Mixed Messages: Poll Shows Growing Support for Europe in UK
Excerpts of British Prime Minister David Cameron's postponed speech show that he would have focused on "increasing" frustration in his country over the EU. But the comments come as a new report indicates that support for Europe in Britain is growing.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has cancelled his planned address on the future relationship between Britain and the European Union because of the hostage drama in Algeria. But the British leader on Thursday released advance excerpts of the speech he had been planning to deliver in Amsterdam indicating that he was planning to demand future opt-outs from EU policies and to call for a referendum in Britain on a "new deal" with Europe.
Cameron is under considerable pressure from euroskeptic voices within his Conservative Party to take an aggressive stance towards Brussels and the country's EU partners.
"There is a gap between the EU and its citizens which has grown dramatically in recent years and which represents a lack of democratic accountability and consent that is, yes, felt particularly acutely," the prime minister was to have said. If the challenges aren't addressed, Cameron's draft speech warned, "the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit."
"I do not want that to happen," the draft reads. "I want the European Union to be a success and I want a relationship between Britain and the EU that keeps us in it."
Cameron was to have said that Europe is undergoing "fundamental change" that has been accelerated by the euro crisis. The draft also cites measures taken to prevent the crash of the common currency, which Britain is not a part of, as part of the democratic deficit. "People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity or their taxes are used to bail out governments on the other side of the continent." The draft claimed that frustration with the EU could be seen "very dramatically" in Britain and that it is the duty of Europe's leaders to "hear" these concerns and that the British government has "a duty to act on them." Although Britain is not part of the euro zone, it has contributed to the bailouts of countries afflicted by the debt crisis.
Poll Finds Growing Support for EU
Despite Cameron's assertive tone, anti-European sentiment within the British population appears to be diminishing, especially among 18 to 34 year old, a new poll has found.
The survey -- commissioned by Germany's Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the think tank of the center-left Social Democratic Party, and Britain's Fabian Society, conducted by pollster YouGov -- found that two-thirds of Brits within that age group would vote in favor of their country remaining in the EU if it were put up to a vote in a referendum. The reverse held true for those over the age of 60, a segment of the population in which two-thirds believe the country should leave the European political bloc.
The pollster found that the reason for the divide in thinking about the EU is personal experience. Only 19 percent of young Britons say that they have not profited from the Europe, whereas 51 percent of those over 60 make that claim.
A major difference between generations also emerged when asked if major challenges like climate change or the global financial crisis are best addressed by the EU countries working together, with 59 percent of young Brits finding this argument convincing, compared to just 43 percent of those over 60.
The poll could boost the hopes of EU proponents in Great Britain. "The 18-34 age group have grown up with globalization and know that the idea of an isolated Britain outside of the EU belongs to a bygone era," said Emma Reynolds, a member of the British parliament and European affairs spokeswoman for the left-leaning Labour Party.
Euroskeptic Voices Dominate Debate
Still, euroskeptic voices have dominated the public debate over European affairs in Britain for years. That is likely to be made very clear when Cameron finally gives his speech. It is viewed as certain that Cameron will seek to shift a number of regulatory competencies from Brussels back to Britain, and that he will attempt to negotiate a "new deal" with his country's 26 EU partners and give his people the right to vote on it in a referendum. By doing so, he is hoping to contain widespread displeasure over the current status quo in Brussels.
Ironically, the fierce debate over whether Britain should remain in the EU has sparked a palpable shift in public opinion in recent weeks. Last May, 51 percent of Brits said they would support their country leaving the EU, YouGov head Peter Kellner wrote on the pollster's website this week. At the time, only 28 percent of British people said they thought their country should remain in the Union.
In the most recent survey, however, only 42 percent of Brits said they thought the country should leave the European Union, compared to 36 percent who said Britain should stay. Kellner said he believed the trend would continue. He also predicts that if a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the EU were to be held next year that a majority would vote to continue membership.
The reason is simple, he argues: fear. Warnings from pro-European politicians and industry groups that exiting the EU could adversely impact the investment climate in Britain and cost British jobs appears to be having an influence. In addition, Keller says that if the government were also to offer Brits a "new deal" with the EU, 50 percent would support remaining in the EU. Only 25 percent would be against it.
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