Britain’s Future in the EU 2014

“With Britain as a member, it is more powerful; without Britain it will still be powerful”
Margaret Thatcher – Speech to Conservative Group for Europe, 1975

Martin Bresson, Senior Advisor of Fleishman Hillard in Brussels opened his presentation on Britain’s Future in the EU with this quote, still relevant almost 40 years later. During his talk, held at Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co on Tuesday 12th May, he addressed – from a Brussels perspective – how three main questions are answered: UK’s role in the EU; what the UK want; and what the UK will get.

What is UK’s role in the EU?

The UK’s key stakeholders expect certain things from a country naturally destined to be one of the ‘Great Three’ of Europe, Bresson explained. They expect it to be a ‘heavyweight’ when it comes to free trade; a counterbalance to protectionism and market intervention; and a force against inertia when it comes to foreign and defence policy.

However, as Bresson described, the UK is currently being seen as a bad sportsman, complaining about the EU to domestic media wherever they don’t get their way.

So, he asks: What does the UK want?

Overall, the UK wants more influence on core issues, as much as possible, in fact. This is, and should be, in Martin Bresson’s view, the UK’s main objective. However, it’s “subsidiary” wishes, such as treaty changes and a referendum, seem to be getting in the way.

Bresson pointed out that the action plan put forward in David Cameron’s 7-Point Plan is practically all negotiable under the current treaty, but that Cameron would probably need something more “tangible” for the domestic electorate. He went on to express his feelings that the UK don’t put forward their opinions in the right way and don’t take into account the audience they address.

This point was raised again later by someone in the audience who mentioned Cameron’s Bloomberg speech in 2013, where, for most of it, he spoke as the leader of the British Parliament – until the end, when he expressed a separate opinion as the leader of the Conservative Party. This, Bresson explained, was an example of how not understanding – that these nuances will “get lost in translation” to a continental audience – leads to unconstructive misunderstandings.

What, then, will the UK get?

At this point in the presentation, Martin Bresson clicked to a slide with the words “ACCESS DENIED” written across it. Bresson explained that this was off course an exaggeration, but the fact that even some of the UK’s natural allies are less and less inclined to listen to them, as they simply don’t seem to want to compromise, does bring some truth to even this exaggeration.

The words “The EU needs to change” sound, to the rest of the world, like “You need to change, not us”. Bresson put it simply: with its current expectations, the UK is unlikely to get the treaty they want.

‘The EU does more good than bad’ was the general consensus of the room as Martin Bresson came to the end of his presentation. But, as he and the audience discussed, there is a big anti-Europe voice in the UK, and what he called a “hmm-okay” voice. Somebody needs to step up and fight for the European Union, and importantly, Britain’s future in it.