On 10th November, the British Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech at Chatham House about Europe and the place of the United Kingdom in the European Union. This speech occurred while the debate in society about the Brexit is intense. Indeed, after his re-election on May 8th 2015, Cameron promised to British people to organise a referendum about the membership of the UK in the EU before the end of 2017. This date is getting closer, and 3 years after the Bloomberg’ speech, Cameron once again exposed his views of what Europe should be and what kind of changes are necessary for the Brits to stay in the Union.
The United Kingdom entered the Union in 1973 under a Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath. Nevertheless, the party has become more clearly euro-sceptic nowadays. To fully understand Cameron’ speech, we need to highlight the complex current situation of Europe, which is the theatre of several crisis: the economic recession and the Eurozone crisis, the Ukrainian conflict; and as Cameron says, also the rise of external threats like ISIL.
All along his speech, David Cameron claims that the EU needs to be reformed, and this necessity will not only benefit the UK but the EU itself as a whole. After looking more closely at Cameron’s demands and the possibility of a Brexit if the renegotiation appears to fail; this article will highlight an important component of David Cameron’s speech with is the recurrent theme of security.
What’s new since Bloomberg’ speech?
According to David Cameron, Europe is in urgent need of reforms and the future of the UK’s membership is linked to those. Negotiations with European partners enter in the formal phase, which justify the timing of his new address. His speech is then not only addressing the Brits, but the Europe’s leaders as well.
“We see European Union as a means to an end and not an end in itself”
The British Prime Minister formulates two challenges Europe faced and still faces: the economic crisis and the security threats. The threats are even worth than few years ago, because of the Ukrainian crisis, the grown up of the ISIL, the situation in Syria and the rise of extreme political parties. The rise of these threats has reinforced the central arguments made 3 years ago by David Cameron that Europe needs urgently to reform. David Cameron lays emphasis on the realism of his politics and of the national identity of the United Kingdom in general. This British realism is expressed in their vision of Europe as “an instrument to amplify our nation’s power and prosperity”. Cameron even compares the EU as other International Organisation, like the UN or the IMF. Although, David Cameron doesn’t want to picture himself as eurosceptic and several time during his speech he proves his good attention towards Europe by detailing some of his previous actions as an “engaged nation”.
“Britain has contributed in full measure to the freedom that Europe’s nations enjoy. (…) Today, we continue to play our full role in European security”
His vision over the nature of EU is fundamentally intergovernmental, and the answer to the current challenges have to be dealt with at the national level through a renewal of sovereignty.
“Let’s acknowledge that the answer to every problem is not always more Europe, sometimes it’s less Europe”.
The reforms of Europe have to be made around 4 challenges: the imbalance existing between Eurozone Member States and those outside; the lack of European’s competitiveness; the democratic deficit and last but not least -a new challenge not mentioned in the Bloomberg speech and linked to the actual migration crisis- the free movement right.
“Non-Euro Members need certain safeguards”
Even if the United Kingdom is not part of the Eurozone, David Cameron reckons that non-Euro Member States should have their word to say, because the policy of the Eurozone is affecting them. David Cameron requests several safeguards in order to protect non-Euro countries. First of all, David Cameron would like the recognition that the European Union has more than one currency. The Euro should be placed on the same level as any other currencies used in Europe. Consequently, the treatment of Euro-countries and non-Euro countries must be equal.
“There should be no discrimination and no disadvantage for any business on the basis of the currency in their countries”
Secondly, “the integrity of the single market should be protected”. The fundamental reason of living for the European Union is the creation of the single market. It was the primary purpose for the Union, and this principle should always be placed in front of all other Union’s considerations. That is why David Cameron declares: “any issues that affect all Member States must be discussed and decided by all Member States”. Then, any advancement of the Euro-zone may never be mandatory for non-Euro countries as well as the population of non-Euro countries as tax-payers should never bear the cost to support the Euro. Finally, David Cameron claims the independence of his monetary policy, which should remain a competence of the Bank of England.
In a sense, the EU should respect the choice of those who refused the common currency, and Britain positions itself as the leader of a coalition of non-Euro States. The possibility of a Brexit is for the first time invoked in this paragraph.
“Because if the EU were to evolve into a single currency club, where those outside the single currency are pushed aside and over-ruled, then it would no longer be a club for us”
“Write competitiveness into the DNA of the whole European Union”
Although, David Cameron acknowledges the progresses made since his previous speech, he wants Europe to go further to become more competitive and attractive. Europe needs to be more flexible in order to allow the competitiveness to operate. However, David Cameron doesn’t formulates concrete propositions here, but set a goal for action.
“We need a target to cut the total burden on business”
Sovereignty and subsidiarity
The part on the democratic accountability of the European Union is in fact divided into two axes. One concerns the citizens of the United Kingdom and what we generally called the European democratic deficit which touches not only the Brits but all the Europeans. Indeed, it exist among the European population a form of disillusion concerning the European Union. The low turnout of European elections confirms this idea. Only 42.61%[ii] of the European citizens have voted during the last elections of the European Parliament in 2014. To deal with this growing issue, David Cameron calls for a “more significant role for national parliaments (…) which are the main source of real democratic legitimacy”. The European Parliament is then not considered as legitimate as the national parliaments, forgetting the fact the MEPs are elected by universal suffrage since 1979.
The second axe of his development about democratic accountability is the issue of sovereignty of the State and the subsidiarity. As we know, Cameron shares an intergovernmental vision of Europe.
“We believe in a flexible Union of free member states who share treaties and institutions, working together in a spirit of cooperation”
In saying, that he would like to “end Britain’s obligation to work towards an ever closer Union”, David Cameron calls into question the UK’s signature of the Treaty on European Union, where we can read in the Preamble, that the signatories “resolved to continue the process of creating an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”. Implicitly, he asks for a revision of the treaty, and therefore, his declaration raises several legal problems.
“Britain can never be engaged in a political Union against our will”
David Cameron wants to get back sovereignty into the national sphere and asks for a strict application of the subsidiarity principle. In the Treaty on European Union, this principle says that “the Union shall act only if and in so far as the objective of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the Member States (…), but can rather be better achieved at Union level” (TEU, Art5.3).
“We believe that if powers don’t need to reside in Brussels, they should be returned to Westminster. So we want to see EU’s commitments to subsidiarity fully implemented”
Finally, David Cameron wants to restore the authority of the British Courts to the detriment of the European Court of Justice. By doing so, the United Kingdom wants to reform the relationship with the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Plus it wants to be able “to review the legal acts of European Institutions and court to check that they remain within the scope of power of the EU’s powers”
“We do want to restore a sense of fairness to our immigration system”
The last area which needs reforms according to David Cameron is quite a new challenge, because it was not mentioned 3 years ago. The Conservative Prime Minister questions the fundamental objectives and basis of the free movement right in the European Union. David Cameron thinks that migration -from Europe and outside- exercises a pressure on public services and infrastructures as well as the welfare benefit system. What seems new in this discourse claiming that immigration must be slow down, is the inclusion of European citizens in this flow. Although, Cameron declares himself attached to the free movement because “over a million Brits” benefit from this right, he questions the universality of a right attached to the European citizenship. To support his argumentation, David Cameron pull out that “40% of all recent European Economic Area migrants are supported by the UK benefits system” and that it is not sustainable.
“We need to be able to exert greater control on arrivals from inside the EU too”
Cameron demands that this right does not apply to new members until their economies have converged with the UK. Moreover, Cameron wants to fight to abuses on British welfare system in order to “restore a sense of fairness”, forbidding the fraudster to re-entry, in reducing the pull factors of the welfare system, in ending the practice of sending child benefit overseas, and in obliging European citizens to contribute for 4 years before being entitled to work benefits or social housing (the scope of this contribution is not clarified).
The Securitization of the In-Out referendum
All along his speech a recurrent theme is easily identifiable. Indeed, the four areas mentioned are all framed into security terms. All of these issues are considered by David Cameron and his government as a matter either of economic or national security. Framing a political issue into security terms demanding thus security responses is called a process of securitization. It is interesting to notice that even the economic issues are treated by David Cameron into security terms, saying that if nothing is done; the lack of competitiveness, the Eurozone and the non-national pressure on the domestic welfare system will constitute a threat for the British society. Moreover, the term of national security appears several times in the speech and Cameron argues that national security must remain the sole responsibility of Member States. Consequently, the European question itself and the In-Out referendum are securitized. At the end of his speech, addressing himself to the Brits, David Cameron highlight the importance of the security question for the referendum. The British Prime Minister calls the citizens to seriously think about the danger that a Brexit at all costs, or on the contrary the status quo, could cause to the economic and national security of Britain.
“I am in no doubt that for Britain, the European question is not just a matter of economic security, but of national security too”
Several times during his speech, David Cameron attempts to show to his European partners that his demands were reasonable and measured, that he is not an Euro-sceptic and that the reforms he asks for will benefit the UK as much as they will benefit others Member States and the EU as a whole. Obviously, beyond his sayings of good will, his propositions go far beyond the moderate ideas he pretends to have. For him, the EU needs as much the UK as the UK needs the EU. One can perceive his words as a form of blackmail, or at least a strong warning to the European Union. Finally, he declares linking his choice of campaigning for remaining of leaving the EU to the latter’s responses to his expressed concerns.
An “Awkward Partner”?
In 1998, Stephen George[iii] has analysed the political history of Britain in the European Community, and came to the conclusion that the United Kingdom was an “awkward partner”, because it is half-in, half-out. Indeed, from the very beginning, the United Kingdom played the “awkward partner” in refusing to join the original Six creating the Common Market. Then, since its adhesion in 1973, the United Kingdom has often tried to slow down the integration process. It has refused to change his currency in 2002, and it’s not part of the Schengen Zone. Today, it is legitimate to raise the question of the validity of this thesis regarding the recent events and the attitude of Cameron towards Europe. Indeed, even before calling for a renegotiation of the British membership in the EU and a referendum; David Cameron was already hostile to an “ever closer union” in supporting the idea of a ‘two speed Europe’. Within the European Parliament, the British Conservatives even created a new group, splitting from the European People’s Party (EPP), where many pro-Europe right-wing national parties sit (German Christian-Democrats, French UMP). Moreover, David Cameron used his veto in the European Council concerning the fiscal pact and even removed himself from the table. Chatham House’ speech seems to be coherent with the political direction took by Cameron embodying the idea of awkward partner.
[i] Website of the British’s Government, Script and video of David Cameron’s speech, 10/11/15, https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/prime-ministers-speech-on-europe
[ii] Web site of the European Parliament, Results and Turnout of 2014 European elections, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/elections2014-results/en/turnout.html
[iii] GEORGE Stephen, An Awkward Partner, Britain in the European Community, Oxford University Press, Third edition, 1998