David Cameron’s attempt to renegotiate Britain’s EU membership has served as a powerful reminder of the case for leaving. The EU is designed in such a way that almost no sensible proposal can be passed. If one member state has a good idea, the other 27 members demand a price for approving it, or they demand concessions until it is completely watered down. If the leader of a country protests, the response is clear: What are you going to do? Walk away? You wouldn’t dare.
The EU’s power-mongering has a cost. The euro has hideously distorted the economies of the member states that adopted it, and the abolition of so many border controls has worsened the immigration crisis — which, in much of Europe, has fostered a political crisis. A new banking crisis may be under way, and all the edicts from Brussels about financial regulation will do little to prevent it. What should have been troubling EU leaders at their summit was not just Britain’s possible exit, but the question of whether the union itself will survive.
It is typical of the EU that the summit should get bogged down in finer points of detail without anyone being able to address the bigger picture. We have had hours and hours of debate over how much child benefit should be paid to the family of a Polish parent working in Britain whose children remain back home. Meanwhile, a more fundamental issue has not been addressed: that western Europe’s generous welfare policies are simply never going to be compatible with mass migration, whether from outside or inside the EU. Cameron sees this problem, and was offering a solution: to ban immigrants from all benefits for four years.
As the Prime Minister recognises, it is one thing for a frontier society like 19th-century America to absorb huge numbers of migrants.