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Cameron's Referendum Is Not About Making Britain Great Again, It Is About Germany's Growing Role In the EU

13/05/2016 15:10 | Updated 13 May 2016

As an ordinary British citizen similar to the 16% of the voters unsure whether they should support Britain staying in the European Union or join the camp of the anti-EU people like Boris Johnson, or like the 40% of the voters who would not want to change Britain's status quo without compelling reason, you probably have no idea why you were suddenly proposed to vote on "Brexiting". What such terrible things have happened since 1975, or could happen now. should you, after all, chose to vote to remain a member of the European Family? Many representatives of British big business do not understand why Britain would even contemplate leaving the EU, given all the economic privileges it receives from the membership, such as moving goods, capital, services and people rather freely across the world. They claim that the benefits that Britain gains from such a free trade regime are much higher than the estimated £18 billion paid to Brussels annually for Britain's membership in the organization. The Central London property market is also reacting to a Brexit speculative effect, with big investors being hesitant to buy new properties in such a risky economic environment, to say the least. French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron warned, for example, that as a result of Brexit, "Britain would struggle to regain access to the EU's single market and would lose its negotiating power in talks to protect its ailing steel industry from Chinese competition". Macron was immediately supported by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble who was being more frank by famously saying that "Berlin would be a tough negotiator if the UK voted to leave the EU and that there would be no easy trade deal between the two". And why the devil would Mr. Cameron shoot himself in the foot anyway, by announcing the June referendum after it turns out that, despite having risked a hung parliament and been subjected to an enormous pressure from the Scots in May 2015, the Tories had won a decisive parliamentary majority?

It may be much easier to understand the fuss over the upcoming referendum, though, if you are David Cameron. Indeed, Cameron managed to form the first Conservative majority government since 1992, with the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) having become the third most popular force in the British parliament after the Tories and the Scots. Yet UKIP currently constitutes the leading British force in the European Parliament, where Laborites and Conservatives rank only second and third, thus illustrating how powerful the phenomenon of Nigel Farage actually is across the country. Hating this fact does not make it any less truthful, hence the reaction such as that of Mr. Schauble.

Right wing sentiments have become even more profound when it turned out that many people in the Prime Minister's own party, not to mention the Cabinet, joined the pro-Brexit campaign. "The European Union, despite the undoubted idealism of its founders and the good intentions of so many leaders, has proved a failure on so many fronts," or "The euro has created economic misery for Europe's poorest people. European Union regulation has entrenched mass unemployment. EU immigration policies have encouraged people traffickers and brought desperate refugee camps to our borders" are just a few comments on behalf of the UK's acting Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove reflecting the most popular Eurosceptic ideas in Britain. It is difficult to assume that London's official position can be any different from that of the Lord Chancellor. But then it has also been evident, at least for any other member of the European Union, that Britain was already exempt from the euro and Schengen areas at the time of negotiating the recent EU-UK deal, and that the encouraging references to ever-closer union in the European Treaties did not apply to the UK per se. The newly agreed EU-UK deal only reinforced the existing rules. As regards illegal immigration and other security related issues that Europe is currently faced with, they constitute a purely moral and humanitarian dilemma as every European state has its own immigration regulations that are generally compatible with the Union laws, including those on welcoming individuals who present threat to public security. Therefore, blaming the European Union regulations for the sharp rise in crime rates or the number of unwanted migrants, who apparently do not enter the European countries from outer space, means to shift one's own responsibility onto Brussels. Britain has even been exempt from the proposed financial pay-off clause of the European Commission's "Dublin asylum regulation", which urges the countries to pay €250,000 for every relocated asylum seeker that they refuse to take.

Nevertheless, the fears exist that, were the United Kingdom to leave the European Union altogether, Germany would automatically become Europe's single hegemon. Whether such an assumption is well founded is a good question, since it has long been reported that Angela Merkel was expecting the British Prime Minister to support her ambitious project of creating a single European army in return for his renegotiating of Britain's position and privileges as a full pledged member of the European Union. Peter Foster and his colleagues from the British newspaper The Telegraph were able to access the paper drawn up by Europe and Defense policy committees of Merkel's party that calls for a permanent EU military headquarters, combined weapons procurement and a shared military doctrine. According to some reports, these initiatives include relaxing Germany's restrictions about deploying troops in peacetime within the country, introduced after 1945 when Germans pledged to turn away from militarism. But in the words of Tory MP Sir Bill Cash, "Britain had fought Germany in two world wars to keep its freedoms and was not going to surrender them to a German-run Brussels now".

There is another aspect where David Cameron may view Germany as a competitive force. It has to do with the German Chancellor's supportive statements on the new Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which could reportedly boost the EU and U.S. economies by $100 billion annually each. Prior to visiting Germany in April 2016, the U.S. president Barack Obama praised Angela Merkel as "courageous" over her refugees' policy and stressed that the Chancellor was one of his closest partners and a friend. In his interview to the Bild newspaper, Obama said: "Germany remains one of America's closest and strongest allies - an indispensable partner not only for our own security and those of our NATO allies, but also for the security, the prosperity and the dignity of people across the whole world", adding: "With Chancellor Merkel, Germany has raised the stakes and plays an even bigger role on the international stage". He particularly stressed Merkel's strong leadership in maintaining European unity in the face of the Ukrainian crisis. And while it is commonly believed that the U.S. enjoys a "special relationship" with Britain, Germany has become Washington's "indispensable partner", whose credibility only grows further under Merkel. One can, of course, question how wise was Merkel's idea of welcoming hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East to Germany amid the Syrian turmoil, but Berlin definitely proved to be a reliable and compassionate partner in the eyes of Washington - no global American initiative has ever been resisted by Germany since after the Iraq war, when the former Chancellor Gerhard Schroder resisted the U.S. and UK led multinational military invasion of Baghdad. During the 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Germany was called a "partnership in leadership". Even during the most recent diplomatic scandal between the two countries, when the C.I.A. was famously accused of spying on the German government, including on Merkel herself, the Chancellor's reaction was quite unique: "Viewed with good common sense, spying on friends and allies is a waste of energy. In the Cold War it may have been the case that there was mutual mistrust. Today, we live in the 21st century". She insisted that Germany and the U.S. remain close partners and that "nothing about this will change". It is enough to listen to the statements by some British politicians in the wake of Obama's recent visit to London, viewed by many in Britain as Washington's intervention in the referendum debate, to see how different the U.S. special partner may presumably view the Washington-London relationship in the light of Merkel's increasing influence on Brussels and the transatlantic dynamic.

As opposed to Bill Cash, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, Cameron has always insisted on Britain staying in the European Union, making himself psychologically available to his counterparts in both Berlin and Washington for negotiations and deals. But he desperately needed the votes of the UKIP supporters, so that the Tories led by the Prime-Minister himself would be viewed as the only force within the UK Parliament that the Americans would need to negotiate with. As far as his party colleagues are happy to support him, it will be harder for the U.S. to ignore British interests in favor of those of Brussels. The central question of the whole referendum debate, at least for Cameron, is not whether Britain votes "yes" for exiting the European Union. If it does, it may well happen that Germany would become Europe's single most powerful hegemon. It is about whether in the next five to ten years it will be effectively Britain's Europe and not a Germany's one. It seems that the decision is Cameron's and one should hope he will not blow it off. After all, the idea to hold the referendum belongs to him.

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