Muppets ! Is Britain the Waldorf and Statler of Europe?


Avec qui la chancelière allemande Angela Merkel aurait-elle bien pu comparer le Premier ministre britannique David Cameron ? … Contre toute attente, aux bons vieux Statler et Waldorf ! Souvenez-vous : ces deux vieux critiques sont toujours là pour ironiser sur la piètre qualité du Muppet Show du haut de leur loge. Cette comparaison peu flatteuse, rapportée par l’influent journal allemand Der Spiegel, apparaît au moment où le premier ministre fait face à de vives critiques concernant sa politique européenne. Mais cette comparaison est-elle réellement justifiée ? En quoi une éventuelle sortie de la Grande-Bretagne de l’Union européenne serait-elle une entreprise risquée ?


Angela Merkel is said to compare the current British debate on the EU to the heckles of Statler and Waldorf. This unflattering comparison, reported by Germany’s influential news magazine Der Spiegel, comes as the prime minister faces mounting backlash at home over his political approach in Europe. Is Britain the Waldorf and Statler of Europe and would Britain benefit from an exit from the European Union?

“Britain does not dream of some cosy, isolated existence on the fringes of the European Community,” said Margaret Thatcher. But, now it does. Indeed, MPs voted by 304 to zero in July 2013 in favour of a bill proposed by backbencher James Wharton which would force a public vote on the United Kingdom’s EU membership by 2017. The question on the ballot paper is: “Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?” Britain’s reluctance about Europe isn’t new. Find out what British people said about the European Union in 1967. But the speech that Cameron pronounced in January is a première for a key-speech on Europe. In 1988, Margaret Thatcher made a famous speech in Bruges, Tony Blair did so in Warsaw in 2000. In 1946 Winston Churchill called for the creation of “United States of Europe” in Zurich (to which Britain was not to belong).
The conservative leader is subjected to pressure from the large eurosceptic wing of his party that is worried about the increasingly threatening competition from the UK Independence Party (UKIP). Indeed, according to a Yougov survey, UKIP is now a force to be reckoned with. The poll puts UKIP in third place before the Lib Dems. On the other hand, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband are convinced that the referendum should be held “when a serious change to Europe’s rules, affecting the UK, next arises”.
In his january speech, David Cameron reckoned that there are three challenges for the European Union: the euro-zone crisis, the lack of competitiveness faced with the rivalry of the emerging countries and the gap between the European Union and its citizens. Europe is no longer the thriving economic club that Britain joined in 1973, as the euro-zone crisis has shown Europe’s lack of dynamism. Britain could gain sovereignty with a British exit. It would save about £8 billion a year in net budget contributions. Here are the net contribution in the EU budget in 2011:
net contributions
Some irksome regulations like the EU’s renewable-energy directive or the common agricultural policy could be ditched. As a consequence, its food and energy could be cheaper. Some MPs demand the repatriation of a certain number of powers from Brussels to London. A group of conservative MPs, called “Fresh Start” was created and maintains that it has the support of around 120 MPs. Moreover, London’s financial district would look to past glories. Without the EU rules, hedge funds that have left London might be lured back.

However, these gains would be outweighed by the costs of a British exit, which would decrease trade with a market that accounts for half of Britain’s exports. For example, dairy exports would incur an import tax of 55% to reach the EU market! Like the European Free Trade Association, Britain would have to renegotiate dozens of bilateral trade deals from a weaker position. Moreover, Britain would have less military clout. For the Americans, a disengaged-from-the-EU Britain would be a less useful ally. According to Barack Obama, “the UK’s participation in the EU is an expression of its influence and its role in the world, as well as, obviously, a very important economic partnership.”

No country has ever left the EU. Although an exit is possible, few British Eurosceptics want it. As is shown by the evolution of the votes since 2010, fewer and fewer British people want an European Union exit because Britain couldn’t get similar treatment from neither the Norwegian nor the Swiss hallway option. Britain would be without landmarks. So leaving the EU would be a reckless gamble.


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