Interview to professor Tim Oliver

10-12-2015 21:48


In 2016, United Kingdom will realize an referendum about European Union very important for the future of Europe and country. Professor of London School of Economics, Tim Oliver, explains to OLHAR DIREITO next steps of prime-minister and position of new Labour party leader. The referendum should be the last big victory for David Cameron. 


"David Cameron would like to conclude the renegotiation and referendum as soon as possible"


What will be the next steps of David Cameron to negotiate new terms with European Union?

Having set out his aims for a renegotiated UK-EU relationship, Cameron has now to finalize the details. In some areas this should not be a problem, but he faces two problems. First, there is a clear objection by some member states to his proposals to restrict access to benefits for EU migrants. This will take some time to reach an agreement over. Second, Cameron would like to conclude the renegotiation and referendum as soon as possible. But the renegotiation will take longer than he wanted and it is unlikely the legislation will be ready for him to hold a referendum next spring. The earliest referendum date is likely to be the autumn of 2016. Cameron therefore does not want the renegotiation to conclude too early as that leaves too much time before a referendum for critics and events to unpick it. 

The new terms includes a strategy to fight terrorism?

This has not come up as a clear issue for renegotiation. The UK-EU relationship on security matters is closer than most British people would realize. UK authorities cooperate with the security services of other EU member states and EU institutions over matters of common concern

France and Germany should leave their position of leadership and include United Kingdom in every summit?

The place of Britain in the Franco-German relationship has long been a difficult one. Accommodating Britain in a trilateral relationship could be one way in which the UK is made to feel that it is not excluded by France and Germany. But to some extent the UK is already included. France has used the UK to balance against German neutrality in foreign, security and defence matters. Germany has used the UK to balance against France’s economic outlook. France and Germany have worked together to balance the UK’s objections to European integration. The inclusion of the UK in the summits could take this further, but it would require Britain to show a degree of commitment that it is unlikely to show. The history of reconciliation after WWII, WWI and the 1870 war is not there. The rest of the EU would also be suspicious of a trilateral relationship that tried to run the EU, something that has long cast a shadow over the Franco-German relationship. The Franco-German axis does struggle to provide the leadership the EU needs, so something may have to change to reflect this. Including the UK is unlikely to be the way forward. 

In your opinion United Kingdom should integrate Eurozone and Schengen to be accepted by most of European countries?

Opinion polling shows next to no support for the idea of the UK joining the Euro. Events in Paris and the migration crisis mean Schengen is not likely either. The UK will therefore not be joining either the Euro or Schengen for a long time, so these are not options for building relations with the rest of the EU. 

The recent problems in Europe (crisis in Greece, refugees, terrorism) show that Cameron´s position is correct?

Depends on what you mean by ‘Cameron’s position’. Many other governments agree with some of the thinking behind Cameron’s aims for a reformed EU, but are frustrated at the way the UK tries to secure these ideas. The UK can be very self-centred in its debates and forgets that others are struggling with the problems Britain sometimes thinks only it sees as problems, only it suffers from and only it has solutions for. The UK is not the only country to have misgivings about refugees and migration within the EU. But demanding changes while threatening withdrawal is not seen as constructive. The Eurozone has undergone massive changes, with countries such as Greece and Ireland undertaking very painful and big reforms. If Cameron’s position is one of scepticism about the wisdom of decisions made in the 1990s to adopt the Euro etc. then many others in Europe feel the same way, but have to face the reality of dealing with them as things they are committed to and cannot simply make disappear. The UK can then appear to be lecturing from the sidelines. 

Labour Party should support David Cameron´s position or not?

Labour supports UK membership of the EU because of its internationalist beliefs and the commitment of the EU to a social Europe. There is some unease at the EU by some who views it as a free market capitalist club that imposes austerity on countries such as Greece. Support for the latter has grown, although it can sound strange to some on the left in Greece and elsewhere that the UK wants to leave the EU as a sign of solidarity with their suffering when the left in these states generally want to stay in the EU. Labour is also struggling to fight off support from UKIP who are taking large numbers of traditional Labour voters in working class areas. These voters are sceptical of the EU, immigration and a Labour party that they feel no longer cares about them. Labour are therefore likely to support some of Cameron’s renegotiation, but make clear they wish to see the UK stay in the EU to fight for better social protections, not less. 

If yes, how Jeremy Corbyn will distance itself from the prime-minister?

One of the lessons Labour will have learnt from the Scottish referendum was not to appear to close to the other parties. Labour will run its own campaign to stay in, led by Alan Johnson who is a respected MP and someone who can appeal to both the left and right of the party. Corbyn himself has in the past expressed doubts about the EU, being of a generation who viewed the EU with a great deal of scepticism. If he wants to avoid causing divisions then he is likely to try and play a background role in any campaign. Whether the media will let him is another matter. 

European Union referendum is the major test for Cameron before the general election in 2020?

It will be his single biggest test in terms of voting and his final big test given he’s said he will not run as Prime Minister at the next election. 

How Cameron will be remember if win the referendum?

When he set out his intention to hold a referendum he said it was so the UK could settle its European question. But he will not be remembered as the Prime Minister who settled the UK’s relationship with the EU. The European question in UK politics is far more complex than a simple question of to be or not to be in the EU. Cameron will be remembered as the Prime Minister who found himself in a situation where he had to try and manage the question by taking it directly to the British people in a referendum.