A Very Awkward Partner
It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this that Britain is, on the whole, a rather eurosceptic nation, we are the ‘awkward partner’. Our entry into the EC (as it was at the time) and our deepening commitment o the EU through treaties have both been met with scepticism and, in some cases, anger. There are discreet populations within the country where this scepticism takes the form of an outright determination to sever our membership of the EU. These groups are growing in influence, with parties such as the UK Independence Party (UKIP) taking record levels of votes at local elections. The most notable effect, though, is the influence that eurosceptic Conservative MPs are having over our current PM. Mr. Cameron is going out of his way to keep them happy, with policies that involve trying to reclaim powers from Brussels and vetoing spending increases. The issue, however, is that these policies will have a much wider effect in the long run than keeping the back benchers happy.
So what is it, exactly, Mr. Cameron is doing? One could delve here into the complexities of treaties, negotiations and the endless meetings that world leaders have to sit through, but I want to focus on the principles of his actions. The PM has over this past week made many statements concerning the EU but they all seem to carry a central theme: Britain will not budge. This seems an odd position to hold when one is working with the EU. It was designed as a platform for cooperation and negotiation and yet he is refusing to negotiate on key issues such as the budget. Not only this, but, the current attitude towards the EU has been that of a spoilt child deciding what work they are willing to do at school. The government has combed through treaties and agreements deciding what elements it likes and which it doesn’t. They seek to maintain all the perks that come with the current arrangement, yet they don’t want to make any of the sacrifices; both monetarily and politically. What has been most alarming though is the determination of the government to exert influence over eurozone policy, whilst at the same time, maintaining a eurosceptic stance. It seems an attempt to pull the strings from a different room.
What sort of reaction can we expect from this? The answer to this is rather obvious I think; one can hardly imagine the European leaders sitting back and happily watching Britain profit from a European alliance without paying some of the costs. If our government continues on this road, then we expect to see a series of events that will not be in our favour. Initially Britain will start to lose its bargaining position amongst the other European countries. As we become more alienated their ties will become stronger and so many key negotiations, especially the preliminary parts will likely not involve Britain. The immediate result of this: the influence that we can exert of the EU will slowly diminish and we could lose out on policies that have a direct benefit for many of our citizens (Regional Development Funds being one example). We will eventually become a country reliant on our veto power to exert any real influence and as Qualified Majority (QM) voting increases in the Council of ministers this will eventually become an ineffective and readily resented power.
What should the government do? More than anything it is important to demonstrate to the rest of Europe that we are a country that is willing to work with the EU and be reasonable. Mr. Cameron should pick his battles very carefully; why, when the EU is focussed on fixing the problems left by the biggest financial problems since the 1930s, has the PM decided to nitpick over relatively minor political powers? There will come a better time when these issues can be raised. The government should actually negotiate on budget changes; be open to a budget change but make sure the increase is spent wisely, on regional funds that help poorer communities. There should be an appeal to the eurosceptics of the party that during such an uncertain time, financially, it is best to have good relationships within Europe; they should be reasoned with, not pandered too. Most importantly of all, and as I write this I hope Mr. Cameron reads these words; stop posturing. The countries of Europe will respond much better to a reasonable leader who appears intellectual and in control than a man who comes across as a petulant child. The EU is a platform for collaboration and negotiation, to use it as a political battleground does it a severe injustice. Reason wins at a negotiation table, not obstinance.