EU Falls on Hard Times as UK Speeds Up In-or-Out Referendum
Andrei AKULOV | 29.08.2015 | WORLD

EU Falls on Hard Times as UK Speeds Up In-or-Out Referendum

After winning the election in May British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to re-negotiate the terms of Britain's European Union (EU) membership before holding a referendum by the end of 2017.

According to the Independent, David Cameron has changed his mind. Now he is set to hold the in-or-out referendum in June next year. The announcement of the fast-tracked referendum date is the centerpiece of his party’s annual conference in October.

The report comes just days after US President Barack Obama urged Britain to stay in the European Union, cautioning during a BBC interview that remaining in the bloc was necessary to help preserve the nation's global influence.

As one can see, the US President did not shy away from direct interference into the country’s internal affairs and outright pressure on the closest European ally.

The Conservative government has said it stands for remaining in the EU while pressing for changes on the ability of EU citizens to claim welfare in Britain, increased powers for London and the ability to opt out of closer political integration.

The recent turmoil in Greece has raised the possibility of the UK exiting the Eurozone. It has influenced the decision to hold an earlier vote. The legislation paving the way for the referendum passed its first hurdle in parliament last month but still needs to be approved by the House of Lords.

With the 2014 referendum on Scotland’s independence still fresh in memory, Great Britain is at the crossroads again. If the country puts an end to its EU membership, Scottish nationalists will hold another in-or-out referendum. The pro-EU sentiments are strong in Scotland.

It should be noted that only UK citizens and the citizens of British Commonwealth residing on the territory of Great Britain have a right to take part in the vote. 2.34 million of EU member-states citizens living in the UK will be destitute of the right to take part in the referendum, even thought they are British tax payers. A citizen of Denmark, Sweden or France residing in the country for over 20 years cannot participate in the vote while a citizen of the Bahamas, Grenada or Sri Lanka, who entered the UK a few months ago, can influence the landmark decision. One can hardly call it a fair game.

Immigration is a bone of contention in the relationship between the UK and the EU. It is widely believed in Great Britain that the burden of welfare is immense and growing with the immigrants getting vacant jobs. This opinion is popular but some facts tell the opposite. According to the 2014 Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM) study, European migrants to the UK are not a drain on Britain’s finances and pay out far more in taxes than they receive in state benefits. The study called «The Fiscal Impact of Immigration to The UK», published in theEconomic Journal, reveals that more than 60% of new migrants from Western and Southern Europe are now university graduates. The educational levels of east Europeans who come to Britain are also improving with 25% of recent arrivals having completed a degree compared with 24% of the UK-born workforce.

Prof Christian Dustmann, co-author of the study and director of the centre, said: «A key concern of the public debate on migration is whether immigrants contribute their fair share to the tax and welfare systems. Our new analysis draws a positive picture of the overall fiscal contribution made by recent immigrant cohorts, particularly of immigrants arriving from the EU». Actually the UK needs experts in different fields with migrants filling the void.

Nevertheless, the idea to quit the EU is getting more support. Survation released their latest EU Referendum online poll of 5,000 UK respondents, conducted between 29th June and 6th July for the Alliance for Direct Democracy in Europe (ADDE). It is the biggest recent detailed study of public opinion on Europe.

The survey found almost two-thirds of people (65.9%) believe the multi-billion annual cost of EU membership is too high and does not represent value for money. Regaining control over UK borders to end mass migration from other EU nations was widely seen as the top priority for voters. Thirty-two per cent of voters stated that «ending the free movement of people» across EU borders should be the top priority. And an overwhelming majority wanted a far bigger reduction in meddling from Brussels than David Cameron is seeking in his diplomatic push for a new EU deal for Britain, the figures showed. Despite that, the survey found that the Yes to EU camp is currently nearly 6% ahead.

Eurosceptics seized on the findings as clear evidence that the campaign for a British exit is winnable. UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage said: «The ‘No to EU’ side can win this referendum as long as we make the right arguments on the issues people really care about such as border controls, which is exactly what we in Ukip intend to do».

The stakes are high. In case of «out of EU» result, Great Britain risks losing Scotland. The country will greatly complicate its relationship with Europe and face the possibility of economic crisis. Actually by leaving the European Union the UK would impose economic sanctions on itself. The Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) experts, part of the London School of Economics, calculated the UK could suffer income falls of between 6.3% to 9.5% of GDP, similar to the loss resulting from the global financial crisis of 2008–09. This calculation was done under the pessimistic scenario, in which the UK is not able to negotiate favourable trade terms. Under an optimistic scenario—in which the UK continues to have a free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU—the loss would be 2.2% of GDP.

The UK wants to control its borders, curtail social welfare for migrants and payments to the EU budget. But the freedom of movement inside the EU is a very controversial issue. Making concessions would mean breaching the fundamental principles the EU is based on. It seems, Great Britain wants dividends without obligations.

No matter if the UK leaves or stays, the Union will never be the same losing its coherence with one of its member-states enjoying more rights than others.

The planned referendum will be of historic importance for Europe. The EU is going through hard times. It is faced with a multitude of problems nobody’s paying attention to. Europe is preoccupied with the Greek debt crisis, the coming British referendum on EU membership, and the wave of refugees crossing the Mediterranean in hopes for better life. Under the circumstances the ability of United Europe to speak with one voice on international arena seems to be more of a pipe dream. The time is hardly propitious to confront Russia or shoulder the burden of keeping Ukraine afloat. According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s address at the youth forum «Territory of meanings on the Klyazma» that took place on August, 24, the era of dominance of the historic West, which lasted for hundreds of years, is nearing end. The attempts to keep dominance artificially result in chaos.

The problems affecting the EU evidently corroborate that fact.

Tags: European Union  Russia  UK 

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