Commission strategy document, British attitudes towards enlargement
There was little or no reaction in the national media to the release of the Commission's November strategy document on enlargement. Attitudes towards the enlargement of the European Union in the UK are informed by two major considerations. British public and political sentiment to enlargement, which remains at present broadly favourable, is likely over the coming months and years to be a function of these two underlying considerations.
First, enlargement is seen by some analysts as a means by which the European Union's 'deepening' integration might be arrested: by increasing the diversity and unwieldiness of the Union. Given the balance of political opinion in the UK, this analysis is central to the UK's general enthusiasm for continued enlargement.
Throughout the process of ratification of the Lisbon Treaty in the British parliament, the opposition Conservative Party, together with much of the British press, argued that a referendum should be held for the treaty’s ratification in the United Kingdom. Two premises formed the basis of this argument: first, that the Constitutional and Lisbon Treaties were essentially identical, so that the government’s promise to hold a referendum on the former should apply also to the latter; and, second, that the Lisbon Treaty was in any case ‘of constitutional significance’ and therefore needed the direct consent of the electorate. In arguing for ratification by parliament only, the government focused its efforts on countering these two lines of argument.
The Lisbon Treaty's ratification
British public debate on the EU has focused in recent months on the Lisbon Treaty. The central thread running through political and media discussion has been the process of the Treaty's ratification, particularly contentious because of the commitment Mr Blair gave in 2004 to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty’s predecessor, the Constitutional Treaty. Jack Straw MP, then Foreign Secretary, has since conceded that this promise was made to assuage the public "clamour" for a referendum. After the French and Dutch "no" votes, some commentators credited Mr Blair with a tactical success: he had deferred intensive media and political scrutiny of the Constitutional Treaty, perhaps indefinitely, by promising a referendum, correctly calculating that, in the event, it would not be held.
The most important current development in British policy towards the European Union is the agreement of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Parties to form a coalition government after the British general election of 6 May 2010. European policy formed an important element of the coalition agreement and the relevant section of the agreement will set the terms of British policy within and towards the European Union over the life of the coalition, which the partners hope will be five years. As the senior partner of the coalition, the Conservative Party has seen much of its own European policy incorporated into the coalition’s political programme, but the Liberal Democrats have also seen some of their own ideas reflected in the document.
Conservative policies of the coalition
Copenhagen and its aftermath
The Copenhagen conference is widely regarded in the United Kingdom as a reverse for the European Union. The Union is seen as having played only a marginal role in the negotiations, and where European voices were raised, they were apparently those of the major member states rather than that of the Commission. The results of the conference itself are generally seen in this country as inconclusive, but this is an outcome of less concern to British electors than might have been the case twelve months ago. Opinion polls have shown a definite decline in the interest of British electors in questions relating to climate change over the past year.
Future negotiations on climate change
British public and political reactions to the crisis of the Eurozone arising from the indebtedness of the single currency’s member states have been almost uniformly negative. The crisis itself is widely seen as justifying Britain’s decision to remain outside the single currency and as definitely having the potential to destroy the Eurozone. The following analysis from the British perspective of the differing elements of the Eurozone’s crisis and its possible resolution must be set against a political context in which Britain is extremely unlikely to join the single European currency for many years to come, if ever; in which there is now little public support in the United Kingdom for British membership of the Euro; and in which what support there may have been a year ago for British membership of the Euro has been greatly reduced by the Eurozone’s continuing crisis.
Greek sovereign debt
Enlargement and related questions for the future of the European Union are rarely discussed at a popular level in the United Kingdom. To the extent that they are, public attitudes are mixed, with concern about competition for jobs from Eastern European workers gaining salience. At the political and official level, the question of the Union’s enlargement is one of much greater interest, not least because it has traditionally been regarded by British political circles as a policy which would undermine Franco-German leadership within the European Union and act as a brake on the deepening of political integration. Both these goals have seen desirable aspirations to successive British governments of recent decades.
The next round of enlargement
European institutional questions are usually discussed in the United Kingdom primarily in ideological rather than practical terms. The ratification of the Lisbon Treaty led at the end of 2009 to a certain amount of polemical discussion in this country concerning the new posts and institutions set up by the Treaty. The almost exclusive focus of this discussion was however the question of how far these posts and insitutions should or should not be seen as building-blocks for a European superstate. This polemical discussion has now largely disappeared. The day to day workings of the posts and institutions set up by the Lisbon Treaty, on which the questionnaire concentrates, have proved to be of limited interest in the United Kingdom, except to specialists. British political discussion over the past six months has moreover been largely monopolised by the general election, in the campaign for which European questions played only a subordinate role. These circumstances militating against detailed discussion of European institutional questions in the United Kingdom will inevitably be reflected in the following answers, which may well be unsatisfactory, but are not on that account inaccurate.
Presidency of the European Council
Federal Trust for Education and Research
At the time of writing, a number of unofficial strikes have been called in the energy industry protesting against the hiring of non-British European workers to carry out contracts in the United Kingdom at a time of rapidly growing British unemployment. These strikes have been fuelled by a populist and much quoted remark of Gordon Brown in 2007 that he would seek to provide “British jobs for British workers.” As yet, these actions are unofficial and far from general throughout the United Kingdom. Their potential, if they become widespread, to destabilize the government and to undermine the traditional commitment of the British governing elite to the single European market should not, however, be underestimated.
Federal Trust for Education and Research
The official position of the British government is that both Georgia and the Ukraine should become members of NATO, in accordance with the conclusions of the NATO ministerial meeting of April 2008 and in due course members of the European Union. These questions are not issues of high political salience in the United Kingdom, although their discussion was temporarily enhanced by the events of August, 2008, and the dispute on energy provision between Russia and the Ukraine at the turn of the year. British public opinion was divided in its response to these issues, with some commentators at least accusing the Georgian and Ukrainian governments of provocative behaviour. Perhaps for this reason, the British government has not sought to focus public attention recently on the European Union’s relations with its Eastern neighbours, a topic certainly rendered less immediate to British voters by the geographical remoteness of these neighbours.
 See e.g.: Tyranny of the red lines, The Guardian, 5 September 2008.