The UK – In Or Out Of The EU?

It is well understood that it is the nature of politicians to promote themselves and their positions in often-inaccurate ways, in order to achieve their personal and/or party agendas. It is also well understood that other politicians who may have overlapping or opposing agendas will respond in kind, in order to further their own objectives. The observing public are therefore left with many layers of smokescreens to sort out in order to attempt to understand what’s really going on.

A case in point is the ongoing campaign by UK Prime Minister David Cameron to advise Britons and the world of his stated belief that the level of commitment to the EU by Britain should be decided by the British people. As a result, he has stated his intention to hold a referendum to determine that level of commitment.

A brief, but particularly good article on the latest developments on the subject was recently published by the Uruguayan newspaper, MercoPress, which has a reputation for providing the bare facts on a given issue as they truly are, whilst taking a neutral position themselves. The reader is left to work out the meaning of the facts. On 24th January, 2013, MercoPress published a brief but illuminating article on the growing UK/EU conflict, entitled,

"EU tells PM Cameron that 'cherry picking' and 'a la carte' membership is not on the table."

The article, as well as the issue itself, is of interest to any reader who is thinking internationally and is attempting to assess just what path the EU experiment will take as it unravels. The outcome will impact us, wherever we have chosen to plant our flags.

Mister Cameron has been going on for some time now about his plan to "take it to the people," and, generally speaking, the EU, whilst behaving guardedly, has sought to avoid addressing the issue. However, as Mister Cameron continues to make frequent public statements on the issue, the EU has countered his comments. Their position, in essence, can be described as, "You're either in or you're out. If you're in, we call the shots and will dictate what your country can do. If you're out, we will cut you off and you will be on your own, economically."

Different Treatments by EU

What might immediately strike the reader is the tone of the EU's reaction. It is a dramatically different tone from the one that the EU uses when dealing with the PIIGS – the EU countries that are becoming increasingly indebted to the EU.

In the latter case, the EU has behaved much like a weary parent who, although tired of paying the expenses run up by an errant child who is past the theoretical age of maturity, continues to offer compassion, as he continues to send more money… and more money… and more money.

The UK, on the other hand, is being treated less like an errant child and more like an unrelated upstart who has posed a threat to the EU.

Why should this be so? After all, both the UK and the PIIGS have a similar problem – they became, to a greater or lesser extent, partners in an agreement that has not worked out well at all, and each is openly discussing the possible options regarding continued partnership.

But there is a major difference between the UK and the PIIGS, as regards the EU. The UK is a net contributor; the PIIGS are net dependents.

There are two very significant facts underlying this difference. The first is with regard to payments. The UK is one of the countries that, to a greater or lesser degree, is expected to bail out the dependent countries. Any member of the EU that chooses to opt out of the bailout programme is not only derelict in his presumed duty. He is also a threat to the EU as a whole, as he sets a precedent for other members who might also choose to cease bailout contributions.

In an American context, a parallel might be the difference between an admittedly bankrupt state, such as California, seceding from the Union, as opposed to a solvent state, such as Texas, doing so. All states contribute to the federal kitty, but some states, such as California, Illinois, and New York, are net receivers of federal largesse, whilst states like Texas are net contributors. Therefore, secession by California would, by some measures, be good for the country as a whole. However, secession by Texas would be unequivocally unacceptable, as they are an important part of the maintenance of the failing US system.

The second significant fact in the recent UK stance is that of power. Countries such as the PIIGS are net recipients of bailouts. They are therefore beholden to the EU and are (street protests aside) subservient to the EU. The EU is content to pour billions of good money after bad into the PIIGS' treasuries, because the real objective is control. Waste is not important.

Not so, with the UK. In this picture, the UK are the bad boys because they are doing the worst thing possible: questioning the decision-making power of the EU. If the EU were to make veiled threats to hang the UK out to dry for this sin, it should not come as a surprise.

But before we envisage the EU as all-powerful, with the ability to freeze trade between the UK and Europe proper, in addition to other sanctions, we would do well to remind ourselves that once the link has been cut and sanctions have been applied, other EU members who are net contributors may well come to the conclusion that the EU has become a tyrant and would come to side with the UK, possibly triggering more resignations from the Union.

Possible EU Defections

As confident as the EU is sounding at present, surely, they are worried at the prospect of a chain of defections. Europe could easily fragment into three groups:

1) The EU loyalists, seeking to hold sway over all of Europe
2) The defecting net contributors
3) The defecting net receivers

Over the centuries, the countries of Europe have often gone to war over less.

So, to return to Mister Cameron: Many British people are fearful that a referendum may create economic strife with the EU, whist many others feel that the referendum could set them free of the EU debt. (The UK has plenty enough debt of its own.)

And, surely, most Britons, regardless of whether they hope to separate from the EU, do like the fact that Mister Cameron is playing the knight in shining armour. Britain has not had a real hero-type in Parliament for a good while, and, right now, for Mister Cameron to, in effect, state that he favours Englishmen over a unified Europe, is comforting to Brits. Not to mention that it could be a significant factor in the next election.

However, as this article began, understanding politics is often the art of seeing past the many smokescreens. To get a real fix on where Mister Cameron hopes to go with his referendum concept, we must not fixate on the immediate, but rather examine the overall.

If we take the time to read the fine print, we notice that Mister Cameron hasn't actually fully committed to holding a referendum. Further, if he holds a referendum, it may be held as late as the end of 2017, nearly five years from now. And some two and one half years after the election. By that time, the entire issue may well be old news. There may, in fact, no longer be an EU, at least as we know it.

So, then, what is the point? Is Mister Cameron truly sowing the seeds of freedom? Or is this mere political posturing? Is he annoying the EU needlessly? Or is he possibly simply thumping his chest in order to diminish the number of votes that may be lost to UKIP (the UK Independent Party) in the election?

As always in politics, there is no easy answer. Each country, each party, each faction is now, and will be in the future, jockeying for its own self-interest, and the smokescreens will thicken as the political/economic situation worsens. More to the point, the explanations of events that we receive from the media are likely to be slanted and inaccurate.

For those of us who are of a libertarian bent, the machinations of the world's political leaders are of interest, primarily, out of concern for avoidance. Understanding them better allows us to create a life for ourselves that hopefully sidesteps them. Accordingly, the best defense is to identify a variety of generally reliable news sources worldwide – to examine the information carefully and avoid the temptation to accept the most obvious explanations offered by the various political players and the conventional media.

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Tags: united kingdom, europe,