From Costa del Crime to Crimeshire, Cameron is walking on thin ice

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

To be or not be in the EU has changed since Britain has joined the bloc in 1973. The challenges governments face – climate change, organised crime, staying competitive in a changing world economy – are global. And the EU is their best bet of taking those challenges head on, writes British MEP Graham Watson.

Sir Graham Watson is the UK Liberal Democrat MEP for South West England and Gibraltar, president of the ALDE Party and former leader of the ALDE Group in the European Parliament. He is one of the most senior British Liberal Democrats in EU politics and was recently ranked in the top 20 most influential Brits in EU policy-making.

"When people pay their taxes, they expect their government to do three things: keep them safe, protect their jobs and provide them with the basic public services. UK Prime Minister David Cameron risks undermining two of these basic pillars in just one speech.

One in ten UK jobs are dependent on our trade with and membership of the Single Market. Just this week Honda announced it will be cutting a colossal 800 jobs at its plant in my constituency in Swindon, due to the weak demand on the continent. This shows how intertwined our economic destiny is with that of Europe.

And if the leaks are true, this speech could make that even worse. Thanks to the enormous pressure on Cameron from the blindly nationalistic, anti European right of his party, he is walking our economic recovery on to very thin ice.

Furthermore, we already know the Tory – not Lib Dem – faction in the coalition government is minded to opt out of a whole raft of EU justice and home affairs measures. This would be a disaster.

Take the European Arrest Warrant, which as chair of the Justice and Home Affairs committee I piloted through the European Parliament in 2001. Although not perfect in its implementation, it has fast-tracked hundreds of criminals across borders to face justice.

Organisations from the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland to Justice Across Borders are all saying that we have to work together to tackle serious crime such as the trade in illicit drugs, the trafficking of humans for sexual or labour exploitation and international paedophile rings.

If the UK pulls out of the EU's crime-busting system, it risks becoming a safe haven for criminals. Instead of the 'Costa del Crime' we saw in the 1970s and '80s when criminals used to hide from extradition in Spain, it will be 'Crimeshire' in the UK.

Don't get me wrong, I am proud of my country and what it has achieved. But I am not afflicted by a right-wing delusion: I know that Britain would be nothing if cast adrift in the Atlantic, detached from any major regional bloc.

It's just simple maths: who do I do business with, 60 million or 500 million? We know what the US think – as made clear by the Obama administration publicly urging the UK not to loosen ties with the EU. And I think the British public share this gut feeling – a recent opinion poll found that 40% of people think the UK would have less influence in the world if it left the EU.

The underlying point is this. If you had asked EU leaders 25 years ago why they were in the EU, they would have said that they are part of the club because it has given Europe the longest period of uninterrupted peace it has ever known. And that still holds true. 

But that isn't why the MerkelsHollandes and Ruttes of this world are in the EU today. I wager that if you asked today's leaders why they are in the EU, they would say that the challenges their governments face – climate change, organised crime, staying competitive in a changing world economy – are global. And the EU is their best bet of taking those challenges head on."

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