Leaving the EU - Britain on the brink
When Britain first joined in 1973, the EU was concerned primarily with the economics of developing a single market. Since the establishment of the single currency, the Euro, in 1999, the emphasis has changed dramatically. The countries which have adopted the Euro are all members of the EU, but by joining the common currency, they have formed a special group, a club within a club. Under the banner of “More Europe”, the Euro group of countries is moving toward a political union, something approaching a USA of Europe.
Behind British issues over EU bureaucracy is the overriding issue of national sovereignty. It has become ever more obvious that “More Europe” means less sovereignty. This is an issue of concern to both the ‘leave’ and the ‘stay in the EU’ campaigns. In an attempt to insulate his country from some of the more vexing sovereignty issues, Prime Minister David Cameron has attempted to negotiate a number of separate agreements with the EU. The results of these negotiations have proved disappointing. Moreover, the loss of sovereignty is not equally distributed. Some countries are less constricted by EU rules and institutions than others. Events related to the recent refugee crisis with Turkey highlight the problem. German head of state, Angela Merkel, negotiated a farreaching preliminary agreement with Turkey that required the EU to donate billions of Euros to that country. The package also envisioned the repatriation of refugees which have made their own way to Europe in exchange for refugees from Turkish camps. The latter will be allowed to settle in Europe. The agreement also included visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens, as well as swifter progress on Turkish membership in the EU. Needless to say, Cyprus was among those not consulted. The various EU officials and institutions that were bypassed stifled their anger and subsequently agreed the preliminary agreement on refugees with only minor changes.
I doubt that an American president could have entered into such far-reaching negotiations without Congressional approval. Even though this was a preliminary negotiation – the vital interests of other EU nations , not least those of Cyprus, were involved.
Technically, an agreement by the Euro group of countries on refugees should not affect the UK, since it has managed to opt out of such decisions. Practically, this is not the case. It is difficult to insulate a country from the decisions of the group. Once the refugees that settle in the EU as part of the agreement with Turkey become citizens, they are by law free to travel and settle in other EU countries, including the UK.
Given the great uncertainty which would accompany a Brexit, it is hard to imagine that Britain will vote to leave. If it stays, its position is likely to become increasingly less tenable.
The Euro group already includes a majority of EU member states. Moreover, this group is expanding. From the present 19 countries it will eventually include all 28 EU members with the exception only of Britain and Denmark. With a common currency and common objectives, this majority is committed to move ever closer to some form of political union. Britain, which has never been comfortable with this and the loss of sovereignty it entails, will increasingly find itself the awkward outsider. An unsatisfactory solution at best.
William Hague, former leader of the Conservative party and foreign minister, has already suggested that a Brexit might be accompanied by Britain forming a new trade association with the EU, something along the lines of the trade agreement negotiated with the EU by Canada. This would be quite different from the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) which Britain left in 1973 when it joined the EU. The Canadian model would give that country free market access to the EU with a minimum of other commitments.
Will that work? One thing is clear. David Cameron’s recent negotiations with the EU have failed to bring about any substantial change let alone “reform” in that organisation.
Even a vote in the British referendum this June to stay in the EU will not provide a long term solution.