sexta-feira, 5 de fevereiro de 2016

It hurts some to admit it but Europe needs Britain

It hurts some to admit it but Europe needs Britain
Philip Stephens

To suggest that an ‘out’ vote would see Eurosceptics rise up elsewhere is probably an exaggeration

There are plenty of sighs, and worse, in European capitals at the latest attempt to cement Britain’s place in Europe. David Cameron’s EU partners have lived with 40 years of British exceptionalism, conceding all manner of special arrangements, opt-outs and carveouts to keep the Brits on board. There is no guarantee that the latest concessions will settle things, even if the UK prime minister wins the referendum he has pencilled in for June.
From a British perspective the deal offered Mr Cameron by Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, is at once substantively inconsequential and politically critical. The EU “outs” are wrong about most things but they happen to be right in saying the proposed package does not alter fundamentally Britain’s relationship with Brussels. That was never on offer. The best to be said is that some of the reforms are useful and the rest harmless. They leave Britain still more semi-detached but do not offend the EU’s ruling principles.

Threadbare the deal may be but what matters now for Mr Cameron is domestic politics. Left entirely to their own devices a majority of Conservative MPs would probably back Brexit. Perhaps 70 or so are immovable. The next 100 — emotionally Eurosceptic but willing to listen — are the ones who matter.
The purpose of the package is to provide a veil behind which they can be cajoled into putting loyalty to the prime minister and the greater good of the party above anti-EU instincts. The promise of preferment, whether jobs or honours, doubtless also will be deployed to encourage them to make the “right” decision. So far, and these are early days, the tactic seems to be working.
A decade or so ago, before anyone had imagined the global financial crash and the collapse of the state system across much of the Middle East, some of Mr Cameron’s EU counterparts probably would have said “let him go”. One or two would have added “good riddance” to their notes of farewell. Even now, Angela Merkel, who is the prime minister’s indispensable ally in the renegotiation, laments his lack of leadership. More than once the German chancellor has privately suggested he show some backbone. Why should Europe bail out a prime minister apparently in thrall to nationalists in his own party?
The answer, maddening though it may be, is that times have changed. Ten years ago, the eurozone still looked like a haven of stability; Poland, Hungary and other formerly communist states now taking an illiberal turn had only just signed up to the union’s brand of liberal democracy. To the extent that it made the news, migration was measured against a need to find young new recruits for an ageing workforce.
Brexit would hand a banner to anti-EU populists and would add to a self-sustaining sense that the postwar European project is unravelling
Now the EU cannot afford another blow. The eurozone crisis has been contained, but not resolved. The tide of refugees making their way across the Aegean and the Mediterranean has divided nations between north and south and east and west. Governments and established parties across the continent are under siege from rising populism. This is not the moment to lose even as awkward a member as Britain.
To suggest that an “out” vote in Britain would see Eurosceptics rise up elsewhere is probably to exaggerate things. Brits, and Americans, tend to underestimate the resolve of continental Europeans to keep the show on the road: witness all those hopelessly mistaken forecasts a couple of years ago of the eurozone’s imminent implosion. But Brexit would hand a banner to anti-EU populists and would add to a self-sustaining sense that the postwar European project is unravelling.
The damage would not be limited to the aura of inevitability the union has hitherto enjoyed among European electorates or its tarnished prestige in Washington, Beijing and all points in between. The UK would be missed.
For all its habit of dining à la carte, Britain has economic and political clout, military resources and diplomatic skills that will be in strong demand during the next few years. No, it cannot help fix the eurozone but it can be a vital player — dare one say it, even a leader — in an effort to stabilise Europe’s neighbourhood.
Step back from the maelstrom of political controversy about the influx of refugees from Syria and migrants from the Maghreb and the task for Europe’s next decade speaks for itself. The post-cold war complacency that assumed it was enough for Europe to set an example to the rest of the world should have been shattered. In the medium- to long-term, violent chaos on its southern and eastern flanks is indeed an existential threat to European integration.

What is needed first is a change of mindset: an understanding that there are no quick fixes in the form of some aid here or military intervention there. What we are talking about is a project lasting a decade or more to promote security and prosperity.
Politicians should start by spelling out the challenge. People need to know it will not come cheap but they are smart enough to grasp that inaction would be costlier. The essential ingredients are sustained economic aid, trade preferences, help with security and governance, and, sometimes, military support.
It is hard to imagine such an effort without Britain — along with France, one of the two EU nations with the history, outlook and capacity required to lead it. Both are needed. If Mr Cameron wins his referendum, here would be his chance for a place in the history books.

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