David McAllister: “Cameron wants a fair, competitive and flexible Europe.”
The prospect of a British exit of the EU looms on the horizon and strains the relationship between London and the rest of the EU. What exactly is the problem at hand?
The British perception of the European Union has always been different. For the British, the single market is more important than the idea of a united Europe as a prerequisite for peace. Since Great Britain entered the EEC in 1973, it has experienced an ongoing debate about whether Europe is the right answer to the UK’s challenges. This debate, according to the former Ambassador in Berlin Sir Simon McDonald, has never ended.
Why is Brexit so fiercely debated now?
Prime Minister David Cameron already put the option of a referendum on the table in 2013. He personally sees the UK as a part of the EU. However, he wants to transform the relationship between his country and the EU, based on three principles: fairness, competition and flexibility. The British proposals for reforming the EU will be discussed at an EU summit this December.
What are the reforms that the UK would like to see in place?
From my point of view, there are five crucial points for the British: firstly, they do not want an “ever closer union” for them but a more flexible Europe, in which the Eurozone countries for example integrate at a different speed than others. Secondly, they want more rights for national parliaments to express their will in Brussels as well as, thirdly, a rigid enforcement of the principle of subsidiary. Fourthly, the Brits want less influence for the European Court of Human Rights. And lastly and most importantly, the British government wants to reduce the free movement of labour and restrict welfare payments for EU immigrants in the UK. This topic will be the decisive point as mobilization will be a key success factor for the referendum campaigners and this is the only topic which could emotionally mobilize voters in the UK.
David Cameron still remains silent on this issue. It will be decisive to bring his demands in accordance with EU law.
Which role does the current refugee crisis play for the referendum debate?
Current polls show that the Eurosceptics have taken the lead on the Brexit question for the first time. There is a simple explanation for this: the current refugee crisis. The Eurosceptics use this topic to demonstrate that being an EU member also means open borders for people from all over the world. This is of course a false message. But it resonates especially in England, where some people already feel left out.
How should the Europeans act during the referendum campaign?
It is our task to show British voters that we want to keep them in the EU without looking indoctrinating. It is up to us to build bridges.
We should use the British debate to listen to David Cameron and his reform proposals in an impartial and open manner and to implement them for the common European good.
The British on the other hand have to formulate their position in a positive manner both internally and towards other EU member states. They need “to be nice and build alliances“. Judging by their active diplomacy in each of the other 27 member states and the European institutions in Brussels, are on a good track.
There is no point in euphorically telling the British how great the European Union is. Some just do not want to hear that. Instead, we should appeal to British pragmatism and common sense, which so far has always had an effect.