2015. 06. 23.
In the aftermath of the British elections, the issue of the British referendum on EU membership is on the agenda again. The anti-membership party of Nigel Farage gained one seat, but Cameron promised to revise Britain’s EU membership and to call a referendum. What can we expect? How seriously can we take their withdrawal from the EU? Scottish independence efforts further complicate the situation …
With his unexpected election victory on May 7th, Cameron in fact also took on a number of difficulties. Results clearly show that the United Kingdom is not that united any longer. It rather consists of three separate political communities (Wales could be excluded from this current analysis). The question of Scotland is the most pressing; however, the future of EU membership receives far greater attention. The third factor is human rights. Many members of the Conservative Party would prefer to be exempt from the authority of the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg and repatriate the legal area, so to speak. This could well result in Great Britain's exit from the Council of Europe. That is something that Scotland would not even like to hear about, not to mention that the rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights play a central role in the Northern Ireland peace agreement.
For a rational observer, these problems point to the convening of a constitutional convention, possibly with a written constitution and constitutional court as the outcome. Those who are familiar with British history know that the concept of a written constitution is practically unimaginable in the mind-set of the English public. As for EU issues, Cameron will have a lot more players to contend with in a much more variegated field: those who take nation state interest and the sustainability of EU membership into consideration at one and the same time. If the British demand too high a price for membership, they will inevitably get into trouble. The negotiating partners must therefore act very carefully and wisely. Cameron would likely prefer staying in the EU, but he will need to make political allowances to the Conservative Party’s Eurosceptic wing and has to win the referendum. It will be an interesting campaign: dissensions, solutions, PR techniques and perhaps even tricks may be expected.
Whereas the British government will soon hear the voice of the public with the referendum, the European Commission consistently rejects European Citizens’ Initiatives and appears to pay little attention to the voice of the people. Why is that so? How can this be changed?
The European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) as a procedure, or “instrument” in Brussels terminology, was almost accidentally put in the treaty. To outline the essence of this instrument, it grants the possibility for citizens to propose a legal act if they can get the support of one million EU citizens in seven member states. Up until now, in terms of EU affairs, the Commission has had exclusive right of legislative initiative. The Council and the Parliament analyse and amend these draft laws. The ECI somewhat rewrites this monopoly of the Commission, but competences are not clearly defined and, therefore, every ECI is evaluated by the Commission. To date, it has implemented this competence very strictly, so thus far, no ECI has ever been made it to the EU code. As a consequence, stakeholders feel an understandable dissatisfaction. The Commission has promised a thorough revision by the end of the year or by the beginning of 2016. I assume the Parliament’s report on the subject, of which I am the rapporteur, will push the instrument in the direction of easier use and will manage the process as openly as possible.
The European Commission presented its immigration package some weeks ago. Many member states, Hungary included, opposed the introduction of the quota system. Will there be a common stance?
The issue of immigration actually consists of three subtopics: the movement of labour within Europe, refugees and economic immigrants. The three categories differ greatly from each other – politically, economically, socially and culturally. And of course, these categories are often confused in the expectation of political advantage.
The movement of labour within Europe raises both economic and cultural questions: the EU-15 face labour shortage and, according to the EU’s single market, accept immigrants coming from poorer countries. In many places, within certain circles, this is rather unpopular, and more than one political party rails against Central European workers. However, interestingly, those coming from outside Europe are not mentioned, presumably because that would be regarded as racism. Central Europeans do not belong to this circle, thus they can be freely stigmatized.
In principle, refugees must prove that they are victims of political persecution, but in practice this is unverifiable, so receiving EU countries are confronted, all but helplessly, a real-time, never-ending problem. While those in power forcibly kill off and persecute those they do not like, the influx of refugees will inevitably target Europe. In comparison with the Middle East, Europe is a paradise on Earth. In such a situation, Europe cannot do otherwise but to admit the victims, out of moral and humanitarian duty.
The situation is different with economic immigrants. Here, I cannot see a moral drive but rather a stack of problems. In the past century, it became clear that the integration of non-European immigrants is a greater challenge than the integration of those coming from other parts of Europe. In fact, this is a centuries-old practice. However, the economic perspective sees only an aging Europe and cheap labour coming from outside. I think this position narrows the analysis to a single factor, which is short-sighted and misleading. It is hard to stop the flood of immigrants from the south, but Europe is not able to accommodate everyone.
The Hungarian government approaches the issue with the abovethree-fold division in mind. It does not support economic immigration, thus it opposes the quota system proposed by the European Commission, and it is not alone in this view. Other Member States approach the issue in a similar way. The political Left, of course, based on its vapid universalism, immediately criticizes Hungary, as it has been doing so for a long time.