British Prime Minister David Cameron has certainly thrown a
wrench into the workings of the European Union laying out an
audacious plan to renegotiate British membership in the EU and then
have British voters decide whether to stay in or leave this fixture
of post-war Europe.
Its a stunningly self-serving, political move on Mr. Camerons
part. Its also fraught with serious risk, both for himself and the
27-member union. His plan has an upside, too. It puts pressure on
the member states to improve their competitiveness, and it
challenges the EU bureaucratic blob to turn into a more workable and
The British prime minister laid out his vision in a speech last
week, and a good part of it could be read as an attempt to control
the rebellious Euroskeptic wing of his Conservative Party by giving
them some of the red meat that they crave. Those critics, a growing
segment of the party, disdain the regulatory reach of EU
headquarters in Brussels and they disdain the reach of the euro
currency that Britain is not using. Some would love for Britain to
leave the EU.
Cameron tied the renegotiation and subsequent referendum to his
reelection in 2015. If he wins, he says hell try to reshape the bloc
so that more powers go back to the member countries. His speech is a
blatant attempt to dramatically change the environment in which he
seeks reelection. With the British economy contracting, that climate
looks hostile now.
The self-orientation of Camerons speech makes it seem oddly
disingenuous, wrapping Britains request for more special treatment
into a pan-European vision. It comes close to blackmailing the rest
of Europe by demanding: Give us what we want, by the time we want it
or we are out. With this strategy, Cameron has created a cohort of
26 European prime ministers who will quietly oppose his reelection.
His approach is also fraught with risk. He can hardly control the
outcome of the process that he has now set in motion. It is unlikely
that the 26 European partners will want what he wants, namely the
renegotiation of the European Unions fundamental treaties.
And his timeline guarantees uncertainty for investors for years
to come since the referendum will only happen in 2017, contingent
upon Mr. Camerons reelection. The strategy is geopolitical kabuki,
virtually assuring turmoil in Europe for another half decade,
thereby postponing Europes emergence as an actor on the world stage.
On the other hand, Camerons plans perfectly capture the
idiosyncrasies of Britains relationship with the continent since his
approach cannot simply be dismissed as outright anti-European.
Hes pursuing a referendum, but he doesnt want its result to be a
British exit, or Brexit. It is entirely legitimate for a British
prime minister to sketch out a vision for the future of Europe that
doesnt fully align with the continental mainstream. In fact, in his
sharp critique of the EU today, Cameron speaks truth to Brussels.
Many of his inconvenient insights deserve to be listened to and,
frankly, acted upon.
No one can doubt his claim that large parts of Europe suffer from
a crisis of competitiveness. No one can overlook the growing unease
of European populations about the condition and workability of their
greatly expanded union and its democratic foundations. …