British Prime Minister David Cameron recently argued that the UK leaving the EU would be a “denial of our national interest… [unless] your vision of Britain was that we should just withdraw and become a sort of greater Switzerland“. For some, of course, the idea of the UK as a “Greater Switzerland” sounds quite appealing. Others are worried that the terms of the EU debate in Britain seem to be shifting away from “In or Out” and towards “Half-Out or Fully-Out” (whilst Timothy Garton Ash has been arguing for years that the whole of Europe is already a “Greater Switzerland”).
For the third part of our series investigating the UK’s tumultuous relationship with the EU, we spoke last week to Dr Lee Rotherham, author of the book “The EU in a Nutshell“. Dr Rotherham was also the author of a report, published by the TaxPayers’ Alliance in December of last year, looking at which powers the British government might try to repatriate from the EU during any potential treaty renegotiation. It’s interesting to compare this report to the green paper (PDF) recently published by the EU Fresh Start group of British MPs, which also covers similar ground. We’ll be publishing more analysis of this comparison in the report that will follow this series of posts.
Just to make it clear: at the end of this series of posts, we will be compiling a report based on all of the interviews we have conducted. This will contain previously unpublished interviews and will summarise the most interesting points made during the series.
During our interview, we took the opportunity to put a couple of your questions to Dr Rotherham. The first of these came from Jaroslav, who argued that all this talk of “renegotiating” is completely premature. Jaroslav argues that renegotiating is not an option, and that “Britain will have to choose between [staying in the] EU with all its pros and cons, or simply leaving.”
How would Dr Rotherham respond?
Simply saying the UK has to ‘take it or leave it’ is wrong. Clearly, within the existing EU structures, you also have several different forms of association. You have opt-outs on home affairs, Schengen and on the euro. So, variable geometry already exists.
Even outside the EU, there are different forms of relationship; there is actually a section in the Lisbon Treaty which specifically allows for states neighbouring the EU to develop a ‘special relationship’ with the EU, even if those countries are not member-states. You have Switzerland, Norway and Turkey, for example, all with different forms of relationship with the EU and none of whom are EU member-states. There also exists a series of bilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) between the EU and other countries internationally, including Mexico and South Korea, and each of these varies from the others in the details. If you start taking these treaties apart, you find that the Mexican FTA has material on mining, whereas the South Korean one has provisions on motor vehicles. Each FTA caters specifically to the country or region it is signed with. So, there’s a great deal of variety.
Next, we had a comment from Morag, who argued that: “It is essential that the UK clarifies its position with regard to a referendum in Europe BEFORE Scotland decides on the independence referendum. What if Scots voted NO and then the UK pulled out of Europe?“
The issue of where Scotland sits if Scotland goes independent was raised early in the debate, both in terms of legal ramifications and treaty change. If you want to be cynical, then what’s the point of regaining your independence only to hand over your sovereignty to another country? That’s not a particularly ‘Braveheart’ thing to do: gaining your freedom from the English then handing it over to the Holy Roman Empire, to use a 13th Century analogy.
When you start looking into the legal ramifications and the application of the treaties, there are several historical precedents; the Czech/Slovak divorce, for example, or the break-up of Yugoslavia. I would personally imagine that Scotland would assume all the obligations and rights encumbant upon the existing state, including membership of the EU. How many MEPs it had, what voting rights it got, etc., would have to be negotiated. Scotland might get an extra MEP if it were independent, but I believe its voice in the EU would be very much diminished.
What do YOU think? Does the UK have to decide once and for all whether it wants to be “In” or “Out” of the EU? Or is EU membership more flexible than that, with a range of different possible relationships available (from the opt-outs of the UK, Denmark and Sweden to the association agreements of Norway, Switzerland and Turkey). Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.