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UK needs to avoid mixed EU message

By Colin Speakman | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2015-11-13 17:57

The new leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn addresses the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in Brighton in southern England, September 15, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

This week the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, finally submitted to the EU President the list of demands for reform of the UK's relationship with the EU. This is the latest stage of a political gambit which began before the May General Election where-seeing the rise of anti-EU feelings, some linked to immigration flows, others to intrusion into domestic issues-David Cameron sought to weaken the rise of the UK Independence Party. By pledging to offer UK citizens a referendum on EU membership in 2017, he differentiate Conservatives from the "must stay in Europe" Labour Party.

There’s little doubt that David Cameron wants the UK to stay in the EU. It was his party that led the country into the European Economic Community in 1973 under Edward Heath, increasing the membership from the original six to nine and focused on the economic benefits of economies of scale and trade in a barrier free customs union.

The EU is a lot bigger now, is what the French have termed "Europe a Deux Vitesse" (two speed Europe), reflecting weaker economies joining, political integration has been a growing focus and the creation of the Eurozone has seen the transfer of some economic power to central

political and administrative institutions. The UK is the only large European economy staying out of the monetary union. With this, Cameron wants to clarify that non Eurozone EU members are not at a disadvantage for opportunities in the EU.

However, in the early 1990s, the EU project seemed exciting as the Single European Act was passed, the Single Market with much harmonization and reduction in economic barriers was completed. In the last two decades, it’s been hard for Britons to get excited about EU membership while becoming easier to point to the negatives.

If David Cameron wants to win the referendum he must not forget to show the positives of membership. Both China and USA have gently reminded that they prefer UK in the EU. His demands are reasonable. He wants the future focus on the benefits of the Single Market and those economic benefits to grow while ever closer political union become not a must for the UK.

The major change would be clarifying what free movement of labor means - taking up jobs, retiring yes, but moving in and immediately getting welfare benefits, no - not for four years. That will play well with voters, though if the economy does well we will still see many outsiders coming to take jobs. The UK's population will grow and underpin its status ax to the group's second largest economy. In the end, the UK probably wants to stay in the EU and the EU probably wants the UK in. Yet the case will have to be clearly made - no mixed messages from David Cameron.

The author is an economist and Director of China Programs at CAPA, The Global Education Network, a US/UK based organization that cooperates with Capital Normal University and East China Normal University.

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