Friday, 4 January 2013

Why Cameron will get it all wrong on the EU

Some time before the end of this month, David Cameron will make a Very Important Speech about Britain and the EU. I know that, like me, you are already on the edge of your seat, quivering in excited anticipation.

Unfortunately, Mr Cameron will almost certainly say all the wrong things. He will talk about Britain insisting on this, demanding that, and refusing to accept the other. He will sound, as so many British politicians have done before him, like a petulant child, stamping his foot because he can't have what he wants.

There is another way. He could -- here's a revolutionary idea for you -- be honest. He could say there are pluses and minuses to being a member of the EU, and then spell them out for us. Maybe take out full-page ads in the papers, asking Monty Python style: "What has the EU ever done for us?" -- and then provide a list of answers.

And here's another idea: instead of talking about a two-speed Europe, or a multi-tier Europe, or an "associate membership" Europe, why don't we imagine a Europe of concentric circles?

At its centre would be the members of the eurozone, with all its trimmings: banking union, common taxation policies, and of course the single currency. Next, the countries that are in the single market, but outside the eurozone, in other words, where the UK, Sweden and Denmark are now. Other governments may choose to be there too.

Then, a third circle, outside the single market but still in the EU. Maybe that's where some of Mr Cameron's Tory colleagues would prefer to be, pretty much where we were before the UK signed up to the single market in 1987 (the prime minister at the time, you may recall, was a certain Margaret Thatcher).

And you could have a fourth circle, in which you'd find countries like Norway, Switzerland and Iceland, not in the EU but linked to it. Some Tory MPs want that to be the place for the UK as well.

But here's the really revolutionary idea: when you've drawn up all your different circles (and yes, I know it'll be complicated and difficult, but there are some very clever people in Brussels), you put them to the vote. Not just in the UK, but right across the EU. Ask the voters in all 27 member states, on the same day, which circle they'd like to be in.

It's never been done before, and it would change the nature of the EU overnight. For the first time in its recent history, the shape of the EU would genuinely represent the will of the people who live in it, rather than the conviction of Europe's political elites that they know best.

I remember being shocked (yes, I'm still just about capable of being shocked) at a meeting in Westminster some months ago when a group of MPs and peers were discussing the future shape of the EU. I ventured to suggest that closer integration might not be acceptable to British voters. "Probably," said one of the participants. "But the voters would be wrong."

In an article in the Financial Times last October, Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform wrote of a multi-tier Europe rather than a concentric one, and said: "Life in the third tier need not be uncomfortable for the UK. If it makes an effort to win friends and allies among its partners, including those in the euro, it will have an influential voice in EU decision-making. Yet successive British governments have done too little to forge alliances with those – such as the central Europeans, Nordics and Dutch – who tend to think like the British on some key issues."
So how about it, prime minister? Tell us you're going to propose to the UK's EU partners that a new constitutional commission is established to draw up the criteria for a concentric union. The members of the commission will be given two years to come up with a detailed plan, then there'll be a three-month referendum campaign in each of the EU's 27 member states.
A lively, raucous debate will ensue. Different political parties will choose different options -- they'll take out newspaper ads, stage televised debates, form cross-border alliances, argue that this is the most important political decision voters will be asked to make in a generation. The campaign will be noisy, messy and ill-tempered.
We could even call it -- and I admit I may be stretching a point here -- democracy in action.


Kit Green said...

Unfortunately I have a lot of trouble persuading those around me that the sham of our democracy is summed up by that comment "But the voters would be wrong".

When referring to the EU that phrase transforms into the infamously overused "mistake" that voters in some countries are prone to.

Cameron will not allow a mistake. The EU will only change its form following rebellion prompted by European or world financial collapse.

Hilly said...

Do you really think more than 45% of population will even bother voting? As was shown by Irelands vote, we will keep returning until we vote the way the EU wants.

quietoaktree said...

Whether ´concentric circles´or ´tiers´are used to determine the British place within Europe, Britain brings a baggage of even more un-democratic principles than the EU can handle.

An unelected Head of State (and family), an unelected House of Lords and an elected government whose sole aim (oath) is to work for the benefit of the unelected Head of State (and family).

The acceptance of different Rights and responsibilities of EU citizens makes a farce of the whole European ideal and of its citizenship. Cameron (and others) wish undeserved ´equality´--he wants sovereignty to mean ´SOVEREIGNty´ By using any logic the price is too high for Europe to accept --and it should not.

All EU citizens with EU passports must be equal before the Law and this will not occur (does not) with even more British opt-outs.

British citizens and citizens of other countries not in the EU ´core´should not be considered EU citizens --this would at least bring clarity and give EU citizens the knowledge they have ´equal Rights´in all EU member states.

British governments knew what they signed and it is clear their intentions were dishonest --and still are.

Ian Fleming said...

My small business is quite dependant on trading with Germany, we get on well, have a similar work ethic and beliefs, I suspect a lot of the Tories view is to appeal to those who dont trade with Europe, it works, it is good for UK plc

quietoaktree said...

Mr Lustig,

My future argumentations require ´Links´--is there any possibility that they appear ´Live´ (active) ?.

It is (as often) unlikely that any posted ´Links´ are clicked and read --but is this restriction necessary ?

Robin Lustig said...

quietoaktree: I'm afraid there is no live link facility on this blogging software. You could try leaving comments on my Huffington Post blog if you prefer.

quietoaktree said...

`An unelected Head of State (and family), an unelected House of Lords and an elected government whose sole aim (oath) is to work for the benefit of the unelected Head of State (and family).´

The conflict of interest accusations by an EU and its citizens against the British system of government is unavoidable --and has been shown.

´Royal Family granted new right of secrecy
Special exemptions to be written into Freedom of Information Act.´

´A spokesman for Buckingham Palace said that the change to the law was necessary because the Freedom of Information Act had failed to protect the constitutional position of the monarch and the heir to the throne. He explained that the sovereign has the right and duty to be consulted, to encourage and warn the government, and by extension, the heir to the throne had the constitutional right and duty to prepare himself for the role of King.`

-- Without full declaration of ALL Royal wealth and properties both in Britain and abroad (also in present ex-colonies etc.) the necessary transparency for EU Heads of State (especially un-elected) becomes farcical.

-- Having heard rumors that Prince Charles owns property in North Cyprus and the late Queen mother owned property in Barbados -- the plot thickens as...

`A letter exchange revealed a tussle over who has control of £2.5m gained from the sale of Kensington Palace land. Ministers said it belonged to the state, while Buckingham Palace said it belonged to the Queen`

quietoaktree said...

The British foot-stamping began when the Berlin Wall fell --since then there has been sulking and spoiled child tactics.

While America is again worried about having two telephone numbers for Europe, --

"the Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, told a British audience last year: "Please don't expect us to help you wreck or paralyse the EU."

If ´push comes to shove´hostility towards Britain will increase especially if the British government and a majority if Britons continue to ignore the famous Kennedy remark- (slightly altered)

´Ask not what you can do for Europe --but what Europe can do for you´

-- an obvious sign of UK ´maturity´and ignorance of European reality-

"Things just ain´t what they used to be".

Gaye Berry said...

The only quivering I have is on this question:
How much will David Cameron manage to bog down the work of the EU with his injection of British pomposity?

Apparently, number who would vote for outright withdrawal has dropped from 37% to 33%, while the number who would oppose such a move rose to 42%. The pressure is seeming to come from international partners (US, Germany and Ireland) that have made it clear they oppose a British exit as isolating & damaging - economically & diplomatically.

Is Cameron's obstinacy based on the fact that Eurosceptics in Tory party helped to bring down the Conservatives' last two PMs, Margaret Thatcher & John Major? Is he leery, or does he simply not know that times have changed?

As for your circled-tier proposition, I think it's important for all members of the Eurozone to comply with: banking union, common taxation policies, & single currency. In other words, I do not support the position taken by Sweden, Denmark and the UK. Therefore, by the time I get to the fourth circle e.g. Norway, Switzerland & Iceland. I have lost sight of Britain entirely because this is a tier on which she simply does not belong.

This statement of yours grabs me most - EU should: "genuinely represent the will of the people who live in it, rather than the conviction of Europe's political elites that they know best". I'm afraid the best I can respond is that the current elites may be the wrong elites, but are they not democratically elected? What happens when these elites peg & nail their country into the wrong tier (which can't happen if it is all a single tier)?
I truly believe that the attempt to introduce a tiered system would cause such utter confusion that we would not, could not, see democracy in action, but rather the return of Bedlam.