Issues of low political salience

United Kingdom
Federal Trust for Education and Research
 
The official position of the British government is that both Georgia and the Ukraine should become members of NATO, in accordance with the conclusions of the NATO ministerial meeting of April 2008 and in due course members of the European Union. These questions are not issues of high political salience in the United Kingdom, although their discussion was temporarily enhanced by the events of August, 2008, and the dispute on energy provision between Russia and the Ukraine at the turn of the year. British public opinion was divided in its response to these issues, with some commentators at least accusing the Georgian and Ukrainian governments of provocative behaviour.[1] Perhaps for this reason, the British government has not sought to focus public attention recently on the European Union’s relations with its Eastern neighbours, a topic certainly rendered less immediate to British voters by the geographical remoteness of these neighbours.




[1] See e.g.: Tyranny of the red lines, The Guardian, 5 September 2008.

French Presidency – positive impression of activism and coherence

United Kingdom
Federal Trust for Education and Research
 
The French Presidency of the European Union is generally regarded in the United Kingdom as a success, for its swift and active reaction to the Russian military intervention in South Ossetia and Georgia; for its coordination of national responses to the global economic and financial crisis; and for its facilitation of the package of environmental measures adopted in December 2008. Admittedly, none of these initiatives is without its critics in the UK. Some British commentators would have preferred a more robust response to Russian actions in Georgia; others claim that the French Presidency’s reaction to the worsening financial crisis in October of 2008 was considerably more effective than its attempts to coordinate national macroeconomic measures between the Union’s member states; yet others are unsure about the genuine sustainability of the package of environmental measures agreed in December 2008. Nevertheless, the French Presidency has generally left behind in the United Kingdom a positive impression of activism and coherence, the credit for which is normally given to Sarkozy personally.
 

Greater emphasis on the roles of national governments

United Kingdom
Federal Trust for Education and Research
 
Although the European Union has been seen over the past six months in this country as a useful meeting-place of national governments, it could not be said that the institutions of the European Union have been perceived as figuring largely in the global financial crisis. Much greater emphasis has been placed in the public consciousness on the roles of national governments, notably the British, French and German governments. Brown has been eager to present himself as working closely together with his European colleagues, despite Britain’s continuing absence from the Euro. This absence from the Eurozone is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future. British opponents of the single European currency and British membership of it have claimed in recent months to discern economic and political strains within the Eurozone, which could put its stability under pressure. This is not a universally – held view in the United Kingdom. If anything, British public opinion has been impressed by the rising value of the Euro against the pound over the past six months. This has not led, however, to any apparent increase in the British public’s desire to join the Euro. A “BBC” poll published in January 2009 found that 71 percent would vote against membership in a referendum.[1]


Impression of a European Union in crisis

United Kingdom
Federal Trust for Education and Research
 
In the United Kingdom, the future of the Lisbon Treaty is a subject which currently is only rarely discussed in either public or political circles. The government, having completed the parliamentary ratification of the treaty last summer, sees no political interest in further controversy on the matter; the Conservative Party, the main opposition party, has taken a strategic decision to speak less about European issues than it did before David Cameron became its leader; and public opinion is concerned by domestic and international economic questions to the exclusion of all other political topics. British public and political opinion in any case and understandably regards the second Irish referendum in the autumn of 2009 as decisive for the fate of the Lisbon Treaty.