The Institute for Politics and Society organized a public debate on the “UK’s EU Reform Agenda.” The speakers included H.E. Jan Thompson, British Ambassador to the Czech Republic; Tomáš Prouza, State Secretary for European Affairs, Government of the Czech Republic; and Jan Macháček, Chairman of the Board for the Institute for Politics and Society. The debate focused on the reforms proposed by the UK which need to be addressed if the UK is to remain a member of the EU. Jointly, the speakers discussed the intention of the reforms and the impact the UK’s departure from the European Union would have on the various aspects of the global society (i.e. the EU, the UK, NATO, etc.).
Ambassador Thompson began the discussion by introducing the four “baskets” currently under negotiations: competitiveness, economic, sovereignty, and welfare. Firstly, the UK wishes to see more devotion to an integrated single market, more free trade agreements, and less regulation for businesses. This bleeds into the economic basket, where the UK is pushing for safe guards to be put into place for those who are not members of the Eurozone, yet are still affected by its decisions. They seek to see more inclusion in the decision making process for non-members, as well as protections that would not hold non-member states liable for bailing out those within the Eurozone. In regards to sovereignty, the UK wishes to be exempt from the “ever closer union” principle and create a stronger voice for national parliaments within the EU. Finally, the UK seeks to create what is being referred to as an “emergency brake system” or “safeguard mechanism”, which would allow a country to temporarily limit its intake of migrants. Migrants in this case refers to internal migration, not the external migration crisis. The UK’s welfare system is quite generous and, therefore, is often susceptible to heavy inflows of people and abuses to the system, resulting in harm being done to their own citizens and economy. In all, Ambassador Thompson was optimistic about the negotiations and hopes the referendum can be pushed through as soon as possible in order to achieve positive results.
Jan Macháček spoke about the impact the UK’s departure would have on the EU. He expressed that the UK brings with it a deep tradition of parliamentary processes, uninterrupted democracy, uninterrupted rule of law, and a strong and historical link to the U.S. These ideas, in addition to the UK’s military ability, make it a vital member of the EU. He feels that without the UK and their ability to push back, the EU would become even more dominated by Germany. However, a negative turn out would be a “lose-lose” situation, as the UK is also better off remaining in the EU than outside of it. If the UK exits the EU, then it would be forced to renegotiate all partnerships and trade agreements with each EU member state but from a weaker position than before. Additionally, the question of Scotland’s independence could also be raised again.
Tomáš Prouza discussed the negotiations and the EU’s perspective on the UK’s reform agenda. The significance of the situation is greatly felt within the EU and there is an attempt to get the negotiations pushed through as fast as possible. Furthermore, a few of the issues raised by the UK are of particular interest to the Czech Republic. For example, having Czech be a part of the Eurozone decision making process would also said in the implementation of the Euro, when Czech does eventually go on it. The most difficult segment is the one concerning the “safeguard mechanism.” Numbers need to be provided to demonstrate how temporary the mechanism is supposed to be and there are clear red lines about out right discrimination based on nationality. Despite this, everyone is hoping to reach a positive agreement as soon as possible and push through for a referendum as early as June 2016.