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.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here


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  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    Whether we like it or not we pay into the EU to help grow infrastructure and the economy in poorer parts of the member countries. This is so we can export more to them as their economy grows and everyone is happy. Norway has huge natural resources and the Swiss is a much smaller economy so i don't see us being like them if we left. We'd be a member of a club without voting rights or influence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    I like Europe. I want free trade and cooperation over economic and other issues. But I don't believe that the EU is an institution that has been well-designed. And there persists a significant problem of runaway legislation and democratic deficit, whatever nationality you are. This is not 'anti-European'. I refuse to fall into the 'You don't like the EU; therefore you're a xenophobe' trap.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.


    Such a disingenuous article, it says nothing about the west of France, most of which are now questioning the validity of a federal Europe.

    Catalonia wants out of Spain, Basconia out of France, the Flemish don't want to support Walloons in Belgium, and now we hear noises from Catholic Bavaria which "doesn't want to be dictated to by Prussians".

    Now, about Scots..

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    It is always possible that a UK exit from the EU could lead to a much tighter integration of the EU and if/when the UK sees it working well we could then be enticed back in again as a fully integrated partner (even dropping the pound in favour of the Euro).

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    Ha ha. Thanks to the EU and Germanys economic might the Euro is vastly inflated which stops nations like France exporting and creating jobs and reducing unemployment. If you want to blame anybody blame the idiot who thought you could one currency/interest rate dictating economic policy for 17 different nations. A federal europe has never been proposed until recently!

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    Saddest of all is the attitude expressed that the British people are not capable of deciding their own future

    So many on here denouncing democracy and the people as ignorant.
    Just what does that say for the pro EU side of the debate?

    Personally I side with the majority against any political point of view

    Some day we may get democracy, but I doubt parliament would ever allow that

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    The French will probably be glad to see the UK go, as it leaves them (in Germany's understandable reluctance to be an aggressive leader) as the most influential country in the EU. Other countries, especially traditional allies such as Poland, will (as Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister has made clear) would be reluctant to see the UK go but will not endanger the European Project to keep them in

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    Ideally we need another strong leader like Margaret Thatcher to claw back the billions the EU has leeched from us over the last few decades and only then should we leave and let the bloated parasite go seek another host.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    So, if we leave the EU, we are free to 'regulate' as we see fit? But, a UK company wishing to sell to or operate in the EU still has to follow EU law, so how would a second set of 'UK only' regulations help business?
    Non-EU Switzerland, has signed a series of bilateral agreements with the EU which make it a member in all but name - bound by its rules, but with no influence over them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    Of for an actual fully informed debate of the costs & benefits of EU membership.

    We're often told that the EU brings jobs, but its trade with the EU that those jobs rely on, not EU membership, we can have that trade anyway (especially as a net importer).

    Beyond trade I'm at a loss to understand what we get for the membership fee (let alone being subject the regulations & diktats).

    Any answers?

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    Yes, information is vital, however, most information available to the public is conjecture, opinion or desire... who does one believe?
    If there were a debate for and against, with the pro's and con's identified in detail... then the British public may be able to make an informed decision rather than listening to the politicians or the media who have their own agenda!

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    A good start would be the euro elite admitting they want a federal superstate - as has been the plan all along.

    Then we can have a proper referendum once and for all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    I used to be very Pro-Europe but that was before I became involved with the French nation through work. What is the BBC trying to say with the map? Norway, where I live, is not part of the EU but a member of the EFTA. Just as Britian would become on leaving the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    How anyone can think being ruled from Brussels by unelected ministers and not Westminster could even be a good thing, shows examples of the appalling level of intelligence in this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    Who cares what they think? Enough is enough. We practically support the EU with all our money and what do we get in return? A load of people from ex-communist countries taking all our jobs, a load of dangerous lorries with the steering wheels on the wrong side clogging up our roads and 'nul pois' at Eurovision. Another thing, they can't speak proper English and you can't get a decent cup of tea

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    There are always pros and cons to everything. Most rational people weigh them up and pick the course that seems most beneficial. It also means they understand and accept the cons that come along with making that decision. Unfortunately politics is about picking individual pros or cons that best match what they want to happen. Knowledge is power, which is why they will never give all the facts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    A "fair" referendum is impossible due to the vested, monied interests who want out because a basic principle in Europe is that countries should be governed for all the people, not just the rich. Foriegn owned media want rid of the EU trying to enforce some ethical standards on how business is transacted, and promote the idea that the EU is corrupt but hide the alternatives are worse!

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    As a UK citizen and Swiss resident, the benefits of the EU have been great for me. The problem is that it has been run by politicians who have created a bureaucratic leviathan. One wonders what the mood is in other EU countries, perhaps an EU wide referendum on it's future direction would not be a bad idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    #207 - You need to learn some history, and not insult the millions of Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish who fought and died in the wars you mention.

    Shame on your ignorance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    So what this article is saying is that British Europhobia and insular nationalism is making not just our country but perhaps also the British people unpopular amongst our near neighbours. And this is a good and positive thing? Sounds to me like our international image is being badly damaged by the negative and reactionary stance of some of our politicians and newspapers. Is that what we want?


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