Europe… In, Out, Shake it all about?

The last week has demonstrated the growing strains in the relationship between Britain and the European Union. Here I will discuss the events of the week, the arguments and proposals for the future of our relationship and my conclusion as to the future steps that I would suggest to the coalition government.

We started the week with the debate on awarding the British people with a referendum on the status of our relationship with the EU; the motion proposed that there should be three options in the referendum; stay In, Exit altogether and then third some sort of repatriation of powers; however, this was extremely vague anc could facilitate anything that wasn’t expressly exiting the EU or Handing over more powers and therefore didn’t really propose a viable alternative to our current predicament. The controversy around this debate was further escalated with the use of a three lined whip by the government and opposition benches which was condemned for stifling debate on an issue which was ‘in the public interest’.

However, in my opinion, the controversy and exclamation around this debate has indeed been a distraction – whilst it is an issue which definitely has to be considered in the coming days (not years; days). Ultimately, I by no means feel that debate was stifled when I saw MP after MP take the floor in the Commons to argue for the motion against the government and over 100 MPs voted against the amendment the majority of whom were Conservatives and were vocal in their reasoning and views on the European question. Furthermore, as was pointed out on the blog ‘On Procedure and Politics’ in an article on MP confusion over E-Petitions the author points out that this debate wasn’t brought about by an e-petition through the new system introduced this summer, but rather was decided upon after a representation by Mr Nuttall MP with the support of backbench MPs and was granted and it was taken into account that a number of petitions (which between them had around 100,000 signatures) had also supported having this debate. However, this campaign had started before the E-petitions site had been created and therefore claims by MPs that it was as a result of this were misguided. Moreover, what I find staggering is the tendency for exaggeration: since when was a campaign by 100,000 people seen to be ‘what the public want’ when they represent only 0.0016% of our population!

Another Europe related event this week; arguably far more important in determining our future relationship with the EU was last Sunday’s European Debt Crisis Summit where the decision and resolution aspect was postponed to a follow-up summit on Wednesday. This summit managed to provide some short term direction and allowed some level of confidence, however, ultimately the resulting agreements were merely intentions and the specifics have still to be agreed and furthermore, part of the contingency plan with the increase in the Emergency bailout fund relies on China buying up ESFS bonds who haven’t agreed anything concrete yet, however, this aspect of the plans incites some concern regarding the potential for the Chinese to hold leverage over the operations of the EU through their contributions. It was also noted that there will be a movement towards a two stage Europe with the 17 eurozone countries moving towards greater political and fiscal union which could end up with reduced influence for Britain in the EU decision-making processes due to a possibility that the eurozone will vote en bloc. Ultimately, the outcome of the summit sparked a boost in the markets, write-off 50% of greek debt and don’t require any UK contributions bar the UK’s IMF commitments. Sir Mervyn King remarked that the summit decision ‘will only give a year or two of breathing space’.

Today, to in response to the heated debate on Europe over the past week Nick Clegg has hit out at the Conservative backbenchers and their demands for letting the British people decide if we should stay or go from the EU. His article, (here) highlights the fact that maintaining the European Single Market is crucial for the British Economy. Ultimately, as ever Clegg was vilified throughout the comments and the responses appeared to demonstrate a surprising lack of political knowledge and understanding with readers unable to understand the concept that removing ourselves from the EU would remove our influence and would not be able to uphold British interests in a community which is responsible for at least 40% of British international trade (see this article for the complexity of calculating trade figures).

Therefore, whilst there are very important issues that are at the forefront of everyone’s minds it cannot be denied that the question of the British-EU relationship is incredibly important and holds considerable influence over Britain’s future as does the plight of the Eurozone crisis. Ultimately, whilst any further treaty negotiations should be put to a referendum (which was agreed in the coalition agreement and has since been legislated on through The European Union Bill introduced to Parliament in Nov 2010), there should not be any further relinquishing of powers and we should ensure that Britain’s economic interests are pursued extensively and diplomatic ties with member countries; both eurozone and non-eurozone.  Furthermore, we should avoid attempting to leave the European Union as this is fundamental for us to play a significant role in the European Union to remain as a credible world player. In contrast however, I feel that Britain should also redouble efforts to encourage strong ties both economically and where possible politically with emerging countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, India, South Africa and China who will undoubtedly be major global powers in coming decades in the interest of future planning. In the end, the EU’s growing eurozone crisis has encouraged to see the EU as a scapegoat to tackle and this euro-sceptic attitude will not benefit our country in the long run; the EU is a pillar of our economy and without EU membership our economy would suffer with the loss of jobs being a minor part of the repercussions.

In the end it has and is being debated, the government is aware of the strength of opinion and it is their responsibility to ensure their decisions serve the British interest. Any claim that free speech was stifled is ludicrous after all o.oo16% of the population signed up to respective petitions and it was debated – a true sign of democracy. Although a note to MPs: 100,000 is by no means able to fully represent 61,838million people who constitute the British public: therefore don’t bang on about ‘that’s what the Public wants’, because it isn’t – we want growth in our economy, an acceptance of social responsibility by the main institutions in this country and an appreciation for those who have a less than rosy future ahead of them.

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