Leav­ing the EU - Bri­tain on the brink

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Cyprus

© PressReader. All rights reserved.