Saturday, 26 January 2013

Brexit



 

Although this blog is not intended to be fully reactivated before 2014, here is the first of a number of occasional posts on the subject of the evolving context within which the Scottish constitutional debate will take place then.
 
One could not help being impressed by the sheer pugnacious effrontery of that nice Mr Cameron when he stood up after a long lecture by former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at the World Economic Forum at Davos to state bluntly that, far from subscribing to the further and deeper European political union which Dr Kissinger had just said was not only desirable but necessary, the UK would have nothing to do with it. Full stop.

"Europe may need to shift its approach to unity through an economic construction to one of political construction. At the end of the day Europe should be maintained as an idea even if the ideal solution does not emerge." (Henry Kissinger, quoted in The New York Times, January 24th 2013)

While it is true that the German Chancellor and her Foreign Minister have diplomatically homed in on that part of the UK PM's Eurosceptic critique which Germany could not disagree with, i.e. the argument concerning the need to make the European Union more competitive, the prospects for renegotiating the UK's membership of the EU can hardly be said to look bright. Consequently, what is increasingly being referred to as Brexit (British exit) would appear to be developing into a logical probability. If that is indeed the case, there is much scope for arguing that Scottish electors will need to vote for independence in the Scottish Government's referendum in 2014 if Scotland is to remain in the European Union, as a statement just issued by a prominent Scottish anglo-unionist politician may be taken to confirm:

"I would be very strongly inclined to want to be in Europe and to want to have nothing to do with a Union or United Kingdom that was not in the European Union." (Henry McLeish, former Labour First Minister of Scotland, quoted in Holyrood Magazine, January 27th 2013)

Commentators on the European mainland are also waking up to this aspect of the emerging scenario:

"Cameron would have done better to use his speech to explain Europe to his fellow citizens. In this respect it was a missed opportunity. And maybe even worse. In 2014 there will be a referendum on Scottish independence. More Scots will probably now vote for that because their own future in Europe will be uncertain if Scotland stays in the UK. So the scheme by means of which Cameron is supposedly striking a blow for British freedom could well backfire." (Gunter Krichbaum, a governing-party [CDU] member of the German Bundestag, quoted in the Saarbrücker Zeitung, January 24th 2013)

"We should take Cameron seriously not only because he is threatening to take the UK out of the European Union but because in doing so he may bring about the end of the UK, as the pro-independence Scots are determined to remain in the EU." (Rolf-Dieter Krause, SWR, January 23rd 2013)

"In the northern part of the island there is a desire to leave the UK rather than the EU. The Scottish nationalists who are in government in Edinburgh want to hold a referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 while remaining in the EU. Currently it seems unlikely that the Scots will opt for independence. However, anti-EU sentiment in England could lead to a backlash in Europe-friendly Scotland - and to the break-up of the UK." (Peter Blunschi, 20 Minuten, January 22nd 2013)

Despite the current wave of Europhobia in England, the economic case for remaining in the EU is a strong one, but other considerations apply too. Provided that the evolution of the European political union continues, the EU can be regarded as an emerging world power (with a nominal gross domestic product representing approximately 20% of global GDP when measured in terms of purchasing-power parity), capable of protecting the interests of its population of over 500 million citizens (7.3% of the world's population) in the context of globalization and concomitantly emerging centres of political and economic power in other parts of the world.
 
The oft-repeated anglo-contention that the UK did not originally sign up to anything other than a free-trade area and that the European Union which has evolved out of the European Economic Community therefore would require UK permission to proceed towards further political integration is not a message which tends to be taken very seriously in mainland Europe, where the whole post-war European enterprise is perceived rather differently and in conformity in fact with the vision of a Conservative politician of somewhat greater eminence than Mr Cameron:
 
"(...) there is a remedy which, if it were generally and spontaneously adopted by the great majority of people in many lands, would as if by a miracle transform the whole scene, and would in a few years make all Europe, or the greater part of it, as free and as happy as Switzerland is today. What is this sovereign remedy? It is to re-create the European Family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe. In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living. The process is simple. All that is needed is the resolve of hundreds of millions of men and women to do right instead of wrong and to gain as their reward blessing instead of cursing (...)
 
I am going to say something that will astonish you. The first step in the re-creation of the European Family must be a partnership between France and Germany [the 50th anniversary of which was actually celebrated at a joint meeting of the French and German legislatures at the Bundestag the day before Mr Cameron's Euro-referendum speech in London]. In this way only can France recover the moral and cultural leadership of Europe. There can be no revival of Europe without a spiritually great France and a spiritually great Germany. The structure of the United States of Europe, if well and truly built, will be such as to make the material strength of a single state less important. Small nations will count as much as large ones and gain their honour by their contribution to the common cause. The ancient states and principalities of Germany, freely joined together for mutual convenience in a federal system, might take their individual places among the United States of Europe. I shall not try to make a detailed programme for hundreds of millions of people who want to be happy and free, prosperous and safe, who wish to enjoy the four freedoms of which the great President Roosevelt spoke, and live in accordance with the principles embodied in the Atlantic Charter. If this is their wish, if this is the wish of the Europeans in so many lands, they have only to say so, and means can certainly be found, and machinery erected, to carry that wish to full fruition.
 
(...) Our constant aim must be to build and fortify the strength of the United Nations Organization. Under and within that world concept we must re-create the European Family in a regional structure called, it may be, the United States of Europe. And the first practical step would be to form a Council of Europe. If at first all the States of Europe are not willing or able to join the Union, we must nevertheless proceed to assemble and combine those who will and those who can. The salvation of the common people of every race and of every land from war or servitude must be established on solid foundations and must be guarded by the readiness of all men and women to die rather than submit to tyranny (...)
 
Therefore I say to you: let Europe arise!"
 
 
Sixty-seven years later, however, the cry in England is, as we are only too well aware, Down with Europe, as if the European Union were an occupying power intent upon surreptitiously establishing some form of German hegemony over the former great power which resisted the Teutonic hordes when Churchill was Prime Minister. That is not how the European Union works. It is a functioning if still imperfect manifestation of the great man's conception of a "European Family" of interdependent nations living in harmony and solidarity within a structure underpinned by the hoped-for Franco-German alliance, which has regrettably come to be fatefully resented in decadent post-imperial England, which, thanks in part to Mr Cameron's brilliant masterstroke, is about to be marginalized even further.
 
As Churchill's historic Zurich speech testified in 1946, the post-war project of European union was certainly not conceived of merely as the creation of a free-trade area. If that is all that people in England can aspire to today, they cannot either realistically or reasonably expect other Europeans to fall into line with them, as England, which has egregiously overtaxed their patience, is frankly not that important to them.
 









EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding, interviewed on German-language Swiss radio on January 25th, explained, among other things, why the European Union cannot be expected to solve David Cameron's "domestic political problems" for him, referring to increasingly troublesome Eurosceptic Tory backbenchers and the apparently irresistible rise of the intensely Europhobic UKIP.












Laurent Fabius, former Prime Minister and current Foreign Minister of France, had already responded in similar vein (on France Info) to Mr Cameron's EU-referendum démarche: "No Europe à la carte" and, if there is to be a Brexit in consequence of that, France will "roll out the red carpet" for all the business investors who can be expected to pull out of Blighty in droves. 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 

 
UPDATE, January 27th


Following the announcement of the UK PM's intention to hold an in/out referendum on European Union membership, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has written to EU Foreign Ministers to set out the position of the Scottish Government on the EU and Scotland's place in it, including the approach to that country's continued membership following a Yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. The letter can be read here.