London resident and member of the New York Bar John Nucciarone breaks down where the UK’s European strategy went so wrong.
David Cameron’s negotiations with the EU in early 2016 were both rushed and amateurish. Discussions should have commenced under his first mandate and the obtaining of emergency breaks on free movement within the European Union should have been made part of broader EU-wide reform.
External EU border security, the allocation of refugees between member states, the 3% of GDP deficit rule and Euro were all issues which Italy, Greece, Poland and the eastern Europeans were seeking and needed support with. Served well by London’s employment market, these same member states, along with the Baltics, could and should have been recruited to persuade the EU power brokers that emergency breaks on the mobility right were more than a reasonable demand by the UK.
Cameron could easily have taken the position that the banking crisis of 2008 and the fall of Communism were both epic events which resulted in a historical movement of peoples into both London and the rest of the UK. The emergency breaks he sought would be aimed at the tail end of such times and not free movement in general. Helping the UK obtain emergency breaks would be in the long term interests of these member states and would be more than a suitable price for the UK helping resolve the issues of immediate concern to them. It is just such an alliance that could have taken the reins in negotiations with Paris, Berlin, and Brussels.
If the Tories had kept to this type of traditional British foreign policy, we would not be looking at Brexit, a Salvini, Le Pen, an AFD electoral alliance or the Hungarian and Polish governments on the sidelines waiting for someone to talk to.
Misguided and old-style European nation-state leadership
The gatekeepers of the de facto EU political leadership structure, however, are the ones that created the conditions that led to these developments.
The European Union will eventually tear itself apart if Brussels, Paris, and Berlin continue to think that every economic, political, and cultural policy without exception could or should apply in the same manner and form to every member state despite the different social consequences for the various member states.
Liberalism, multilateralism and leadership are not found in expecting societies which have come out of 45 years of communism to react in the same manner as western European societies when dealing with refugees.
Nor were these progressive characteristics present when the EU scolded Poland for its use of coal as an energy source but stayed silent when Germany began to do so after the 2008 banking crisis. France, which preaches to Italy when it comes to refugee allocation but then does not take in the numbers to which it agreed, cannot then expect to be listened to by its Italian partner.
Moreover, France, which has an economy reliant upon public spending to function, cannot but raise eyebrows when it advocates an EU Finance Minister, just as Spain does, when with its youth unemployment rate of over 32% and large numbers of citizens searching for work in London, makes noises about joining the Paris-Berlin alliance.
The return of old Europe
Fanning the flames of nationalism in Europe has generally not ended well and this is what Stephen Bannon, the right-wing American political activist, is poised to do with his academy in Italy.
Bannon's goal of dismantling the EU may have unintended consequences, as European revolutions often do. It may see judicial independence in Poland further eroded and Viktor Orban moving to reduce economic freedoms in Hungary after already curtailing political ones by his attacks on state media and academic freedom.
For these reasons, a Europe in which populism and nationalism are becoming mainstream is not in the interests of the UK.
The future viability of the EU rests with both a French realisation that this project cannot be a search for France’s lost glory on the world stage and a German acceptance that the Eurozone has provided it with an inherent economic advantage that needs to be addressed.
The British would do well to realise that they cannot view the EU solely in economic terms and as a source of cheap labour for its hospitality and other low wage industries.
When Harold McMillan decided it was in the United Kingdom’s interests to join the European Economic Community he was simply pursuing 400 years of English and British foreign policy of ensuring that no one country dominate the Continent. At that time he had France in mind; things have not necessarily changed since then.