Viewpoints: How experts see UK role in EU


Related Stories

How does the UK fit into the EU's plans for closer economic and political integration?

Many British MPs want Prime Minister David Cameron to call an "in or out" referendum and opinion polls suggest many British voters are disillusioned with the EU.

BBC News asked some prominent European politicians and analysts for their views on the UK's role in the EU and whether it would make sense for the UK to leave.

Martin Schulz, president of European Parliament and German MEP

Start Quote

Martin Schulz

In a globalised world, the UK would risk so much going it alone”

End Quote

The UK should remain part of the EU, but at the same time, the UK should not preach to other EU member states from the sidelines without being fully engaged in the process.

UK membership is in the British and European interest. The single market benefits the British economy hugely and the EU remains by far the biggest destination for UK trade, accounting for almost 50% of total exports.

Nevertheless, the UK has secured opt-outs or opt-ins in areas including the euro, Schengen and justice/home affairs. This shows that the UK is not comfortable with everything the EU does and in many areas remains a reluctant partner.

As for a possible referendum on EU membership - that would be up to the British government to decide. It is nevertheless clear that the UK has to make up its mind as to whether European integration is a project it wants to be fully engaged in, and is in the British interest, or whether it should observe from the sidelines. The UK's support for deeper integration of the eurozone is welcome, but some could see it as preaching from outside.

Martin Schulz

  • President of European Parliament since January 2012
  • Leader of centre-left Socialists and Democrats bloc of MEPs

On the EU budget, I totally disagree with the UK point of view. Like the UK, the rest of the EU wants to boost economic growth and develop a low-carbon economy. The EU budget in fact finances research and development, environmental protection, development aid and the digital economy, which are all priorities for the UK government. The EU budget is in fact an investment tool for the whole EU.

In a globalised world, the UK would risk so much going it alone. Its influence would decline and it would be separated from its closest geographic and political allies in continental Europe. We need to see a Britain engaged with its European partners.

Herve Mariton, French conservative MP

Start Quote

Herve Mariton

The logic of the eurozone is federalism, we had better admit it now”

End Quote

Playing with the idea of a referendum is dangerous - many people think they can speak about it, but what might happen is that the UK gets out without people realising what is happening, without all the consequences being totally analysed.

If more topics are decided on a eurozone basis, in time, the UK will have to acknowledge that it left without people taking a clear decision.

On repatriation of powers from Brussels my position is similar to the UK Government's in some respects - I do not share the same topics [with the UK], but yes some topics can be repatriated to national level. I believe in subsidiarity - things should be dealt with at the best level possible.

As far as possible, things should be done at national or local level. Take environmental issues - water policy, for example, has a big impact on the budget and here many competences should be sent back to national level. When the Rhine floods it is logical to have European intervention. But EU directives do not only deal with transnational matters - there is also flooding which has no international dimension, and then one may wonder what the EU has to do with it.

Herve Mariton

  • Politician in conservative UMP, represents mountainous southern Drome region
  • Minister for overseas territories in 2007

Or take the return of the wolf to the French Alps - the EU says you cannot kill more than a certain number. What on Earth has Europe to do with how French farmers have to deal with wolves in the French mountains? That is not a European issue.

I think the logic of the eurozone is federalism, we had better admit it now. That will make us organise the checks and balances necessary in any democracy. The current situation is very dangerous. I believe the UK is getting more isolated in Europe. I do not know many countries that want the EU to be just a trade zone.

Emma Bonino, vice-president of Italian Senate

Start Quote

Emma Bonino

By replacing membership with a free trade agreement would Britain be better off? Do not count on it”

End Quote

The UK is not the only EU country to strive for referendums on Europe or for powers to be repatriated from Brussels. It is certainly the most vocal and, by far, the most obstinate - to the point at times of being in complete denial of its national interests. This denial may well materialise if the UK were to push the looming [EU] budget confrontation to breaking point. Do not expect other leaders to come to the rescue, in wrecking or paralysing the EU.

Some facts and figures:

  • Roughly half of UK exports go to the EU
  • Every UK household "earns" between £1,500 and £3,500 per annum thanks to the Single Market (SM)
  • 33,000 people work for the European Commission, compared to 82,000 who work for UK Revenue and Customs
  • Only 6.8% of UK primary legislation and 14.1% of secondary legislation have anything to do with implementing EU obligations - not EU diktats - agreed to, approved of and signed off by UK officials

A few arguments:

Emma Bonino

  • Vice-president of Italy's Senate (upper house)
  • A leading member of liberal Italian Radicals
  • 2006-2008 - Italian minister of European affairs and trade
  • 1995-1999 - EU commissioner for health and consumer protection
  • By replacing membership with a free trade agreement would Britain be better off? Don't count on it. Any agreement would have a price: ask Norway or Switzerland about their contributions to EU cohesion funds for the privilege of accessing the SM
  • When speaking to China or the US, would the UK's voice be better heard in isolation? Speaking on behalf of London while shaping decisions in Brussels definitely carries more weight
  • Is UK suspicion of federalism well founded? Frankly it is hard to imagine a European superstate with a budget of just over 1% of EU countries' GDP

Britain has a lot of leverage in Europe. It is up to its leaders to decide how best to use it. For instance, is the UK not keen on some EU foreign policy priorities and on deepening the SM? Well, a British commissioner runs the EU diplomatic service and Britain certainly is not alone in wanting to preserve the SM.

Ulf Sverdrup, head of Norwegian Institute of International Affairs

Start Quote

Ulf Sverdrup

The Norwegian model, shared with Iceland and Liechtenstein, is complex and costly”

End Quote

A UK exit from the EU is perhaps unlikely, but even discussion of the alternatives is unfortunate, both for Europe and the UK.

For the EU, a constructive and influential UK has always been a strong asset. At its best, the UK has been able to set a course for Europe and has brought in valuable perspectives, methods and approaches.

The European debate in the UK is also potentially destructive for the UK. Rather than discussing how to ensure the UK's interests in Europe, the debate, it seems, is exaggerating the significance of formal ties to the EU.

The real lesson to be learned from, for instance, Norway as a non-member is perhaps that for a modern European country with an open economy there is no escaping the gravity of European integration.

Ulf Sverdrup

  • Director of Norwegian Institute of International Affairs think tank
  • 2000-2011 - Senior researcher at Arena Centre for European Studies, University of Oslo

The alternatives to formal membership for the UK are also difficult to imagine. The fundamental logic of the Norwegian model - not wanting to lose the benefits of dealing with Europe, but also knowing that a majority of the electorate is against formal EU membership - might at first sight seem enticing for many in Britain.

But the Norwegian model, shared with Iceland and Liechtenstein, is complex and costly, as well as problematic in terms of democracy and national interest. From a Norwegian standpoint the model is bearable, even if it comes at a high price in terms of democracy. But Norway is a small and rather rich country with limited ambitions to influence European policy. The Norwegian solution to Europe is not one that I would recommend for others.

Derk-Jan Eppink, conservative Belgian MEP

Start Quote

Derk Jan Eppink

If the EU is united on something the European bureaucracy will punish the UK because it left and gave up”

End Quote

From the perspective of a Dutchman elected in Belgium it is very important to have the UK in the EU, because economic liberalism would be dead on the continent without the UK in it. If the UK were not there it would be dominated by German corporatism and French statism. There would be more protectionism.

I worry about developments in the eurozone, I am not sure if it is going in the right direction. Is it integration or actually schemes to move more money from north to south? I think the eurozone is still in the danger zone.

The UK is using this crisis as momentum to talk about a new relationship with the EU, to get some powers repatriated - I agree with that, because Brussels is trying do too many things at the same time. We should have a broad debate about the powers that Brussels has, what it should do.

The EU should focus on the single market, international trade, the environment and foreign policy. I am worried about a fiscal union - it will create a transfer economy in the eurozone, with one part permanently subsidising the other part, and there is not public support for that.

It is already difficult in the UK if you subsidise Scotland or Wales, but if there is no shared nationhood this support is very thin. You see that in Finland, Germany, the Netherlands - those who have to pay. They are asking serious questions about what is going to happen.

Derk-Jan Eppink

  • Belgian MEP in List Dedecker - member of conservative bloc since 2009
  • 1999-2007 - served as aide to EU commissioners Frits Bolkestein and Siim Kallas
  • Born in Netherlands, worked as reporter on Dutch and Belgian newspapers

The UK is asking the difficult questions - when I ask the same questions in the European Parliament I get the same reaction. They are legitimate, correct questions. Brussels just wants to keep along the same road, and "more Europe". I do not think Britain should be a scapegoat.

Leaving the EU would not be good for the EU or the UK. The EU is by far the biggest trading partner. As for renegotiating a free trade deal with the EU - do not bet on that. If the EU is united on something, the European bureaucracy will punish the UK because it left and gave up - so it will not give a favourable trade deal to the UK.

But a more efficient relationship within the EU? It is good to start negotiating on that, then have a referendum on that settlement. Otherwise it will be very emotional, they all start screaming and there is no focus on the facts.

Hugo Brady, Irish research fellow at Centre for European Reform

Start Quote

Hugo Brady

We agree with the British on a lot, for example protection of the common law system”

End Quote

The UK has a natural rebalancing role between the big countries - it avoids the rush to group-think, it is not afraid to blurt out inconvenient truths at the table, and sometimes its awkwardness is constructive. The Republic of Ireland could not do that.

Ireland is probably top of a number of countries who broadly agree with the UK on 80% of its EU agenda.

On the Anglo-Irish relationship, we were equals in a forum where we both had friends who often did not distinguish between us. The EU partners reminded us we had an awful lot in common as countries. Being equal members of the club allowed the Irish to feel on a par with Britain, not looked down on. For the first time it gave the Irish a sense that both countries were allies.

Also on a day-to-day basis we agree with the British on a lot, for example protection of the common law system. Only two other EU countries use common law - Cyprus and Malta.

Both the UK and Ireland are economically liberal. The UK is an ex-imperial power, while the Irish are more multilateral, big fans of the EU because it is a multilateral forum where the small countries' rights are overseen by the European Commission.

Hugo Brady

  • Research fellow at Centre for European Reform think tank
  • Worked at Department of Foreign Affairs in Ireland and as researcher at Institute for European Affairs in Dublin

If the UK were to leave it would be less comfortable for Ireland. The EU would probably be less economically liberal without Britain, and a fast-developing area of EU law is judicial co-operation, but the UK and Ireland have opt-outs on that. Ireland is actually more conservative, it does not like aspects of judicial co-operation, because there is a movement towards more harmonisation of criminal and civil law.

The UK is Ireland's biggest trading partner and there is a common travel area with the UK. The Irish are very uncomfortable with UK talk of leaving. The euro is irreversible for us and it would be complicated to join a looser trading relationship with the UK.

Radek Sikorski, Polish foreign minister

Start Quote

Radek Sikorski

I believe your interests, your trade patterns but also your political interests, lie in Europe”

End Quote

We hope Britain, with its genius in creating institutions, will help us to create solid European institutions.

Poland's position on the euro is different from Britain's - we have a derogation in time, you have an opt-out. We will ratify the Fiscal Treaty and have the right to be included in those discussions, because we will one day be a member of the euro.

We would like to have Britain on board because Britain is an important country, an important guardian of liberal rules within the common market.

We would be sorry to lose you because we have been friends and allies for many years and we would like to have you contribute.

Radek Sikorski

  • Foreign minister in Poland's centre-right government since 2007
  • 2002-2005 - Researcher at think tanks in Washington DC
  • In 1980s studied at Oxford University, then worked as foreign correspondent for British newspapers

I think it is important to explain to the British people the economic advantages of the EU, but also the political ones. For example, we have just imposed the toughest ever sanctions on Iran, which are having effects. Britain alone could not do it. So the EU is a force-multiplier for all of us, to do things that we cannot do on our own.

I know for example the US tells Britain: you are more valuable to us as an ally as a member of the EU, because you can affect the decisions made in the EU. Tony Blair thought creating a European superpower was a fine goal. David Cameron has said creating Britain as a sort of offshore Switzerland would be contrary to the British national interest.

It would be much better if British politicians made a patriotic, British argument about the usefulness of the EU to Britain, because I believe your interests, your trade patterns but also your political interests, lie in Europe, and we can achieve much more together.


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 373.

    After the imminent Greek economic collapse which many observers believe will take the Euro with it, will the EU still exist in it's current form?

    How closely tied are the Eurozone and the EU?

    Can one now exist without the other?

  • rate this

    Comment number 372.

    The EU needs us more than we need it. That is why we can dictate terms.

    We can't be silly about it, but it does mean we are influential. The aim must be to demand something achievable.

    We must demand the accounts scandal is resolved, spending is reduced, with actual spending being better targeted to achieve most benefit for all..

    This way the EU might even do something useful for a change!

  • rate this

    Comment number 371.

    In Europeean trade area not the EU policy area! So much bad info given about IN or OUT not about a different option, it confuses everyone. Even if there were economic losses, its a about what people want? Something people always to see what adds up BEST on paper. No what is peoples free will. Besides, you think you would get more then 30% of people coming out to vote?

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    Well the British public don't take their politicians seriously for good reason, so why should the rest of the EU.
    No mandate.
    No progress on anything.
    U turn after U turn.
    Distraction politics to , ie. gay marriage.
    Amatuer antics from the chancellor weekly.
    Roll on 2015.

    Seems common throughout the EU's political class though, representation is failing and being replaced by ideology.

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    So the EU countries only by product from the UK because we are in their club.
    Nothing to do with the product quality and or the price.
    Presumably they buy nothing from the USA or China or other countries not in the EU
    Unless they establish a closed trade area (EU only) I wonder how much trade we will loose if we are not in the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    Stupid EU laws: To name a few!

    The EU was forced to backtrack after its scientists claimed there was no proof drinking water helped with dehydration. The majority of EU states voted to repeal laws which banned "free of abnormal curvature" in cucumbers and bananas three years ago.
    Children under 8 cannot blow up balloons in the EU without adult supervision.

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    Real and significant facts:-
    China has a rapidly growing economy
    China's technology sector is booming
    The standard of living is improving fast.
    China is building hundreds of apartment blocks to house its people
    Chinese students study in the best universities in the world and then return.
    A semi 'communist' system works for them - look at the results.

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    Shame on you BBC. You've published this pro-European propaganda because you receive a big dollop of EU money every year. Remember that WE are the ultimate source of that money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    This is obviously a very rocky patch for the EU. But the fact remains, if the UK withdrew the shake-up for both the UK and EU wouldn't be small, it would be dramatic and profoundly damaging to all economies.It's the good things the EU brings us we take for granted ... until they're gone and it's too late.

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    Eurosceptics seem to have little or no concept of what's required to go global!
    Yes, multinational corporations have resources to handle it. But the majority of businesses and consequently the largest employers are small to medium sized with limited resources. These are the enterprises that can benefit & grow in the "Single Market". Going global requires resources these companies just don't have!

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    The BBC or at least the Editor deciding on 'Editors Picks' is clearly an EU sycophant.

    When will the Socialists understand that a growing number of UK public are frustrated and angry with the massive EU bureaucracy and waste? We do not want or need another huge layer of bureaucracy that dictates to us. They failed on so many fronts to protect us from economic chaos but us to pay more. NO!

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    "Every UK household "earns" between £1,500 and £3,500 per annum thanks to the Single Market (SM)"

    Really. How do they figure that then? Our net contribution is £18bn/year, which by the maths I learned meams each household "loses" £3,000 pa

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    Give us the referendum Cameron! Out, out, out!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    None of them mentioned the huge lack of democracy at the core of the EU; the corruption that must exist in order for auditors not to sign off the EU accounts for decades; the lack of accountability of the comission, etc.
    I sometimes feel that some in the continent don't seem to fussed about the sheer lack of democracy of the whole project. The problem is not European cooperation, it's the EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    Repeat the lie often enough in the hope that people will come to believe it. Typical of what we've come to expect from the propaganda arm of the government. Thankfully, more people are waking up to the real European agenda and the self serving elites' corruption and are beginning to look to more honest, unbiased sources than the BBC for news.
    High time the BBC was scrapped

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    308.Mr Germany
    Instead of complaining about how ineffective the EU is, one would wish that UK tries to play an active roll in shaping the EU in a right way.

    Its pointless, expansion of EU has created new vested interests which will profit from increased UK contribution. Basically legally mug UK, they are not interested in consequential damage to UK, they just want the money, OUR MONEY

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    We have to stay in the EU because pulling out now, when we are so closely integrated in any number of things would be a disaster. That does not mean I like the EU, a lot of the time it seems to be anathema to British principles, and its bureaucracy is hopelessly bloated . But we have a much better chance of influencing it from within than without

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    The thinly veiled threat is “Leave and we will not trade with you”.


    Look out of your window you will see BMW, VW and Audi aplenty. Check at home for domestic appliances from Bosch and Neff. Will Germany want to turn its back on the UK market place – I think not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    The EU needs the UK, we add a dynamic to the equation which restrains those wishing to merge their nations at any price. Our voice is relevant and expresses the unsaid to the Bureaucrats on behalf of many sceptical Europeans. We are neither afraid nor embarrassed to speak up. We offer our own viewpoint with the objective of leading and influencing opinion across the EU. We must not be silenced.

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    Sometimes we dont see our position of strength within Europe - It is clear from the comments above that we are seen as one of the most advanced and wisest member states whose educated and well informed population can give a great deal to the rest of the member states as a whole.
    On the other hand that does not mean to say that we should just be led blindly by the rest of Europe


Page 34 of 52


More Europe stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.