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   Anasayfa arrow Medyadan Seçmeler arrow Will David CAMERON's speech trigger a UK exit from the EU?
Will David CAMERON's speech trigger a UK exit from the EU? PDF Yazdır E-Posta
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Yazar Alıntı/The Economist...   
Will David CAMERON's speech trigger a UK exit from the EU?(*)

                                                        The Economist/January 23rd 2013 - Print - Share
On January 23rd, the Conservative Party prime minister, David Cameron, delivered a long-awaited speech on the future of Britain's relations with the EU. For a variety of reasons, the speech, which had been billed as the most important of his premiership, turned out to be something of an anti-climax, having suffered numerous delays and with much of its content having been widely trailed. It had a dual purpose: to pacify his Eurosceptic party and to persuade other member states that he was committed to the UK remaining inside the EU. This was always going to be a difficult balancing
act. Although Mr Cameron appeared to meet the first objective, notably by promising a straight "in/out" referendum by 2018 on UK membership of the EU, he failed to meet the second.

Few political speeches can have had a less auspicious build-up. First trailed back in mid-2012, it was initially to have been delivered in December, before disagreements over its contents delayed it to the New Year. When the speech was ready, Mr Cameron had trouble finding a time and place to give it. The original plan to deliver it in Berlin on January 22nd was shelved when it transpired that the date clashed with the 50th anniversary of the Elysée Treaty (which sealed the post-war reconciliation of France and Germany). A last-minute scramble ensued to find a new venue on a less provocative date. But the day before it was due to be delivered in Amsterdam, the speech was cancelled because of the recent hostage crisis in Algeria.

So when the prime minister finally gave his long-awaited speech (in London, not abroad), the sense of anti-climax was palpable. The nub of Mr Cameron's argument is easily summarised. The EU, he argued, had many achievements to its credit, but it suffered from a legitimacy crisis—particularly in Britain. The way to deal with that crisis was two-fold. First, Britain had to enter into negotiations with its European partners to repatriate certain powers from the EU back to the UK. Second, British voters should ratify the new settlement in a straight "in/out" referendum during the first half of the next parliament (that is, by 2018). New terms and fresh consent would allow theUK to remain part of the 27-member Union.

Domestic focus

Given the domestic pressures that Mr Cameron was trying to address, his speech will almost certainly go down better within his own party than it does elsewhere. The promise to hold a straight in/out referendum on the basis of new membership terms will be well received by his party. Not only will it satisfy most shades of Eurosceptic opinion within it (from those who simply want to leave the EU to those who want to stay inside on the condition that new membership terms can be agreed). It will also be seen as helpful in seeing off the political threat to the Conservative Party currently posed by the populist UK Independence Party (UKIP), whose raison d'être is the UK's withdrawal from the EU. Mr Cameron's speech should go some way towards healing internal divisions and buy a measure of party unity.

What Mr Cameron's speech will not do, however, is allay suspicions abroad that the UK is embarked on a course that will inexorably lead to its exit from the EU. Although Mr Cameron emphasised that he would campaign to keep the UK inside the EU once new membership terms had been agreed, he did not say what he would do if such terms were not available. In some areas, repatriating powers will not be a problem. The Lisbon treaty, for example, allows the UK to opt out of justice and home affairs (JHA) co-operation by 2014—an option Mr Cameron said he would exercise. But other countries are reluctant to countenance British cherry-picking on the single market, which most countries see as the most basic obligation of EU membership.

Is either side ready to compromise?

Supporters of Mr Cameron's EU strategy—notably those belonging to the Fresh Start group of Conservative Party parliamentarians—believe that the UK has enough leverage to overcome other countries' misgivings and renegotiate the terms of its membership. This optimism rests, first, on the fact that the EU would lose financially if the UK left the club (since the UK is a net contributor to the EU budget); second, on the desire of countries in northern Europe (such as Germany and the Netherlands) to keep the free trade-oriented UK in the EU, lest its departure push the bloc in a more protectionist direction; and, third, on the fact that the UK runs a substantial trade deficit with the rest of the EU, making it an important export market for a slow-growing region.

But although it is true that the UK has some leverage over the rest of the EU, it may not be quite as strong as the Eurosceptics believe. Few countries actually want the UK to leave the EU, but many now believe that it is on its way out regardless. The government's behaviour and uncompromising rhetoric since late 2011 have lost the UK a lot of goodwill, even among its traditional allies in northern Europe. And many EU countries worry that if the UK is allowed to opt out of areas it does not like (such as EU employment law), other countries will demand their own opt-outs from areas they do not like—and the single market will start to unravel. There is therefore a limit to what other countries will agree to do to keep the UK inside the EU.

Events, therefore, may not pan out as Mr Cameron and the Fresh Start group would like. Given the strength of Eurosceptic feeling inside the Conservative Party, it is clear that Mr Cameron would need to return from his renegotiating trips to Brussels with more than just a cosmetic change to Britain's membership of the EU. Anything less would be seen as a betrayal and would be rejected by most inside his party. At the same time, it is not remotely clear that a substantive repatriation of powers will be possible in many of the areas that Conservative Eurosceptics care most about. Mr Cameron could, therefore, find himself returning empty-handed. Should this happen, the prime minister might find himself spearheading a campaign to leave the EU.

Sceptical and unsettled
What does all this mean for the UK's future inside the EU? Does it make the UK's eventual departure by 2018 inevitable? Not quite. Although uncertainty over the country's future in the EU will be high for the next five years, the UK could still be a member after 2018. One scenario is that Mr Cameron wins the next general election and that his strategy works, with voters approving the new settlement in a referendum. Another scenario would see the main opposition Labour Party winning the next general election and pursuing a different strategy that might entail avoiding a referendum. As things stand, the Labour Party is well placed to win the next general election, scheduled for May 2015, but it may find a referendum on the EU hard to resist should it see its lead in opinion polls eroded (the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, has stated that he does not support an in/out referendum, but has so far refused to be drawn on his party's broader position towards the EU).

Much will therefore depend on how public opinion evolves over the next five years. Opinion polls show that a large majority of British people do not trust EU institutions and believe they interfere too much in domestic affairs; that most voters would opt to remain inside the EU if a looser relationship could be secured; and that the "European question" ranks relatively low on most voters' list of priorities. British public opinion, then, is both sceptical and unsettled. But two things are clear. First, given the current starting position, the campaign to keep the UK in the EU has the most work to do. And second, if British voters eventually decide to stay in the EU, it will be out of fear rather than enthusiasm for the European project.


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