Go to Admin » Appearance » Widgets » and move Gabfire Widget: Social into that MastheadOverlay zone
Even if he does succeed in getting re-elected (and his Conservatives trail the opposition Labour Party in the polls) the promised plebiscite won’t take place until at least 2017. Cameron says he wants to try to renegotiate better terms for Britain first.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel talked of the importance of compromise. French President François Hollande said it was crucial that Britain remain at the heart of the EU.
For the EU has always been an elite project. Statesmen wanted it to prevent another continent-wide war. Business wanted it to create a unified market for their goods. Politicians in poor countries like Greece saw membership as a way to join the club of the rich.
As long as the economy rolled along, grumbling was kept to a minimum. But in Europe today, the economy is not rolling along. A crisis over the euro may have been avoided, but the jobs and growth crisis — all of which are intimately linked to the common currency — continues.
In many countries, including Greece and France, those reacting to the jobs crisis have lashed out against immigrants instead of the EU itself. But the two are inextricably linked. Labour mobility — the ability of companies to hire across national boundaries — is one of the pillars of the economic union.
But Cameron is in a political bind. Britain’s powerful financial industry is leery of proposed EU monetary integration measures, fearing they would impinge on London’s role as a free-wheeling banking centre.
As well, the right-of-centre United Kingdom Independence Party, which opposes EU membership, is gaining at the expense of the Tories. The fringe party received less than 1 per cent of the popular vote in the 2010 election. But YouGov polls this week show its support has surged to 10 per cent.
In short, it is politically crucial for Britain’s prime minister to be seen as open to euro-skepticism. Countries, like Canada, that hope to profit economically from trading with a strong EU may hope nothing comes of his latest feint. But European integration is a messy topic in Europe. Once ordinary voters start getting involved in important decisions, anything is possible.
Thomas Walkom’s column appears Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.