Opinion: 21st Century Britain will need the European Union

Britain’s fraught relationship with the EU is perfectly rational. Think of it this way:

– if I have a problem and you solve it for me, I will like you;

– if you create a problem for me, I will not like you;

– if you solve a problem that I don’t have, I might like you, but I don’t need you.

This is exactly what lies at the heart of Britain’s relationship with the EU. Let’s consider what problems the EU solves:

  1. All nation states need to trade their goods. Membership of the EU provides access to the Single Market, the largest market in the world. It is the reason the UK joined what was called The Common Market.
  2. All nations of Europe want and need peace. However, the UK’s experience of the war – although traumatic – was different from that of the founding countries of the EU. Britain was not “raped” in the way that other countries were (I have deliberately chosen that strong word for it helps to explain the different reactions to the war). For Britain, European integration was necessary to prevent war on the Continent, but Britain itself did not feel it needed to be a part of that process. Churchill called for a United States of Europe, but he intended it for the other countries, not for Britain.
  3. Membership of the European Union has helped to protect the democratic institutions of young and vulnerable democracies. This does not apply to the UK. Its democratic culture is one of the oldest in Europe.
  4. The EU acts as a counterbalance for countries which have a very dominant neighbour. This is the case for Ireland vis-à-vis the UK, for Finland and the Baltics with neighbouring Russia, and for other countries in similar ways. But again, this does not apply to Britain.

Barring the Single Market, the EU provides solutions to problems which the UK does not have. It is therefore hardly surprising that while the British are almost unanimously in favour of being part of the Single Market, full membership of the EU is much more controversial. All the other benefits of EU membership – and there are many – simply do not carry enough weight to justify full membership in the eyes of many British people. It is perfectly rational. But is it wise?

As the 21st Century advances the UK will increasingly come to need the EU:

  • On its own, the UK will find it impossible to tackle the challenges, or even take full advantage of the opportunities, that come with a globalised human society;
  • Global inequalities trigger migration flows, and at a time when Britain and Europe need immigration because of ageing populations, the response must be increasingly at European level if migration flows are to be managed effectively and peacefully;
  • The security challenges of this century exceed the limited powers of any single nation state, and will continue to do so. Security in Europe needs a supranational response;
  • Climate change cannot be mitigated, let alone reversed, by any single country on its own – no matter how powerful. Standing outside the EU, knocking on the door, pleading the EU to do something that the UK needs in order to protect its island, is anything but a sensible strategy;
  • The Arctic ice is melting, and the Arctic’s precious natural resources are becoming accessible. Will the UK really be able to stand up to Russia by itself when disagreements over the exploitation of these resources surface?

Prime Minister Cameron and those who are calling for the UK to withdraw are failing the British people by pretending the UK will be able to tackle the 21st Century’s challenges on its own. The UK must not only continue being a full member of the European Union, but must be convinced and determined about it. For that is the most rational choice. It is time for Britain to open its eyes to the future.

* Sean O’Curneen is the Secretary General of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group on the EU Committee of the Regions

* Sean O'Curneen is Secretary General of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the Committee of the Regions, the EU's Assembly of Regional and Local Elected Representatives.

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12 Comments

  • A short clip showing Britain before the EU:

  • Why is it that people who clearly have no understanding of China or its history, constantly use that country as straw-man argument; oh wait, I think I answered my own question.

  • Britain has no future outside the EU. That’s obvious.

  • The EU has no future. That’s obvious.
    If we had stuck to the plan that we voted for in 1975, there might still have been a future for an EEC. But ‘mission creep’, megalomaniacs, and the gravy train’ers, got involved, resulting in the 30 year, EU ‘bloat fest’. The final nail in the coffin was the Euro currency. As the new debate over the pound, being shared by England and a possible independent Scotland shows, there can be no shared control over a currency. And the idea of ‘shared sovereignty’, lies somewhere between a joke and an oxymoron. Once the Euro was born it was just a matter of time before independent EU countries lost control to a central state. The evidence is happening as we speak, between the Berlin-Brussels Quad, and its tug-o-war over democracy, sovereignty and the Cypriot, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and Irish rights to their own economic self determination, without the tacit approval of the EU-Quad.
    There is NO shared sovereignty on the streets of Athens today.
    The EU (in its present form), has no future. We should have stuck with the original 1975 plan, which is essentially what UKIP suggest.
    R.I.P. – EU

  • Frank Furter 27th Apr '13 - 4:25pm

    John Dunn’s points are well made as are Sean O’Curneen’s when he analyses the British feelings about the EU. But the five bullet points are the usual statements of EU supporters without any evidence or genuine attempt to make a case.

    Why on its own, will the UK find it impossible to tackle the challenges, or even take full advantage of the opportunities, that come with a globalised human society? What challenges what opportunities?
    Why, must the response be increasingly at European level if migration flows are to be managed effectively and peacefully? Why not at our own borders?
    Why does security in Europe needs a supranational response, especially when most EU states do not have adequate defence spending?
    Why should we be pleading with the EU to do something about climate change? Does not geography mean what is bad for us is bad for the mainland too. Do not they have self interest?
    Will the UK really be able to stand up to Russia by itself when disagreements over the exploitation of these resources surface? What evidence is there that the EU would be able to do the standing up??

    Chris says ‘Britain has no future outside the EU. That’s obvious.’ Well its not obvious to me.

  • “If we had stuck to the plan that we voted for in 1975, ”

    We voted for the explicit commitment to ‘ever closer union’ that’s in the first line of the Treaty of Rome.

  • nuclear cockroach 29th Apr '13 - 1:27am

    @jb

    “That is a flat out lie” is itself blatant porky. one that you attempt to pull every time the issue of Britain’s membership of the EU is mentioned.

    The Treaty of Rome, 1957, which the UK acceded to begins:

    “Treaty establishing the European Economic Community

    HIS MAJESTY THE KING OF THE BELGIANS, THE PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF GERMANY, THE PRESIDENT OF THE FRENCH REPUBLIC, THE PRESIDENT OF THE ITALIAN REPUBLIC, HER ROYAL HIGHNESS THE GRAND DUCHESS OF LUXEMBOURG, HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN OF THE NETHERLANDS,

    DETERMINED to establish the foundations of an ever closer union among the European peoples,”

    Errr, second paragraph, after the formal title.

    Anyone who cared to could have obtained a copy from the HMSO, or from the Commission. Nothing was hidden.

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