Viewpoints: How experts see UK role in EU


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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

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Martin Schulz

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

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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

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Herve Mariton

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

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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

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Emma Bonino

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

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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

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Ulf Sverdrup

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

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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

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Derk Jan Eppink

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

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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

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Hugo Brady

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

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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

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Radek Sikorski

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

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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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1033.

    Happy Thanksgiving!!! ;)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1032.

    If we left and what worries the other members of the EU is which one of them would fill the 8 billion hole when our contributions stopped

  • rate this

    Comment number 1031.

    and i bet like me , most of the anti EU voters are actually English, PRIVATE SECTOR WORKERS or FREELANCERS.

    Because i bet the pro EU are mainly public sector workers with almost protected jobs compared to private sector and have not felt the effect of outsourcing abroad or Management and directors replacing british workers with foreign workers. So they are quite happy for being in EU.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1030.

    @Mr Maxwell's demon:

    I do hope you do not share your unfortunate namesake's ability to go into deep denial. The report of the court of auditors to which you draw attention is HEAVILY QUALIFIED is it not? Payments as usual ARE MATERIALLY AFFECTED BY ERROR.

    These numbers should carry a health warning - Italy, Spain, Greece, etc etc etc.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 1029.


    Besides which, Amazon pays employers NI, rates and other taxes running in the millions and employes staff who pay NI and taxes themselves. How much do you contribute to the UK economy? If I had to chose whether we booted you or Amazon out of the UK, it wouldn't be a difficult choice to make.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1028.


    You forget that the UK consumer is maxed oit on their credit card and the UK needs to export not to import. UK import duties on European goods will be an irrelevance as people in the UK are skint. UK exports to the EU will collapse as global companies wishing to trade with the EU will take their UK production elsewhere to avoid EU import taxes. Bye bye UK car manafacturing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1027.

    I cannot help but feel ashamed of our nation for being so small-minded in an ever-expanding world. The majority who are venting their frustration at the EU do so from a position of ignorance which largely illuminates their distrust of 'foreigners'. Playing on the slightly xenophobic nature of the public doesn't exactly suggest that a referendum would be a wise thing to do. Even Norway agrees!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1026.

    1011. unreality TV
    I'm sure when Eastern Europeans progress to middle class type jobs, we'll witness a change of thought on the whole EU debate.

    So you believe the middle class will join the ranks of the racist referendum brigade?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1025.

    What does it matter if we are in the EU or not? This country has no identity or values anymore. It is just a dumping ground.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1024.

    I know that even as a Pro European that a lot of UKIP drivel has at least a level of substance, the EU is largely a undemocratic monolith for instance, financial fraud no doubt countless other problems. I just don't see how cutting ones nose off (leave Europe), would improve the the UK position in the World. I actual think this is a very dangers game being play by UK politicians.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1023.

    So you'd be happy that all UK exporters paid taxes in the dozens or hundreds of countries they export to?"

    They do - its called import tax.

    I'll repeat again"

    Now your confusing import taxes and corporation (profits) tax. You clearly don't know what you're talking about and repeating it doesn't make it any less idiotic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1022.

    France seems more British than the U.K. appeared on my last visit after 10 years. I dislike French governments for the same reason I dislike British ones. Both ignore their people. In France they ignored a referendum over the EU. In the U.K. I don't even get to vote on treaties - Lisbon, Nice or Maastricht. I am 3/4 of the way through my life and cheated. The rot set in after Maastricht.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1021.

    simply OUT

  • rate this

    Comment number 1020.

    Why does the EU need a new headquarters - is their wine cellar not big enough?"

    Would you beleive its because of disputes in National pride!!?? The French want the the EU headquarters in Strasbourg, not Brussels so every so often, the EU Parliament workers have to "up sticks" and move between these two sites costing millions each year. It really is a joke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1019.

    1006"If we leave Europe we will become just an offshore island."

    I hate to break it to you but to the people running the EU that's all you are and that's all you ever were to them. Of course you could change that by adopting the Euro, it's not to late yet, at least not today. Then you'd become much more interesting to them, you'd be an integral part of the bailout of the entire EZ mess.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1018.

    956. Lou smoralls
    Correct. I would not trust any national government or EU institution to audit its own accounts

    The EU auditors come from the national audit offices of countries so they're not auditing themselves, how independant the UK national audit office is from the UK government is a different argument, maybe the UK should be audited by the EU auditors to 2%,

  • rate this

    Comment number 1017.

    I note that with typical BBC balance on the EU issue all of the experts are pro-EU.

    As to mentions of being punished for leaving in any future trade deal;
    1) The UK imports more from the EU than it exports to it
    2) Is staying, to be dictated to by those that would seek to apply such duress anything but cowardly?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1016.

    990. C Ynic
    what will happen to your prospects of employment when the EU puts import taxes on British goods.

    Example: Our trade deficit with Germany is £14 Billion, they are our largest Import partner. What will it do for employment prospects when we put Import Taxes on German goods?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1015.

    Eventually it will bankrupt Germany.That's how the second world war got started.
    Context is everything, Germany was bankrupted as the result of the post-war settlement in WW1, and this was further exercebated by the Great depression. There was no EU then to work out the tensions and for the nations to work together.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1014.


    That may be the case but your original point was that we in the U.K. could hit back at France and Germany through their ownership of our utilities. My point is if they sell them off to another competitor out side the E.U. then where is our big stick to hit back at them, we would be impotent .


    I would like to see some sort of new party but would the Establishment


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