What is the EU-Bill?
The EU-Bill is a British piece of legislation that attempts to restrict the transfers of power to Brussels and to re-affirm the sovereignty of the United-Kingdom and its parliament. It proposes a “referendum-lock”, meaning that every substantial transfer of power away from the British parliament will require a referendum in the United-Kingdom. Knowing the current euro-skeptic climate in this member-state, the bet of the conceivers of the bill is that most of the transfers will be rejected. It should be adopted by April.
What could be its consequences on European integration?
According to some analysts or to MEP Andrew Duff –one of the most outspoken opponents to the law-. British citizens could be called quite often to the polls, and not only regarding Treaty revisions.
For instance, regarding the recent project of enhanced cooperation for an EU single patent, British citizens would be called to approve it by referendum. The outcome would probably be negative, which would be quite ironic, as the UK has been the leading advocate of an EU patent. Would a government in favor of some new European solutions be able to convince its citizens then?
Consequently, now that the British government could constantly warn its European partners about risky referenda, the temptation of enhanced cooperation without the United-Kingdom –and other unconvinced Member-States- would be very high. As a result, the danger is that this insular Member-State would progressively be totally remote, after an already extensive collection of opt-outs (Schengen, Euro…).
The lesson from Denmark
Danish Prime-Minister Rasmussen surprisingly announced last week that he will call, by June, a so-called “Big-Bang Referendum”, asking the Danes to withdraw the country’s three opt-outs (Justice and Home Affairs, Euro and Common Defence). The reason he evocated was to modernize the relations with the EU and, more significantly, because the recent reforms of the Eurozone economic governance –especially the debate around the “Competitiveness Pact”- would deeply affect Denmark while it does not have a say, as a non-euro member. Finally, the country will hold the rotating Presidency of the Council in 2012 and would like to do it in the best conditions.
This unexpected switch from one of the most “euro-realist” Member-States could demonstrate that picking the fields of policy that suits the most one country’s interests is not always relevant or simply bearable on the long term. The reason of this is, again, that the steps forward of this Member-States’ partners affect the country while it cannot influence it.
The recent Danish surprise questions the sustainability of the United-Kingdom’s special position within the European Union. On one hand, an hypothesis could be that, on the long run, that the country will abandon its opt-outs and maybe its EU-Bill. On the other hand, maybe the unsatisfied British popular opinion will finally lead the country, in respect of the article 51 of the Treaty on the European Union, to leave the EU.
What will finally happen with the United-Kingdom is unsure. So will be the results of the Danish referendum. However, it will probably deeply determine the course of the European Integration. It will constitute one more step in the arm wrestle between Brussels and the Member-States and will probably shape the future of decision-making at the European level.