British Prime Minister David Cameron sparked controversy last week by announcing that he favored giving UK citizens a referendum on whether the country should remain in the European Union. “I believe in confronting this issue – shaping it, leading the debate. Not simply hoping a difficult situation will go away,” Mr Cameron said.
According to a January survey by YouGov, some 55 percent of Britons now want their country to exit the EU.
Mr Cameron plans to wait until after the UK’s next parliamentary elections, scheduled for 2015. If his party keeps power, he said he would set the referendum process in motion, meaning the vote would take place by 2017 at the latest.
“While the EU is in flux, and when we don’t know what the future holds and what sort of EU will emerge from this crisis is not the right time to make such a momentous decision about the future of our country,” Mr Cameron said.
Europe a la carte
European leaders were quick to react to Mr Cameron’s words. “We can’t have Europe a la carte. Imagine the EU was a football club: once you’ve joined up and you’re in this club, you can’t then say you want to play rugby,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the France Info radio station.
Guido Westerwelle, his German counterpart, was also critical. “Germany wants the United Kingdom to remain an active and constructive part of the EU. But cherry picking is not an option,” he said.
Poland’s foreign minister, meanwhile, struck a markedly different tone. “I don’t think the role of Poland should be to join the chorus of critics,” Radosław Sikorski said in an interview with TOK FM. “Britain is a country that is home to hundreds of thousands of Poles. We share the philosophy of the free market with them and most importantly, we are in the middle of difficult EU budget negotiations.”
In fact, Mr Sikorski seemed to sense a chance for Poland after Mr Cameron’s controversial speech. “With that speech, David Cameron has moved his country in the EU hierarchy. From a natural member of the triumvirate which could lead the EU, to a ‘special care’ country, which needs to be petted so that it does not do something unwise,” Mr Sikorski said.
He added that in his view “at the end of the decade Poland could be in the group of three to five countries that will have the biggest say in the EU.”
Paweł Tokarski, an analyst at the Polish Institute Of International Affairs, was less sanguine. “Let’s face it, Poland does not have the strength of the UK, which is a member of the UN Security Council, has nuclear weapons and boasts a much stronger economy than Poland,” he told WBJ.
Mr Tokarski thinks a British exit would have negative consequences for Poland. “Up till now, Britain has been treated by Poland as a counterbalance to Germany and France, especially now that France is weakening. Also, Britain is Poland’s ally on issues of defense, the internal market and protest against some Southern European countries’ wishes of a more socially oriented economy.”
However, he said he believes there is only a 10 percent chance that Britain will exit the EU.
The German view
Importantly for Mr Cameron, Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor and Europe’s most powerful leader, said she wants to see a “fair compromise” with the UK on EU reforms.
“Germany, and I personally, want Britain to be an important part and an active member of the European Union. We will talk intensively with Britain about its individual ideas but there is time for that over the months ahead,” Ms Merkel said.
From Warsaw Business Journal
Support for EU membership declines in Poland
Poles travel often, but mostly for work
Polio vaccine inventor Hilary Koprowski dies
Iraq: the long road back
Fischer: Germany 'doesn't know how' to lead Europe
Commemorating Europe Day, EU faces key challenges
BY Stratfor Global Intelligence
Deputy PM cries out for attention
BY Remi Adekoya