EU referendum: does UK stand any chance?
There are currently 28 nations in the European Union (EU). There may be 27 if the legislation laid out in Queens Speech last week sees the UK abandoning the EU in 2017. The EU referendum bill asks: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?”
Ahead of the June summit of European leaders, the prime minister David Cameron began a whirlwind tour of selected EU capitals to begin to negotiate which George Osborne described as “a better deal” for Britain in Europe.
Downing Street statement outlined that Mr Cameron seeks changes to the EU’s 2009 Lisbon Treaty on matters of paying benefits to unemployed EU migrants in the UK; opting-out of “ever closer union”; ensuring the UK can avoid complying with rules relating to the single market imposed by eurozone countries and the right of national governments to combine to block EU legislative proposals.
The Brexit, as the media dubs a possible British exit from the EU, would be likely triggered by Britain’s failure to negotiate these changes.
Could a Brexit happen? On a legal level, it would be fairly easy. A clause in the 2009 Lisbon Treaty – which superceded the Maastritch Treaty – allows for a nation to voluntarily withdraw from the EU. The aftermath, while untidy, is not impossible to contemplate.
Politically, it is less obvious. In February 2015 the Observer opinion poll indicated that 51% of voters would opt to leave the EU.
However, the referendum can be avoided. If Germany holds general elections in early 2017 and the French do likewise in 2016. These national elections could see changes in leadership and alter the relationship Britain has with these key powers in Europe. A recent article in the French newspaper Le Monde suggested that both the French president Hollande and German chancellor Merkel admit that eurozone reforms are necessary.
The EU consensus is threatened by unpopular austerity policies and the persistent strife at the geographic and economic margins of Europe.
While the British electorate of 2017 might be estimating the benefits of life free from the perceived burdens of a supranational EU; the EU Commission will be assessing its chances of survival beyond a Brexit.
The UK’s net contribution to the EU in terms of trade, transport and defense should not be underestimated. Since the 1960’s the United States has constantly advocated Britain’s engagement with Europe. Washington needs a strong Europe and frequently makes this clear to Britain, Germany and France.
Analysts have found that positive attitudes towards the EU coincide with positive fluctuations in eurozone economic prosperity. Studies by the think-tank Civitas, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and others, show these attitudes are replicated across the EU. Many in Britain are not alone in perceiving the EU as a corrupt and unaccountable dispenser of capricious and meddlesome regulations. National leaders are well aware as well. Opening the door, even slightly, to a Brexit is potentially fatal to the EU. The EU Commission might, ultimately, exchange continued unity for some tinkering with the Lisbon Treaty.