When the crisis forces EU to unite, the referendum pledge of Cameron has been regarded as taking the easy way out. However, with this reaction, Cameron’s call for a reform has been oversimplified.
By Fatma Yilmaz Elmas
While discussions on the new structure of Europe in crisis have been going on, with the discourse of Britain’s PM David Cameron about holding a referendum for the EU membership, the discussions have evolved into a new direction. While the “Euro crisis” has revealed the weakness of the political part of the unification and the need of “more Europe”, Cameron’s pledge has been stated as being wrong methodologically and as a shortcut practically.
Basically criticisms agree that Cameron has divided the society into two camps with his approach that reduces UN membership to the cost-benefit analysis.
In other words, the PM does not ask the right questions to the British people… If it is going to be a serious discussion, it should be about to what extend the EU has served to its own purposes. Subacchi from Chatham House is not only the person who states that the right discussion for the “Europe in crises” should be about whether the EU is still embedded in post-war history and rhetoric, and how much it needs to change to be fit for an ever changing world.
On the other hand according to some of the comments and criticisms, Cameron is after the forthcoming elections and internal politics by trying to address different parts of the society. In line with this, the British PM is after “domestic political invigoration for international uncertainty.”
However, some are of the opinion that Britain and consequently Cameron would not give such a promise without thinking twice. Although the surveys show the need of the British Conservatives in this way,claiming that Cameron is after the next elections with short-term plans will be to simplify the subject. Also it would be unfair to many points in the Cameron’s speech…
Stuck with the referendum
Although the speech Cameron delivered in the parliament has hit the headlines with the discourse that there will be referendum on EUmembership if Cameron wins the 2015 election, the whole speech text does not deserve to be focused just on referendum. When the text is analyzed, it is obvious that Cameron does not restrain British people only with the option of “a straight in or out referendum”. Cameron does not have any sympathies towards having the referendum immediately when the crisis economically and socio-politically is all over the EU; his vision is not that much short-sighted.
“I believe in confronting this issue [crisis] – shaping it, leading the debate. Not simply hoping that a difficult situation will go away. Some arguethat the solution is therefore to hold a straight in-out referendum right now. I understand the impatience of wanting to make that choice immediately. But I do not believe that a decision at this moment is the right way forward, either for Britain or for Europe as a whole” says Cameron. So, it is easy to see that Cameron goes after reviving a different debate in the EU or accelerating the present debate. Cameron, who emphasizes that a vote today will be an entirely wrong choice,stands firstly up for giving a chance to put the relations right. Cameron also believes that Europe after the Euro crisis will evolve into a new structure. In this context, Cameron says that “the EU will be transformed beyond recognition by the measures needed to save the Eurozone.” That is to say, an updated EU would be “more flexible, more adaptable and more open settlement that fits to challenges of the modern age.”
Discussing the current membership via referendum however irritating it seems and is the last thing the EU needs in this period when the “European intellectual structure” suffers from erosion, David Cameron is right in one respect: the need for the redesign of the present structure…At the basis of the problem that starts from the present euro zone and extends to the EU’s future lie a lack of sustainable euro zone and the deficiency of EU organization. It is also obvious that the crisis depends on the structural problems of the EU architecture and reveals the need of a reform.
Although Cameron’s discourse on EU referendum is criticized by different people and in different aspects, there is an undeniable fact about it. Even the ex-prime minister Tony Blair who has criticized the referendum pledge sharply by saying that it is “a result of wrong strategy”, cannot help himself giving the statement that “the euro zone has revealed the reform need of Europe” and stating that “there is a need for a radical change”.
Although two leaders who have served as prime minister in Britain deliver different sentences, they actually unite in one point in this issue: Not staying marginal in a debate on Europe’s future.
Same targets, different methods
An important portion of the academia also demonstrates a similar approach about the subject that the present crisis will shape Europe again. Öniş and Kutlay support this approach by emphasizing that “euro crisis points to an important break in terms of the building of Europe with unstable structure and to a new construction process.” Accordingly, main problem lies in the “economical integration/political fragmentation paradox” which is a structural problem resulted from the euro zone structure rather than the irresponsible policies of the member states.
Actually the mentality to be criticized and that differentiates Cameron from his counterparts like Blair shows itself in that point. As the basis of European unification is not supported by an economical deepening simultaneously with structural transformation and enough political will, the crisis shows its affects deeply. For this reason, Cameron’s vision which substantially foresees the need of structural change of the EU is criticized very sharply as the “impossible vision.” Techau from Carnegie Europe states in his writing that the main problem with Cameron’s thought is in the political and economic differentiation: “while deepening the economic integration pulling the politics back…” Therefore, Cameron whispers the right words with an attractive offer, but it seems a hard task in reality. The integration model that spread nearly in all parts of economy in Europe in the long run pays the prize for not including politics. Therefore, the result many people has inferred from the euro crisis records that monetary union requires a closer political union.
In this context, if Britain’s PM does not want to sacrifice his vision that puts the emphasis to the right place that is need for reform, to the narrow sighted criticisms such as“while benefitting from all of the benedictions of the Union trying to escape from homework”, he should emphasize reform more. In other words, he should refrain from saying what he should say last in the beginning. To be remembered, right after the war, Churchill made a call for “United States of Europe” in 1946, but Churchill by not joining this union caused Britain to run after this membership for 20 years. Also Tony Blair in his speech, dated December 2012, in Chatham House has approached the subject by making a similar warning: “This turmoil in Europe will probably will create a new very important structure just similar to the case 66 years ago. We should not do the same mistake twice.”
Therefore, Cameron while explaining his vision by focusing on a new EU structure as a way out from the crisis should avoid from taking steps that will lead his people outside of this structure. Cameron who at the end emphasizes referendum does not ignore the risks against the possible negative decision of the British people. He is aware,by leaving the membership, decisions made in the EU would continue to have a profound effect on his country. . He can foresee the consequences of no longer being inside the EU and its single market which is vital for British businesses and jobs. In this context, let’s wait for the answer of the PM’s counterparts to the PM’s reform call. So that we would not be in a similar manner, that of those who just harshly criticize,towards David Cameron, who is aware of the risks of losing membership as much as Tony Blair.
Fatma Yilmaz Elmas USAK Center for EU Studies
*This piece was initially published in the February 2013 issue of monthly Analist Journal in Turkish.
About the author: JTW
JTW is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).