Some of the papers have showcased Viviane Reding’s campaign for the May 2014 elections to be a battleground for a United States of Europe, notably the Daily Telegraph.
The article starts with this:
A campaign for the European Union to become a “United States of Europe” will be the “best weapon against the Eurosceptics”, one of Brussels’ most senior officials has said.
Viviane Reding, vice president of the European Commission and the longest serving Brussels commissioner, has called for “a true political union” to be put on the agenda for EU elections this spring.
“We need to build a United States of Europe with the Commission as government and two chambers – the European Parliament and a “Senate” of Member States,” she said.
Clearly, this will benefit UKIP’s campaign for the May Elections, and already UKIP HQ has tweeted this:
@Nigel_Farage: “On 22 May the British people must ask themselves if they want a United States of Europe and vote accordingly”.
However, the real question is whether it will affect the campaigning of the three “legacy” parties. Let’s take a look at each of them.
For the Tories, it will generate a battle royal between the Eurosceptics in the party, who probably represent about half the backbenchers (a third of their MPs), and the Europhiles plus ministers effectively forced to go along with David Cameron. He will be put on the spot – renegotiation will not be an option, how could that be possible with the EU leadership headed towards even more integration? However, it is obvious he is a EU-phile at heart and will fight it, but will the weight of the party defeat him? Perhaps a UKIP landslide in May will force their hand for a leadership election, even?
For the Liberal Democrats, it’s a no-brainer, their leadership will love it, as will much of the membership, but not all. I predict they will lose some more members, and a lot more voters over this. Whether that will make them change course after May remains to be seen, but is unlikely, given the credentials of both Clegg and Cable.
And finally, the greatest dilemma of all: Labour. Historically, they were against the EU, but they had their Europhiles. Going back to that fateful era of 1972-1975 when we were initially shackled to the then EEC, a well-known politician of the time related the change of heart that James Callaghan had (who replaced Harold Wilson as Prime Minister in 1976):
In the days before 1974, James Callaghan was one of the doughtiest opponents of Britain’s membership of the Common Market. He made many fine speeches exposing the disadvantages, both moral and material, which would attend upon that fateful – though, happily, reversible – step. He voted solidly through the session of 1972 against the European Communities Bill – an Act still on the statute book un-amended – which made our entry possible by stripping the British Parliament of its historic right to be the sole source of legitimate power in this realm.
He then went on and recalled what happened to Callaghan’s opposition once he became the Foreign Secretary in March 1974:
The Foreign Secretary succumbed in little more than two months to the mephitic atmosphere of the Foreign Office. His single-handed determination proved insufficient to make head against the serried mandarin ranks which had closed around him. He was overborne and made captive by those who were determined that parliaments and politicians might come and go, but that this island should remain a predestined province of the new super-state of Western Europe.
Under the leadership of Neil Kinnock after 1983, however, the party dropped its opposition to the European Communities and instead favoured greater British integration into European Economic and Monetary Union. Since the speech by Jacques Delors, then President of the European Commission, at the TUC conference in 1988 the Eurosceptic inclination in the Labour Party as a whole has become less pronounced.
Now, they will see the EU as a vote loser, and while I suspect their position will not change before the May elections, I would guess that a major defeat (i.e. well into 2nd place behind UKIP) would force them into re-examining their position with respect to the EU.
As has been said before, 2014 promises to be a very interesting and exciting political year.