As we know by now the UK is about to test the waters both at home and at EU level on what seems to be a path with no return namely whether it will remain a member or leave the EU.
At home, the EU referendum Bill is swiftly going through Parliament – approved at second reading at the House of Commons by an overwhelming majority on 9 June – and will, in all likelihood, end in an in-out referendum possibly sooner than late 2017.
At EU level, David Cameron has recently launched his own quest to reform the EU as a legal entity in benefit of all peoples of Europe, though we do not see any other Head of State openly joining such enterprise. Everybody knows the underlying reason of this seemingly sudden behaviour is that the clock is ticking at home (sooner or later the nation will vote on the referendum). This is the final attempt to convince the population that the UK is better off staying in the EU, by obtaining some concessions from the EU.
But, what does it all mean?
Well, I keep on hearing people going on and on about the need for them to have a say on whether the UK remains in the EU or not and I say….you, as a nation, had the chance to do so in 1975, hence, the whole idea of feeling deprived of expressing their voices is not quite as such. Yes, it was 40 years ago but it is more than other Member States have had. Are we saying that each generation should have a saying on it? that does not sound right. So, I just say “beware what you wish for”. The EU as such is far from being an efficient machinery but it is a huge trading bloc and the UK reaps many benefits from being a part of it.
And then some say “we just want to be part of the internal market, we can leave the EU and join the EFTA like Norway or Switzerland”…. well, let me remind you that EU legislation is binding in those countries and they do NOT have a saying in their adoption. Really? is that what you want? I can see you frowning now, that would not work either, right? What exactly do you want? that seems to be the main question. A Europe a-la-carte…. that is more like it.
Now let’s assess the possible outcome of the referendum, a referendum on which I will not be allowed to participate even though I have lived in the UK and contributed to the UK’s economy for over a decade. Whether that is right or wrong I leave it to you to decide but does not sound right a priori (in the Scottish referendum everyone who at that time lived in Scotland were allowed to have a saying). Here is an interesting fact, before the Scottish referendum took place in 2014 the House of Commons issued a report which covered the effects of referendums in the UK (The Referendum on Separation for Scotland: making the process legal – report published on 17 July 2012). The report states “[w]hether a referendum is formally legally binding [… ] will depend on the structure of the legislation which enables it” and it was also acknowledged that “no referendum was ever wholly binding; Parliament could always repeal the legislation creating the obligation. The first referendum on European issues in 1975 had no direct legal effect, though the Government made clear that it would see itself as bound by the result, and it was agreed by all concerned that the referendum was to decide whether the UK remained in the Common Market” (see paragraph 8 of the report).
It will be up to the final wording of the Act enabling the referendum whether it will be advisory or binding and, more importantly, we need to see if the Government will – beforehand – say it will accept the result as binding. We could well end up with an advisory referendum and no willingness from the Government to comply with the result (but the last part seems unlikely in the current state of affairs).
As regards the EU enterprise that David Cameron is pursuing, I find it very dangerous in theory and in practical terms. It seems that the remaining 27 Member States will not agree to his demands – no matter how disguised those are, as they are part of a very real threat to the survival of the EU as such – and a potential failure on his part would undermine his credibility at home as he seems convinced he can obtain what he [or the people of Great Britain] wants from the rest of the Member States.
Why do I say in theory and in practical terms? because if he succeeds I can imagine some Member States queuing in Brussels for their Europe a-la carte and in practical terms because I see the whole EU structure starting to crumble and many good things achieved in the past 60 years disappearing.
Either way, those who like me live in the UK, will have a ticket to the front row of the show and will witness a major series of events that will mark the future of the EU. Whether the outcome will be a reinforced message from the 27 of “we do not accept more cherry-picking” – which could lead to the so-called Brexit – or, in the event of the UK obtaining some of its demands, the beginning of the end of an enterprise that has lasted several decades… we just have to wait and see.