We need to start negotiating with British eurosceptics.

Judging by the Tory annual conference, it seems fair to say that Britain is heading, one way or the other, towards a referendum on the European Union. Of course, there’s still a huge debate to be had over what exactly Brits will be voting for: a simple in/out, or to endorse a new form of membership negotiated by Cameron, or maybe even the biggest cop-out of all, a “mandate” to renegotiate. Whatever way it goes, Britain’s membership is up for a fundamental debate.

Pro-Europeans should not be afraid of this. In fact, we should welcome it, for two reasons. The first is that there is no universal agreement as to how this shapes up. Don’t forget, eurosceptics are terrified of losing a referendum in Britain. But more importantly, the future of the EU needs to be endorsed democratically by the people it effects. People say that issue should be decided in a general election, but that is nonsense, especially in a country that uses the monkey-throwing-faeces-at-a-wall voting system of first past the post. The people need to be consulted, and not just in Britain.

It’s time that the real options are put to the people in each country: a federal union based around the euro with mutualised debt and federal controls on overspending (including ceding the right to borrow), an outer “common market” ring which has single market access but no commissioners or access to EU funds like CAP, and exit from European integration itself. All voted on the same day in each member state, with the exception of Germany which, as the one vital nation, will have to vote earlier.

Such an idea tends to horrify my fellow pro-Europeans, especially those in Brussels, but the reality is that this union does not belong to the Berlaymont. It can only exist with the consent of the people, and that includes eurosceptics too.

One thought on “We need to start negotiating with British eurosceptics.

  1. I tend to agree with those sentiments.

    But a referendum can be an ugly thing. For those of us on the stay-in-the-EU side, the temptation will be to concentrate not on the positives of membership, but to hype-up the potentially apocalyptic consequences of exit (a task made easier by the euroskeptics general recklessness and blasé assumptions about the UK being able to negotiate good terms for trade and investment outside the core EU).

    We’ve seen how referendums on Europe have been won and lost in Ireland. The British won’t need to take many lessons to know that when facts are contested, and public knowledge lacking, the most effective tactic can often be the scare tactic. So much as I agree that EU membership should rest on consent, I’m not at all sure that a referendum will result either way in educated consent, or that it will allow the pro-membership side to effectively advocate all the benefits of membership. Keep up the blogging!

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