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The UK and Europe

Or populism English style

Under the pressure of some populists in his party David Cameron now finds himself in a political impasse over the UK's relations with the European Union. Although he has declared that his country's interests lie in staying in the Union  - as believe all members of the British leading class - he is preparing to confirm, in all likelihood on 22nd January in The Hague that there will be a referendum on Europe.

This is what happens when a political class neglects European policy, leading people to believe that everything is decided nationally, when leaders make rash promises with the sole aim of winning elections, when Europe is turned into the scapegoat of its own turpitudes!

However there have been warnings. First from within the UK, where eminent figures have expressed their concern and their opposition to this policy. Then there have been warnings from partners and friends of Britain: Germans, French, Europeans, those in Brussels and even the Americans.

The American Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, Phil Gordon has been one of the clearest of these as he paid tribute directly to the Union: "We have a growing relationship with the European Union as an institution which has an increasing voice in the world and we want to see a strong British voice in that European Union....for the UK to be a part of that stronger, more important voice in the world is something I know a lot of British people welcome, and from an American perspective we certainly welcome the British voice in that EU."

Of course Cameron's majority is weak and is hanging on a fragile coalition, and of course the country's economic situation is at least as delicate as anywhere else in Europe, but we did not expect the heirs of The Glorious Empire to withdraw timidly just as globalisation is winning the day. Perhaps more than others in Europe the UK's interests seem  better defended in the Union, which is respectful of diversity and specificity, where it can intelligently pool economic forces and attract major global financial flows. Does the City have a future without its privileged access to the European continent? Does British industry have that many outlets that it can afford to do without the depth of the continent's single market? Does British democracy have so many allies in the world that share its convictions and democratic values that it can afford to turn its back on the Europe of which it is historically and culturally part?

The populist surprise, which we were expecting from elsewhere in Europe, is embodied in the UK by UKIP and the far right, in their nostalgic, nationalist, retrograde, egotist stereotypes. They have been given spectacular coverage by the gutter press, which is mainly financed by ill-intentioned foreigners. Hence the founding country of parliamentary democracy has been stabbed in the heart by populism, that egotism of the wealthy - and is in danger of seeing the government "accidently" lead the UK out of Europe - as publicly feared by people as well informed as Lord Mandelson, Brittan, Kerr or Heseltine.

Aware of this danger David Cameron may content himself with a referendum on "the redefinition of relations with the EU", and so to a certain degree, transfer his dilemma over to his European partners.

Already exempted from the obligation for every Union member to adopt the euro, already exterior to the Schengen agreements on the free circulation of people, which nevertheless goes hand in hand with that of goods and capital, already marginalised in terms of diplomacy and defence,  self-excluded from the Charter of Fundamental Rights (hello, can the spirit of the Magna Carta hear me?) and from the future Banking Union, can the UK do without other European policies?

Does it not "want its cake and eat it" as the proverb goes? In other words enjoy the single market but without bending to any of the obligations that go with it?

Indeed an ad hoc Europe does not seem very likely since it would damage the legitimate interests of its partners who are playing the game of integration. 

The crisis has meant that the best restaurants now offer a menu, together with one glass of wine, since dining à la carte and drinking a good bottle has become a luxury!

The same applies to the community of Europe: in the crisis there has been a joint "European menu", an acceptable minimum in order to enjoy the privilege of sitting down to dine. And although it is customary for European governments not to complicate a partner's task if it is struggling on the domestic front - this time round they will find it hard to help Mr Cameron.

The only thing left to him will be the path of courage and clarity: asking his fellow countrymen clearly about the country's membership of the Union, counting on their courage, pragmatism, realism and their understanding of their interests, undeniable qualities of the British people, who might then decide to put an end to this farce and accept, as it has done in the past, to take up its place loyally and play its full role in the European Union.