On May 8, to everybody's surprise, David Cameron became, for the second time, the prime minister of the United Kingdom. As a newly elected leader, he now has to face his own promises. The UK became a member of the European Union in 1973 but never agreed to be part of the monetary union. David Cameron committed in January 2013 to hold an in/out referendum about the EU by the end of 2017 if his party won an outright majority. Maybe he was not sure he would need to deliver it. Now he is forced to. Can this be turned into an opportunity for Europe to revisit some critical issues, or will the Eurocratic immobilism prevail?
The UK Wants Immigration Quotas
David Cameron pledges to reduce the flow of immigrants. Instead, the number of migrants soared by 50 percent. He wants to reduce the annual flow of immigrants from 318,000 to tens of thousands migrants. Those European governments that scream, however, must recognize that Britain has been the most accommodating EU country when it comes to immigration. The prime minister does not want to control only UK illegal immigration but also the European one. He asked for quotas. Jean Claude Juncker, the commission president, echoed the request that was opposed by most EU countries. Europe has over 10 percent of its population from immigration. The dramatic situation of immigrants to Lampedusa and the death at sea of desperate immigrants victims of traffickers adds a human and social dimension to this problem. Europe should be willing to tackle this issue.
The UK Wants to Be Part of the Euro Group Without Being Part of the Euro
David Cameron asks for a guarantee or safeguards to protect the United Kingdom from decisions of the euro zone. The UK is not part of the euro zone, which means it cannot participate in the negotiations on euro issues and so on. Nonetheless, it does not mean that those decisions cannot have any economic impact on it, as all the major economic partners of the UK are part of the euro zone. Here the prime minister wants to avoid those sometimes-not-beneficial consequences and be able to refuse those agreements. Britain cannot have its cake and eat it. The dialogue with the non-euro-zone members needs to be enhanced.
The UK Wants to Reinforce National Parliaments
The prime minister wants a stronger role for the national parliaments to block new EU legislations. Many abilities have been transferred from national parliaments to the European one in order to improve the efficiency and legitimate democracy of the European Union. Mr. Cameron prefers to keep its British way of doing and limit the EU power. Europe should be willing to reconsider the role of national parliaments.
What About the City of London?
Both the EU and the UK have high stakes in each other. Deutsche Bank announced it is considering cutting its UK operations if the country pulls out of the European Union, and several other banks are reducing investments until the outcome of Britain's EU referendum is known. The euro zone's second-largest bank by assets has almost 9,000 staff in the UK. The Bank of England is analyzing the consequences of a British exit from the EU, and rightly so. The City of London is as important to the UK as it is to the EU: Without London, Europe would lose its international financial center.
Eurosceptics believe that it won't change anything if Britain leaves the EU, because there won't be an embargo between the EU and London, but it is a dangerous bet. Euro zone countries are taking a counterproductive attitude toward the UK attitude. The issues that Britain raised must be addressed, whether because they come from the UK or because they are important issues for the future of Europe. This could be a chance for Europe to reconsider some of the serious challenges that were not addressed by the treaties and now threaten its cohesion. Will it have the courage to seize it? Reading the first reactions, nothing is less certain.