Feature

United Kingdom: Will it leave the EU?

When the U.K. first joined it, the EU was simply a trading bloc, but it has since morphed into a super-government.

The British people have a right to vote on how they are governed, said Tony Parsons in the Daily Mirror (U.K.). That’s why Prime Minister David Cameron is jolly well right to have proposed putting our continued membership in the European Union to a simple, in-or-out vote in 2017, after he’s had time to renegotiate the relationship. When the U.K. first joined it, the EU was simply a trading bloc, but it has since morphed into a super-government that tries to dictate everything from how curvy a banana can be to what jewelry workers are allowed to wear. It’s “like agreeing to a date to watch Les Misérables and waking up in an arranged marriage.” The French and the Germans may love their Brussels overlord, but “they have shoved their European Union down our throats. So they can hardly complain if we tell them to stick it where the sun doesn’t shine.”

Don’t go, “you crazy Brits!” said Bild (Germany) in an editorial. You may “mock us as Krauts” and “portray us wearing steel helmets and Nazi armbands.” But we love your humor, your quirky royals, your BBC costume dramas. Europe would be more boring without you, and we need “your stubbornness and opposition” to keep the EU balanced. Above all, we need your open sensibility, said Jerzy Haszczynski in Rzeczpospolita (Poland). Of all European countries, the U.K. is the one that is most aware of, and proud of, its own diversity. Losing it would mean “the disappearance of the most important source of Europe’s great aspiration—to be liberal, welcoming, and open.”

But Britain has always wanted less integration, said Franco Venturini in Corriere della Sera (Italy), while the German-led euro zone has been urging more. Just look at the “long list of privileged exemptions” to EU norms the U.K. has already been given. It is not part of the Schengen open border regime or the euro monetary union, and it has opted out of some labor laws and certain policing and judicial requirements. An island sensibility is at the core of British identity. While the rest of us are moving “toward banking union, fiscal union, political union”—indeed, we must go that route if the common currency is to survive—the British “see such plans as blasphemy.” If offered a referendum, the British may very well vote to leave us.

It’s not going to get that far, said the Cyprus Mail (Cyprus). Cameron said he would first renegotiate the U.K.-EU relationship and then offer Brits a choice. But the renegotiation simply won’t happen. “Any major concessions to Britain would give rise to similar demands from other member-states,” and none of the big players in the EU will go that route. Cameron’s proposal was pure politics, said The Guardian (U.K.). “Behind in the polls,” he is desperate to appease the Euroskeptics in his own party and neutralize the threat from the U.K. Independence Party. But the cynical ploy will backfire. Cameron won’t be able to sell the cosmetic changes he gets from the EU as a real victory. And “he should not underestimate the hostile fury he will draw the U.K.’s way by gratuitously instigating a fresh crisis.” 

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