UK/EU at 40 – The UK must be a fully engaged EU member
In the latest of a series of exclusive articles for Endeavour Public Affairs to mark the 40th anniversary of the UK becoming a member of the European Union, Fiona Hall MEP argues that the UK must remain a fully engaged member of the EU. To leave now, she argues, would not only be hugely damaging to our own economic fortunes and power in the world, it would be a betrayal of everything we have strived for and achieved over the last 40 years.
Fiona Hall is a Liberal Democrat MEP representing the North East of England; she is also the leader of the UK Liberal Democrat group of MEPs in the European Parliament.
To follow Fiona Hall on Twitter – @FionaHallMEP
Forty years on since we first joined, the debate on the UK’s EU membership is far from over. Eurosceptic voices continue to argue that we should never have joined in the first place, and have capitalised on the ongoing eurozone crisis to pour scorn on the EU as a whole. Were it not for the EU, they clamour, the UK would be free to trade with fast-growing Commonwealth countries rather than being tied to Europe.
However, the rise in British exports to non-EU countries such as Brazil, Russia, and China in recent years shows that the EU is no obstacle to global trade. Moreover, one need only look at Germany, the second largest exporter of goods in the world, to see that EU membership does not inhibit exports to emerging economies. If British exports still lag behind other EU countries such as Germany, it is because of homemade structural problems and the decline of our industrial base, not because of Brussels.
The EU is also not the protectionist bloc that many try to portray it to be. It has already negotiated free-trade deals with 52 countries and is negotiating many more, including ambitious deals with the United States, Japan, and Canada which have the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs in the UK. Outside of the EU, we would lose access to these deals and have to start our trade policy from scratch. Access to the EU single market also provides a useful launch pad for British firms to expand into the rest of the world. Partnering with other European companies allows British businesses to take advantage of historical and cultural connections, for example between Spain and Latin America or the Baltic countries and Russia. Far from restricting the UK’s global trade, the EU enhances it.
The other key argument made against EU membership, that we could free ourselves from Brussels red tape, also doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. With around half of our exports going to the EU, we would still have to abide by the rules of the single market even if were outside the EU – but we would cease to have any input into those environmental, labour, and product standards. Even American and Chinese companies have to respect EU rules in order to be able to export to the world’s biggest trading block. We are far better off remaining engaged, building alliances and pushing for EU-wide reform, rather than being left with no seat at the table.
The final argument is that upcoming integration in the eurozone will inevitably lead to a form of closer union which the British people are not prepared to accept. But while it is true that the relationship between the UK and the eurozone in coming years is bound to be complex, predictions of the creation of a European ‘super-state’ are extremely far-fetched. The people of Germany, France, Italy or Spain would not accept such an outcome anymore than the people of Britain. Gradual steps towards making the eurozone more sustainable, for example through better financial regulation and budgetary oversight, will not mean the centralisation of all powers in Brussels. The answer in any case is not to leave, but to make sure that British interests are taken into account through being a fully engaged EU member. We must also remember that the eurozone is far from being a homogenous block. In coming years, like-minded countries such as Germany and the Netherlands will continue to see the UK as a vital ally on a variety of trade and economic issues.
Since it first joined the EU, the UK has played a leading role on issues such as the creation of the single market, climate change, foreign policy, and enlargement. We have helped to shape the EU and make it more liberal, outward-looking, and a force for peace and prosperity in the world. To leave now would not only be hugely damaging to our own economic fortunes and power in the world, it would be a betrayal of everything we have strived for and achieved over the last 40 years.
Published: Tuesday 31 December 2013
© Copyright of Endeavour Public Affairs 2013
Photograph: © Copyright of Fiona Hall MEP
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone