The Polish online paper Glosuj! interview with New Europeans, March 2014. The interview is available in Polish and English.
Glosuj: How likely is it that the UK will leave the EU? Any statistics, observations of the current political climate in the UK etc. would be welcome!
Roger Casale: There is a significant risk that the UK will leave the EU. As European citizens, it is a risk we should take seriously because were it to come about 2.3 million non-British EU citizens would lose the automatic right to live and work in the UK and 2.2 m British citizens would lost the right to continue to live and work elsewhere in Europe. According to a MORI IPSOS poll conducted in January for British Future, a think tank, 38% want a renegotiation with the rest of the EU, while 28% want withdrawal. The problem is that there is a growing awareness that the UK will not be able to "renegotiate" the return of powers from Brussels. This would require the unanimous support of all members states for a lengthy process starting with an inter-governmental conference. Even if agreement could be reached at an inter-governmental conference, a new Treaty would still be required. I think we could call it the "Hokey-Kokey Treaty" because it would be the "In-out, In-out, Shake-it-all-About Treaty. Nothing short of such a "pick 'n mix" Europe will satisfy the Brits. The new Treaty would then have to be ratified by the 28 member states, some of which would be required by law to put it to a referendum. As President Hollande gently broke it to David Cameron when they visited an Oxfordshire pub together last month, none of this is going to happen. The French are simply not going to make time for such a process, and neither will many other EU member states. So Britain will not get a renegotiation of its relationship with the EU and this will strengthen the hand of the Euro-sceptics. There are two further reasons why I fear the risk of the UK leaving the EU may be increasing. Firstly, the Daily Mail and other papers have been running a campaign full of incorrect information about the scale and likely impact of free movement of EU citizens who wish to come and live and work in Britain. As the Polish Ambassador has said, it is wrong to speak about this as migration - it is not. It is free circulation of people within the European Union. The British have always been negative about new people coming to Britain whether they have a right to do so or not. And right wing parties using an "anti-immigration" rhetoric have always been able to exploit this. The problem today is that too little has been done by the mainstream parties and the public service broadcasters to push back on this and tell it as it is. Now we have a situation in which most Brits believe that non-British EU citizens take more than they contribute, the reverse of the truth. So having identified a so-called "problem" and having seen this legitimated because the mainstream parties have failed to explain the truth, UKIP is now in a position to say, the only way to control "immigration" is for the UK to leave the EU. The second worrying development is the referendum in Switzerland. Unless the European Union takes firm and immediate action to block Switzerland's access to the single market, we may start to see an unraveling of the EU itself. Many people in the UK, for example, will be encouraged to think that they too can "have their cake and eat it". They will argue that "like Switzerland" the UK could be outside the EU, operating its own immigration controls and still enjoying the benefits of unrestricted access to the single market in terms of capital, goods and services. If you are a British citizen (Polish or otherwise but with British citizenship as well), you may feel it doesn't matter too much if the UK leaves the EU as your position here will be secure. However, what about when your friends and family want to come and visit from Poland - do you think it will be easy to obtain the necessary visas? Perhaps it will. But the point is, we don't know. The risk of Britain leaving the EU is there, the consequences would be very negative and we all need to take the risk very seriously indeed.
G: Why is it essential for the UK to stay in the EU?
RC: Britain is a trading country that is open to the world. Our jobs, industry and future prosperity depends on continuing to be a member of the EU. In Britain, we believe in freedom, democracy and the rule of law. To me, that makes the UK a model European country even if it doesn't feel that way to the people who live here. The third reason for Britain to stay in the EU is because the EU represents the future. It would be a strategic error of historic proportions to turn away from our destiny in Europe.
G: How important are the upcoming elections to EU Parliament? Could they in any way affect the UK’s future in the EU?
RC: My personal opinion is that the main question to be decided at the European election is what will happen to the Conservative Party afterwards – will it stay together or will it split into two parties over the European question? Much of the answer to this question will depend on whether UKIP come first or second in the European election. If UKIP come second, David Cameron will try to unite the Conservatives to defeat their common opponent Labour. If UKIP come first, I think it makes it very difficult for David Cameron. So the European election in the UK will not really be about Europe – as in the past, it will be a referendum on the government of the day. The General Election in 2015 though will certainly be about Europe – especially if the Labour Party succeed in avoiding the temptation of offering a referendum on UK membership of the EU as part of its election strategy. The great problem with the rolling tide of Euro-scepticism is that it simply gets worse and worse if you do not stand up to it. The mainstream parties have failed to do this effectively and I fear that we may all suffer the consequences.
G: How important is it for Poles to vote in the European Parliamentary election?
RC: It is very important indeed that all EU citizens, not just Poles, vote in both the European elections and in local elections where these are taking place in their area. If Britain leaves the EU in 2014, this will be the last chance EU citizens will have to vote in such elections here in the UK. By participating in the elections, EU citizens will have a direct impact on the result. According to our sources (Sussex University and the Office for National Statistics) just over 50% of non-British EU citizens were registered to vote here in 2011. So there is much work to be done to register EU citizens’ vote so their voices will count in this very important election.
G: Are organisations such as New Europeans counting on Eastern Europeans’/Polish participation in the elections?
RC: We are working with Vote! and with the Federation of Poles in Great Britain to make sure Polish citizens and all non-British citizens in the UK are registered to vote. We cannot take anything for granted and we are working very hard with our partners to increase the registration and participation rates of Polish citizens in this election.
G: How important is it for the British economy to keep the European immigrants in the country?
RC: I don’t think it is possible to underestimate the contribution of European citizens, not just to the UK economy but to our society, culture and way of life. Parts of our economy and public services would collapse if EU citizens left the UK tomorrow. As a Brit as well as a European, I am very grateful for all that EU citizens contribute to this country and I value the opportunity that my family has to travel freely in Europe and seek out new opportunities. I am ashamed of the way in which many newspapers and politicians have sought to blame EU citizens for issues that have to do with demographic changes British society (the population is ageing) and the global economy (the world is becoming more competitive). EU citizens are the key if Britain is to continue to rise to these challenges of the modern world and to succeed in the future.