Referendum Reactions: Cameron Faces Heat from Continent

By in London

The parliament building in London: Will Britain's euroskeptics call for a 'Brixit'? Zoom
DPA

The parliament building in London: Will Britain's euroskeptics call for a 'Brixit'?

In calling for a British referendum on EU membership, Prime Minister Cameron thought he might get some support from reform-minded partners on the Continent. But the praise has been almost non-existent, and Cameron is feeling the heat.

There was a celebratory mood among those sitting on the green benches in Britain's House of Commons on Wednesday. Among the ranks of the Conservatives, one critic of David Cameron after the other stood and praised the prime minister as the country's savior. Even Bill Cash, the most outspoken critic of Cameron's EU policies, expressed his respect.

Indeed, Cameron's announcement on Wednesday that his government would hold a referendum on Britain's membership in the 27-nation bloc before the end of 2017 put the island's euroskeptics in an ecstatic mood. The conservative Daily Telegraph wrote that Cameron "deserves extensive applause" for offering "the British public the key to the exit, an act of faith that even the sainted Mrs. Thatcher never managed."

With the announcement, Cameron has achieved his first goal. His fractured Conservative Party looked more united than ever on Wednesday. Euroskeptic Tory parliamentarian Mark Pritchard called it "a major triumph" that was "well considered, thoughtful and long overdue," adding that it would forge a "new consensus" for the party on Europe.

But Cameron also chalked up a second success on the domestic political scene because the issue of Britian's EU membership is driving a wedge into the Labour Party. Speaking in the House of Commons, opposition leader Ed Miliband criticized the call for a referendum, saying that it would cause uncertainty and harm the British economy. Nevertheless, many in his party see things differently -- and actually want to include a promise to hold a referendum in its platform for the next election. Before then, however, Cameron will get to watch as the opposition engages in internecine quarrels rather than battling the prime minister.

Cameron Places Hopes on Allies Merkel and Rutte

Still, the satisfaction Cameron enjoys from these domestic gains probably won't last long. The EU problem will catch up with him again soon -- in other words, when it becomes obvious that the demands he has made on Brussels have fallen on deaf ears.

Cameron was already defending himself in an international forum on Thursday. Speaking at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Cameron warned European leaders against forcing member countries into ever-deeper political union. "Countries in Europe have their histories, their traditions, their institutions, want their own sovereignty, their ability to make their own choices," Cameron said. "And to try and shoehorn countries into a centralized political union would be a great mistake for Europe, and Britain wouldn't be part of it."

In any case, Cameron has a two-stage plan: First he wants to negotiate a "better deal" that will give Britain further exceptions to EU regulations. Then he wants his people to vote on whether they want to remain in the EU under these new terms.

Cameron is betting that his EU partners will find a way to grant him concessions out of their desire to make sure that Britain remains part of the EU. And he's hoping that support for such exceptions will come from other reform-minded members of the bloc, such as Germany, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries.

However, initial reactions from these countries' governments were not particularly promising. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she was "of course prepared to talk about British wishes," which the British media interpreted as proof that Cameron's aggressive bargaining style was the right one. The Daily Telegraph, for example, interpreted Merkel's comment as signaling a "major victory."

But Merkel's response is really nothing more than a noncommittal and polite formality aimed at preventing any escalation of tensions between German and British officials. After all, locking horns with Cameron now would be a bad idea since she needs his signature in early February, when EU leaders meet for a summit to approve the bloc's budget for the next seven years.

Other leaders perceived to be warmer toward reform proposals also gave a cool response to his speech. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he didn't want to interfere with a domestic political issue in Britain, but followed up a day later in Davos saying he backed some of Cameron's statements. Meanwhile, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said that the United Kingdom and Denmark, which is also not a member of the euro zone, "have chosen to follow two different paths" and that Danish interest "are best served by staying as close to the EU core as possible." Finally, Swedish Prime Foreign Minister Carl Bildt tweeted that: "Flexibility sounds fine, but if you open up to a 28-speed Europe, at the end of the day there is no Europe at all. Just a mess."

Deceptive Domestic Calm

There are no signs, either, that this opposition will abate anytime soon. Sooner or later, the British are likely to voice increasing doubt about Cameron's strategy. Cameron said that he would hold the referendum "in the first half" of the next parliamentary term if his party wins the next general election, scheduled for 2015. But two years is still a long way off. And if the Tories can't show that they've secured any concessions by then, Cameron is likely to face ire anew from the euroskeptic ranks of his party in parliament.

There is also the possibility that Cameron won't be in charge anymore following the 2015 election. Indeed, merely holding out the prospect of a referendum on EU membership won't be enough to drive masses of voters into his party's arms. In fact, the British polling company Ipsos MORI found that most British voters are indifferent to the EU issue and that they are primarily concerned about the country's ailing economy. This has led EU backers such as Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister with the Liberal Democrats, to portray the referendum as a dangerous distraction from genuinely important issues.

By the time of the referendum, at the latest, the old divisions within the Conservative Party will surely resurface. While Cameron will advocate remaining in the EU under new terms, euroskeptic members of parliament within his Conservative Party -- such as Daniel Hannan, in the European Parliament, and Douglas Carswell, in the House of Commons -- have already signaled that they will call for a "Brixit," the name given to a possible British exit from the EU.

Indeed, it appears that Cameron cannot rid the Tories of their traditional curse. In 2005, at the beginning of his term as leader of the Conservative Party, he suggested that the Tories could solve the issue of divisiveness by finally ceasing to solely and incessantly talk about Europe. But now the party is right back where it was then.

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1. Was There a Man Dismayed?
sylvesterthecat 01/24/2013
Zitat von sysopIn calling for a British referendum on EU membership, Prime Minister Cameron thought he might get some support from reform-minded partners on the Continent. But the praise has been almost non-existent, and Cameron is feeling the heat. http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/cameron-finds-little-support-on-continent-for-referendum-on-eu-a-879441.html
------------------------------------------ Cameron is a Europhile who has been pushed by a Eurosceptic population into an in /out referendum. Given our current unsustainable position in the EU, If he were to hold it now he would probably lose and we would pull out of the EU. So Cameron is without support on the continent? Really it doesn't matter that much. In 2017 Cameron (or Milliband) will present to the UK electorate the results of the renegotiation with our EU friends.The choice would be the renegotiated package or out. If there is no renegotiation Cameron will present the current status quo and we would leave the EU. The imponderable is the renegotiated package and whether it would be worth staying in for. We shall see
2. German Support
Poldark 01/24/2013
I have been reading what the German people have been posting on the German newspaper websites. The British people will get a lot of support from the German people if not from the German government. The German people would love a referendum on the EU.
3. Don't make the mistake of thinking the British people don't care!
Mike W 01/25/2013
The more "heat" that comes from the continent the more belligerent the British people will get. They don't like being told that the "mother of all parliaments" shouldn't offer it's people a democratic right to decide and the more the voices outside the UK say no, the more the voices in the UK will say "OUT". 69%?of British voters want a referendum to finally lay the thorny issue of the EU in British politics to rest. The bad news for the EU is currently 56% would vote to leave with another 23% undecided. If the UK leaves the EU,it could well be the spark that brings the whole house of cards tumbling down. As one UK commentator put it, Cameron has told the EU emperors to put their clothes on... Like it or not, this is the prevailing opinion in the UK. Do you really think the EU (let alone the Euro) will survive without the UK at its core?
4. This is what the renegotiation means
rackman1919@hotmail.co.uk 01/25/2013
In case you wondered what Cameron wants in renegotiation, here are some of the things happening in Britain. Cameron got backing from many of the business leaders here for his speeches and he claimed many business leaders on the continent agreed too. Britain, after the US and Canada, has the easiest regime to sack workers. Some of the powers the Tories want repatriated to Westminster is scraping of minimum wage, abolition of maximum hours worked, reducing health and safety rules for business. Removal of building control from Local Authorities, or opposition from local residents, in favour of the builders, i.e. if locals haven’t got a plan for use of an area, the decision must be in favour of the building companies. Locals get two weeks to come up with a plan if a builder makes an application. This includes forests and green field sites. They label different groups of people, those on benefits are “scum”, those in work are strivers; even though six million people in work are so badly paid they do get some kind of Government benefits. Single mothers and old people are a drain on the country’s resources. Wages for people living in areas of the country where cost of living is lower should be paid lower wages for the same job. Skilled Government workers were being paid more than those in the private sector, so they should sacked, so they would be forced to work in the private sector, making their skills available to private sector employers. Some of their supporters said there are too many people in some areas of Britain so they should be sent to areas of lower population. A pro-Tory paper, The Daily Mail, had an article on employment and the actually used the words, “Arbeit Macht Frei”, in the article. A very prominent businessman, Digby Jones, said we should be like India or China to compete, meaning we should have the same working conditions. You can see why the Tories are popular with businessmen.
5. The spark that brings the whole house of cards down
der_c 08/13/2014
Just my 50 pence from the continent: The author of this sparc-title wants to say, if the UK leafes the EU, the EU will break into parts, but I am not so sure if the tories see all of the consequences. The UK breaks for sure into parts thus most of the scottisch people likes the EU and not England, Wales and the rest of the colonies. If the UK fall apart there ist no Great Britain any more that can leave the EU, just the rest of the UK, which people this as the tories that the EU ist responsible for job losses. From the old GB there will be then just a part that wants to join the EU and one who will try to leave it, because the rest of the UK and especially the City of London wants no regulation and thinks they could be better make there own stuff. they shouls try. The special deals that every Primeminister of the last decades made with the other EU-Leaders, just because they could leave or do a block something, will also end at the day of an Brixit, or better UKxit. I think a temporary or even longer exit will be better for the EU economy and even the data privacy. Why? Because the internet-cables on the UK-side are wiretapped, what not only E. Snowden knows.
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