Friday, February 1, 2013
Reactions came fast from many of Europe's leaders but also from businessmen from Britain and elsewhere. They all criticized Mr Cameron and warned of the potential consequences that a "Brixit" would have on the country's economy.
"We need a UK as a fully fledged member, not harboring in the port of Dover," the European Parliament's President Mr Martin Schulz said. "Renegotiation is a two-way process where no artificial deadlines can be imposed by one side," he added.
Many already commented that his speech is actually a bluff. A trick to make the British voters stay with him and his party, instead of joining the ranks of UKIP that for the past few years has been more vocal on Britain's EU membership.
And I have to agree. I personally found Mr. Cameron's speech very predictable. What else could he do? The voices demanding for reconsidering Britain's EU membership were becoming ever more vocal for the past few years. The country never had an easy or comfortable relationship with Europe, but since the financial crisis the British "euro-skeptics" found a lot of fertile ground to sow their seeds.
Not just Britain's but overall the European public opinion have started questioning their country's EU and euro-zone membership and that is not necessarily a bad thing; for too long the European population has been complacent and passive on European politics.
The bad thing is that this crisis allowed the rise of many nationalist and far right groups and encouraged the rise of nationalism across Europe. And since Britain was always one of the least supportive nation for the European project, it is understandable that people that always advocated a withdrawal of Britain from the EU could now put pressure on the British government by gathering support from the public.
Mr Cameron really had no choice, he had to listen to his people's calls and give them an option. But I strongly disagree with what he said, the way he said it. His speech was very carefully crafted to keep all sides happy, but it was not convincing.
It was clearly populism to claim that he is not an "isolationist" and he wants the best for Europe. "The best for Europe" is what the collective decisions of all EU member states conclude to, not just what the interests of one of its members dictate.
And if Britain continues its long tradition of bashing Europe and its involvement in it, it certainly will going to find itself isolated. Even the American President Mr Barack Obama called for caution on the UK's ever growing wish for a withdrawal.
If Britain wanted the EU to be a success it should stop opting out of every policy they disagree with and be more engaged and proactive. Europe needs Britain but not only for the financial support as the Brits believe. If the three European powers (Germany, France and Britain) cooperated closely instead of constantly bickering and be stuck in the post WW2 era, then the EU would be a success.
Britain could be an invaluable asset for the union if it decided to play the role it should have and not always place itself miles apart from the rest of the Union. Yes there are numerous challenges to be faced and dealt within the EU and with every state joining they keep increasing. But the UK is not patient and it does not play its cards right.
Instead of getting frustrated of not getting its way and for the slow developments in the new states, it could engage more in influencing and speeding those changes. And by doing that they could gain more allies and a sphere of influence in Europe.
Perhaps they think that Europe is not interesting anymore or they have nothing to gain from it. But where will they turn when their old colonies seek to go their own way?
By promising a referendum by 2017 Mr Cameron may have gained votes and the support of most British public, especially the ever increasingly euro-skeptic one. Instead of allowing it to slide into UKIP's circles, he gave them a promise that will make them looking forward to something. Perhaps securing their votes.
"If I am Prime Minister, there will be a referendum,” he vowed; and that betrays his true intentions. A clever move? Perhaps yes for his and his party's future. But if the people vote to leave the EU, he will go down as the President who did the unthinkable. And history will judge him.
He will have to deliver, otherwise his and his party's reputation and future career are at risk. If nothing changes in Britain and in Europe by 2017, then the outcome will be most likely negative according to the current trends and the UK will have to leave the Union.
The In/Out approach is very dangerous. The public can be so easily influenced by the wrong factors. My experiences in Ireland during the Lisbon Treaty referendum confirm that. The public when asked a "yes or no" question, usually the real answer that the public want to give is somewhere in between. But they are not given the "between" option. And when they lack all the facts they tend to vote negatively.
With years of being brainwashed by the British media of all that is wrong with the EU and never with the rights, then I do not see how this referendum can be won. And it is a pity, because Britain's youth is far more "pro-European" that their parents and grant-parents and they are going to be the real "victims" of a British exit from the EU.
Cameron's criticism of the EU of having "too many institutions," is so lame. The EU has so many institutions exactly because all EU member states want to safeguard their national interests. And to try to balance all interests, the EU is having to have so many complicated laws that need the so many institutions to make sure they are kept.
If the EU member states passed on more powers to the EU and followed all EU legislation that they signed, there wouldn't be necessary to have so much bureaucracy in the EU. A "heretic who has point" like Copernicus he may wish to present himself, but in this case he hasn't.
Yes the EU has many problems and it is not perfect. But the problems come from the member states and their inability to agree or their reluctance to give more powers to the EU, something that Britain is most guilty of. Thus Mr. Cameron's "heresy" can not lead to anything constructive, thus there is no point to it.
Mr Cameron was careful not to present himself as "anti-European." A trend that grasps many British euro-skeptics lately. In order to gain support or avoid any criticism, they want to be seen a real "pro-Europeans" that are just trying to secure the best interests of the European nations. That translates of course to the best interests of Britain.
The UK can not speak for all states. The interests of the majority of the smaller EU states is to belong to some kind of lose European federation. So if Britain wants out it is in its very right to think so, but they should not try to push their agenda on to others and present it as "common."
He also hinted that the EU should cooperate, or it will lose out of Britain's departure. Sure it will but threatening your "partners," does not win you their support. Europe needs Britain for sure, but also Britain needs Europe. The attitude of "give me what I need or else," is not a sign of "pro-European-ism" and a diplomatic approach to find a solution.
Britain is just playing its last card to avoid being "sucked in" a European federation and having to compromise the interests not of its people, rather the elites of the City of London. In all its history with Europe it was trying to do just that, so Cameron really does not have much choice than to try to satisfy his country's elites. Or at least try to avoid the criticism.
A lot can happen until 2017 and until then I hope the British and the European elites will come with a plan B to deal with any outcome. If Britain goes ahead with the referendum that will most likely be lost, judging from the current public opinion trends, Europe will be in an uncharted territory. Never before such an important European state decided to leave the Union, but it will definitely not spell the end of the EU.
It will just open a new chapter.