In the imminent election in Britain, European Union affairs do not appear to be taking up much of the public’s interest. And yet many in the British community in Brussels are convinced that one of the next government’s biggest challenges will be how to handle the UK’s referendum on the new EU Constitution.
Part of a group planning Labour campaign strategy in Brussels, David Earnshaw is closely monitoring other EU referenda:
“A lot depends on what will happen on the 29 May in France, and then on 1 June in Holland. Blair and the Labour Party… we have to fight for a successful referendum; it’s essential to the entire programme of government of the Labour Party.”
The UK’s referendum is expected to be held early next year.
The British Conservatives do not share the pro-European positions espoused by their Labour and Liberal-Democrat rivals. A Tory member of the European Parliament, Timothy Kirkhope, makes this clear:
“There are a number of things which Europe presently seems to have competence over and wants to have competence over that we would like to bring back into nation states — the national parliaments to make those decisions; things like fishing and so on need to be moved away from the bureaucracy of Europe.”
A great many of the Tories think Brussels power can be reduced. But John Palmer, the head of the European Policy Centre, a think tank in Brussels, believes the UK will have to increase its involvement in the EU:
“The British are moving closer to Europe on foreign and security policy, on the Middle East, on the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminial Court. So, although in the short run there are very serious problems with winning British public opinion, in the long run, tendency, the strategic development is, I think, towards more involvement with Europe over the next five or ten years.”
Although campaigning in Britain is not characterised by a strong interest in European debates, Britons in Brussels are convinced the EU will play a fundamental role in the next government’s policy. There is speculation that Britain’s third-strongest party, the Liberals, could produce some surprising results this Thursday.