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HN: British PM’s yielding to populists is counterproductive

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Prague, Feb 18 (CTK) – PM David Cameron is unable to keep his promise to achieve a profound change to the British position in the EU, which he made as a concession to populists, and his vow is therefore counterproductive and threatens London’s EU membership, Ondrej Houska wrote in Czech daily Hospodarske noviny (HN) on Thursday.

Within the ongoing negotiations, Cameron pretends that London seeks a fundamental change, while his partners, or the EU and its individual members, pretend that they believe the British search for a change, Houska writes.

Cameron actually wants Britain to remain in the EU irrespective of what the negotiations’ result may be. The problem is that the policy of pretensions may have fatal consequences for both Britain and Europe, Houska writes.

He writes that Cameron has put the British national interests at risk.

It is no secret that Cameron is a moderate Eurosceptic, but at the same time, he knows well how important EU membership is for Britain in terms of the economy, diplomacy and security, and that there is no better alternative for his country, Houska writes.

However, instead of defending this position, Cameron capitulated to the extreme populists from the UKIP party and radical Eurosceptics in his own Conservative Party. He promised them to stage an EU membership referendum, to try to achieve a profound change to Britain’s membership conditions and to support its remaining in the EU only if the change were achieved, Houska writes.

At the beginning, Cameron submitted totally unfeasible demands to the EU, which he was gradually softening until the final proposal was formulated to be discussed by the EU summit beginning today. By no means does the draft profoundly change the British position in the EU, Houska writes.

The arguments in favour of British EU membership remain valid, however. Probably scared by some public opinion polls showing a rising support for Britain’s departure from the EU, Cameron has changed his rhetoric all of a sudden, Houska writes.

Cameron now asserts that Britain would benefit from staying in the EU. He is right, but he would have avoided troubles if he had promoted this view from the very beginning instead of yielding to the populists, Houska writes.

The changes to the EU rules, which he will probably achieve at the summit today or somewhat later, are but cosmetic, Houska continues.

The public debate in Britain mainly focuses on the migration of people from other EU countries to Britain. Actually, this is no migration but free movement of people. British politicians use the word migration to arouse negative connotations linked to the current refugee and migrant crisis, Houska writes.

The challenged “immigrants” are no east European lazybones who come to Britain to misuse its welfare system. Statistics show that these people work in Britain and their contribution to its welfare system exceeds the sum they draw from it, Houska says.

Several years ago, Cameron adopted the populists’ rhetoric by saying that the principle of free movement of people is a burden to Britain. Now it is difficult for him to backpedal on this, Houska writes.

True, one of Cameron’s arguments is right. It is really illogical for a Polish, Czech or Slovak employee in Britain to receive British child benefits for their children living back at home, not in Britain. However, this objection concerns only 34,000 foreign workers in Britain, and it is definitely not worth risking a referendum defeat because of it, Houska writes.

In the past, Cameron repeatedly showed healthy instincts in European politics. For example, when he protested against the EC presidency of Jean-Claude Juncker, who was pushed to the post based on the ridiculous argument that EU citizens chose him in the EP elections, Houska writes.

Europe pays dearly for two problems now: the European Commission that behaves like a political government instead of a body assigned to serve all, and the European Parliament that mainly focuses on strengthening its own power, Houska writes.

However, instead of focusing on these flaws, Britain, and consequently the whole EU, waste time on dealing with unimportant technical details, Houska says.

Britain’s remaining in the EU is wished by a crushing majority of the British political elites and business, as well as rest of the EU. Nevertheless, all must be squabbling now and pretending that the EU’s rules are being profoundly changed, Houska writes.

Cameron and the rest of Europe cannot but hope that the British voters will say “yes” to London’s staying in the EU. If not, Cameron would enter history as a prime minister who naively decided to pacify his own party’s Eurosceptic wing rather than promote the fundamental interests of his homeland, Houska concludes.

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