The UK has been accused of being the EU wrecker as the budget summit begins, but it is rigidity of thought rooted in the past and selfishness that is the issue.
It is marvellous that, at last, some honesty is being expressed as EU leaders gather in the knowledge that David Cameron is prepared to veto the proposed budget unless, at least, there is no increase in contributions. Ironically other countries have the same reluctance to agree to an increase, but prefer to let the black sheep of Europe which is the UK to speak and take the opprobrium.
The problem lies in vested interest, but also in the insistence upon a continuation of the European status quo whereby a large group of disparate member states are bound by a set of rules and expectations of conformity determined by a handful of powerful people whom those rules suit very well. German MPs complained yesterday that everyone wants Britain to stay in the EU, but if we do so it must be on the terms of the other members, not those of the UK.
While there is much talk of what Britain would lose if she left by way of trade advantage, for example, it is forgotten how much this small country gives to the EU in other ways besides arguments about difficult regulation and budgets. In matters to do with foreign policy and security she, along with France, have taken a leading role for many years and her withdrawal would leave the EU greatly weakened in world influence. Certainly, other members want and need Britain to remain one of them, but despite the benefits she brings they insist still that British membership must be on their terms.
I find this inflexibility extraordinary. It is like being given a menu in a restaurant but being told by the waiter what dishes you have to choose – and the European Common Market was not set up to be like that. I have noticed that in Google+ the social networking revolves around circles which the member creates: one might be friends, another family, a third acquaintances, a fourth sports contacts and so on, and this could be a model, though on a different scale, for the EU. One circle could be Britain and France heading up the foreign affairs and security function for the EU; Germany could run the Eurozone circle, and there could be another circle based on mutual trading interests. All the circles would interact with each other and EU members could choose how far they wished to be involved in each. There would be no compulsion, rather, agreement and respect for the wishes of each. It would lessen dependency and increase autonomy and democracy.
Flexibility of approach, open-mindedness and understanding are important as the leaders prepare to regroup again today. This time of impasse is such an opportunity for change to help everyone, and if the present insistence on the status quo continues, it could be an important opportunity lost.