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747 words - January 24, 2013 | © DiploNews, all rights reserved.
In a major speech given at Bloomberg, the British Prime Minister David Cameron tackled the future of the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK)'s relationship with it.
According the Prime Minister, three major challenges exist for the EU:
Firstly, the Eurozone – of which the UK is not a member – lacks the right governance and structures. "Britain is not in the single currency, and we're not going to be. But we all need the Eurozone to have the right governance and structures to secure a successful currency for the long term. And those of us outside the Eurozone also need certain safeguards to ensure, for example, that our access to the Single Market is not in any way compromised," Mr Cameron said.
Secondly, the European competitiveness is plunged into a long crisis as other nations in the world soar. "There are some countries within the EU which are doing pretty well. Taken as a whole, Europe's share of world output is projected to fall by almost a third in the next two decades. This is the competitiveness challenge – and much of our weakness in meeting it is self-inflicted," Mr Cameron explained. "Complex rules restricting our labour markets (…) and excessive regulation," are not "external plague" we cannot heal, the Prime Minister further said.
Thirdly, the gap between the EU and its citizens widens as the lack of democratic accountability is growingly felt, especially in the UK. "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 British leader underlined. "Europe's leaders have a duty to hear these concerns," as "we are seeing this frustration with the EU very dramatically in Britain," he emphasized.
To meet these three major challenges, Mr Cameron proposed five principles for a "new EU" fit for the 21st century:
1) Competitiveness: Completing the single market; Updating the trade deals with the United States, Japan and India; Exempting EU's smallest companies from more EU directives; Creating a leaner, less bureaucratic Union.
2) Flexibility: Accommodating the diversity of EU members, Shifting from the "cumbersome rigidity of a bloc" to "the speed and flexibility of a network"; Ending the talk of two-speed Europe: "all countries (don't) want the same level of integration."
3) Power flow-back: Implementing the Lisbon Treaty (2007) and the promises of the Leaken summit (2001): "power must be able to flow back to Member States"; Realizing that everything cannot be harmonized considering the differences between countries.
4) Accountability: Giving national parliament "bigger and more significant role" in the functioning of the EU.
5) Fairness: Differentiating the single market from the Eurozone: "whatever new arrangements are enacted for the Eurozone, they must work fairly for those inside it and out," and "there is no overwhelming economic reason why the single currency and the single market should share the same boundary."
PM Cameron's speech clearly sets out his vision for the UK and its place in the EU. The Prime Minister calls for "new thinking" to be heard rather than being denounced as "heresy." He stressed "fundamental, far reaching change" is needed built on principles of competitiveness, flexibility, power flowing back to member states, democratic accountability and fairness. He concluded that courage and conviction could deliver a more successful EU "in which the interests and ambitions of all its members can be met," Summing up, Mr Cameron believes that "Britain's national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union and that such a European Union is best with Britain in it,"
Lastly, several years after the Europeans "have had referendums promised – but not delivered," the British leader announced the holding of a national referendum in the UK which will ask the British people whether it stays in or goes out of the EU. However, "while the EU is in flux" and given that the ongoing economic crisis would make "a vote today between the status quo and leaving (…) an entirely false choice", Mr Cameron will "allow some time for that to happen (…) so that when the choice comes it will be a real one." This in-out question will have profound and long-term implications for the UK's future. "If we left the European Union, it would be a one-way ticket, not a return," realistically warned Mr Cameron.
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