Once again, the UK is being extremely silly when it comes to the important topic of Europe – a shame for all those of us who think a strong UK presence in the EU is important. This time around, the British Prime Minister David Cameron has been opposing the nomination of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission, arguing that he is too much of a ‘Brussels insider’ to be able to make the necessary reforms to the EU in the coming years.
This was a ridiculous platform on which to base his argument – of course Juncker is a Brussels insider, just like the previous President Jose Manuel Barroso was, and just like the next President of the Commission will be. They’re all Brussels insiders, that’s practically a requirement of the job – to take on Juncker on that basis was always going to be a losing battle, and one which has lost Cameron much respect among other European leaders.
That loss of respect was shown in the final vote on the Juncker nomination – 26 votes in favor, only 2 against, from the UK itself and Hungary. This massive defeat, with only a fairly marginal right-wing country behind the UK, makes it much harder for Cameron to have a leading role in the very reforms he is trying to promote over the next few years. And all of it was done just to gain a little extra support from Eurosceptics in the British Conservative party and the UK electorate.
It may seem like those Eurosceptics lost the battle – Juncker will almost certainly be the next President, after all. And yet, they may have taken a large step towards winning the war – with Cameron losing influence in Europe, it will be easier for the Eurosceptics to convince the public to vote for Britain to leave the EU in a few year’s time. There may well be a referendum on that exact issue in 2017 – the Conservatives have promised to hold one if re-elected next year, and there is a fairly good chance that other parties will promise the same so as not be left behind in the electoral race.
This would be a huge tragedy. The UK has long had a somewhat combative relationship with the rest of the EU, but this is a good thing – the EU is, as mentioned above, full of insiders who all have the same opinions. Having a grumpy old uncle like the UK on the sidelines is actually good for them, it provides useful criticism and can help rein in the worst excesses of groupthink. In return, the EU has done a lot of good for the UK, even if many British citizens don’t realize it – it has made the country more multicultural, made the people of the UK more educated about the rest of Europe, and allowed quick and easy trade. This has been a big part of helping London to become the most important city in the continent and one of the most important in the world.
For this relationship to end would be bad for everyone. The UK would lose a substantial part of its world influence without being part of the European bloc, as well as losing all of that preferential trading with other European countries. Meanwhile, the EU would lose a large chunk of it’s population (the UK has 70 million people, 13% of the EU’s 505 million citizens), as well as saying goodbye to one of the more moderate countries on a continent that is increasingly falling under the influence of extremist right-wing parties.
Consequently, it is highly important for both sides to work to repair this damage over the next few years. The UK must accept that it cannot always be center stage and bend the rest of the EU to its will; but the other countries of the EU must also be willing to make a few concessions to please their grouchy neighbor – it may seem painful or unfair to do so at times, but it will ultimately be in the best interests of everyone in the Union.