Archives for posts with tag: European Union

This week I am going to move away from talking about my personal goals to comment on David Cameron’s recent speech on the UK’s continued membership of the European Union. 

While its content is no longer a secret, based on the overflowing comment pages of the newspapers all around the world this week, the exact meaning of Cameron’s speech is still a matter of debate. Whether you agree with what he said or not, it is clear that this was far one of the most significant speeches of his career and places into question the role his country will play in the European Union or whether it will even remain a member of it. No Prime Minister since the United Kingdom joined the then European Economic Community in 1973, has sought to renegotiate the terms of British membership.

By Giandrea/Ssolbergj at en.wikipedia. Wikimedia Commons

By Giandrea/Ssolbergj at en.wikipedia. Wikimedia Commons

 Whether or not Cameron has been forced by Eurosceptic backbenchers into such a position remains to be seen. However, the timing of this move is reflective of greater disillusionment with the EU as a whole. Needless to say that the Eurozone debt crisis is leading to fundamental change in the way the EU operates, and the British public may be reluctant to go along with such measures. Of course the Union is no longer a mere common market that the UK joined in 1973. But it is no longer the same largely due to the fact that it has to acquire the instruments to administer the single market over time. Only last year, the fiscal compact was introduced in the Eurozone, seeking to correct years of macro-economic mismanagement. In light of the fact that the crisis has been so prolonged, it is easy to imagine that some members of the British public are now more skeptical of the European project altogether. However, support for the European Union has recently risen as media outlets have examined the tangible benefits of being in the Union has for Britain. Figures such as the three percent of GDP that would be wiped out by leaving the Union underlines the importance of reforming its institutions rather than abandoning them.

After having listened Cameron’s speech, I was left in no doubt that in his view the impetus of the European Union must be on the common market and restoring competitiveness. Now, more than ever, his party’s discomfort with the transfer of political power to Brussels is evident, as witnessed by him seeking to have the words “ever closer union” removed from the treaties. This suggestion, just as in his suggestion of a referendum, appears to represent backpedalling on commitments the UK has previously made to the European project. The wording of “an ever closer union” originated in the Treaty of Rome of 1957, and, since joining, the UK has ratified treaties that aimed to fulfil this desire. For example Treaty of Lisbon of 2007, which significantly advanced the framework along these lines, was ratified following legal procedure (and even High Court challenges) in the UK. To put it bluntly, it makes little sense to try and ignore this legacy and legal precedent the way Cameron is doing.

 It is worth adding a small note on Cameron’s view of European project, which, as I understand it, now involves the transfer of political power to Brussels rather than just economic. Cameron’s insistence that power remain with national parliaments, underlies his conception of the European integration as a zero-sum game; power is taken away from member states and given to Brussels. However, this approach is far too simplistic as the EU is best seen, when functioning effectively, as a plus-sum game in which the Union’s five hundred million citizens can speak with one voice rather than twenty seven. Ireland, with only four million people, is an ideal example of a country that has the opportunity to be represented and to have its voice heard by being part of a much larger union.

 Last but not least, Cameron added, without going into great detail, that he aimed to seek concessions or a UK opt-out from EU measures that would otherwise apply to all member states. If these concessions are made, Cameron insists that he will campaign for the UK to remain within the EU. Whether this means Cameron would campaign for the UK to leave the EU if these concessions aren’t is unknown, but it is clearly an attempt to strengthen his hand in the face of isolation from other members. It is hard to see how he will win the support he needs from other member states to achieve these concessions, given that they apply to the UK alone and not the others. Furthermore, if these are made, it will surely set a precedent that other members can follow, thereby undermining the European project.

Finally, we have to remember that concessions have already been made to protect British economic and political interests at the expense of European integration. One need only look at how Britain, by not being part of the Euro or Schengen zone, has far greater control over its own policy than most EU member states. Simply put, failing to acknowledge the concessions the EU has already made risks undermining the entire European project.

So, was Cameron’s speech a great political calculation or a gamble? Has he given the EU a five-year lifeline or five years of uncertainty? Feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Note: Today I am going to take a break from writing about language learning and my preparations for the DELE exam. However, I will return to writing on the topic in my follow-up post next week. 

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending a debate organised by the Literary & Historical Society in Dublin on the motion “This house believes the European Union is bad for Ireland.” The event was presided over by none other than the President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz as well as several Irish politicians. I thought to take this opportunity to share my thoughts on the points raised, giving that they shed light on the direction the Union is heading towards.

I am not a eurosceptic by any means. In fact, I am very much in favour of many initiatives of the European Union, many of which my generation has benefitted from. One only need consider the consequences of our membership, such as the Erasmus program, free-movement within the Schengen area, funding for infrastructure to see that it has had a positive impact on Ireland. Almost all the speakers came to the same conclusion and as Schulz so passionately proclaimed, such benefits are the natural consequence of the “dream”. The “European dream”, as he so called it, means bringing distinct peoples together to tackle the challenges of the twenty-first century (such as climate-change), that small nations could not tackle on their own.

Needless to say we all clapped our hands raw at Schulz’s remarks as it plain for everybody what a passionate European he was. That said, there was another conclusion that every single member of the opposition arrived at; the need for reform.

The European Union (as well as both its predecessors the EEC and the ECSC) were founded on the principle of promoting regional cooperation and thereby prevent the events of the Second World War from happening again. Yet as the crisis has come to a head and partly as a result of the policies of austerity of the European Council, we have seen the rise of the far-right across the continent (most notably in Greece) as well as the growth of separatism. Accordingly, one needs to ask: how can we tackle the problems of the twenty-first century if we cannot even tackle those of the twentieth?

The framework of the Union as it currently stands, places far too much power in the hands of the heads of government of the member states without power being transferred to the Union itself. Thus the Union possesses a monetary union (embodied in the Euro) without a fiscal one, capable of raising taxes and monitoring the member states’ spending. Elected bodies such as the European parliament don’t possess legislative initiative of their own, hindering its ability to act. Overall these flaws have contributed to the oft-quoted “lack of leadership” which has hampered the Union’s ability to respond to crises, such as the one we are faced with today.

So, could it be said that the EU is bad for Ireland? Only in the sense that it currently has major defects that prevent it from functioning properly and don’t necessarily operate in Ireland’s interest. The recent initiatives to solve the Euro debt crisis go some way towards addressing the economic side of reform of the Union. But I can see no other alternative than that of creating a federal Union, answerable to the citizens and with real powers to take action. However, whether that is what the Europeans (and indeed the Irish) want, is another matter altogether.