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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Handelsblatt: Britain a key driver of EU Reform

Britain: The critical voice of reason?
We've been monitoring how the British Europe debate is being received across the continent throughout the Juncker episode (here and here), and already noted how large parts of the German commentariat have come out fighting for the UK to remain in the EU, especially because it is in Germany's long-term strategic interest.

Today's Handelsblatt features a joint op-ed looking at the pros and cons of British membership of the EU, with the paper's political editor Jan Mallien writing:
"The British question [EU] bureaucracy, fight against agricultural subsidies, and ensure that any transfer of power to Brussels is discussed critically. Thus, they provide important impulses -- and make themselves unpopular. In a shared house, they would be in charge of the cleaning-rota. Of course, one can kick-out the person who is charged with the cleaning rota from a shared household. But it would be an illusion to think that the others would never have to clean again."
He continues:
"With their critical attitude, the British are a key driver of reform. Some German newspapers insinuate that Cameron is on an anti-European course. Those who say something like that are simplifying matters: The Brits are in favor of another [vision of the] EU. In many ways, they are fighting the correct battles."
Mallien concludes:
 "Sure, there are some issues where agreement would be easier without [the Brits.] The Financial Transaction Tax, for example. However, these are mainly symbolic issues. The EU is not much better-off with a Financial Transaction Tax. But without the British an important drive for reform will be missing. A Brexit would therefore make the EU poorer -- and not just economically."
On the other side of the fence, Handelsblatt columnist Désirée Linde says:
"Why all the whining about the nightmare scenario of a British EU-exit? If the British want to get out of the EU, continental Europe should let them go. Because, contrary to suggestions of doomsayers and EU-haters, it would not spell the beginning of the end for the EU. Yes, it would be a shock, but one that provides an opportunity for the EU. The cost of a Brexit for the EU is undisputed. Great Britain is one of the EU's biggest net contributors paying over €7bn per year."
She continues that while a Brexit would be “uncomfortable for the EU,” it would be “fatal” for the UK, and concludes:
"From the outset, the British lacked commitment to integration... Brexit would not build a way back to the European Community for the British. So it is up for all of Europe's friends in the UK to perceive this as a cleansing thunderstorm and develop a whole new enthusiasm for Europe. The fact that Europe is not just a customs union, but also a political project is something that the British have not yet understood...It is time that the UK learns. And if it must be, the hard way."
Linde buys into the whole German "pro-integration" rhetoric. However, as we have noted repeatedly, one of the greatest ironies of the German-Europe debate is how to square the need for more integration, especially in the eurozone, with Germany's national interests. This is lost on Linde. 

As a post-script, it's not only the Germans who are coming out in favour of Britain. The French  commentariat has been speaking out too, fearful of the imbalance a Bexit would cause in the European club. In today's Le Figaro, French columnist Renaud Girard describes the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as new European Commission President as “an unnecessary affront” to the UK, and argues:
 “It is irresponsible to push London on the slippery slope of EU exit… As far as France is concerned, it has no interest in finding itself head-to-head with Germany.” 
The Juncker-episode has shown that the moment of truth on the UK's future in Europe is drawing closer - and it also appears to be focusing minds across the Channel that an EU without Britain may not be in anyone's interest.


Anonymous said...

As a citizen of another EU country I very much support Brexit because I see it as one of few high-impact methods that could dramatically limit (budget-wise) the ability of EU fanatics to wreak havoc around the EU.
Secondly, the very existence of a "prosperous ex-slave" (and it's hard to see how can anyone possibly be wose off outside of the EU than inside of it) would serve as inspiration -motivation to all anti-EU movements and parties out there.
Brexit can't come too soon!

Anonymous said...

We all know by now that trying to reform the unreformable isn't going to work.

Should any reform occur at all, it will likely be the result of dirty horse-trading and dark, private conversations that will just be another compromise - which negates the benefits of the item of reform. No, thanks.

I want my country back, and, once it is back want to force those that got us into this mess to explain themselves before going to prison for treason.

The EU has been a disaster for the UK and even more so for continental Europe.

Free trade and friendship but no sovereignty.


Anonymous said...

As people are now saying, this talk of EU reform is like the Monty Python Dead Parrot Sketch. Any chance of gaining sovereign powers back is DEAD. It is NO MORE. It has POPPED IRS MORTAL COIL. And yet STILL Cameron and his ilk in the media are trying to say 'IT IS NOT DEAD. I SAW IT MOVE'....


Denis Cooper said...

"The fact that Europe is not just a customs union, but also a political project is something that the British have not yet understood... It is time that the UK learns ... "

Agreed, and the sooner all of the British people learn that truth the better, and as few of us to be part of that political project we should leave.

Average Englishman said...

Desiree seems pretty clueless. The UK voter never signed up for political union. If the truth of the project had been told in 1975 the UK would never have voted to join the Common Market in the first place (no-one in the UK has voted to join anything else since). The more that the UK population understands 'the project' of the EU the less they want to have anything to do with it. She also thinks us dullard Brits will have to learn what the EU is all about 'the hard way'. Well, that's a typical EU response to a rational argument: do what you're told or else! Such comments haven't worked before when they came from people at the front of armies and certainly won't work when said by paper tigers. As for 'fatal for the UK to leave the EU', that must be the same fatality predicted for the UK outside of the Eurozone. Need I say more.

Renaud Girard seems to have a better grip of the situation from a French perspective. France would certainly be worse off with the UK out of the EU, both in terms of cash and their future dealings with Germany.

Any objective outsider would tell a committed EU federalist that they need the UK in the EU or ultimately the EU project will fail and to keep the UK in the EU the current monstrous organizarion needs to change dramatically. In short, they should listen very carefully to Dave who is very much on side with their project but who can only go so far as the UK voter will allow him to. However, as a committed Eurosceptic who wants my country back I have no fear that the EU will have a sudden attack of reasonableness. Oh no, the boys and girls in Brussels see only their way forward, right or wrong. Did that Cameron idiot on lookout shout 'iceberg'? No matter, full speed ahead!

Ray said...

When you read comments like Lindes you realise that there are many commentators that still do not understand the nature of the EU, and fail to read between lines. Reading between her lines is easy, because there is nothing between them.

Anonymous said...

"the British Europe debate"

There is no "British Europe" debate.

There is a surge in anti-EUSSR sentiment in the UK.

Britain is not debating as to whether or not it is part of the continent of Europe.

Anonymous said...

The UK is an equal partner with Germany in the EU. So why is that Linde's vision of a federal United States of Europe is the only future destination., and if we don't like it, then Britain must leave? Perhaps the UK has a different vision. It always amazes me that Britain fought to free Europe from German domination in 2 world wars but these same European nations are now happy to bend the knee to the rule of Frau Merkel?

David Horton said...

What Linde, Giraud & Mallien is doing is simply what all journalists do; trying to find every angle according to their preferred editorial style. All three offer opinion, which is illustrative of the evolution of how both Brits and non-Brits, view British EUscepticism. Two issues bear looking at more closely.

Firstly, we have a growing anti-EU sentiment in UK, that has at its core, a feeling of being swamped by a perceived uniformity of ‘European’. This does not seem to affect Italy, France or Germany to the same degree, presumably because they do not see their identity being threatened by a federal future.

So why then does the UK feel different? Is it the island mentality? Is it because we have warred just about every European country in the last two hundred years? Is it a British arrogance? Or pride? Or even ignorance? Could it be that we have a plain old “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Mentality?

I don’t think the reason matters as much as the effect it has on the communal UK psyche. I know no Britons who are wholly comfortable with being in a European federation. This is a contrary position to non-Brits, who feel that we are making a bigger deal about it than perhaps we should. There is considerable understanding of the impact on the EU following a Brexit, but the atavistic & instinctive British suspicions are not understood, except by a very few commentators. This is evidenced by reports using words like “stubborn’, ‘disruptive’, ‘awkward’ etc. Most commentators look at this as an economic problem, primarily assessing the impact on the EU, for better or ill.

I haven’t seen any commentator attempt to understand this. This is odd, because I would suggest that most British EUsceptics do justify their position through reasons of national identity. Although geographically we reside on the same Continental plate, we in the UK consider ourselves too ideologically different to be anything more than fairly aloof trading partners. Good trading partners, certainly, but not part of the same nation state.

Secondly, we are beginning to see a British feeling of ‘affront’, that Britain may not even be needed in the EU. Not needed? How dare they?! Linde’s piece was written to be hot, rather than cool, but I found rather amusing. A jingoist style, worthy of any victor of Trafalgar. Possibly hypocritical, but designed to get non-Brits examining whether Britain’s billions are worth the angst. I suspect that Linde gauged it (correctly) to engender a certain reaction in many British EUsceptics who read it. To what ultimate end, I have no answer, but one can guess. No news is bad news.

We cannot afford the luxury of being offended or affronted when a pro-Brexit commentator opines that we are not integral to the EU. As unpalatable as it may sound, it is true. The EU will be hard hit, but will persist after Brexit. In its turn, the UK will experience a period of economic uncertainty. We need to aware that the EU will not be in a particularly forgiving and accommodating mood after we leave. There will be sadness, concern, anger and affront. Divorces are not usually amicable.

The British direction of travel is clear. Our destination will be decided by the action or inaction of the EU and its nation states. The EU will not provide reform, of sufficient substance to be acceptable to increasingly sceptical British people. We will therefore be leaving the EU and must accept the anger and affront that will come our way, because there will be lots of it.

In the medium term, pragmatism and dwindling export markets will see the frigidity turn to being merely cool. I suspect that this is the ultimate annoyance for the Linde’s of the world. Regardless of whether we are in the EU, EFTA or neither, the EU needs Britain to export to. And nothing can be more annoying for EU nation states than to actually need Britain!