With only seven days left until the general election, Brussels is keeping a close eye on what the end campaign will look like, who will win and, most importantly, what the election outcome would mean for Britain and the EU.
UKIP: the cleverest and most outspoken anti-EU stance
Of all parties participating in the general election, UKIP has possibly held the clearest and most outspoken anti-EU stance. Their leader in the European Parliament’s hemicycle, Nigel Farage is well-known, if not notorious, for his blunt opinion on the Union as a whole, and the European “apparatsjiks”. He serves only one goal; to create one single super-state that would undermine all individual nation states, including the UK.
UKIP has made clear that it is not a great believer in “reform” compared to the Tories. Farage does not think “the third path” – something between a federalist Europe and the Union falling apart in national states – would adequately protect the independence of Britain. On security issues for example, UKIP does not want any more centralisation in this area and any attempts to make the UK share intelligence would jeopardise its unique relationship with the US intelligence services. It wants to end the free movement of people into the UK and is convinced that EU legislation undermines the UK’s financial services industry and economy as a whole.
Labour: committed to Britain’s place in the EU
The Labour Party finished second in the May elections of last year and contrary to UKIP, they remain committed to Britain’s place in the EU. Yet they strive for reform, but only want a referendum if there was a substantial shift of powers from London to Brussels. In general, Labour’s agenda is to support the deepening of the European single market in services, digital economy and energy. Nevertheless, they call for a single seat for the European Parliament in Brussels, a position which is shared with the Conservatives and the LibDems. Labour has made clear that it would stop the payment of benefits to EU migrants when they first arrive in Britain. On this last point, Labour seem to be toughening their rhetoric by walking the same path as the Conservatives and UKIP.
Conservatives: the biggest game changers
The Conservatives are seen as the biggest game changers. Cameron has opposed the appointment of Juncker, refused to pay £1.7 billion as a contribution to the EU budget for the UK’s outstanding economic performance and has continued fighting against what he calls the “ever closer Union”. Contrary to Labour, the Conservatives would want powers to flow away from Brussels, not (always) to it. They think national parliaments should be able to work together to block unwanted EU legislation a so-called “red card” system. This is the very opposite of the already existing “enhanced cooperation” in EU law which allows some Member States to go further in EU legislation when they wish to do so. The Tories, also think police forces and justice systems should be left unencumbered and continue to defend a strong stance against benefits for EU migrants by making it harder for them to enter the country and to claim benefits. Cameron says he would campaign for the UK to stay in, but only if the EU was able to reform. Whether this will suffice to convince some of the more moderate UKIP voters, remains to be seen.
Liberal Democrats: minimal political influence in EU
The Tories’ coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, are left with only one MEP in the Brussels and Strasbourg hemicycle; this has undermined their political influence tremendously. The LibDems have traditionally supported EU integration in the past, but what are the odds they would remain UK’s third largest party after five years in coalition? Apart from making the Union more efficient (single seat for the Parliament, audit for existing EU agencies to isolate areas for savings), they very much support the direction the EU is currently taking, including the right to free movement across the EU and, more important, the UK to become the global leader in financial services, but still as a part of the EU.
It is undeniable that the surge in euro-scepticism has pushed the topic of EU integration high up the political agenda in Britain. Cameron has made sure to lead the political debate ahead of the national elections by promising the British constituents a referendum on Britain’s place in the EU. He cleverly prevented UKIP to dominate the in-out-debate by assuring only the Tories could deliver on the referendum. Now, when two dogs fight for a bone, a third one may run away with it: and if Labour manages to convince a significant part of the electorate of its slightly more pro-EU position, we might be waking up with a different governement on the 8th of May.