The national elections in the United Kingdom on May 07th is a crossroads for the future of the country. There are not only enormous economic implications, but political ones as well at stake. One is the future of the nation and its role within the European Economic Community (EEC). Will Mr. Cameron the incumbent Prime Minister, be able to renegotiate the role of of his country within the EEC or will he end up being the navigator of a long feared Brexit?
Voters throughout the Kingdom upon reelection of the Conservatives known as the Tories in Britain, will be asked in a national referendum whether they wish to remain in the EEC. Another option is to vote for the Labour Party that wishes to strengthen ties with their European neighbors. Investors in the country are becoming increasingly apprehensive.
The fracturing of British politics gives the citizenry in the United Kingdom even more choices, as it is becoming more clear that an outright win by either side is unlikely at this point. Smaller parties will therefore hold the balance of power. These groups will need to be coaxed into a coalition by the party that receives the largest percentage of the vote on May 07th, in order to form a government. At this time both of the two main parties are polling equaling among voters.
The politicians of various parties are attempting to identify where will Britain find it’s place in the 21st century? Along with France, the United Kingdom (UK) is the only other European nation that has aspirations to project power on the world stage. Exactly what role the country will play is the question? The Empire was dismantled in the middle of the last century and the Commonwealth has not been a adequate replacement in the minds of many nationalists within the U.K.
The failure of Britain in its role as a Great Power was largely due to economic weakness. So it is not exactly clear how leaving the EEC will work to the advantage of the country. Outside of the alliance the influence and voice of the UK will not be any louder. This is especially true with declining military budgets and a much less visible diplomatic role in recent years. It has been Germany that has often been forced to reluctantly play the role as an international arbitrator. This is a direct result of the large economic footprint that this country makes not only in Europe, but in the world at large.
The role of two additional political parties to the mix only complicates the issue for voters concerning the issue of EEC membership. The Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats will likely have a say in the position of the new government when it comes to the issue of European integration.
Ed Miliband the present leader of the Labour Party, is opposed to a national referendum on membership or on changes to the role Britain will play in the EEC. His preference is to maintain the present relationship with few modifications, unless there is a dramatic change emanating from the bureaucrats on the mainland.
The issue of continued British participation in the EEC so soon after the vote in Scotland on independence, shows the gamble the Conservatives are willing to take in trying to shape the future destiny of the country. It is again not clear to voters what the expected outcome of a referendum in 2017 will be, if Mr. Cameron maintains his position as Prime Minister.
The likely electoral outcome will have the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Liberal Democrats (LD) come in 3rd and 4th place respectively. The SNP has already stated that it will not support a new Conservative government. Therefore, if the Tories barely win the largest vote share it will the the LD that will determine the national balance of power, or failing that there may well be new elections.
The other option is that a Labour government could be put in power by either the SNP or the LD or possibly both. Of course Nick Clegg the leader of LD has already promised he will not support Labour if it is in concert with the SNP. This alternative will keep things as they are for the near future, but in the long term the issue will come back, once the Conservatives are returned to power.
The more probable result will be the Conservatives remaining in power with the support of the LD which is the current political situation. Although the junior coalition partner is in favor of continued membership in the EEC and is opposed to a national referendum, they will have little choice but to support the Prime Minister, as he moves to a new accommodation with the rest of Europe. This will be regardless of the eventual outcome of the referendum.
However, LD may also attempt to extract some concessions on how the referendum on European membership is conducted. This would include the wording of the ballot and how it is presented to voters. It may also include who is allowed to participate in the vote. As was the case in Scotland last year, when people younger than 18 were allowed to participate. Teenagers are far more likely to wish to maintain ties to Europe.
LD could also insist on playing a part in the negotiations with the EEC. This would promote a better chance for those individuals who favor continued membership, but with some modifications in the relationship. This could well be to the benefit of the Prime Minister Cameron who personally wants the UK to remain part of the EEC.
An alternate Labour government kept in power by SNP will be far more problematic. First the rising voting share that the SNP has been gathering in Scotland, has been mostly at the expense of Labour. Since the goal of SNP is eventual independence despite the outcome of last years vote, it will be a difficult coalition. LD is staunchly in opposition to an independent Scotland. It is important to note that SNP has expressed interest in the concept of an independent Scotland remaining in the EEC, regardless of what occurs with the rest of the UK. To further complicate matters, Mr. Miliband has already stated that he is unwilling to make continuous concessions to SNP to keep a coalition in place.
What various members of the Conservative Party have yet to explain is how departure from the EEC will be to the benefit of the U.K.? It will clearly further divide Europe both diplomatically and economically. The admission of the country to the EEC in 1973, has brought definite trade benefits to the country over the years. The decision to not join the common currency zone and maintaining the pound, has clearly demonstrated the independent course that Britain will take to keep parts of its sovereignty that is deemed vital.
What are the modifications the Conservatives will seek if they are returned to power concerning the EEC? They can only be minimal at best. Over the years Britain has already negotiated issues to their national advantage, as the price for their continued participation. An example of this would be with the EEC policy concerning agriculture. The Tory demand for greater power devolving to national parliaments and new restrictions on migrant benefits coming to Britain, are quite murky in actual electoral promises.
The advantage for Prime Minster Cameron if he is re-elected is few countries on the mainland would actually favor a British withdrawal from the EEC. Smaller countries favor continued participation of the UK because they rely on the British to fight for continuing sovereignty for all member countries within the organization regardless of size.
Italy also prefers that the U.K. remain in the EEC, as a bulwark against the special Franco-German accommodation. The same is true for the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) countries worried about rising German economic hegemony.
The problem for Mr. Cameron is that larger countries like France and Germany feel that the UK already has sufficient carve outs from full British participation in the EEC. German Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande from France are loathe to open up negotiations, in that it might well further weaken the ties that bind the community at large.
Denmark and Ireland have already had referendums concerning their national sovereignty and the movement may well spread, which could lead to a rapid deconstruction of the EEC in its present form. The Germans for example, feel that they have their hands already full with the financial crisis in Greece at the moment.
It is clear that although other European leaders would like to have Britain stay within the framework of the present configuration of the EEC, their tolerance for continuous modification for that membership is rapidly reaching the breaking point. There are too many other pressing issues that demand attention.
These would include the intervention of Russia in the Ukraine, as well as the underlining threat to the Baltic Republics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) and other countries, by their powerful neighbor to the east. This would be in addition to the many different economic and financial issues that are presently raging across the continent of Europe.