EU parliament.

The UK large business community is somewhat split, but largely aghast at the prospect of losing its privileged access to the UK market. The Unions are somewhat divided but mostly favorable.  The media is also divided between the far right papers like The Daily Mail, and the mass circulation tabloid, Evening Standard and the Daily Telegraph. The conservative, but quality, broadsheet Financial Times supports Britain staying in the EU as does the London Independent and its Sunday edition. There is a muddled view on this issue by the Murdoch owned Times of London, which criticized Cameron for being too much “on the side of moderation” and further criticized the EU saying that the “regulations and barriers to doing business are excessive.” This all sounds familiar to American ears from the GOP and their right-wing business and media allies with the same refrain.

The demands are both silly, in some cases not important in real world terms, and on some items important but not acceptable to the rest of the EU. These demands can only be seen by Britain’s partners in the EU as unacceptable and self-serving. On the whole, the other EU members probably would want the UK to stay in the EU, but only if the price does not undermine the unity and future of Europe, as a whole and as a unified entity, which now is already seen as fragile.

The negotiations have now started; the forces in the UK against staying in are led by the Vote Leave campaign and on the other side there is Britain Stronger in Europe campaign.  The betting is that a vote will be to stay in if Cameron gets most of what he wants, but the polls show wide support to get out based on a general sense by many citizens of anger at the hopelessness of their lives, and the xenophobia created by the right wing press and the racist anti-immigrant UK Independence Party among others.

In a speech to the London based Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House), Prime Minister Cameron said that there were strong arguments on economic and national security grounds to stay in the EU (Watch speech here). But his bumbling tactics and cowardice now put in danger a central element of UK global strategy of being at the center of European decision-making, at the forefront of the Atlantic relationship and NATO, and having a strong voice in global affairs. Further, there is no realistic plan for an alternative choice to stand alone and achieve the same influence as within the EU and European decision-making.

Cameron wants a quick decision largely favorable to him (he likely does not expect to get all his demands in full) from the EU leadership, but the EU Council president has indicated it might take a longer time given the many problems inherent in the proposals. Cameron wanted a decision by the end of the year with action of a vote in Britain, perhaps in the summer of 2016.

For America the EU has, with NATO, been the center of our interest in having a free, peaceful, and secure Europe and thus strengthens the stability and power of the West overall. This only then adds to the already strong destabilizing forces within in Europe, like the harsh austerity policies of many states and the related problems of the weaker economies, the massive immigration problems, the possible dismemberment of established nations like Spain, Belgium, and Scotland’s future, which is still in question. Plus, not least, the aggression of Russia in the Ukraine. The so-called British exit from the EU would only add to a sense that “the center cannot hold” and instability and a dangerous downward trajectory may be at work with also threats to democracy from right-wing governments, economic justice, human rights violations, and basic security at peril.

We will be examining many of these forces in future posts.

We welcome your comments!!!

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