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January 25, 2013, Friday

David Cameron and the EU

The United Kingdom's prime minister, David Cameron, has made an important declaration about his country's relationship with the European Union. According to him, if the Conservatives remain in the government after the 2015 elections, he will hold a referendum in 2017 over whether or not to leave the EU.

Referendums are not frequent in the UK as they are seen as rather risky initiatives. This country's policies are often devised in gray areas, but referendums give a black and white answer. Moreover, the intended referendum is about a strategic subject: Cameron wants to ask the British people if they want their country to remain a member of the EU.

We already know that Britons have never been too enthusiastic about the European integration project. The current financial crisis has undoubtedly worsened their perception of the EU. The UK had always opposed transforming the EU into a federal entity and tried to limit the degree of integration. However, seeking to leave the EU has many important meanings.

According to Prime Minister Cameron, there is no need for the UK to remain in the EU. He believes the euro is a failure, the EU has long lost its competitive capacity and the distance between European institutions and the citizens grows stronger with every passing day. In brief, Cameron supposes that Europe has great economic and democratic deficiencies, and he doesn't want the EU's failures to adversely affect the UK's own economic achievements. In other words, he believes the EU is the main reason for Britain's persisting socioeconomic problems.

It is not easy to wonder if the UK wouldn't have the same problems if it weren't an EU member. However, it is certain that Cameron's declarations have made many people angry, especially in France and Germany and also within the UK's Labour Party.

Cameron's real intention is probably not to leave the EU but to strike a bargain with Brussels for another kind of membership. He proposes a more flexible membership and is asking for a new association treaty between the UK and the EU. This can be possible only if all EU members agree on that. But if they do, this will be no less than fundamentally changing the European integration model. Different membership models mean a “multi-speed Europe,” and this will also mean that Turkey's membership will be easier to realize.

Truthfully, one can't blame Germany or France for being angry with this proposal because the UK agreed to play by the rules when it became a member state, and it has approved every decision that has been taken since then. Now, requests to modify the rules can create a multitude of complications and put other members in a delicate position.

If Europe weren't in the middle of a financial crisis, the UK would probably not ask for such a thing. It is understandable to want to protect one's country from the devastating effects of an economic crisis, and the UK doesn't wish to pay for the mistakes of others and finance the Greek economy, for example. However, the UK should admit that up until now, it has benefited from all of the advantages of EU membership. Moreover, the UK's withdrawal from the EU may deepen Europe's economic crisis and France and Germany would have to deal with an enormous additional financial burden.

It is not easy to discern if Cameron really wants to deepen Europe's economic crisis. Maybe he just wants to exploit Britons' legendary euroskepticism to win the next elections. His declarations have certainly made many nationalists and conservatives in the UK happy. However, the rise of nationalism and conservatism in Britain is quite worrying, not only for the UK and Europe, but for the entire world.

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