The 2013/01/03 at 08:35
Stéphanie Salti, à Londres
Clearly all futures for Britain are imaginable. This is the phrase uttered by British Prime Minister David Cameron to explicitly confirm, in mid-December, the possibility that the United Kingdom may exit the European Union. The Prime Minister nevertheless immediately followed up the declaration by a specification that this option is not what he prefers. This confirmation punctuates a series of wrong notes spiking the relationship between Great Britain and Europe in recent months. In December 2011, David Cameron drew unanimous criticism in his homeland after rejecting the European budget treaty entrenching the “golden rule”. Ever since, he has toned down his approach. As a defender of the interests of the London financial market, the renowned City, the Prime Minister has even declared himself in favour of reinforced supervision of Eurozone banks, in the context of negotiations on the banking union during the EU summit in Brussels in mid-December.
But while Cameron’s tone may have changed, concerns about the importance of the City in the new European map have not entirely disappeared: in a report published on the eve of the European summit, the Chamber of Lords issued a warning on the importance, for the UK, not to give up efforts to defend the interests of the London financial market. The British Prime Minister’s unwavering stances then followed. Also of note is that Britain’s isolation in the past has been overtaken by the rallying together of a number of countries: Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark have thus extended support to the British demand for cuts to the European budget.
Source: The Economist
The difficult relations between Britain and the European Union are perceived in different ways in the business world. At the yearly conference of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the body’s President Sir Roger Carr reminded that Europe represented half of British export: “It’s like many relationships – can’t live with you, can’t live without you – but somehow the partnership continues to survive.” Meanwhile, the body representing the interests of British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has multiplied opinion polls amongst its members to find out how they feel about EU relations: in July 2012, almost 85 % of the 2,000 businesses surveyed declared that they no longer wished to be part of the European Union, while over one-half consider the organisation of a referendum on the matter crucial in the mid-term. Media and economic commenters also remain divided: a recent article in the economic daily The Financial Times underlined that Britain’s withdrawal from the EU would be tantamount to a puzzle with a piece missing.
The question of the referendum, a key issue during the campaign for the next general elections in 2015, springs up regularly in debates. The latest surveys conducted in the lead-up to the European summit in mid-December clearly revealed that over 56 % of the British would like their country to leave the EU. The political sphere is similarly extremely divided: on the opposite end of the spectrum from the most Euro-sceptical Conservatives, the Labour Party continues to put up a fight: Ed Milliband, Leader of the Labour Party, recently declared that leaving the EU would be an economic mistake and “a betrayal of our national interest.
David Cameron, on the other hand, does not wish to organise a referendum but would be in favour of a vote on redefining the relations between London and Brussels. The British Prime Minister is to pronounce, in mid-January, an important speech on the subject. Delayed time and time again, this speech is expected to describe how he views the role of Britain outside an integrated Eurozone.