Opinion | Cameron’s speech a turning point for the EU

We Danes have a lot to thank the British for. When the Nazis’ Atlantic wall stretched from northern Norway to southern France, it was the British and Churchill who stood their ground and insisted on the war that eventually crushed the Nazis. During the Cold War, it was again Britain, this time led by Margaret Thatcher, who proved Europe’s most staunch defender of Western principles as she maintained that eastern Europe would not be free until its socialist dictatorships were defeated.

But now Britain finds itself on the outs with Europe’s political elite, the media and experts in Brussels and leaders in other European capitals. If you believed what they said, you’d think that Britain was a self-centred nation that was about to torpedo Europe’s future by seeking to revise a 40-year-old agreement that has outlived its purpose.

That is why, when Britain’s current prime minister, David Cameron, clearly influenced by the wishes of the electorate that selected him as their leader, politely warns the EU that a majority in his country have had enough of the union’s bulldozer tactics, it is taken as a slap in the face of European unity. A country cannot just renegotiate such things. These concepts are carved in the stone tablets that the goddess Europa handed down to her prophets amid the rubble of the Second World War. 

In my mind though, Cameron’s address could go down as a historic turning point for the EU. It could be remembered as the day that member countries realised they could think for themselves, the day they swept away the old traditions and the day they began to reclaim their money, their power and their authority from the faraway glass palaces where they never should have wound up in the first place. 

Unless we accept what Cameron and the British have to say, we lose all hope of creating a smaller, less dominant EU that allows free European states to work together on common interests. If we don’t accept what Cameron says, the inevitable result will be a ‘two-speed Europe’, and two types of European co-operation. 

At Europe’s core, we would find an ever more centralised political and economic union made up of the Euro-zone countries. There, at the heart of Europe, the Germans, the French, the Greeks, the Berlusconites and the Spaniards would duke it as members of an alphabet soup of newly created European organisations. Every now and again, the EU Court of Justice would exercise its growing power by slapping them with a fine or a sanction and put them in their place. As it is, we already see two layers within this group itself: those who owe, and those who are owed to.

Orbiting this group will be a more loosely connected constellation of countries. To the elitists of the inner group, life here will be barren and parched. But this group will slowly be weaning itself off agricultural subsidies, structural funds, regional development funds, micro-management, cultural homogeneity and a general disregard for laws passed by sovereign states. These countries can chose, instead, to join together in a relationship centred around free trade, economic co-operation, realistic agreements, a willingness to live up to their word and mutual respect. This will invariably be the outcome if the European elite refuses to accept that British support for the EU has vanished, leaving widespread Euroscepticism in its place. Many in Britain have moved beyond scepticism and into outright resistance and, for the first time in 40 years, led to a majority calling for the country to secede from the union, as a recent opinion poll showed. Should that happen, I know which Europe I want Denmark to be a part of. 

The EU’s frontier is also laden with threats. Starting next January, emigrants from Romania and Bulgaria will have free access to all EU countries. Many regions of Romania are already depopulated. Since 2002, three million people – 12 percent of its population – have left the country. Will this next wave of emigrants have their sights set on Greece, Italy or Spain? No. They will head to Denmark, Britain, Sweden, Finland, Austria and the Netherlands. The British were already caught off guard once by the enormous influx of eastern Europeans from countries like Poland. Now the Romanians and the Bulgarians are coming, but this time, the British have had enough. 

David Cameron has been blamed for pandering to his country’s Eurosceptics. But, one could just as well say that he is a statesman who takes his people’s concerns seriously and who is even willing to let them speak their minds in a referendum – unlike in other EU countries, Denmark included, where the EU elite fears a vote that would clear the air about whether Denmark is a member of the Euro-zone.

The author is an MEP for Dansk Folkeparti, which is a part of the Europe of Freedom and Democracy group in the European Parliament