It’s been a tough week for eurosceptics. Last week, US president Barack Obama warned Prime Minister David Cameron that a British exit (or ‘Brexit’) from the European Union would exclude the UK from a US-EU trade deal “potentially worth hundreds of billions of pounds a year”, reports The Guardian’s Julian Borger.
He also reportedly threw cold water on hopes that, in the event of Britain leaving, Washington would make a separate deal with the UK.
Meanwhile, a report from the Centre for European Reform think tank made “unwelcome reading” for those who want to leave the EU, notes Sam Fleming in the Financial Times. It claims that EU membership has boosted the UK’s trade in goods with other members states by 55%, “generating increased inward investment and boosting the City”.
It also views many purported benefits of leaving as “illusory”. For example, despite complaints of bureaucracy, “Britain has managed to preserve the second-most lightly regulated product market in the developed world”.
The attack on ‘Brexit’ hopes came as Cameron led efforts to prevent former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker – who he sees as too committed to ever-closer union at a time when voters Europe-wide have lurched towards anti-EU parties – from becoming president of the European Commission.
As Gideon Rachman puts it in the FT, the dispute is over “two rival visions of democracy in Europe.” Germany and its supporters “see enhancing the powers of the European Parliament as the only way to make the EU more democratic”.
Rachman, on the other hand, believes that such an increase “is actually profoundly damaging to democracy”. Europe’s national leaders should have “the courage to face down the pretensions of the parliament and its standard bearer, Mr Juncker, and choose their own candidate for Commission president.”
There’s no doubt, notes Boris Johnson in The Daily Telegraph, that Juncker “believes in doing deals in darkened rooms, away from public scrutiny; indeed he has had the honesty to say so”. Trouble is, challenging Juncker is a waste of time.
“The only way to change the activities of the European Commission is to change the treaties” governing the EU. “We either need a reform of the EU that boils it down to the single market, or we need to get out. We need to stop subcontracting our democracy to the EU.”
This might be so, but Angela Merkel and other European leaders who back Juncker are “waiting to see whether the Tories can survive a general election before deciding how likely the prospect of a British exit is”, says Rafael Behr in the New Statesman.
And the danger is, says Allie Renison of the Institute of Directors, that “Merkel will come out of this bruised”, giving Cameron “one less IOU to collect when renegotiation starts ‘for real’ should he win in 2015. I hope this battle proves worth it.”