When it comes to Europe and even more to the question of the European Union, you will always get a questionable reaction from a Brit. It has always been an awkward relationship, filled with anxiety and distrust.
Never really have the British people felt a shiver running down their back on hearing the vibrant and dramatic sounds of Beethoven’s famous “Freude schöner Götterfunken”, the official hymn of the Union, the official hymn of peace on the continent. It took Britain until 1973 to take part in this holy project. Before that, in the beginning of the 1960’s they were not quite sure (as they were slowly but surely noticing their grand empire collapsing) and then finally snubbed by the staunch island-hater Charles De Gaulle, who detested the idea of the British being part of the European project.
Right from the beginning the British were merely motivated by a narrow economic prospectus that was promised on joining: The access to the benefits of European trade. Never were they very joyful – as the eurosceptic Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg pointed out in a speech at the Oxford Union – when it came to the subsidy regimes aiming to help French farmers or when the once so grand fishing resources of the coast of Britain were sold off to industrial Spanish fishing. Britons agricultural and fishing industry, once the most prosperous in Europe, was now being held back by Brussels brutal bureaucrats.
Furthermore many Britons feel like their institutions of government are being gobbled up up by a power grabbing, supra-national, and economically morbid arrangement from the continent, which they never got the chance to vote on and which never would established in the first place had somebody indeed asked their opinion. This entirely followed the steady creep of EU regulations into absurdity, such as the length and size of a cucumber or in what angle it is allowed to be bent, causing resentment against Brussels. This became even worse, when EU powers were tip toeing into the British judiciary system.
More importantly: Britons do not have the same emotional connection to the European Union as French and Germans. It is not a peace project for them, guaranteeing that the until then bloodiest continent would not see war for decades, maybe centuries to come. For London, conflict on the continent was often a useful occurrence in its balance-of-power game.
These are all points that non-Britons have to take in when trying to understand the Euroscepticism of the British people. It is in no way defending it though.
On November 10, 2015, David Cameron finally gave a hugely anticipated speech at Chatham House in London on the demands his government would make to the EU, if a Brexit was to be avoided. So, what would the points be that the EU would be held ransom by? What would the arguments be to get the British to vote for a stay in the EU in 2017?
Before he listed the demands, the Prime Minister declared the referendum on the EU as the most important vote for the British people in their lifetime. He declared that the Britons always were all about “head not heart” when it came to the EU. He stated he clearly wants the Union to be an “instrument to amplify our nations power” and reminded us that there is a close link to our own prosperity and security to the prosperity and security of the continent.
The points he then demanded, which had been written in a letter to the head of the EU council, Donald Tusk, were the following:
1. Protecting the single market for Britain and others outside of the Eurozone and therefore protecting the London financial center.
2. Writing competitiveness into the DNA of the whole EU, by cutting regulations for businesses.
3. Exempting Britain from an “ever closer Union” as was declared in the treaty of Lisbon.
4. Restricting EU migrants access to in-work benefits, such as tax credits.
These points will be discussed at a summit taking place 17.-23. November 2015 between Britain and EU diplomats. Donald Tusks team will act as a mediator, or as the Daily Telegraph puts it, as a “priest taking the confession.”
In times like these, when the Euro-crisis in Greece seems to be replaced by the refugee crisis, Britons feel they have no benefit of being part of a Union in which they supposedly have to pay for Eurozone countries debt, they hope for a EU in which the non-Eurozone countries are exempted from the failures of that market. Memories of empire also play a part in this deceit, when some Tory Eurosceptics even dream of rebuilding the old empire as an alternative to the EU, in the form of an Anglophone or Commonwealth trade block. This of course being absolutely delusional, as no other country shows the slightest interest in falling back into the old pattern they so hardly fought to be liberated of.
It will be up to the British voters in 2017, to decide whether David Cameron has won his demands from the EU and, really, to decide whether they are more heads than heart, or rather more sensible and less delusional when it comes to a prosperous future. It will be a test of how well the leaders in London can sell the idea of the European Union.