Last week I had an interesting conversation with a Polish-born friend on the United Kingdom’s (UK) referendum and whether it should stay or leave the European Union (EU).
The outcome of the referendum on June 23, 2016 may have a nominal impact on my friend because he holds both Polish and UK citizenship. Nevertheless, this fact did not impinge upon the intellectual exchange which ensued between ourselves.
There are perhaps many compelling reasons for the Brexit (Britain Exit) campaign and the Stay campaign. That is probably why both local and international polls currently reflect a dead heat. For the purpose of time, space and the discussion had with my friend, I wish to focus on one issue namely the immigration issue—which forms a major component of the Brexit campaign.
Those sympathetic towards the Brexit campaign see the need for the UK to reclaim their total sovereignty. Article 18 of the Treaty Establishing the EU (Consolidated version) provides the right of every citizen within the EU to move and reside freely within the territory of Member States.
This right, like most other rights, is not absolute but subject to certain limitations and conditions agreed to by EU Member States.
The EU Directive (2004/38/EC) is important as it sets out, inter alia, the limitations and conditions attached to that freedom of movement. These limits are on the grounds of public policy, public security or public health.
The said EU Directive also further elaborates on the right to free movement. It, for instance, expressly allows not only citizens of the EU to move freely but also their family members irrespective of their nationality. EU citizens and members of their family have a right of residency in another Member State for an initial period of three months.
The time period for the right of residency can be increased to a period of more than three months provided that certain conditions are satisfied eg if the EU citizen can prove that he or she has sufficient resources to support themselves and their family members and hence do not become a burden on the social assistance system of the host Member State.
The Directive also provides for EU citizens and their family members, who have resided legally for a continuous period of five years in the host Member State to take up residence without conditions.
Those in the working class group who support the Brexit campaign claim that foreigners are entering the market and competing for UK jobs, housing and other social amenities. Thus there is a need for the UK to re-take the control of their economy.
It was at this point that my friend and I discussed Caricom’s own freedom of movement provisions under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (Revised Treaty). Under Article 45 of the Revised Treaty, Member States of Caricom have committed themselves to the goal of free movement of nationals within the Community. However, as a first step towards achieving this goal, Caricom Member States have permitted the movement of skilled nationals throughout the Community (Art. 46). These skilled nationals are identified as university graduates, media workers, sportspersons, artistes and musicians.
My Polish/UK friend immediately intervened by stating that “Caricom was clever” by inserting Article 45 and Article 46 in the Revised Treaty. When one compares the EU’s provisions on the freedom of movement of persons with that of Caricom’s, one finds that the former is broader and more elaborate.
The EU confers the right of every citizen to move and reside freely in another Member State. Caricom, albeit as a first step, just allows the freedom of movement and the right to seek employment to skilled Community nationals.
Sometime during the conversation, I was asked to provide my own feelings on the referendum. My sentiments were and still are very narrow and detached from British/EU politics. I see the Brexit vote as akin to if my own country T&T decided to withdraw from Caricom. That would be a disaster in my own humble view. I would first ask myself what would happen to the Caribbean Court of Justice which is headquartered in Port-of-Spain? And may I add, a Court in which we should, but have not yet logged on to the Appellate jurisdiction.
As a former national delegate to the UN and the World Trade Organization in Geneva, negotiating together in economic or political blocs such as Caricom and those who share our common interests is necessary and oft-times critical.
As small as we are individually as islands, within Caricom there is strength in our numbers. Perhaps the United Kingdom is powerful enough to stand up alone in multilateral negotiations. But that again is a matter for British politics, a topic that I do not have sufficient authority to speak or write about.
I also ponder about what would happen if Brexit becomes a reality. Would other EU powerhouses, like Germany or France, shortly follow suit thereby creating a domino effect and the crumbling of the Union? The dissolution of the West Indian Federation in 1962, after Jamaica first pulled out, obviously comes to mind.
In concluding, whether the UK decides to stay or exit the EU should be of interest to us in the Caricom region. There are many lessons which Caricom can learn from this exercise. I certainly would miss the lessons and contributions of the former Labour Opposition UK MP, Madam Jo Cox.