In a high-stakes gamble, British Prime Minister David Cameron said last week, in his long anticipated speech about the European Union, that he would like the E.U. to be an open, internal market based on nation states rather than the centralizing and protectionist supranational European superstate currently in the making. To achieve this vision, the E.U. treaty, which explicitly calls for “an ever closer union,” needs to be revised. Cameron promised the British public that he would renegotiate the treaty to allow Britain to opt out of centralizing E.U. policies. He also committed to holding a referendum on Britain’s E.U. membership after the renegotiation, or by 2017 at the latest.
Cameron says he is confident that he will be able to persuade his E.U. colleagues of his views. If he fails, however, it will leave the British Conservative Party with no other option than leading Britain out of the E.U. The odds, moreover, are against Cameron.
His speech was not well received on the continent: Cameron was accused of pandering to the British electorate. Guido Westerwelle, Germany’s Foreign Minister sniffed that Cameron wants to “cherry pick” which aspects of E.U. membership to take or leave. Bernard Cazeneuve, France’s minister for the E.U., said that the E.U. is not “an a la carte package.” Spain and Italy were equally critical, while E.U. President Herman Van Rompuy cast doubt on whether a major revision of the treaty – essential to Cameron’s strategy – would take place.
These reactions are indicative of the contempt the political elites have for the concept of democratic accountability. Cameron was right to insist that democratic accountability is currently lacking in the E.U., while this should be one of the basic principles on which it is built. As The Wall Street Journal noted: “It says something about the mentality of too many European officials today that they are shocked that a British Prime Minister would put British interests and values at the core of his concerns.”
The reason why so many European politicians seem prepared to sacrifice prosperity and democratic representation on the altar of centralization is that their political cultures lack the democratic tradition of Britain. It is no coincidence that Switzerland, the most democratic country in Europe and also the one with the longest democratic tradition, categorically refuses to join the E.U.
Apart from Switzerland, the strongest democratic traditions are found in the countries belonging to the so-called Anglosphere. Cameron began his speech by referring to the British character, “independent, forthright, passionate in defense of our sovereignty.” He added that “in Europe’s darkest hour, we helped keep the flame of liberty alight. Across the continent, in silent cemeteries, lie the hundreds of thousands of British servicemen who gave their lives for Europe’s freedom.” Indeed, and the same applies to Americans, Canadians and Australians – the other nations of the so-called Anglosphere, the set of English-speaking nations of European stock with a Western cultural heritage.
In his 2004 book, The Anglosphere Challenge, American author James C. Bennett argued that the cultural and legal traditions of English-speaking nations make them particularly sensitive to anti-democratic tendencies. Historian Andrew Roberts points out that the Anglosphere was central in defeating Nazism and Communism in Europe. He says that it will also be crucial for the defeat of Islamism. Bat Ye’or argues in her book Eurabia, that the E.U. is one of the vehicles of Islamization in Europe today. By undermining the national identities of its member-states, which are seen as incompatible with the aim of building a pan-European superstate, the E.U. is also depriving the European peoples of the identity which they badly need if they are to assimilate the masses of Muslim immigrants who have settled in Europe during the past decades.
JUDGING FROM the American reaction to David Cameron’s speech, however, it seems that Britain can expect little support from the Anglosphere in its opposition to the centralizing E.U. tendencies. Prior to his speech, Washington warned Cameron not to be too critical of the E.U. and not to allow a referendum on the E.U.
Philip Gordon, the U.S. assistant secretary for European Affairs, was sent to London to tell the British government that “referendums have often turned countries inwards.” It is unclear what that assessment is based on: countries that allow referendums are usually the most democratic in the world and democracy is characterized by openness to the outside world. A Downing Street spokesman reacted to the American intervention with the remark: “The U.S. wants an outward looking E.U. with Britain in it, and so do we.”