29 fevereiro, 2016



in “THE ECONOMIST” at www.economist.com  

This year will be marked by the British referendum on the United Kingdom’s staying in or leaving the European Union (EU). It is difficult to overstate the importance of a vote that will determine the fate of the 2nd largest country in the EU and whether or not the EU will see its membership diminish for the first time ever.

Two things are evident: the majority of the British establishment supports the “In” vote and the other 27 member states also want the UK to stay. However, it is for neither of these groups to decide the outcome of the referendum. That will be for the British citizenry to decide, and they clearly have not made up their minds yet.

The “Stay” (or Britin) side, which is led by David Cameron and is also supported by Labour, the Liberals and the main Welsh and Scottish parties, will hail the agreement reached this month by Cameron in Brussels as guaranteeing enough concessions and changes as to reforming the EU to a certain extent and assuring a special status for the UK in the EU.

Amongst the former, there is the increase in competitiveness, the red tape cutting (both staple promises seldom fulfilled), the protection of the rights and interests of non-euro countries and  the red card, the supposedly veto power given to national parliaments over EU legislation. As for the latter, the Stayers will point to the exemption London guaranteed concerning the elusive “ever closer union” mantra and concessions on welfare payments to immigrants.

On the other hand, the “Leave” (or Brexit) camp, will stress the harm of Brussels’ smothering bureaucracy and its encroaching on British independence and sovereignty. Furthermore, they will present Mr Cameron’s deal with the other 27 states as nothing short of insignificant, noting that there is no real “sovereignty devolution” to Westminster. The Leavers will naturally be led by London’s Mayor and Conservative M.P. Boris Johnson, other Conservative heavyweights like Justice Secretary Michael Gove and, of course, the UKIP led by Nigel Farage and Douglas Carswell.

David Cameron’s gamble: will it pay off?
in “THE ECONOMIST” at www.economist.com

The Britin camp will be favoured by the electorates’ tendency to vote conservatively in a referendum, i.e., choosing the supposedly safer option, the known one as opposed to the unknown. Their strategy will also be very much based on fearmongering about the mortal dangers involved in exiting the EU. Connected to this is the idea that the UK will stand to lose a lot economically if she leaves. Finally, they will be led by a Prime Minister who has recently been re-elected with an outstanding victory at the polls.

The Brexit camp will benefit by the agreement’s obvious shortcomings: there is no real reform of the EU, there is no real downsizing of the Brussels bureaucratic monster’s power and dimension, there is no real significant sovereignty devolution to London (no repatriation of EU social and employment laws, for instance) and there is no discernible contagion to other member states who seemingly are done with the EU’s overreach. Brexit will have the an and of counting with the support of most of the press which is strongly anti-EU. Finally, they will be counting on the natural aversion to the EU, a feeling which seems to be ingrained in a large part of the population.

In the end, the UK did extract some concessions in the deal and Britin will be able to extoll its benefits pointing that it would be difficult to have gone farther. This may be true, but it is really not a good deal: it was designed to attain the minimum standards so that Cameron could uphold it in the campaign trail and to prove that the 27 made a real effort to keep Great Britain in the fold.

That, however, falls very short of the goal of EU reform and sovereignty devolution. For that, Mr. Cameron would have to drive a much harder bargain, to spend much more time, diplomatic effort and cajoling and political capital, especially to engage with countries that might be more receptive to contain and reverse the EU’s overstretch.

Mr. Cameron chose instead to wrap up a deal as soon as possible for electoral expediency, convinced that the later the referendum were held, the worse his prospects would be. But his haste has weakened his case, opening his flank to corrosive attacks from Brexit.

By the Summer solstice we shall know if Mr. Cameron’s gambit paid off, or if both the United Kingdom and himself will be out.

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