EU referendum: Pundits mull future without Britain

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron at a press conference in Berlin The German chancellor is said to be undecided on how far to go to keep Britain in the EU

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British Prime Minister David Cameron's remarks at the end of June on a possible referendum on his country's relationship with the European Union have prompted pundits elsewhere in Europe to consider the possibility of the UK leaving the bloc altogether.

Opinions vary on how likely or desirable this is. Some would like Britain to stay in the EU, others consider that the country's eventual departure is all but inevitable, and a third group would positively welcome such a development.

Please stay!

The current edition of the German Council on Foreign Relations journal, Internationale Politik, includes an article on "The British question".

Its author, Hans Kundnani, argues that closer integration, which is "probably required" to resolve the euro crisis, "could force Britain to leave the EU".

He says German politicians and media appear to be divided over how important it is to prevent this. Chancellor Angela Merkel seems to be "torn both ways". Her intuitive preference for Britain to stay may come to be outweighed by the "overwhelming pressure" she faces to resolve the euro crisis.

However, Mr Kundnani himself warns that Britain's departure would be "fatal" for the bloc and that Mrs Merkel will have to make greater concessions to Britain if she wants to avoid such an outcome.

Others share this view. A commentary by Michael Stuermer in the German daily Die Welt says it is "in the German interest to keep Britain in the EU at almost any cost". Mr Stuermer praises the "free trade instincts" of the British and says European defence without the UK "would be a knife without a blade".

Hubert Wetzel in Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung is somewhat cooler on Britain's continued membership. "Of course Britain's departure would be a disaster for the EU. However, with all due respect, Europe has bigger problems," Mr Wetzel says.

Exit is inevitable!

Some French-language commentators, in particular, regard Britain's eventual departure from the EU as a foregone conclusion.

The Europe correspondent of the French daily Liberation, Jean Quatremer, is categorical. "In a few years' time, Britain will have left the EU," he says in a blog post.

Mr Quatremer argues that, in the face of the coming deepening of eurozone ties, Britain's traditional strategy of negotiating opt-outs might rapidly become "unmanageable" and "even quite simply impossible".

Jigsaw map of Europe (Thorsten Kirchhoff, CC BY) Some on the Continent believe Britain is inexorably moving towards leaving the EU

Add to that the "growing hysteria" in the British debate on the EU, and it becomes "difficult to see" how a referendum on EU membership can be avoided, "all the more since the new generation of Conservative leaders is fanatically europhobic".

A lengthy editorial in French on the EU-Logos website agrees that "the moment of truth has arrived" for the UK.

It says the launching of an audit of EU powers and their impact on the UK by Foreign Secretary William Hague is unlikely to stop the British march towards "a rejection, in one form or another, of the European Union, a rejection which is inexorably gaining ground".

The editorial appears to welcome the prospect of a British exit. "The attitude of the United Kingdom is calling the whole patiently constructed edifice into question too strongly and too clearly. Its refusals have disheartened the last of its defenders," it says.

Good-bye and good riddance!

There is in fact a body of opinion according to which Britain's departure would be a boon to a European Union which is being held back by London's constant objections.

"Does the United Kingdom have to leave the European Union?", asks Charles Nonne in a French-language article promoted on

The author laments the current paralysis of European integration and squarely puts the blame on the UK. "By withdrawing from the institutions of the European Union, the United Kingdom would offer the EU an opportunity to launch a real process of federalisation," he says.

In a German-language post on entitled "Without you then!", Andreas Sowa says a "less formal link between Britain and the EU seems to be a necessary evil on the way to an institutionally and conceptually functioning Europe" and concludes: "If you are not willing, then we shall proceed without you. For the next few steps, Europe does not need Britain."

Such sentiments are not entirely confined to EU blogging portals. In December 2011, the highbrow German weekly newspaper Die Zeit carried two articles on Britain's EU membership, one in favour and the other against. Making the case against, the paper's Brussels correspondent, Matthias Krupa, said that "Britain must decide what role it wants to play in the EU in future. As notorious naysayers, the British are redundant."

Europe jigsaw picture by Thorsten Kirchhoff, CC BY.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    So if the objection to the EU is the rules and obligations it creates for British law, will the Europhobes also want us to withdraw from the World Trade Organisation (an infinitely more insideous organisation controlled by multinational business interests)? And if we do withdraw, will all those 1000s of expats enjoying life as residents of France, Spain and Italy be forced to return? Cake, eat!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    The European Union (EEC etc.) is an appallingly bad idea, utterly ineptly executed. Every issue that arises to highlight this is handled as an isolated issue, therefore failing to address the underlying causes.
    It came into being as a misguided attempt to prevent Germany's dominance of Post War Europe. LMAO. If we withdraw we face only the prospect of not being dragged so far down the toilet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    We should stay in the EU. We shouild use our leverage to get concessions but they would have to be seriously considered. Ultimately, I believe an EU with the UK in it will be mutually beneficial but we need to stop the tug of war, it’s a waste of time and money. Also, I believe DC is posturing. If he were serious, why not a referendum now? It might get him-re-elected, which is his main concern.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    It's such a pity that we as a nation have allowed Rupert Murdoch to brainwash us into believing that the EU is such a bad thing.

    If we are outside of the EU, why on Earth would any multinationals be based here and the European financial centre would quickly relocate to Frankfurt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Because we are currently in, at the moment it makes sense to stay in. However, any requirements to help prop up the Euro may require us to leave. If closer integration means more central control then I say "Au revoir !". Witness the current hoorah over benefit migrants - in a time of hardship we are required to pay our taxes to non-working voluntary exiles from elsewhere in Europe. I think not !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    The EC worked, it made trade and travel between the member countries easier and promoted good relations.

    But politicians cannot leave a good thing alone. They just had to accrue more power, more influence, more opportunities to line their own pocket.

    Now we have a massive money sink that cant balance it's books due to rampant corruption.

    Bring back the EC, ditch the rest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Of course Germany would see the UK leaving as a disaster, because if the UK was to not crumble to ruins and actually grow after leaving the bloc then it will call into question the whole alleged benefit of the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    DC is dangling the carrot of a referendum on the EU in a attempt to bring back UKIP supports to the Cons. Dont fall for it folks if (god help the country) he does win the next election a referendum promise will dissapper faster than his promises on the NHS

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Before the vote we need an independent advisory report on the pros and cons , who explore the facts not the rhetoric of thick politicians . At the moment hand on heart no one can say from an economics perspective which is likely to be the best decision.

    My own view is Europe is doomed to no growth for the next decade , with an increasing divergence of wealth and more bail outs for some.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    The scaremongering about lost trade and businesses is nonsense. Outside the EU we can be even more competitive and attractive to Nissan and the rest . The French and Germans (and everyone else for that matter), are not so stupid as to jeopardise their exports to us by putting up any barriers to our exports. Even Hollande is not that daft - the cheesemakers alone would bring France to a standstill.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Britain always cherished freedom and democracy.
    Mainland Europe however, has historically shown they are prepared to sacrifice democratic independence. Vichy France during the 40's is a good example.
    Britain, is forth largest contributor to EU budgets, and the major part of Europe's military defence policy. Germany would be expected to pick up the tab again. It may just be Germany leaves first!

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Mr C needs to do the right thing here and listen to The People: the majority of British want out of the EU as they feel - quite rightly, IMO - that we are looked upon and treated as the poor relative in the relationship. Without taking the euro, we never fully committed anyway. Time to say goodbye - nothing to lose and our independence is maintained.

    Viva la Britannia...

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    1. There is an issue about UK responses to current plans for banking reform and fiscal controls, but tougher EU banking regulation that didn't cover the biggest player would harm the other players; the EU needs the UK banks under its regime.
    2. Raising this issue now looks like an attempt to distract attention away from the serious decisions that need to be taken about Greece and Spain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Bring back EFTA. This was all that is necessary for a united Europe

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Heath took us into a Common Market which then became the EEC & is now the EU. It will shortly become United States of Europe. Do we want to be assimilated into this amorphous collective?
    Probably no but conversely can we afford to leave it al together? No.
    We should adopt a stance similar to Norway. We trade with a USE but are not controlled by it. When supping with the devil use a long spoon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    The UK is a convenient scape goat for the stagnation of federalisation. German tax payers don't want to subsidise the profligate south either, and French have no money.

    Harmonisation of regulation has economic benefits for Europe and we need to be sitting at the table shaping the rules.

    But the Greeks have shown that Europe does not have the social flexibility required for monetary union.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    We must exit.

    We need nothing more than to trade with the EU. It is an unaccountable extra layer of bureaucracy, rife with corruption which puts its own political ideals ahead of the people it is supposed to represent and support. Just look at how it has thrown the people of Greece to the wolves of extreme austerity just to save its own political face.


  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    I dont think the French will be bothered, but it is 37 years since the British public was asked for their support for EU membership. Like living with an unelected government! The whole EU picture has become too top heavy, and needs trimming back. But it will not happen as long as France and Germeny are in control. Sort out the referendum DC and lets have a say, at last.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I'm in favour of the EU and want the UK to be a bigger part of it but I'm sure a lot of people have other views!. We need a balanced 'pros and cons' debate and I do believe we need a referendum for no other reason than to close the argument.

    If we vote out we need to leave and if we vote in we need to be all the way in. Enough of this half way stuff.

    A bit like Scotland come to think of it.


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