You are here:   Angela Merkel > On Europe, Nothing Less than Treaty Change will do

Three men (and a woman) in a boat: David Cameron, Angela Merkel, and the Swedish and Dutch prime ministers Fredrik Reinfeldt and Mark Rutte take to the water during the June 2014 summit at the Swedish PM's summer residence in Harpsund (credit: Getty)

For MPs and their party leaders, the summer break brings its temptations, not least to put the lows of the parliamentary year behind them. Will they brush aside the recent elections when voters gave the thumbs down to the three main parties? UKIP, the newcomer, gave both Tories and Labour a run for their money: topping the European poll, coming second in the Newark by-election and polling a decent 17 per cent in the local elections. The Lib Dems were despatched to the bottom of the list, as their socialism at home and EU-ism abroad left voters cold. Labour, though it did win the council elections, saw its overall vote share go down and may have too little momentum for a clear victory in 2015. The Tories lost out to Labour in London, Labour to UKIP elsewhere. But however you look at it, this was a reaffirmation that the majority of voters in this country, whatever their party politics, are conservative by disposition and eurosceptic in view. If the Conservative promise to redraw the boundaries of the European state is to carry the eurosceptic vote, what direction should David Cameron's renegotiation, a number one priority, take?

First, he will need to convince many conservatives that the changes on which he is intent are no mere window dressing. Even the most loyal party members told their candidates — I was one — that UKIP had a better story to tell. The Prime Minister, they advised, should listen to UKIP. Was it, they asked, "realistic" to think the Germans would give way to us? What power could we bring to overcome Europe's entrenched interests? For others, Europe had gone too far for reform — too far, probably, to do anything about it other than to leave. My interlocutors were no swivel-eyed loons, but the smart Londoners who told that story from the well-heeled London suburbs. And London was not even a UKIP stronghold. Some were prepared to give the Conservatives the benefit of the doubt and to the European votes added a number of consolation prizes in council elections at the expense of the Lib Dems, turning yellow council seats blue in the leafier parts of Redbridge or Clapham Common.

Farther into central London these voices could also be found, in the expensive urban streets that intersperse the Stalinist postwar estates of inner London. Here too could be found eurosceptics from further afield: Asians and Africans from former colonies who settled proudly in Britain in the postwar decades, but whose families now lament that the country's unique characteristics, the rewards and quality of life it brought to ordinary people for hard work, enterprise and ambition, have been lost, to all but millionaires. Neighbourhoods are heaving under the strains of overdevelopment; schools, hospitals and transport systems are buckling under the pressures of overcrowding; the quality of life for which they and the country pay is being lost.

The message voters sent was even more pronounced from the regions: UKIP stacking up the votes, Tories holding reasonably well with some losses, Labour too, the Lib Dems collapsing. From the south-east region, the country's most celebrated eurosceptics, UKIP leader Nigel Farage and Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, topped their party lists. Hannan's address from Southampton captured the excitement, rebellion and change which was costing others their seats. In the hours and days to come, we would learn that our voters were not alone. Rather, Britain's sneeze infected many voters in the EU's founder countries. Significant numbers do not like what they have at present: they want to be dealt a fair hand and to have their priorities recognised and conceded. That means a Europe of sovereign nations must be on the cards.

View Full Article
Yugo Kovach
July 9th, 2014
8:07 AM
To merely tinker with the EU accord on the free movement of people will paradoxically result in an ever closer union. We now know you can buy your way into the UK by purchasing a passport from the Maltese government. We also know that the route into the UK for Moldovans is an easily acquired Romanian passport. Ditto for Bosnian Croats, via Zagreb. Then there is the amnesty granted by the Spanish government to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, the first step towards Spanish citizenship and the right to reside anywhere in the EU. Spain also freely hands out citizenship to Latin Americans.Then there are the EU states most geographically exposed to illegal immigrants. They will demand EU-wide burden sharing. it's time to choose how to regulate immigration. Either opt out of the EU accord on the free movement of people or seek an EU policy on non-EU immigrants, asylum seekers, amnesties and passport policy. It's either looser or closer.

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.