Januar 23, 2013

David Cameron and "His European Union"

A. Merkel, D. Cameron, F. Hollande; Foto: TMNews (http://www.tmnews.it)
During the European Council in December 2012 all the European leaders stood side by side. In January 2013 the future of the European Union is being used to drive a wedge between the "Big Three": Great Britain, France and Germany. While Angela Merkel and François Hollande celebrate their "Golden Wedding", David Cameron pledges EU exit. What a European Leadership? Stefan Lehne states: "Several factors differentiate these three countries from most other member states. First, the Big Three states can still rely on their own weight to influence developments and are less dependent on multilateral institutions. Second, they can forum-shop; the EU is just one of several relevant institutional frameworks in which they can operate. And third, the Big Three are involved in shaping policies across a much wider range than other states."

Cameron's "Brexit"

The story of British dissatisfaction with the European Union has a long history. David Cameron picks up where Margaret Thatcher stopped. Just think on Margaret Thatcher and her often quoted "I want my money back", made during a press conference when she was trying to renegotiate Britain's EEC budget contribution at the EEC Summit in Dublin (30 November 1979). And in 2013, David Cameron pledges: "I don’t just want a better deal for Britain. I want a better deal for Europe too." As already Douglas Fraser stated last year: "(t)he possibility of a British exit from the European Union - or a 'Brexit' - is getting a serious airing in London financial circles."

Tagged Cameron Speech
But let me take a closer look on what David Cameron said in his speech with regard to Britain's European future (see the tagged speech on the left side). One thing is clear: The timing of Cameron's speech is very well chosen. While Germany and France are celebrating 50 years of common friendship and European integration, David Cameron is questioning Great Britain's future in the European Union. 

Cameron's "Brexit"
  • Course adjustment
Taking into consideration the repeated use of words in David Cameron's speech, it is obviously that British Prime Minister used very often "EU", "Union", "Europe", "European" and "Britain". It could be seen as a strategic stocktaking and course adjustment of Britain in the European Union. However, this was his purpose: What is Britain expecting from the European Union? 
  • Updated European Union 
David Cameron proposes a British model for an updated European Union based on five principles: competitiveness, flexibility, reverse power flow from European institution to Member states, democratic accountability and fairness: "These five principles provide what, I believe, is the right approach for the European Union." The reverse power flow from European institution to Member states, however, the president of the European council Herman Van Rompuy has already rejected. But which powers does David Cameron have in mind is unclear.
  • Just simply ask the British people 
Further, David Cameron puts the European future of Great Britain into question. His proposal: Just simply ask the British people: "Simply asking the British people to carry on accepting a European settlement over which they have had little choice is a path to ensuring that when the question is finally put – and at some stage it will have to be – it is much more likely that the British people will reject the EU. (...)  A real choice between leaving or being part of a new settlement in which Britain shapes and respects the rules of the single market but is protected by fair safeguards, and free of the spurious regulation which damages Europe’s competitiveness. (...) If we left the European Union, it would be a one-way ticket, not a return. (...) And I say to our European partners, frustrated as some of them no doubt are by Britain’s attitude: work with us on this." The exit of a powerful EU member state could become possible in the recent history of the European Union.
  • Europe à la carte 
The most dangerous signal is: "We must not be weighed down by an insistence on a one size fits all approach which implies that all countries want the same level of integration. The fact is that they don’t and we shouldn’t assert that they do." What does it mean? The answer is very simple: Many European Unions. And France gives an immediate answer to Cameron's proposal: “Europe, let’s suppose it was a football club, you join the club, but once you’re in it, you can’t say ‘let’s play rugby’,” RFI quoted French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. According to Herman Van Rompuy: "If every member state were able to cherry-pick those parts of existing policies that they most like, and opt out of those that they least like, the union in general, and the single market in particular, would soon unravel," he said quoted by The Guardian.
  • "(a) new global race of nations is underway today"
But can Britain compete on the global stage without the European Union? German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble doubts it: "Without the EU as an amplifier, Britain's influence in the world would be lessened. No European country alone can make its voice heard in today's globalised world," said Schäuble quoted by The Guardian.

Much ado about nothing? I don't think so. David Cameron's speech might seem slightly exaggerated, but basically it is a debate on the basic principles of the European Union. And it is an early entry into the election campaign.

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