Friday, June 10, 2005

In It But Not Of It: Britain And The EU Crisis

Well, this just continues, as European politics often do, to get more and more complicated. Now it seems that Jacques Chirac and Gerhardt Schroeder are trying to pressure the British and Tony Blair into making budget concessions, including a 4.5 billion euro rebate that they recieve each year.

Read the budget story at the BBC.
Also, consult this handy "Q&A" about the European budget.

There are a few things at work here. First, Chirac and Schroeder have little political capital to play with either at home or abroad. Chirac's 2002 election was questionable as his only opponend was far-right nutjob Jean-Marie Le Pen. More recently, the defeat of the EU constitutional referendum in France has made his lame-duck status even more acute. Schroeder also faces a significant challenge, as does his Social Democrat Party (SDU). The SDU lost a key sub-federal election in North Rhine-Westphalia to the Christian Democrats, the party who had ruled Germany from 1949 until Schroeder took over. So it seems to me that neither of these people have much room to ask anything of anyone, especially Tony Blair who just won an unprecedented third term as P.M. and who will soon assume the EU presidency.

Another dynamic here is, as in most economic situations, who is getting and who is giving. It is the poorer countries in the EU such as Portugal, Greece and (questionably after the last ten years) Ireland who take the most in development funds and contribute the least. It is the richer countries such as France, Germany and the U.K. who give the most. When this rebate was negotiated, Britain was the third poorest country in the EU (the year was 1984). Through the pressure of Margaret Thatcher, the rebate was gained. Now, Britain is in a better spot, and it seems time to let it go.

All of this again calls into question the position of Britain in the EU alliance. It semed that, at least for a time and especially when Blair was first elected, that the "Euroskeptics" who ruled the roost in the Thatcher and Major years were going by the wayside and that Britain was taking steps toward Europe. Given the recent controversies, coupled with the continuing question of Turkey joining the EU (they are already NATO members), Britain's position seems unsure. Will Britain maintain as part of the alliance or will the forces of Euroskepticism take over.

One is reminded of the musing of Winston Churchill that "Britain is in Europe, but not of Europe." Is there something inherently oppositional in the British system/psyche/consciousness against European unity? Is this necessarily bad?

This will develop as Britain takes the reins of Europe. Watch and learn and it will change again.

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