The UK’s referendum will not only have an impact on Britain, but also on the rest of the European Union. As part of our series covering views on the referendum across Europe, Salvador Llaudes assesses the perspective of the Spanish government and Spanish citizens on a potential Brexit.
Internal tensions pushed David Cameron to launch the risky wager of undertaking a referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017. Leaders only use this mechanism, which often has a polarising effect on the electorate, when they are sure of attaining a clear victory. Following this same logic, after his successful experiences of 2011 (the referendum on the ‘alternative vote’ electoral system) and 2014 (the referendum on Scottish independence), Cameron has seen himself as having enough leverage to call a new plebiscite that could solve the relationship between the UK and the EU for at least a generation.
The referendum, scheduled for 23 June, will see Cameron ask for a vote in favour of remaining in the European Union, after months of negotiations with his partners regarding the new nature of the relationship between the two sides. Donald Tusk played an essential part, in his role as President of the European Council, in the success of the negotiations. At the same time, countries like France (for her opposition in granting the UK further concessions over economic governance), Belgium (for her reticence to renounce the principle of “ever closer union”) and most of all, the Visegrad Group, that is, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary (for their discomfort regarding proposals concerning social benefits), had a relevant role too.
Of course, only in the case of Britons deciding to stay in the EU, will the agreement come into effect. With the exception of the section regarding competitiveness, which is more ambiguous and imprecise, the rest (economic governance, sovereignty and social benefits) will bring about some changes regarding the relationship between the EU and UK, and will have certain effects on Spain. Though undesirable for a country so firmly pro-European, these effects do not have to be particularly dramatic, especially if they do not entail a cascade of petitions to obtain a singular status from other countries.
The UK’s referendum and Spain
Regarding economic governance, Cameron has obtained the recognition that different currencies co-exist in the EU, but a clear red line for Spain has been salvaged as it is highlighted that the only currency of the EU is the euro. Likewise, and in this same section, the UK has achieved the creation of a mechanism that guarantees the non-discrimination of countries outside the Eurozone.
According to this, economic matters that affect the banking union and the internal market can be put forward to the European Council. Although this does not translate into veto power, depending on how and how frequently it is used, it could eventually provoke serious difficulties when taking decisions. This is clearly against Spain’s interests, though at the same time, it may pose an opportunity to balance German economic power, given that the British and Spanish productive models are very similar, due to the export of services, internal demand and the role of the banking sector.
In terms of national sovereignty, the UK will now have one more singularity: from now on it will be exempt from “ever closing union” and it will not be obliged to integrate further in the future (there is even a compromise for this to be reflected in an eventual treaty reform). Furthermore, in this sphere, it is important to highlight the assignation of a “red-card” to national parliaments, according to which they could veto legislation (although only in the case of 55 per cent of national parliaments also exercising it). This concession, which would limit the power of legislative initiative of the Commission, is, in principle, dangerous and undesirable for a country like Spain, which has traditionally had a weak parliament, especially in the control of foreign affairs. Nevertheless, it could pose an opportunity as an incentive for the Parliament to establish a network with other national parliaments that hold the same EU perspective as Spain.
In regards to the last point of the negotiation, countries have decided upon the creation of mechanisms to limit social benefits, in particular those concerning child benefits and in-work benefits. The introduction of such mechanisms should not be alarming for Spain given the type of Spanish immigration in the UK – mostly young and without family burdens. However, the curbing of in-work benefits, which would allow the UK to activate an “emergency brake” for seven years to limit the social benefit claims of EU migrants, is potentially more harmful.
Nevertheless, this would not apply to those already residing in the UK (around 200,000 Spaniards according to official figures, of which, barely 1 per cent are social benefit claimants) and, if the economic situation in Spain continues to improve, the migration rate is expected to decrease. Likewise, Spain is the EU country with which the UK has the most favourable relations in terms of migration, given that the lowest estimates point to 300,000 Britons residing in Spain. This offers a certain guarantee against the discriminatory treatment of Spaniards in the UK.
Which way the vote will go is a decision now in the hands of the British people. As in other referendums, what is relevant is whether citizens are replying to the question set, or whether other factors such as their trust in the current government or their views on the negotiations play a role in shaping opinions. Should the UK opt to leave it would certainly be more costly for Spain and the EU as a whole (not to mention the UK itself).
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Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics. Featured image credit: La Moncloa Gobierno de España (CC-BY-SA-2.0)
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Salvador Llaudes – Real Instituto Elcano
Salvador Llaudes is an Analyst on European Affairs at Real Instituto Elcano.
The negotiations were not a success and to say that they were is taking journalistic licence to its limits and beyond.
None of the agreements Cameron supposedly secured are legally binding and all could be reneged on, even if there is a “stay” vote. Anyone who trusts this “jam tomorrow” promise is likely to be very disappointed.
There is no comparison between Spaniards living here and Brits living in Spain, Brits are highly unlikely to be in Spain looking for work, they will have retired there or are self sufficient and not claiming welfare benefits.
“There is no comparison between Spaniards living here and Brits living in Spain, Brits are highly unlikely to be in Spain looking for work, they will have retired there or are self sufficient and not claiming welfare benefits.”
You’ve said that as if it’s a good thing that they aren’t looking for work. Pensioners contribute nothing directly to a tax system yet use public services. They’re usually a net drain on an economy unless they spend so much money while they’re there that they compensate for it.
Workers on the other hand (1% of Spanish citizens are claiming benefits in the UK according to the figures in this article) are typically a net gain to an economy – particularly in this case where the UK is receiving tax revenues from working age Spaniards without having to pay for their education (and who will in all likelihood move back to Spain before retiring).
“None of the agreements Cameron supposedly secured are legally binding and all could be reneged on, even if there is a “stay” vote.”
This is an extremely pedantic/silly point that seems to be getting raised by Eurosceptic campaigners regularly to try and muddy the waters. It’s a bit like saying if the UK votes to leave the government could force people to work 80 hours a week because the Working Time Directive wouldn’t apply – something being technically possible doesn’t mean it’s going to happen and the political capital that would be lost in tearing up the renegotiation would make it a spectacularly stupid idea. It’s not going to happen and if you think this constitutes a reasonable argument for leaving the EU then you need to go back to the drawing board.
Considering they are living there, they are likely to be spending all there money there, so they are contributing to the Spanish economy.
Not all migrant workers are a net gain to the economy and it is misleading to claim this.,
it depends what work they are doing and whether or not they are paying tax, also, what benefits (such as tax credits) are supplementing their earnings. They will be using the NHS, school places, public transport etc., none of which they have contributed to. They could be receiving child benefits, housing benefit, maternity payments etc. etc.
I do not agree that saying something could be reneged on is pedantic, or silly.
As you will know the so called agreements Cameron supposedly secures will require all members states to agree to and Cameron has been told this cannot be guaranteed.
If you have some positive statements want to contribute to the EU debate why don’t you make them, rather than indulging in petulant comments?
Nobody has claimed all workers are a net gain to the economy. What was actually said is that your suggestion it’s better on average for an economy to have ageing retired citizens than productive people of working age isn’t borne out in empirical evidence – in fact the opposite is typically true. And we have plenty of empirical evidence that EU migrants overall are a net gain to the UK economy – they made a net contribution of £20 billion to the UK economy between 2000 and 2011, as shown by Dustmann and Frattini’s well quoted study.
And if we got rid of those that weren’t contributing, the net gain would be even higher.
I’m not sure why you’re so keen to say that mostly young working age, tax paying Spaniards in the UK (and do presumably by extension others from elsewhere in the EU) are such a burden on the UK but the mostly retired British immigrants in Spain are somehow an unalloyed benefit. There are always pros and cons to any such system of free movement of peoples, and that includes the Brits living elsewhere in Europe. Holidaying in the Algarve last year it was rather depressing to see some towns turned into Essex in Sun, with British bars and shops everywhere.