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 260.

    British membership of the EU has become a convoluted, tangled mess of EU directives, EU red tape constraining many aspects of life and legal obfuscation generated by ECHR: just to mention a few areas paid for by us at enormous cost. Britain needs to "suspend" its EU membership and renegotiate ONLY trade areas. European debt is no longer sustainable - life on the never-never never pays dividends.

  • Comment number 259.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    We need to make our minds up as ...
    ...Qualified Majority Voting is coming soon, and the EZ block has an in-built majority

    Switzerland is not in the EU bu has free-trade.... thats all we need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    246.Cofi in Exile
    In reverse I wonder who many companies will leave these shores when Federal Europe starts imposing EU wide corporation, income tax and VAT. And when Europe is continually pumping billions into Spain/Greece and the new extended EU for the next 50 years. No economic growth can happen in Spain until they have their own currency.

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    Without getting involved in why we should or shouldn't be in it, we should have a referendum and let the people have its say what we all think. The fact the Germans seem undecided about how far they are prepared to go to get us to stay means they don't care what we decide. The EU is no longer about trade.

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    The REAL problem with the UK leaving for the EU aristocracy isn't even mentioned

    Once the UK leaves the EU, Germany is again running an administrative empire from the Atlantic to the Urals

    Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    It is my support for democracy which has finally held sway over my support for the EU. The rule of Brussels seems more and more detatched from the people of Europe and I do believe we will be better served out of this proposed federation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.


    "Is not for her to decide - this is the question for British people"

    You can either choose to leave or be asked, so no it's not entirely down to the British people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    It is a shame that politicians have been allowed to ruin an idea that had the potential to do so much good in Europe. Pathetic, self-serving, squabbling will bring down the EU and British politicians do more than their fair Share. Britain would be diminished by leaving the EU, but the EU would see a vast benefit by our exit. It is sad that those in power will also derive a benefit from it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.


    Three or four years of tireless campaigning then a vote.

    Which will confirm only 3.1% of the UK Polpulation really care about the issue.

    And we'll have wasted time, money and energy, pandering to people who life's work is to try and get Britain out of Europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    "196. Paul Henry

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

    But didn't we fight WW2 to actually put a stop to a European superstate dominated by Germany??

    IMHO forcing an unwanted superstate on the people of Europe is more likely to inflame resentment rather than pacify it. Just look at the riots currently happening in Greece & Spain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    Given the stance of the leadership of the main political parties and the influence (and funds- from us) of the EU itself; the chances of a full open debate, with the information on both sides of the argument being made clearly available, allowing people to make a fully informed decision in any EU referendum are pretty slim.

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    I voted to join the Common Market as a free trade block. However, the grandees of the EU are deaf to criticism. In business I deal daily in Europe; there is division between the north that agrees with the UK view of sovereign states and the south that views the EU as the new Napoleonic empire. Sadly Napoleonic view seems to be getting its way, and also demanding the most in the Euro Zone support.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    Trade agreements we need; monetary and legislative union we don't.

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    To all who are employed and paid a wage - that's the vast majority of us. If we have this referendum and the result is that we vote for exit it'll probably be under a conservative govt. I wonder how long it'll be before you're all bricking it because they've introduced an American style Hire & Fire law. And that's just one unintended (intended by the Cons of course) consequence of leaving.

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    @226. "you can't get a decent cup of tea" ... I agree whole heartily, why should we remain so closely linked with countries that are incapable of making such an important, and iconic, beverage? But then as your other point says "they can't speak proper English", so maybe they just misread the instructions? ... I do sincerely hope that your comments are as much a joke as mine are by the way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    Hopefully if the Scots vote for independence then England can demand the same vote. We can then leave the UK first and leave Scotland, Ireland and Wales 'in Europe' where they all declare they want to be, whilst England will be where it wants to be - free of the costs of supporting both Europe and the rest of the UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.


    That is a very important point that not enough is made of.

    Even if we withdraw from the EU any company that wants to trade with them (that's pretty much all of them) will still have to conform to the "regulations & diktats". It's much better to be on the inside where you at least get the chance to influence the them.

    Regulation without Representation is no fun at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    So we're to leave an important decision about whether to stay in the EU to the British public? The majority of which are tabloid readers, Jeremy Kyle watchers, X-Factor afficionados, and ill-infomed xenophobes? These are the same people who voted for David Cameron and his cronies! I think I might move to France.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    @129 But that's exactly the problem, political engagement with the public is based almost solely on "misplaced passion and soundbites". Just look at the AV referendum - most people didn't understand the facts, because they were never properly or fully presented. It'll be the same with an EU referendum, it'll just be reduced to a "is the EU stealing our sovereignty?" debate.


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