It is happening…the UK referendum on the EU membership has a date. It is time for UK voters to do their homework, think long and hard and make up their minds. And, for some of us, it is time to try to explain in simple words what is it “really” about – which, by the way, is not only immigration or in-work benefits-related. The vote is about a lot more.
In the current EU (membership-only club) very few times a Member State has obtained concessions. In fact, less than a handful have ever secured meaningful exclusions – or opt-outs – eg Denmark and the UK from the Euro and Justice and Home Affairs; Ireland and the UK for Schengen and not much more. This means that the UK already has more “exemptions” than other Member States in terms of applying EU legislation.
The main question is why does the UK still want to remain in the club and be treated differently? surely that amounts to discrimination among equals. The answer is relatively simple: because throughout the years since accession ie 1972 UK governments – no matter which political tendency – have recognised that staying in is more beneficial than leaving (do some research on the state the UK was in before accession). It is true that before 1 December 2009 – entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty including its revolutionary exit clause – there was no Treaty provision allowing a Member State to exit the Union, however, the UK could have found a way to exit if it “really wanted to”. After all, it was granted special status before….why would it not achieve the same again?
Today the situation is a bit different. Now, after being granted a true special status in the agreement reached in February 2016 – that I did not consider possible a few months ago – the UK population still wants more – or so it seems if you believe what the media tells you. In light of this, maybe it is time for the UK to leave altogether. There is no fairness toward the other 27 Member States where there should be.
The goal of achieving a political union was present from the beginning of the integration process in the 1950’s (in the original Treaties) so no one can argue that UK voters in the 1975 referendum did not know what it was all about.
What we are witnessing these days is unseen and, to an extent, unforeseen a decade ago. This is a breaking point for the EU no matter the end result. The door for a “Europe à la carte” has been opened and this could well be the beginning of the end of a major integration process admired from every corner of the globe. But maybe it is time for it to be over. After all, there are plenty of things that go wrong with it these days.
It is vital that UK voters think and reflect on what they will do on 23 June as there will be no come back from that.
If the “Leave” campaign wins – whether the Government abides or not by the result – the Cameron deal (as I call it) will cease to exist and the UK will maintain the current status should the Government not set in motion the exit procedure of art 50 TEU. Should the mentioned article be activated a whole renegotiation process will commence and if no agreement on the exit conditions is reached by end of year two EU law will automatically cease to apply in the UK (leaving major lacunae in the UK legal system) unless an extension is agreed for the negotiations. If an agreement is reached, and this is also a major question mark (in the sense of what it may look like), there is no guarantee that the EU-27 will give the UK any advantages such as preferential treatment in access to the single market, etc. The reality is that “no one knows what would be the conditions of the exit”. However, what we can safely assume is that if, after all the efforts that went into the negotiations and the concessions given in the Cameron deal, the population rejects the “offer” the EU-27 extended to the UK an advantageous-to-the-UK exit agreement seems very unlikely.
Should the “Remain” campaign win, many may be happy at first but resentment will grow shortly after as it would once more reinforce the status of spoilt child that the UK has earned in the past decades among the other Member States. It would create in reality a different membership for the club and one wonders … is it really worth it? to the untrained eye the Cameron deal can seem too insignificant but, in reality, is way more than anyone with a EU law background could have anticipated.
What did the UK gain in the Cameron deal?
- Political integration: exemption on “ever closer Europe” – major win – and the wall that will divide EU Member States if the UK remains in the EU. There will be no obligation to further political integration once the Treaties have been amended to reflect this.
- In-work and child benefits: still a big win as an emergency break for in-work benefits could be triggered shortly after the vote to lighten the burden on the UK welfare system (for newly arrived EU migrant workers). As for child benefits the win is that the amount to be sent abroad will be adjusted to the cost of living in the receiving-country.
- Eurozone vs non-Eurozone countries: a reference to the Euro not being the only EU currency and an exclusion from the Treaties’ solidarity clause meaning the UK will not contribute to further bailouts (and vice versa, though not expressly contemplated, ie should the UK ever need a bailout …. reciprocity will apply).
- Competitiveness: a promise to cut red tape. This is an achievement for the whole EU. Whether it materialises in the future remains to be seen.
What is on the line should the UK vote to leave?
Summarising in a few lines what the EU has achieved (and the UK gained since accession) over the past 60+ years is virtually impossible. Therefore, I will mention a few things that you and I have witnessed and experienced.
Thanks to the EU you have: clean beaches and rivers; cleaner air; safer and more affordable medicines; highly skilled and multilingual professionals; cheaper mobile and roaming charges; cheaper air travel and compensation when something goes wrong; improved consumer protection and food labelling; a ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives; better product safety; market competition resulting in better quality, industrial performance and pricing; (some) control on the financial services industry; break up of monopolies; EU-wide copyright protection; access to the single market for goods and services; freedom to travel, live and work across the EU; opportunities for young people to study abroad; access to EU health services; labour protection and enhanced social welfare; smoke-free workplaces; equal pay legislation; improved animal welfare in food production; EU-funded research and industrial collaboration; structural funding to revitalise impoverished areas; stronger representation in international forums; tangible means to combat human trafficking, arms and drug smuggling; counter terrorism intelligence; etc.
I cannot tell UK voters what to do on 23 June but I can leave them with some thoughts: in a globalised world where countries are uniting in blocs to sometimes merely survive what makes you believe the UK can “strive” alone? isn’t it time to let go the fantasy that regaining sovereignty (even if an empty victory) will make this nation as strong and prosperous as it once was when some facts may show you otherwise? did not the UK bang on the EU door when it was in its lowest point (or on its way there)? maybe, just maybe the EU helped the UK develop into the economic force it is today.