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 180.

    I rarely believe anything a politician says, their words have ranged from bare faced lies to being extremely economical with the truth, I have no faith in Cameron's EU vote thoughts, he like every other politician will lie to your face while stabbing you in the back as he empties your pockets

    If he is truthful, he will stand up in the house & make an absolute commitment on an EU membership vote.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    With a federated europe and a uniform corporation and incometax (a necessity for financial reform) you will probably find plenty of companies relocating to the UK with its more generous tax regime and less regulation.BTW the last survey showed over 50% business
    favour of free trade and only 30% in economic union. Read the survey at British Chamber of Commerce

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    Oh no. On the jigsaw, we've taken a nice big clump of france too. whoopsie.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    The sooner an in/out referendum takes place the better for Britain as well as the rest of Europe. Once the facts are laid out and debated and we rid ourselves of all the nonsense spun by The Sun, Daily Mail, Express there will be an overwhelming vote to stay part of the EU.
    UKIP and the rest of the Euro-sceptics will be silenced - then we can get back to where we belong - at the heart of Europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    Cooperation is great, but across Europe few feel any connection to an institution that justifies itself by continuous aggregation of power. Federalism is an agenda promoted by a small self-styled elite of highly-specialised and largely invisible technocrats distantly removed from those that pay their salaries. That's a hard sell to the citizens of any country - the British are just a vocal bunch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    The European Union has become the forth Reich in waiting. What could not be done with war is being done with money. I am happy with a trade area but I am no longer sure that I want to be part of a German/French axis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Dr_Ads said:".. but the advantages/disadvantages of being an EEA member are simple.
    Advantages: Free trade & command ....
    Disadvantages: None. perfectly well for Switzerland, Norway..."

    First Switzerland is not in the EEA, Iceland is there.
    Second, huge disadvantages are that the EEA members have to legislate most of the EU laws without having anything to say about them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    @ 110 systematic
    "It seems almost ironic, being abused by the EU and belittled with not being able to make our own choices, yet keeping it together at the same time. If they didnt want the dog to run away they should have treated it better."

    Maybe it's just me, but I now have remembered that George Michael video clip, "Shoot the dog".

    Go on British bulldoggy, swim westward! Your master awaits!

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    160. grimble
    The sheer obsession with the EU on the right is a wonder to behold.

    So working class Labour voters are all pro EU?? It's not about political affiliations.

    It goes way beyond rational debate, and can only be explained by instinctive xenophobia.

    So not feeling European makes you a xenophobe.... Ok then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    As some have pointed out, i can see many people falling for the EU trick, simply because they don't understand it and you can bet the government will take every advantage of trying to fool us. KNowing what i know ,having weighed up the pros and cons, i feel we are most definitely better off without. However, like with elections i feel the electorate will stick with it which is a shame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    Lets face it we were promised a referendum before the last Election, did we get one, NO. it was not convenient, not the right time according to Dave. Now we are being promised one AFTER the next election, and then it will not be convenient and not the right time.
    You can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time. Do not lie to us again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    Wouldn't it save the treasury £45 million PER DAY not to be in the EU? I think that's incentive enough...

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    Britain cannot never be part of a Federal Europe, because the British people are not europeans, so I think it would be best for Europe to carry on without Britain. Having said that, Britain can still be a major economic player in Europe as a non member just like Switzerland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    The moment the UK leaves the EU is the moment I leave the UK.

    There are things I'd like to see changed, such as direct elections to all leadership posts, but I do not intend to leave. How about a 'Citizen of Europe' option for those of us uninterested in a UK outwith the EU?

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    Even though the UK has not embraced the Euro, it would still be in its interests to stay on in the European fold. Speaking with one voice on EUforeign policy and security issues would be a huge boon.While barriers are coming down in the 21st century with open borders, turning the clock back having the reclusive island mentality would be counter-productive.Forward Europe with one strong voice!

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    I want out of the EU. Not because of some silly "they're stealing our freedom!" argument (although there are awfully undemocratic parts of the EU), but because I genuinely think that we will be better of outside it.

    We do not need to be part of a superstate for successful co-operation between us and the continent.

  • Comment number 164.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    The question isn’t about being part of the EU or not.

    The question is more fundamental, do you want to live in a democracy ?

    Is it for elites to dictate to the people how they live their lives or is it for the people to define their way of life?

    Let the people decide !
    And if you disagree then ask yourself , do you really want to live in a democracy?

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    I love Europe but hate the EU.

    I enjoy visiting mainland Europe, I just don't want others to make laws for us.

    I feel that the UK, being 6th 7th or 8th in the world league table of output can and will remain an economic force for good in the world.

    If we stay shackled to the EU we will slowly lose our competitiveness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    What a mind field! Stay or leave? good question, but other questions would be, what happens to the Europeans working in the Country, their status? Benefits that are paid to Europeans( who have had children in UK but get Benefits paid in their country of origin?
    Removal from the EU might allow our unemployment to come down, but the lazy UK workforce will need a boot somewhere,


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