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 bloggingportal.eu.

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 blogactiv.eu 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
    +2

    Comment number 220.

    Assuming a referendum were held and Britain voted to stay in? Would the Europhobes resign to that fact or continue to be obstructive?

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 219.

    Here is my view as a french:
    Yes UK is a major hindrance to the construction of europe. The main reason is that UK is a neocons trojan horse. Thanks to UK EU is now limited to "free" trade namely a jungle without any rule. The worst result of this is no social standard and no fiscal standard thus we just have an internal economic war leading to low salaries and massive unemployment.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 218.

    With the Brussels now saying that Scotland will have to re-apply to join the EU. then the Independance vote in 2014 becomes a referendum vote for the EU as well.
    I was going to vote No for independance but now with the possibility of getting out of Europe I am now in the Yes camp.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 217.

    'The German chancellor is said to be undecided on how far to go to keep Britain in the EU'

    Is not for her to decide - this is the question for British people in a straightforward referendum question

    IN or OUT - 'to be or not to be'

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 216.

    I'm happy with free trade, but I don't want to be paying into a EU pot which then pays us back less to subsidize our own farmers.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 215.

    @139.MangoChutney
    How is the UK better in the EU? We pay a huge amount in compared to what we get back, we are inundated with laws and fines concocted in Brussels (and added to by our own civil service), we have a huge trade deficit with them (partly caused by the same rules). Outside we could do a lot lot better and trade with the WHOLE world (including the EU) on better (cheaper) terms.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 214.

    The UK will leave IF the tories are re-elected (unlikely though that is). Then there will be a period of massive regret as Europe moves forward and little england stagnates having lost its major trading partners. What is most pathetic are the uneducated (usually elderly, right wing) people who seem to think that the British Empire still exists and we can simply go back to the way it was.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 213.

    I don't know enough about economics, but I think that this new Tobin tax the EUfederalists want to enact and the UK wants to avoid, might be necessary to protect us all from the hedge fund vultures. I don't think this disagreement is easily resolved. Hedge funds have no mercy if they can tip a country upside-down it's shark feeding time!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 212.

    @meofcourse I would say we are definitely better off in.
    Britain doesn't need to adopt a federal position - the original treaties designed a free trade area, with the free movement of labour, providing Britain with trade access to one of the richest trading blocs on the planet.
    Over the years our trade has integrated, and provided stability never before thought possible.
    You wanna give that up?

  • rate this
    -11

    Comment number 211.

    if you swap the word Britain with the word Scotland and then swap the word EU with Britain in "110- systematics post"it's exactly the same scenario
    Scotland is not too wee too stupid and too skint as UK politician's and media outlets would have us believe!
    if we(Scotland) are such a basket case nation then why are the English politicians so desperate to keep us in the union?
    Sid

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 210.

    "European defence without the UK "would be a knife without a blade"."

    ++++
    There is no such thing as European defense. EU members cannot agree on a common foreign policy, let alone defense policy (cf. EU's impotence re Srebrenica massacre).

    And even if a unified force was ever created - can you imagine the French serving under a German general or German soldiers obeying a French commander?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 209.

    The UK will not leave willingly, the single market is far too valuable. Cameron is posturing for his right-wring backbenchers in a safe mid-term interlude.

    The EU would fragment if the UK left. The Dutch and Finns would not be far behind (maybe even first) and they would be followed by Sweden and Denmark. At that point France and Germany alone would be bound to Greece et al. Not what they want.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 208.

    It's inevitable Britain will leave the EU because over 50% of us want to leave with an even greater percentage wanting some different relationship. Cameron's 'its not in the national interest' is a clear lie and the political class are worried. Papandreu of Greece was deposed for mentioning a referendum.

    Why does Germany not want us to leave? Because then they alone will foot the huge Euro bill.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 207.

    England and France fought 2 world wars against German domination of Europe. France appears content to be part of a Federal Europe dominated by, and in most parts governed by, Germany. I as an Englishman am not. Let’s face the fact that the majority of British citizens are unhappy with the persistent slow march to a central federal government of Europe, have a referendum if necessary, and move on

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 206.

    It's going to be very interesting if the UK leaves, and Scotland leaves the UK, but joins the EU (as SNP plans). That would surely mean border control between the remainder of the UK and Scotland? (actually it could mean that even if the UK stays in, as SNP would like to be part of the Schengen agreement... and the UK has exempted itself) All very complex...... and expensive.....

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 205.

    USA can afford to be isolationist but we in the UK cannot. It's time we woke up from dreams of Imperial past, came down off our high horse and mucked in with the rest of Europe, only twenty miles away. Learn a couple of European languages and get stuck in - don't remain the wall-flower of Europe. Relax, it's just a matter of confidence (rather than arrogance and chip-on-shoulder bolshiness).

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 204.

    I suspect that the entire UK membership to the EU has cost us dear. Apart from the massive financial cost to us, the nonsense we have had to put up with as far as the 'human right legislation, and issues, has been far from cheap politically. It is time that we took our borders back and selected who comes in, and who does not. If our prices are right our products will sell irrespective of the EU.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 203.

    If the UK actually ever did get a referendum, would it be a proper one (where the result is accepted) or would it be the special EU-Type referendum (where you have to vote again if you don't give the right answer) ?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 202.

    So, apparently the new Europe will be a place where nobody may say nay. Just say yes to authority, and everything will be fine.

    It's better for the UK to stay well out of theocratic feudalism, surely. British fascism may have it's faults, but the moderation of the British culture tempers the worst of it, most of the time.

    Perhaps direct democracy would satisfy the people of the UK?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 201.

    184.Karl Mahudi
    Karl, without economic union the Euro will fail, without the euro the EU will collapse and start again. A federated europe is the only solution as Merkel etc have already said. However Spain will need more money as will Greece in future. Most Brits are pro-free trading but against europe setting legislation.

 

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