3 November 2015

Britain may not need the EU, but the EU needs Britain

By Leopold Traugott

When the United Kingdom first applied for EEC membership in 1963, the answer it received was simple: “Non!”.  The European project was still in the early stages of development, and Charles De Gaulle was afraid that UK membership would slow down or block necessary steps towards further integration. Accusing the UK of harbouring a “deep seated hostility” towards European integration, and a “lack of interest” in its common market, the fledgling EEC vetoed their candidacy, twice—once in 1963, and again in 1967.

Around half a century later, the situation has changed. While Britain has retained its scepticism of European integration—with many now advocating leaving the EU altogether—the other member states are suddenly in need of Britain’s restraint.

If the UK decides to turn its back on the European project, the EU will continue its dangerous spiral towards an ‘ever closer union’, culminating in a political and fiscal union that is doomed to fail.

Britain has always been a special case within the EU. It has been careful about its financial and political commitments to the project, and willing to openly refuse integrative measures it disagreed with. This has led to many special deals for the UK—allowing it to keep the British Pound, stay out of Schengen, and opt-out of many Justice and Home Affairs rulings. It has also significantly lowered the UK’s budgetary contributions.

But Britain’s behaviour has also helped slow down European integration in general, mostly for the better.

It was due to British influence that the EU finally decided to reform its overly expensive and protectionist Common Agricultural Policy (a decidedly French scheme), as well as its Fisheries Policy. Most importantly, it was British influence that stopped Europe from blindly backing the proposed fiscal union scheme, in 2011. These are just a few of the most obvious

If the British vote to support Brexit, this restraining influence will be gone. It will result in a European project dominated by the Franco-German axis—both committed, despite their differences, to an ever closer union, even at the detriment of Europe.

As recent years have shown, the results of deeper integration are not always pretty. The Euro rescue was a massive failure; with billions wasted in order to save an ideological goal from economic reality, and taxpayers’ money thrown at banks to keep the markets artificially afloat.

With British influence gone, it is unclear how long Germany and the Central European states can keep the EU from devolving further into a mere union of debt, something that will likely lead to a definitive split between Northern and Southern member states.

Would keeping Britain in the EU protect Europe from continuing further down this road? Unfortunately, there is no guarantee. But it is surely better than Britain leaving.

If Cameron plays his cards wisely, he may win concessions from his European partners—which would benefit all EU citizens. But he will need to present his list of demands soon, as some states will be reluctant to agree to the treaty changes Cameron hopes to attain. So far, France seems especially opposed.

Should Cameron fail to win the reforms promised, the EU may have to continue without the UK. This won’t be good for Europe.

Leopold Traugott is the director of Campus Europe and a Young Voices Advocate.