Ever closer union?

For me, the Euro­pean Union has always been a fact of life. At pri­ma­ry school in The Nether­lands we got a Euro-pass­port to pre­pare us for the intro­duc­tion of the euro. It con­tained a quiz to find out if you were Dutch, Euro­pean or a world cit­i­zen. I can not remem­ber exact­ly what my out­come was, but it was cer­tain­ly not ‘Dutch’… Now that we live in Eng­land and peo­ple sud­den­ly start talk­ing about ‘leav­ing the Euro­pean Union’, my world is turned upside down. Why would any­one want to do that? But it is also a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to refresh my knowl­edge about the EU. I found that this video explains some key facts.

The UK has nev­er had a very warm rela­tion­ship with the rest of Europe. This BBC-arti­cle says “Britain’s island men­tal­i­ty, com­bined with an impe­r­i­al hang­over” is prob­a­bly the rea­son. The coun­try was late in join­ing the EEC (Euro­pean Eco­nom­ic Com­mu­ni­ty). In the eight­ies, Mar­garet Thatch­er fought against the fur­ther inte­gra­tion that Brus­sels was pur­su­ing. But she got no sup­port from her cab­i­net and could not pre­vent the UK sign­ing the Maas­tricht Treaty in 1993. The coun­try is now a half-heart­ed mem­ber of the Euro­pean Union: The euro nev­er got through here and Eng­land is not a mem­ber of the open-bor­der zone of Schen­gen.

The rocky rela­tion­ship between the UK and the Euro­pean Union might just be over this sum­mer. The anti-Euro­pean sen­ti­ment is fueled by par­ties like UKIP, who would pre­fer to put all for­eign­ers on a boat to main­land Europe any­way. Many peo­ple are afraid that immi­grants from East­ern Euro­pean coun­tries come here just to get social ben­e­fits.

Houses of Parliament

A ref­er­en­dum on whether the coun­try should remain a mem­ber of the EU was one of David Cameron’s elec­tion promis­es. Before putting this ques­tion to the peo­ple he want­ed to nego­ti­ate with the EU about changes in the mem­ber­ship of the UK. That hap­pened last week­end. The new agree­ments mean that social secu­ri­ty for immi­grants can be lim­it­ed and that indi­vid­ual coun­tries have more oppor­tu­ni­ties to delay Euro­pean law pro­pos­als (Guardian).

The most prin­ci­pled issue is the text of the EU Treaty. This doc­u­ment states that the EU aims for “ever clos­er union among the peo­ples of Europe”. This reflects a vision of the future where the EU is increas­ing­ly func­tion­ing as a coun­try. I do sym­pa­thise with this idea (I’ve also vot­ed for a Euro­pean Con­sti­tu­tion), although I can­not over­see all the polit­i­cal impli­ca­tions. There are sev­er­al coun­tries that do not sup­port this sen­tence. But the res­i­dents of the British Isles want­ed an explic­it state­ment that this is not about them. The fol­low­ing text was added: “It is recog­nised that the Unit­ed King­dom … is not com­mit­ted to fur­ther polit­i­cal inte­gra­tion in the Euro­pean Union … Ref­er­ences to ever-clos­er union do not apply to the Unit­ed King­dom.”

The pro-EU cam­paign­ers hope that these changes are good enough for the British peo­ple. On June the 23rd they can vote about this in a ref­er­en­dum. The bat­tle is now well under­way and also appears to include a brawl with­in the Con­ser­v­a­tive Par­ty. Mean­while, all that we can do as Euro­peans in the UK is patient­ly await our fate…