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What Inspires David Cameron

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The Indian media were flummoxed. They are not unused to visiting prime ministers; even the British prime minister was here less than two years ago. But prime ministers usually go to Delhi, shake hands with our prime minister six times until the slowest photographers have caught them, go and place a wreath before Mahatma Gandhi’s cremation place, face Manmohan Singh across a table to ensure that their minions are taking good care of bilateral issues, and then fly home. Not that David Cameron neglected these occupational duties; he went and placed wreaths at a memorial to the victims of Colonel Reginald Dyer in Jallianwala Bagh, and of the bomb-planters of Bombay as well. But then he went off to Bangalore, and orchestrated a meeting of British and Indian businessmen. Indian prime ministers are not used to mixing business with pleasure; even when drinks are served in official parties, ministers disappear through a back door before the merriment starts. What was Cameron up to?
To understand where he was coming from, it is necessary to follow what he has recently said in Brussels. We know that he was being difficult with his unionist European partners; in his own words, he has made his country an “argumentative and rather strong-minded member”. He has promised the British people a referendum on whether they want to be in the European Union or not — not immediately, but in 2017, two years after the next general election — assuming he wins it. Why? He laid out the prime contentions in a speech to fellow members of EU last month. He said the eurozone was a union of governments; it had no mechanism to ensure that its decisions had popular mandate. That made Britons uncomfortable. They got considerable advantages by being in the EU; but they must have a chance to decide for themselves whether they wanted to be in it or out.
And why in 2017? He would use the four years to persuade his fellow members of the EU to accept five principles. First, the EU must become an integrated market, not only in goods, but also in energy and in digital services. And it must be served by a much smaller bureaucracy with fewer and simpler rules.  Second, it must be flexible; its members should have greater freedom in matters other than the core of the EU, which is free trade. Third, it must move away from centralisation and harmonisation, and redraw the boundaries between member governments and the European Commission in Brussels. Fourth, member nations’ parliaments must be supreme; powers must be delegated to the European Commission, not the other way round. Finally, while other members may move towards fiscal and financial integration, it should be done without being unfair to the countries that remain outside these new arrangements.
The five points are not very well thought out; they are not mutually independent. The point is, however, that many Britons resent decisions taken by the European Commission and Court of Human Rights, fear that decisions will continue to be taken over their heads, and prefer to get out rather than take the risk of staying in and losing what they think is their democratic right to decide for themselves. There may be more Tories than Liberals or Labourites among them, but they are there; Cameron has not invented them. And he thinks it fair that the people should be given a chance to decide.
Suppose they decide to leave the EU. Then what? Cameron is preparing for that eventuality by developing closer economic relations with India. He would do so even if Britain stays in the EU; he would then urge the EU to get closer to India. That is part of his attempt to get the EU to open up. And instead of just talking about it, he came to India and explored ideas on how to make the Indo-British relationship closer and more beneficial. Should we encourage him? Of course we should, as we should encourage all international ties. We should invite him over from time to time, let him roam, make friends and come up with ideas.

The author is Consultant Editor of Businessworld.


(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 25-03-2013)