David Cameron’s victory in the UK election presents me with a personal problem: he promises to hold an in-or-out of the EU referendum. If the UK leaves the EU I have a major headache – I live in Germany and I need freedom of movement within the EU more than I need anything else that a British passport currently confers me. What movement rights Brits would still have if the UK left cannot yet be known, but for sure it will not become easier. I will qualify for a German passport in 2019 – I will apply for that passport the very first day I am eligible for it. By my reckoning if Britain’s referendum is in 2017 then it will take 2 years to negotiate exit, so by 2019 I should be OK.
Beyond that very personal issue that the referendum poses for me, I am more interested about the impact the UK vote has on the rest of the EU than the impact it has on the UK. My fear is that the EU institutions go so far to try to entice the UK to stay that it means that some of the remaining good things about the European Union – freedom of movement, and environmental and social protection for example – are called into question as an adequate price for keeping the UK inside. The current
deregulation sorry, better regulation, agenda from the Juncker Commission is in danger of being accelerated. A more authoritarian approach to security and surveillance issues is another danger.
Making a kind of progressive case for the EU in the UK has always been damned hard, and is now probably harder still. The pro-EU case has always been a stodgy one along the lines of it’s good for British business, and hence British GDP, to be in the EU. The cases made by Ken Clarke, Nick Clegg or Chuka Umunna are more or less indistinguishable. With Labour in a period of introspection after its election defeat, and – with the notable exception of Frances O’Grady – there being no sensible pro-EU voices on the left, I see no role for me in campaigning activity whatsoever.
I do not even know how I would vote in an eventual referendum. The UK leaving would of course be a danger for the rest of the EU, but it could also be an opportunity, and force the unity of the rest of the EU, and actually let the EU’s most reluctant member pursue its own (foolish) path instead. I do not agree with many British pro-EU folks that it is a universally good thing for the EU itself for the UK to stay in; that would, to a certain extent, depend on what Cameron renegotiates or not (details on that in my more serious post).
I will of course continue to write about the referendum, and what is happening in the campaigns, but I see no personal role there in any way. Berlin is home, and I have plenty of political work to do here with the Grüne with the Abgeordnetenhauswahl taking place next year.