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 200.

    If we continue upon the path on and Centrally Controlled Europe the sovereignty of our country, our culture and our independence are at risk. Less that a hundred years ago we thought to keep such things, not it seems we are on the verge of giving them away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.


    Is it? Democracy is not, and never has been about the will of the people. Democracy is about electing someone from the people to represent the best interests of the majority of the electorate. Democracy allows a government to decide that the electorate is too ill-informed to make a choice and make it for them in their best interests. Always has been....

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    68. Roger_The_Cat_Too

    The problem I have is that on one side I see those opposed to the EU or to certain aspects of the EU who seem capable of articulating their argument without the need to stoop to childish insults. On the other I see people like you. And for the record, I don't want the UK to leave the EU. I want the EU to leave Europe alone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    What's it got to do with Merkel?

    Britain is still a democracy, we make our own decisions. Britain's future should not be decided by unelected Eurocrats in Brussels, that know nothing about British values and the British way of life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    Two good reasons to stay in the EU: WW1 and WW2.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    I'll own up, I voted yes.
    To a common market and free trade area.

    I did NOT vote for
    The European Commission
    The European Parliament
    The European Council
    The European Court of Justice
    Plus several other undemocratic and unacountable decision making bodies and commitees.
    Nor did I vote to pay for it all
    Give me another vote and I'll give you a different result

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    EU political union is a recipe for disaster, but i think everyone needs to take a step back. It would be interesting to see how much money is brought back into the country - rebate, subsidies, British exports from being part of the EU. Add to that the ability to negotiate trade deals as a big block gives us the ability to punch above our wait. Reform yes, but i'm not sure leaving is the way to go.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    Few British people could tolerate further integration after the fiasco of the last few years, but can we afford to leave the EU? As far as I know, 8 out of 10 of the biggest importers of British goods are European countries. Can we afford to lose the trade and jobs that result from being part of the EU? Leaving the EU is not as straightforward as it seems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    @168 - If British people are not European, what continental identity are we? African, American, Asian or Austrilasian?

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    The EU as a free trade block is/was a good idea. Sadly an unrepresentative polical elite minority want to morph the Union into a United States of Europe regardless of what the people want. We've seen what a disaster the Euro has been and unless the EU gets back to just being a free trade block I think the whole thing is destined to colapse and the further away we are when it happens the better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    The journalists Georg Lentze reviews all ignore the fact that the EU is more likely to shatter along a fault line that will divide the PIGS economies from the north and split Italy into two states.

    In the unlikely event of a British departure, Sweden would follow. Plans for Euro-expansion into the Balkans and Baltic would collapse. Ireland would struggle to stay and Finland might melt down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    Parliamentary speeches going back to the mid 60s from pro-European politicians are clear the EEC was more than a trading bloc. Two years before entry the UK signed up to the Werner Report which wanted to move to EMU by 1980.

    The idea political classes lied about the EEC was just a trade bloc is nonsense is press nonsense. They didn't understand the project then or now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    If a well-informed referendum would settle, at least for a while, Britain's status regarding EU membership, then as a supporter of democracy as much as a supporter of European unity, I am for it. One thing I take particular issue with is the 'national identity' argument. Who even defines this nebulous concept? And in what specific way has the EU sought to homogenise such a thing amongst members?

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    No 79. Democracy if about the will of the people, the majority of the people and it is the people that should make the decisions on matters like EU membership and capital punishment. It is a freedom many British people have died for and we should never forget this . If you do not like what the majority decide you are free to live elsewhere. Dictators still rule in some parts of the world!

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    Naturally Angela Merkel would be concerned about the UK leaving the EU, she isn't a fool, without the UK in the mix there are a fewer net contributors to the EU money pit and Germany would be expected to pick up a sizeable portion of the slack.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    160.. interesting.. airbus would find it difficult to move airbus to europe..we make the wings.. the hard bit

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    The Germans live the same lies, and pay hard for it. As far as I know, we never get asked. I do not think, real federalism could happen any time soon - only a bunch of rules to transfer money (ultimately to the rich). But again, the problem behind that is not the EU, but national politician, seeking showcases for them self and blaming the EU for everything else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    As an Italian I can see now how stifling can be EU and especially the Euro. I suggest you go out as early as you can, so I hope sthg will happen and we'll review that crazy thing altogether. We Southern Europeans are often depicted by Germans as a bunch of lazy morons but really AREN'T. We were duped by politicians as in 1943 and alike then Germans are poised to an (economic) invasion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    It would seem, for some, that the panacea for the UK's economic woes is to 'leave Europe'.
    Followed by building trade relationships with the 'White Commonwealth' and the BRICS.
    Newsflash, Canada's in NAFTA and Australia and New Zealand have re-engineered themselves as part of the Asian economic bloc.
    The BRICS don't owe us a living either.
    The dream of a new Empire remains, just a dream.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    I am one of those that does not understand it. I am a simple engineer, I fix things when they break. Although I am lucky enough to have travelled far and wide I have usually worked in the UK, paid my taxes etc etc. So could the more enlightened ones tell me without bull crap, are we better off in or out?


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