Britain should stay in European Union, says Obama administration

Britain and EuropeObama administration issued a direct challenge to David Cameron over Europe, on Wednesday when it warned of dangers of holding a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. A senior US official questioned the merits of holding a referendum as the prime minister’s campaign to reset terms of Britain’s EU membership also came under assault from Brussels and Dublin. With just weeks to go until David Cameron delivers a landmark speech in which he is expected to promise to hold a referendum on a “new settlement” for Britain in EU, the US assistant secretary for European affairs warned “referendums have often turned countries inwards”. (The Guardian – 10/01/2013)

“We welcome an outward-looking European Union with Britain in it. We benefit when the EU is unified, speaking with a single voice, and focused on our shared interests around the world and in Europe,” Philip Gordon said during a visit to London, adding: “We want to see a strong British voice in that European Union. That is in American interest.” Gordon stressed that it was up to Britain to determine its European role but, in what appeared to be a clear reference to the attempts to renegotiate UK membership with the EU, he said: “It would be fair to say that every hour at an EU summit spent debating institutional makeup of the European Union is one less hour spent talking about how we can solve our common challenges of jobs, growth and international peace around the world.” The intervention by Gordon, who was in London to meet Europe minister, David Lidington, highlights the alarm in Washington as opinion polls show a rise in support for British withdrawal from EU and prime minister prepares to set out how he will repatriate powers from EU.

David Cameron is expected to say in his speech that, if elected with a majority in 2015, he will use an EU treaty revision to underpin new eurozone governance arrangements to repatriate some powers. The new terms of British membership would be put to UK public in a referendum. It has been the US position for several years that close British engagement in Europe was in American interests. But Gordon’s remarks appeared to be a clear message to the government that the “special relationship” would be devalued in the eyes of Obama administration if Britain left the EU, or got bogged down in drawn-out negotiations on the details of its membership. A Downing Street spokesman said: “The US wants an outward looking EU with Britain in it, and so do we.” The forthright American intervention came as Cameron’s plans also came under concerted attack from Brussels and the Irish prime minister, Enda Kenny, whose country holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU. At an event in Dublin marking Ireland’s assumption of the presidency, Kenny described prospect of Britain quitting the EU as a “disaster”, while Herman Van Rompuy, president of European Council, called on the UK to remain an “active, full, and leading” EU member. Van Rompuy also cast doubt on whether a major revision of the treaty, essential to Cameron’s strategy, would actually take place. He said EU states could not agree on what they wanted to change in the treaty, so the prospect of a renegotiation was remote. “At this stage of the debate we don’t need as much treaty change as people think,” said Van Rompuy.

“For those ideas for where treaty change is needed there is simply no consensus. So the possibility of having treaty changes in the near future or present are not very high”. He said he would wait to hear what Cameron said about Britain in Europe, although there is much confusion in EU capitals about when and where the prime minister will deliver a speech that has been given high billing for some months. Cameron’s stated strategy of securing a looser UK-EU relationship hinges on 27 governments re-opening Lisbon Treaty, enabling Britain to push changes “repatriating” powers from Brussels. In fact, the other EU leaders want to avoid a treaty change as it could result in years of gruelling negotiations, and open pandora’s box of competing claims. Senior Irish politicians said other European governments were privately urging Cameron to desist. Kenny warned that the EU’s “floodgates” would be opened if the Lisbon Treaty was revisited to suit an individual country. “We would see it as being disastrous were a country like Britain to leave the union. Clearly British government will form their own view”, he said. Van Rompuy said: “Britain is a highly appreciated, highly valued and very important member. I believe it is in the British interests to stay, not only a member of EU but a active and full member, a leading nation in EU. Of course it is for British people to decide on their future.” 


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10 Responses to Britain should stay in European Union, says Obama administration

  1. With Britain’s place in Europe more uncertain now than at any time for 40 years, it can only be welcome that the far-reaching consequences of a departure from the EU are being spelled out so loudly. Perhaps, between the warnings of the US government and those from a weighty section of our own business community, those clamouring for the UK to go it alone might – finally – be given pause for thought. US diplomats’ caution against endangering our membership of the EU is a timely one. Washington’s bafflement at who to call when wanting to talk to Europe is well documented. Since the 1970s, the answer to the question has often been Britain. Sever the link, however, and not just the “special relationship” but also our broader geopolitical position will be materially damaged. The message from the business community is hardly less forceful, with high-profile figures including Richard Branson warning of the economic destabilisation that would result from our withdrawal. Faced with the far-reaching upheavals of the euro crisis, the ever-increasing Euroscepticism of even mainstream Conservative MPs and the rise of the UK Independence Party, David Cameron finds himself with less and less room to manoeuvre on the issue. Thus far, the Prime Minister has tried to strike a balance, maintaining his commitment to Britain’s remaining within the EU even as he reiterates his desire for a looser relationship with key powers “repatriated” from Brussels. But the pressure is building. And his long-awaited speech on the subject of Europe – now expected later this month – is likely to give the nod to a referendum after the 2015 election, which will be cheered by his Eurosceptic colleagues. It was always naive to imagine that anti-Europe ideologues would give much thought to the arguments presented by their political opponents. With the case in favour of Britain remaining in Europe now being made by two more sympathetic constituencies, perhaps at last the alternative view will gain a hearing. (source: Editorial – The Independent, UK – 11/01/2013)

  2. (…..) The increasingly shrill tone of the domestic debate over the EU is being viewed by politicians in Berlin with concern. “With a view to the current debate over Great Britain’s role in the EU, I would say: Germany desires a Great Britain that will remain a constructive and active partner in the EU,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told SPIEGEL ONLINE on Friday. With his comments, Westerwelle sought to address growing demands from some political camps in Britain demanding that the country leave the 27-nation bloc. “As has been the case so far, the European house will also have different levels of integration, but we would like a deeper and better EU of 27, with Great Britain,” the foreign minister said. On Monday, Michael Link, a minister of state in the German Foreign Ministry, and British Europe Minister David Lidington are scheduled to meet in Berlin as part of the third annual German-British consultation between deputy ministers from the two countries who deal with EU issues. In a BBC interview, Cameron recently ensured that Great Britain wants to remain a full member of the EU. But if his government is to provide its support for the deeper integration of the euro zone, of which Britain is not a member, then he also wants a few demands fulfilled in exchange. Among other things, he wants to see the European Working Time Directive, which codifies vacation rights and limits working hours, eliminated. He also wants to curb access of EU migrants to the British social system. Most recently, Cameron rejected the European fiscal pact that had been championed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and has since been implemented. The pact went into effect in January and stipulates that signatories implement so-called debt brake balanced-budget legislation by the end of the year and to accept automatic sanctions if they violate those deficit rules. The only EU member states that have not signed on to the fiscal pact are Britain and the Czech Republic (…..)

  3. Britain’s attitude towards Europe is marked by one central paradox. On the one hand, Britons take pride in their unique place in European history, particularly during the second world war. From some angles, the country seems obsessed with its “bulldog” strengths: small, plucky, indefatigable. On the other, the same commentators who revel in past triumphs behave as if the country were a shrewish backwater: unable to hold its own in the cut-and-thrust of Brussels parley, forced to its knees by all-powerful Eurocrats. The current debate on the European Union reflects the anomaly particularly well. The past weekend brought a new flurry of commentary. David Cameron’s speech on the EU, the prospect of which has hovered over Westminster for the past four months, seems imminent. January 23rd, 18th is the latest estimate, though Downing Street sources insist that the exact date is yet to be confirmed. The prime minister took to the airwaves this morning to defend his plan to renegotiate British membership. That the speech has taken so long to materialise reflects the sensitivity of its subject. Mr Cameron is trapped. On the one hand, Labour, the Liberal Democrats and most of the business community are broadly in favour of Britain’s membership of the EU. On the other, a mostly eurosceptic Conservative Party is hostile. Some, such as Open Europe, a think-tank, reckon that a third pole is emerging: in favour of continued membership of a drastically reformed, more economically liberal (read: more British) European Union. Lord Wolfson, boss of the fashion chain Next, gave voice to this camp in an interview with the Telegraph this weekend. Others reckon that such aspirations are for the birds. The debate therefore turns on Britain’s influence in Brussels (…..) Anti-Europeans speak nostalgically of Britain’s buccaneering Victorian heyday—without acknowledging that despite the eurozone crisis, the rise of the BRICs and a long economic slump, the country still plays a leading role in the world’s largest trading bloc. Without noticing their strength, its diplomats and politicians have influenced many existential characteristics of today’s European Union: the single market, the Lisbon agenda, European defence cooperation, myriad consumer protections and energy regulations. But unless they act accordingly, Britons’ reputation as “little Englanders” may prove dangerously self-fulfilling. That is why the past week has seen London’s ideological companions and allies—the USA, Ireland, Germany—protest its slide towards the exit. Eurosceptics should ask themselves: if Britain were so impotent, why would they care?

  4. “England is, indeed, insular and maritime, linked by her trade, her markets and her food supplies to diverse and often far-flung countries . . . How then could England, as she lives, as she produces, as she trades, be incorporated into the Common Market as it was conceived and as it works?” – Charles de Gaulle.

    It was in the belief that the United Kingdom could never be a good European that Charles de Gaulle vetoed its application for membership of the European Economic Community in 1963. Since it belatedly joined the EEC in January 1973, the UK has often appeared determined to fulfil his prophecy. Unlike France and Germany, the country has never subscribed to the principle of “ever closer union” and has sought to limit integration at every turn. Yet, for decades, whatever their reservations, Conservative and Labour prime ministers alike have argued that Britain’s national interest lies in sustained engagement with the European project. It was Margaret Thatcher, now lionised by Eurosceptics, who signed the integrationist Single European Act in 1987 and declared in her speech in Bruges the following year, “Britain does not dream of some cosy, isolated existence on the fringes of the European Community. Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community.” As the Conservative former foreign secretary Douglas Hurd observed in last week’s New Statesman, “It has been an unspoken principle of British foreign policy since the days of Castlereagh that we should be present whenever Europeans discuss matters that could affect vital British interests.” This tradition of patient, pragmatic engagement is now threatened by David Cameron’s crude unilateralism. The Prime Minister did not want his premiership to be defined by Europe. In 2009, he declared: “The to-do list for the next government is long and daunting. That is why I know that if we win that election, we cannot afford to waste time having a row with Europe.” Yet under pressure from his restive backbenchers and the increasingly popular UK Independence Party, he has lurched into rejectionism (…..)

  5. The French are engaged in a lonely military adventure in Africa. The Germans are preoccupied with domestic elections rather than regional affairs. Unemployment in some countries is at historic highs and economies across Europe are still mired in recession. Now Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain has added to Europe’s malaise, vowing to reduce British entanglement with the European Union — or allow his people to vote in a referendum to leave the bloc altogether. The pledge from the British prompted swift retorts from France and Germany, which said no member has the option of “cherry picking” whatever European rules it wants to enforce. But it reflected a growing sense of unease, not only in Britain but across the Continent, that while the acute phase of the financial crisis has passed, the challenge to Europe’s mission and even its membership has not. Even the United States has injected itself into the matter, with an unusually public insistence that Britain, a close ally, stay in the union, fearing that its departure would heighten centrifugal forces that would weaken Europe as a diplomatic, military and financial partner. With the threat of a sudden breakup of the euro zone appearing to recede in recent months, Europe has seen a resurgence of narrow national interests that risks swamping always-elusive common goals.

    The bickering is undercutting hopes in some circles that the struggle to save the euro had laid the groundwork for “more Europe.” “As pressure from the financial markets recedes and a sense of urgency lifts, the appetite for serious reform is melting away like butter in the sun,” said Thomas Klau, head of the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “Now that markets no longer hold a knife under leaders’ throats, they are slipping back into their normal mode, which is to manage their own immediate reality”

    (…..) Domestic politics have regularly trumped broader European concerns throughout the six-decade-long history of the union and its predecessor organizations, to the dismay of those who want to see Europe live up to a commitment in the 1957 Treaty of Rome for an “ever closer union.” But Mr. Cameron’s pledge to hold a referendum on European Union membership threatens to elevate national political calculations over common interests to an extent that has alarmed even countries that often share British concerns.

  6. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: David Cameron’s EU referendum proposal cannot be taken seriously for three reasons. First, leaving the EU is a fantasy of Conservative Brit politicians living in the past. If not the EU, what is the alternative? a free trade agreement with the US to turn GB’economy into Canada without the natural resources? Second, the EU is the only organization with levitas that GB plays a relevant role in world affairs. A globalized world economy led by BRICS. Out of the EU, a British PM will only be attending annual G-7 summits to discuss problems of highly indebted countries.

    Third, the referendum could be called in 2015 IF David Cameron wins the next election. A doubtful outcome given the doldrums state of the economy. As the old political saying goes: David is playing for the galler.

  7. British negotiators have long been adept at achieving their objectives in Europe without the threat of withdrawal, as with the opt-outs from the single currency and the Schengen agreement on free movement across borders. Varied patterns of participation in different policy areas have existed for years. The EU treaties provide for enhanced cooperation among the willing in many fields, with other member states entitled to stand aside. For example, the EU does not prevent Britain and France from integrating their nuclear industries while Germany plans to phase out nuclear power entirely. The same goes for military cooperation, as seen in Libya and Mali.

    Presenting the present EU as a one-size-fits-all structure is somewhat misleading.

    United Kingdom, on the path to withdrawal from the EU, could find itself increasingly isolated internationally. No convincing alternative international strategy for Britain has been put forward. Cameron has rightly rejected the Norwegian or Swiss model as a basis for Britain’s future relations with the EU, as these impose obligations without granting a say in decision-making. U.S. President Barack Obama and senior figures in his administration have expressed their preference for a strong Britain in a strong EU. Britain’s “special relationship” with the United States could come under strain in the event of British withdrawal, especially if the United States were to conclude a free trade agreement with the EU. The prime minister’s tone during his speech was measured. But while it may have pleased EU critics in Britain, it will not reassure investors, governments of other member states, or Britain’s friends in the international community. Still, the referendum, if it is held at all, is at least four years away. Political and economic circumstances throughout the EU may well have changed considerably by then. (source: Michael Leigh – German Marshall Fund – 23/01/2013)

  8. (…..) Cameron’s vision of Europe is a free trade area with access to the beaches of the Mediterranean. Beyond that, he doesn’t associate the project with a past or a future. Apart from vague demands like competitiveness, flexibility and fairness, he has no idea how the EU should develop. His thinking on Europe is indecisive and chained to the present. What Europe witnessed on Wednesday was a speech delivered by a politician prone to knee-jerk reactions who lacks values or a vision. He lacks gravity. Cameron floats above Europe like an astronaut. He’s isolated partly because his interest in Europe stems from fear rather than any desire to shape it. He’s driven by fear of the euroskeptics in his party, of the voters, of the populist United Kingdom Independence Party and of the strange Brussels behemoth which Cameron feels threatened by because he doesn’t understand it. His party still hasn’t forgiven him for failing to clinch an absolute majority in the last election. They see the coalition with the Liberal Democrats as a humiliation. The EU is their way of exacting revenge on Cameron for that. It’s part of the reason why Cameron sees Europe mainly as a party political problem. By trying to satisfy his radical backbenchers with the referendum pledge, he’s launched into a game he can’t win. The EU’s other 26 governments won’t let him opt out of parts of the existing accords because that would prompt others to demand concessions of their own. The Europe-haters in Cameron’s party won’t be satisfied because the leeway they want from Brussels isn’t politically achievable. What makes it all the sadder is that even though Cameron’s motives are wrong, the timing of his speech is spot on. Britain has been waging a lively debate on Europe for months and one would wish that Germany and other countries showed similar passion — though perhaps not such bitterness — on the issue.

    Europe must dare to address the fundamental questions, not despite the crisis but because of it.

    Cameron is right to question the growing budget of the European Commission, the EU’s executive. How can one explain to the Spaniards, Greeks and Portuguese that Brussels should get more money while they are being subjected to cutbacks? And Cameron is also right to point to the lack of democracy in EU decision-making. One could almost be inclined to take the speech seriously, if one didn’t know how bored and passionless Cameron has been about the European debate in the past.

  9. By choosing to put party politics before national and European interests, David Cameron has above all shot himself in the foot. So, which flag will you choose Prime Minister? (…..) But what did Europe make of the speech? Well, not much. Cameron’s talk this morning at the World Economic Forum in Davos was apparently given a lukewarm reception by European leaders. Yesterday, Italian PM Mario Monti (who is, in fairness, not exactly known for his support of democratic participation) declared that, “Europe does not need unwilling members”. Angela Merkel politely said (do read this in a German accent): “We are of course prepared to talk about British wishes, but we must always bear in mind that other countries have other wishes and we must, in the end, always find a fair compromise”.

    And French foreign minister Laurent Fabius, not shying away from clichés, took “an example which our British friends will understand. Let’s imagine Europe is a football club and you join. Once you’re in it you can’t say: ‘Let’s play rugby'” (…..)

  10. (…..) Wednesday’s elegant straddle may serve Mr. Cameron’s political needs of the moment. But, for Britain, it is an unwise and risky course. It presages four or five years of costly uncertainty for potential investors in a struggling British economy that Mr. Cameron’s wrongheaded austerity policies have failed to revive. Ambivalence may prove a political luxury with a high economic price tag. And we are concerned that Britain’s European Union partners may be inclined to take its voice less seriously, not more, during the run-up to the promised referendum. That referendum may not happen. Four years is a long time in British politics and in the evolution of the European Union. Germany holds potentially important elections this year. So does Italy. In Britain, the Conservatives trail Labour in the polls. Mr. Cameron’s coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, are more enthusiastic about Europe and less enthusiastic about a referendum than he is. Mr. Cameron’s real aim for now may be to appease militant euro-skeptics in his party and nip a growing challenge from the United Kingdom Independence Party on his right. As this page has often argued, there is much to criticize in the way the European Union runs its affairs, from wasteful agricultural subsidies to the catastrophic mishandling of Greece’s sovereign debt. Mr. Cameron is right to challenge Europe to become less protectionist and more democratic. He is right to insist that the 10 union countries that have not joined the euro not be ignored in economic and financial policy discussions by the 17 that have. But it is hard to see how he can press these views unless Britain remains an active and respected voice in European deliberations, now and in the future.


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