European Union

It would be disastrous to wait passively for the outcome of the British Referendum!

 

After the carefully choreographed dramatization of the European Summit surrounding the agreement with the United Kingdom, it is tempting to avoid any further discussion pending the result of the referendum on the convenient as well as fallacious pretext of avoiding any interference in the internal affairs of a Member State. The reverse is far more appropriate: while the UK is conducting a national campaign, it is in the Union’s interest to dispel the many ambiguities in the accord so as to inform British public opinion on the interpretation given by the other signatories, so that it can decide in full knowledge of the parameters.

 

This seems all the more necessary that in the event a slim majority voted to remain part of the EU, the polemic would continue to fester domestically as well as creating interminable dissensions within the European Council.

 

Luckily, the problems surrounding immigration towards the EU (on the Agenda of a Council meeting on March 3rd) and the question of further integration of the Eurozone (relaunched by the founding Members) are both urgent subjects whose consideration cannot be differed. They are susceptible to have a major influence on the result of the consultation.

 

As far as immigration is concerned, the problem must be addressed by the EU 28. This implies the full and loyal participation of the UK and should lead to the implementation of a “Common Immigration Policy (CIP). Among other things, it concerns a reinforcing of the policing of the EU’s external borders and establishing the terms on which third countries members of Schengen, will be associated to its implementation. The main purpose should aim at maintaining the free movement of people, goods and capital within the “single market” so as to forestall permanent internal border controls, the reestablishment of which would signify the dismantling of the EU.

 

This entails coming rapidly to an agreement on the coherent articulation of the rules covering membership of the EU, The Schengen area, the Eurozone and the “single market”.

 

An efficient control of the external borders of the EU implies, by definition, that all Member States are qualified to partake in the Schengen area; the latter’s only remaining purpose becomes its extension to non EU Member States. The continuation of the UK’s non membership in Schengen (Protocol 19) should be limited to maintaining its existing permanent controls over persons arriving from within the Schengen area. Under no circumstance should the UK be exonerated from participating in the policing of the external borders of the EU (of which the British coast line and airports are a part) nor sharing in the common financing of the CIP.

 

The necessary linkage between the UK and any future CIP should, therefore, be made clear before the referendum, even if it increases the likelihood of a vote for Brexit, because the worst outcome would be a result obtained by fostering deliberate misunderstandings. It is also key to prevent the UK from invoking its exemption of partaking in an “ever closer EU” in order to avoid participation in the CIP whose urgent implementation is a sine qua non condition of the survival of the “single market”, so dear to the British.

 

As to the reinforcing of Eurozone integration, it cannot happen within a perimeter including “willing States” that is any smaller than its current 19 members. Indeed, in order to ensure an efficient coordination between monetary and economic policies, the members of a future “political authority” endowed with attributes of economic, fiscal and budgetary sovereignty, must coincide with membership of the ECB, who exercises their shared monetary sovereignty.

 

Despite the fact that the “5 Presidents Report” envisages the progressive implementation of Eurozone integration over some 10 years, it is highly desirable, preferably before the referendum, to reaffirm publicly the existing Treaty obligation of all Member States who do not enjoy a derogation, to accelerate their adhesion to the EMU. Art. 50 of the Lisbon treaty would allow those who do not wish to do so to withdraw from the EU. This reaffirmation would underscore the risk of the UK becoming over time completely isolated within the EU unless it joined the EMU.

 

These clarifications on immigration and EMU integration are all the more necessary because agreeing on the former is a precondition for implementing the latter; reintroducing internal border controls would lead to the dismantling of both the EU and EMU, making further negotiations with the UK a total waste of time.

 

If retaining the UK as a Member of the EU is highly desirable, it should not be obtained at any price nor on false premises. The Union has an ethical obligation to clarify its own roadmap so as not to lead the British elector into error; it must on the other hand, imperatively retain its own freedom of action to allow it to meet the aspirations of 500 other million European citizens. The Union would be thoroughly guilty if it shied away from making a decisive contribution to the public debate ahead of the referendum.

 

Brussels, 22nd February 2016

 

Paul N. Goldschmidt

Director, European Commission (ret.); Member of the Steering Committee of the Thomas More Institute.

 

 

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