On several occasions in recent months, I’ve had to convince myself and others that regional integration is beneficial to Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries. In those instances, the European Union’s (EU) model of integration served well as an example of countries with differences in language, culture, levels of development and economic strengths admirably navigating the rewarding but sometimes stormy waters of regional integration.
The EU member-states have met challenges similar to those facing our regional movement – such as thorny issues related to free movement of people, capital, goods and services as well as single currency – and the 27-nation EU is still intact. So, many Caribbean experts argued that with the political will to adopt some of the measures the EU employs especially regarding ceding of a degree of national sovereignty to a supranational institution, we could make our regional integration movement, more effective.
Alas, Euro-sceptics are growing in numbers in Britain – judging from the opinion polls – in the aftermath of an economic recession that showed up defects in the currency zone. As a result, some countries including France and Germany wants to see a new federal Europe with more fiscal oversight so that the Euro can have a better chance of survival. Britain’s Prime Minister sees this as “changing the nature of the organisation” and believes his country is “perfectly entitled, and not just entitled but actually enabled … to ask for changes.”
In fact, his Conservative Party which includes a healthy bunch of sceptics, is advocating a “repatriation of powers” from Brussels (EU headquarters) to Britain. I foresee a psychological blow for CARICOM, even if it does not affect the thinking of the political directorate; it is likely to add vibrancy to the voices of voters who oppose the movement. Once this negatively affects their ‘political capital’, politicians will be dragged along.
So my ears and eyes are strained towards the Netherlands where Cameron is expected to deliver a keynote speech on the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the EU, on Friday. He has already said that he will give British “voters the prospect of ‘real change’ .
We also know that he will touch on the freedoms, which he acknowledges represent a key reason to be a European Union member, particularly the movement of people. Note that he said: “Should we look at the arguments about should it be harder for people to come and live in Britain and claim benefits… frankly we should.”
Cross reference that comment and sentiment to the remarks and goings-on within CARICOM where government officials and citizens continue to lock horns on immigration issues. Barbados has had verbal battles over who should have access to its free health care and other aspect of its social services.
Generally, that country along with Antigua and Trinidad and Tobago have been heavily criticised for their handling of CARICOM nationals especially Guyanese and Jamaicans entering their territories. In fact Barbados has been taken before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on an immigration issue.
As a Caricom national, who supports integration, the news out of Britain is disheartening. First, the EU was our model, therefore Britain’s serious consideration of a departure, even if it is not realised, does not represent a good example for a fragile CARICOM movement.
I recognise Britain has to do what is good for Britain. But against that background, I recall that only a few months ago Barbados and Jamaica’s business people separately were furiously calling for action accusing Trinidad and Tobago of using non- tariff barriers to keep out their goods, while oil-rich – by Caribbean standards- Trinidad & Tobago were heaping its comparatively cheaper goods on the shelves of its neighbours. Jamaicans were making an arguable though not winnable case regarding the benefits vis-à-vis the costs of integration and there was renewed agitation among Jamaicans that they should leave CARICOM.
In addition, decisions made at the CARICOM level have met opposition or some other stumbling blocks to their implementation in individual territories. Sometimes ‘agreed-to’ policies and regulations are rallied back and forth with changes of governing political parties in countries. A Caricom with a supranational body like the EU’s therefore looked attractive but this rumbling within structure is unsettling.
One positive note though is that PM Cameron wants to stay in the single market describing it as in ‘the UK’s economic interest to remain a full member of the EU to enable the country to influence the direction of the single market.’
Will Britain be able to renegotiate terms? On Friday, the world is expected to get a clearer understanding of Britain’s conditions for participating in the EU. We already know the opinion of the France’s Socialist President of France François Hollande regarding Britain repatriation of powers. Hollande who considers that Europe is for life said: “I believe that treaties are meant to be complied with. This discussion could take place, but Europe is not a Europe in which you can take back competences. It is not Europe à la carte.”
If Britain does not get to ‘pick and mix’ from the European integration menu, how long will it wait for a referendum to tell if it will leave the EU? We’ll see. Already some commentators gives Britain the upper hand. According to her aides Chancellor Angela Merkel see the UK as taking “advantage of other European states as they struggle to save the euro and keep the most debt-laden nations, like Greece, Portugal and Spain, from dropping out of the European Union.”
For us here, the debate could point us to some of the challenges and solutions in adopting a single currency; however it could unfortunately make us very wary of that route and lead to inaction.
For now, it is one step at a time. The first is to listen to Cameron’s speech on Friday and gauge the reaction from government leaders and experts in Europe, in the region and around the world.
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