Spotlight: Toward more European cohesion?

Denis MacShane, who was Minister for Europe under Tony Blair, is in no mood to mince his words: “The ‘no’ delivered by the House of Commons to David Cameron is a very, very important event,” he tells Le Soir. “The British political system really depends hugely on big moments like that in the House of Commons. And for the first time in two centuries, a prime minister has had his authority challenged by his MPs on a question of possible military action. It’s unprecedented!”


The shockwaves caused by the vote were obviously felt far outside the confines of Westminster. Denis MacShane, still a Labour MP, puts it succinctly: “We’re looking at a total reversal of the situation we had ten years ago with Iraq; now it’s François Hollande who’s wearing the deputy sheriff badge.”


What are the long-term consequences? Are the British “disoriented”? Will they have to “make a fresh start”? Up until now, they could be certain of the special relationship between them and the Americans, gazing out to sea and to the wider world beyond even the United States, while turning their backs on Europe.


“The vote showed that the United Kingdom no longer wishes to automatically follow the American lead, especially when it comes to military ventures,” says Graham Watson, MEP and President of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party. “This could have consequences in all kinds of domains. For example, it could affect the decision that the United Kingdom is set to make about whether or not to renew its nuclear submarines, which are in reality part of the American defense system – it’s not an independent deterrent at all.” He adds: “You definitely get the feeling that certain fundamental things could be in the process of changing.”


Some are hopeful that the UK will use this moment to take a more positive attitude toward the European Union, a potential new point of reference for the country. French MEP Alain Lamassoure (UMP) agrees: “The vote in London paradoxically opens the way to outlining something that could start to resemble a common European foreign policy. As long as London saw duty and glory in its position as Washington’s constant right-hand man, there was no possible common European position other than standing behind the American leadership. Now that the UK has regained its ability to think for itself, we’re in a completely new game. The British are going to find out that, when it comes to any important foreign policy issue, if they remain isolated, they’ll have no power. Only with the support of their major European partners will they be able to exert any influence.”


Observers will be on the lookout for signs of a change in direction from the UK on Friday and Saturday, during the meeting of Europe’s foreign ministers.


Closer links with the EU?

“I hope so, but I think it’s unlikely,” responds Watson. “Because I see that, in the Conservative party in any case, the anti-European voices are much louder than they were ten to 15 years ago.”


“All of this has already triggered a period of reflection about the need for the UK to not get lost, given that it is not a friend of Europe and is no longer a friend of the USA,” concludes MacShane. “I’ve read a lot of articles since the House of Commons vote, but nowhere have I read that the answer lies in closer ties with Europe. For the moment, the United Kingdom is still preparing for a referendum on what has come to be known as ‘Brexit’, i.e. the nation’s withdrawal from the European Union, which is still a distinct possibility.”



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