Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Football or Rugby?

David Cameron has promised a referendum on Britain's EU membership within five years if he is reelected. Although he will give British euroskeptics their say, he will campaign wholeheartedly for continued UK membership but on somewhat altered terms.

The European action was predictably negative. Laurent Fabius, who has evidently been honing his wit for the occasion, came out with this remark for the ages:
“You cannot do Europe à la carte,” said Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France. “Imagine the E.U. was a soccer club: once you’ve joined up and you’re in this club, you can’t then say you want to play rugby.”
No, but you can change the rules of soccer, and the rules of European membership have been continually and some would say surreptitiously modified over the entire history of the Union. Indeed, rules-changing has been the EU's sine qua non. But then again, what polity has endured for any length of time without adapting its rules for any number of reasons, some good, some bad.

Cameron's move should intensify the Eurodebate that has been raging for several years now. The next year promises to be a fascinating time for Eurowatchers.

UPDATE: Kathleen McNamara sees Cameron's proposal as a "non-starter" but also takes it for granted that the tighter political integration without which the EU cannot in her view survive is in fact achievable. German voters may now be as euroskeptic as UK voters, as German elections this fall will likely show. Cameron may just be the advance guard of a movement whose strength and transcontinental variety have yet to be gauged.


bernard said...

I am not quite sure I understand what you mean when you say german elections will reveal a euroskeptic electorate. Is some party running against Europe in Germany? are the CDU-CSU, SPD, FDP or the Greens Eurosceptic? Have you in mind a big success for Die Linke?

Art Goldhammer said...

I mean that many Germans, perhaps a majority, are adamantly opposed to the kinds of changes in Europe's constitution and institutions that are probably necessary for the currency union to survive, including fiscal transfers, harmonized social policies and labor regulations, mutualization of the debt, and substantial transfer payments. To be sure, similar majorities support the EU nominally and enjoy the benefits of membership. It's just that they are loath to pay for them. Just as voters everywhere these days are loath to pay for the benefits of government.

bernard said...

Ok, thanks, that much I understand and can agree with and would even argue that it is also a distant consequence of the collapse of the east block, the existence of which in some ways was contributing to keeping capitalism honest so-to-speak, but I am not sure how it can have a political translation in the elections unless, let us say, the present ruling CDU-CSU makes it a major theme of the election and registers a good win. I am a "little" far from Germany and more generally from Europe these days (one reason why I read your blog avidly!) but I was under the impression that the ruling coalition was not progressing in elections, rather the contrary. Am I wrong?

Art Goldhammer said...

No, you're not wrong. And I have no problem if European leaders want to bash Cameron, who is certainly no prize. But he is at least more forthright about their dilemma than they are. If they were to own up to the euroambivalence in their own countries, they would seem as inconsistent as he is, and as prone to special pleading on behalf of their own national interests. That was my only point. I wasn't looking to election results.

DavidinParis said...

While Cameron is certainly playing with an explosive and potentially destructive issue, and while France and Germany can pretend to be indignant, we have to acknowledge that there is a fundamental divide in the notion of 'business as usual' when it comes to the Anglo-Saxon versus Continental (mostly West European) approach. In the almost 7 years I have been in France (as an expat from the USA), I have been astonished, annoyed, angry, exhausted, feeling cheated and generally become mistrustful of my colleagues here. They indeed change the rules all the time, often retroactively, and almost delight in this manner of outwitting you, in much the same way a kid changes rules of a card game in order to win (the UK kid screaming "that's not fair!"). This behavioral or social standard needs to shift of else the UK will always be there wagging its collective finger at what they consider to be poor form of their continental colleagues while the continent will assume that British mad cow disease has had long lasting effects that must underlie the problem.

brent said...

Fabius's bon mot offers some amusing overtones, such as: these Brits want to substitute the simplistic, almost thuggish Rugby for the elegant, geometrical art form that is soccer; and thus, Anglo-Saxon diplomacy is so crude, not like the deft continental version. Or perhaps, I'm talking to you, Brits, using sports metaphors so you'll be able to follow. A rhetorical sally worthy of ... Villepin?