Open Europe Blog

There is this much chance we will hold an
EU referendum if I’m Prime Minister

Ed Miliband’s intervention yesterday – in which he said he would only hold an In/Out referendum in the event of a new EU Treaty transferring specific powers from the UK to Brussels – has, as expected, divided commentators and media opinion in Britain.

Echoing a similar point we made in our response yesterday, the Telegraph’s leader describes Labour’s new policy as a “classic fudge” and argues that:

“Effectively, Mr Miliband is offering either more Europe or no Europe… The Tories and Labour like to give the impression that they have fundamentally different policies. But they are, in truth, remarkably similar”.

Also in the Telegraph, Peter Oborne argues that the new policy is

“by far the biggest mistake of [Miliband’s] leadership… [this] unforced error is a priceless gift for David Cameron because it amounts to an unequivocal vindication of the Prime Minister’s decision last year to promise a referendum on Europe after the election.” 

However, on Conservative Home, Lord Ashcroft warns that Miliband’s announcement could lure the Tories into talking only about one thing – Europe, arguing:

“the Conservative Party would not only be missing the chance to talk about the things most voters care about more, like the economy, jobs and public services. It would also, as far as these voters are concerned, be proving again the out-of-touchness (outness of touch?) of which it has for so long been accused.” 

The Sun has commissioned a snap YouGov poll which found that 50% of voters disagreed with Miliband’s pledge to only hold an in/out referendum if more powers are transferred to the EU – a move he admits is “unlikely” – while 32% backed his policy but nearly twice as many people regard it as a cowardly move rather than a bold one. The Sun‘s leader argues that the wait-and-see approach has made Miliband “even more unpopular” with voters and the paper concluding that he’d have been better off “keeping schtum”.

The FT broadly endorses Miliband’s speech though echoes our caveat that “Mr Miliband’s policy does not guarantee the British people the right they should have to an in-out referendum if the bloc ultimately redesigns the way it operates in the wake of the eurozone crisis.”

In a less coherent leader, the Guardian argues that Miliband is desperate to avoid having to deal with a referendum if elected as:

“Trying to avert an “out” vote would drain all energy from anything else a Miliband government might want to do; enduring one would sink it entirely.”

What about European media? Well, surprisingly, Miliband has been largely ignored. There’s almost nothing at all in the German press, though Der Spiegel‘s Carsten Volkery – not known for being the Tories’ greatest fan – argues that:

“Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande and the EU Commission should now secretly have their fingers crossed for Miliband. For all public expressions of sympathy for Cameron’s reforms, the British referendum seen as a massive nuisance in the rest of the EU.”

Walter Oppenheimer, London correspondent for Spanish daily El País, writes that Miliband’s decision not to hold an EU referendum:

“It is, however, a very calculated risk: it can cost Miliband some votes – and who knows whether those votes can cost him the election – but leaves his hands free if he manages to get into Downing Street.”

The French press has almost nothing bar news agency write ups, ditto in the Italian and Spanish press, although Miliband got a couple of hits in Switzerland. The speech was picked up by the Polish Press Agency but they focused on the immigration/access to benefits angle and completely ignored the wider referendum issue. The Nordics are quiet too, despite Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt trying to weigh in on the debate yesterday.

We won’t pass judgement as to why Europe has so profoundly ignored Miliband.

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