EU referendum: Pundits mull future without Britain
- 1 October 2012
- From the section Europe
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.
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".
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.