EXCLUSIVE / The European Council agreed in February to a number of reforms proposed by Britain to try and counter the risk of the UK leaving the bloc in a June referendum. Alexander Graf Lambsdorff spoke to EURACTIV Germany about the historic vote.
Alexander Graf Lambsdorff is Vice-President of the European Parliament and an MEP with the liberal ALDE group.
Before the European Council summit in February you warned that the planned “emergency brake” would be discriminatory and put a nail in the coffin of European freedom of movement. Did the Council go too far in its concessions to the British government?
On this issue, it clearly went too far. We are talking about one of the four fundamental freedoms of the internal market, which from a liberal point of view is the most important part of European integration.
Those in favour of an emergency brake on the free movement of workers, will see that sooner or later others will come up with the same idea regarding the free provision of services, the free movement of goods and the free movement of capital – destroying the internal market as we know it.
For the emergency brake to come into force, the EU directive on free movement has to be modified, which can only be done with the consent of the European Parliament. Should the Parliament use this opportunity to amend the Council’s proposal?
I’m sure that I will certainly not agree to a change of the directive, as it would restrict one of our basic fundamental freedoms. I assume that many in my group, as well as my colleagues in the EPP and S&D group will feel the same.
What position the other groups take remains to be seen. But I believe that we in the Parliament have an institutional responsibility to protect the common European interest, which is incompatible with measures that will help bring down the internal market.
If the deal were to be altered, would the UK not interpret that as the European Union failing to follow through with what it has promised?
Who counts as the “the European Union” here? Member state leaders have met within the framework of the European Council, but their agreement is in no way a document of the European Union, but a text of hybrid character, which is unspecified and not legally binding.
At the moment, the whole thing is nothing more than a deal that has been hammered out down the local bazaar. The European Union, however, is a community of law, in which there are regulated responsibilities. If the British are going to put all their eggs in one basket, in a promise made like this, which has not yet complied with our clean process of law, then, for me, this process of law is more important and preferable.
Your colleague, Dominique Riquet, and other MEPs are now campaigning for Brexit and has even said “let them leave!”. Would that perhaps be the best solution for everyone?
As a liberal, I want Britain to remain. The country is free-market oriented, is in favour of free trade, is a tolerant society and has an excellently functioning democracy. Thus, it has always contributed to the enrichment of the EU.
As a European politician, I have to say, of course the UK is an incredibly laborious member state. In this respect I do understand where Riquet and others that want progress in European integration are coming from and I know that the UK has sometimes blocked progress in that regard.
Nevertheless, the bottom line is that, as a German and as a liberal, I would prefer the UK remain and continue to contribute constructively to European unification.
How do you think the referendum will go?
(Laughs) If you give me a crystal ball, I’ll tell you. The result hangs on a knife edge, it is extremely difficult to predict what will happen; it’s certainly not clear-cut either way.