The European Union has always been a contentious issue in Britain. However, over the last few months the issue of Europe has risen to the top of the agenda, with some people wanting to leave the union completely. Over the weekend, the Observer published a poll which produced some alarming results, with 56% of the participants saying that they would vote to leave the EU if a referendum was held. The image of Europe, painted by a Eurosceptic press, is of an organisation that is corrupt, full of bureaucracy and over paid commissioners. This simplistic vision of Europe does not delve into the benefits of the European Union, especially its importance in facing modern global challenges.
On the eve of important European negotiations over the next seven-year EU budget, David Cameron needs to tread very carefully as pressure builds on him within his own party to use the veto. Further isolation in Europe will diminish our role to shape the European Union at a time where the institution is evolving into something different, with further integration. Britain needs a sensible debate about Europe, but at the moment the Eurosceptics are the only voices being heard. Not only is EU membership important for issues such as trade and fighting climate change, it is essential if Britain wants to remain an influential player on the global stage.
Though there are many who believe we could survive on our own, British EU membership is a necessity. Firstly, the Single Market has brought many benefits to British citizens. The average UK household earns between £1,500 and £3,500 per annum thanks to the Single Market. In terms of trade, the EU is by far its biggest trading partner, accounting for 50% of our business. Would the EU be willing to make a similar free trade arrangement with Britain if we were outside of it? This seems highly unlikely. Also, as the EU currently trades as a single unit, we hold more negotiating power when making deals with third countries. Even David Cameron admits that the EU offers us an advantage in global trade. A British exit from the Union would mean that we would have to negotiate trade deals across the world. As Cameron has repeatedly claimed it is better to attract foreign business to sell to 320 million consumers rather than just the British.
In a globalised world, the EU offers us an opportunity to have an influence on key issues such as climate change and foreign policy. Britain’s position in the world would be weakened, as countries such as the US and China would not see us as such a strategically important ally. As an EU member, Britain is seen as bridge for EU-US relations. Britain’s role on a global stage would be diminished as bigger states see Britain as irrelevant.
It’s about time that British europhiles started to promote the EU cause. For too long the debate has been controlled by Eurosceptic media and politicians intent on loosening the ties with Europe. British business needs to be more vocal in defending European membership, as has happened this week, with the President of the Confederation of British Industry warning against leaving the EU (see below). At the moment, Britain’s role in Europe is confusing at best, and this is worrying many of its allies. In a globalised world, Britain needs the EU as much as the EU needs Britain. The EU is changing, and rather than leaving the EU, it would be better for Britain to get more involved in the European project which would allow us to take a leading role in shaping the future of the Union.