Obama's Soft Threat to Democracy and Britain
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 EU 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 EU 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 EU policies. He also committed to holding a referendum on Britain's EU membership after the renegotiation, or by 2017 at the latest.
Cameron says he is confident that he will be able to persuade his EU 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 EU. 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 EU membership to take or leave. Bernard Cazeneuve, France's minister for the EU, said that the EU is not "an a la carte package." Spain and Italy were equally critical, while EU 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 EU, 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 EU.
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 EU 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 EU 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 EU tendencies. Prior to his speech, Washington warned Cameron not to be too critical of the EU and not to allow a referendum on the EU.
Philip Gordon, the US 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 US wants an outward looking EU with Britain in it, and so do we."
"We benefit when the EU is unified, speaking with a single voice. That is in the American interest," Gordon said. The British newspaper The Guardian remarked that the American intervention "appeared to be a clear message to the [British] government that the 'special relationship' [between the UK and US] would be devalued in the eyes of the Obama administration if Britain left the EU, or got bogged down in drawn-out negotiations on the details of its membership." If anything, the American intervention, in the form of a soft threat, indicating its refusal to back Britain, shows that the "special relationship" is already over. That is, if it was not already over four years ago, based on Obama's first act on his first day in office: the unsolicited return of a bust of Winston Churchill, on loan to the US from to from Britain. (What would have been wrong with a closet?)
The White House also warned Britain that its significance to the world and to the US would be weakened by leaving the EU. Persuading Britain to stay in the EU would be "in America's national interest," according to a senior US official. William Legge, the Earl of Dartmouth, reacted by pointing out that the position of the Obama administration is not in line with America's traditional view: "There have been times in history when the US had been very pleased that Britain has remained independent of the continent, and we expect that to continue," he said. "It is not the job of the UK to make the work of US diplomats easier. It is our job to secure our own interests."
Dartmouth is a member of the European Parliament for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). This party advocates withdrawal of Britain from the EU. It did very well in recent by-elections, and currently polls almost 14%. UKIP is also very critical of Islamization.
Clive Crook, senior editor of The Atlantic, criticized the Obama administration by comparing Obama's attitude towards Britain and the EU with that of the US and NAFTA: "I think Britain should call on the US to start recasting NAFTA as a full monetary and political union. Be visionary, for heaven's sake. Put the Federal Reserve in Mexico City as a measure of good faith. Europe would benefit if North America were unified, speaking with a single voice."
John Redwood, a Conservative British MP and a former cabinet minister, wrote on his blog: "It is a crowning irony that the Obama administration now thinks the UK should be subservient to [EU] rule in many areas, just so the US has a more acceptable lobbyist at the EU court. We wish to be self governing. We have no wish to be told that we should lose our democracy in the cause of advancing America's."
But, of course, what is at stake is not advancing America's democracy at the expense of Britain's. America's democracy cannot be incompatible with Britain's. What we are witnessing is the Obama administration actively interfering in European politics to advance European centralization. This is a threat to democracy and freedom in Europe. History will show that it will be a threat to democracy and freedom in America as well.
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