Pros and Cons: Great Britain in the EU

, by Miriam Schriefers, translated by Lina Ohltmann, translated by Lina Ohltmann, Vincent Venus

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Pros and Cons: Great Britain in the EU

Since the European communities were founded in the 1950s, there is a debate about the political and economic integration of Great Britain. This is the first topic for Treffpunkt Europa’s new section entitled ‘PRO & CON’, where arguments will be shown both in favour and against the membership of the British in the European Union.

PRO: Both sides benefit from Britain’s membership:

  • Great Britain is no longer a world (super) power. Even American President Obama would prefer an engaged, influencing Britain in Europe. A British isolation by choice away from the EU is strategically harmful;
  • Britain needs Europe for financial regulation. The ‘City of London’ hosts most of Europe’s financial market. To be able to influence European regulation, Britain must work in and with Europe;
  • The EU needs strong members and partners. Especially during the current crisis. An international regulation of the financial markets can only take place when Europe acts as one in negotiations with the United States and other major players. This includes Great Britain in Europe;
  • The British government shares basic views: reform-oriented in economic policy, pro-American, liberal how society should be regulated;
  • European workers benefit the British economy. They take on jobs British workers reject and are skilled. Furthermore, their contribution to the British economy through consume and taxes is greater than their cost;
  • Britain is the second largest economy in the EU and is engaged in the areas of the Single Market, competition, the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) as well as on enlargement. The EU is a stronger counterweight to China and the United States with Britain in it;
  • Brown is no longer Prime Minister. He was the prime reason in Tony Blair’s mainly pro-European government for why the EU is even less popular in Britain compared to 1997 and is himself responsible for preventing Britain’s membership in the Euro. Though David Cameron is even less Euro-friendly than Brown, his deputy Nick Clegg is a Europhile. Despite a euro-sceptic foreign minister, Clegg will probably be able to bring Britain closer to the EU;
  • The British love the budget airlines such as EasyJet and RyanAir and like to travel abroad to the rest of the European continent. All of this (including roaming) has become less expensive thanks to the EU;
  • If the EU makes a decision that is not supported by the British and some others there is now the possibility for a ‘two-speed Europe’ as is the case with bi-national marriages in relation to divorce law (article 20 of the Lisbon Treaty states that an increased cooperation of some member states is possible when a small minority of EU member states is blocking a decision). Therefore one does not always have to agree.
  • Finally, it is worth checking The Independent’s list from 2007 for why the British ‘love the European Union’: “Making the French eat British beef again” and “Europe has revolutionised British attitudes to food and cooking” are only some examples.

CON: The British are a disturbing factor:

The British do not like Europe, which is visible on a regular basis in the Eurobarometer surveys. Currently only 30% think membership of the EU is a good idea. In 2008, a third was even in favour of leaving the EU. If the people on the other side of the channel do not want to be part of the community, why doesn’t somebody just kick them out? Since the Lisbon Treaty they can leave. Though there are no surveys on whether the continental Europeans want the British in the EU, it can be assumed the result would be a clear NO.

If the people on the other side of the channel do not want to be part of the community, why doesn’t somebody just kick them out?

So what do the British contribute? Since the beginning of European integration, Britain has always been a disturbing factor that had to be bridged. It started with the European Coal and Steel Community that Britain wanted to join only to form the new construction according to their vision, meaning to water it down. As a result of the negotiations, the government did not clearly commit to integration but wanted access once the communities (European Coal and Steel Community, European Economic Community and Euratom) worked. Then Charles de Gaulle, who assumed a Trojan Horse of the United States and who was probably correct about this, could still stop them. After the Kingdom joined in 1973 the leaders showed once more that the Anglo-American pact was more important than the rest of Europe. This could be last seen with the Iraq War when it could be clearly seen that the British are the lapdogs of the Americans. Further, in domestic affairs, the island complicates things, remembering Thatcher and the Rebate, the rejection of the Euro, the withdrawal of the British Conservatives out of the European People’s Party (EPP) and the rejection of tougher regulations of the financial markets.

The only use of British membership is in economic terms. Germany alone gets 20 billion Euros net annually through trade. Therefore: Political cooperation should be stopped, but economic relations should remain. And if the British government at one point should choose to act against fundamental EU interests then we can simply reintroduce tariffs and bring the economy of the island to a standstill. Blackmailing is something us continental Europeans learned from Thatcher.

(Please note: This sections shows two authors’ positions against one another. These are somewhat purposely polarised to stress the conflict. The projected opinions therefore do not necessarily represent the authors’ personal opinion.)

Image: Union Jack 1 by edgenumbers on Flickr.