Why is the British referendum on Europe necessary?
von Peter Scheller
You might wonder why a pro-European German thinks that a referendum about Great Britain’s EU-membership is essential. This is despite the fact that I am an anglophile, have a Scottish wife and friends and colleagues from all over the Anglo-Saxon world. Why is a pro-European for the referendum?
In Great Britain there is a heated up political discussion whether Britain should stay in the European Union or not. David Cameron promised to have a referendum on it. That was a good move to win the general elections. However, I can see first signs of unease in Cameron’s recent political statements about this issue. Whether he can get his political reforms of the European Union remains to be seen and depends very much on the political goodwill of Berlin and Paris.
So, why is it good to have a referendum from a pro-European perspective? The ongoing discussion about EU-membership is more damaging to the European idea than a British exit. Uncertainty is a destabilizing factor in every part of human live. If the majority of British adults decide to leave the European Union so be it. In Germany there is a saying:
Einen Reisenden sollest Du nicht halten,
Meaning: Do not hold back a traveller.
If you follow the discussion on British TV there are certain arguments.
Recently I heard an argument from an exit campaigner: If we leave the European Union we show to the outside world (meaning the countries outside of the EU) our independence and will create new business opportunities in international markets. That is a dangerous proposition. The main exports of Great Britain are going in this order to:
Germany – USA – Netherlands – France – Ireland – Belgium
There is no doubt that British industries mainly depend on European markets. I can also remember statements of Japanese and Korean car producers considering moving their European production facilities from the UK to the continent if Great Britain leaves the EU. I have my doubts that a Brexit would favours British economy.
The argument is not without risks. Great Britain would also be vulnerable to unreasonable demands of much bigger trading partners. For example it is very unlikely that Great Britain can negotiate preferable trading agreements with much bigger opponents like the USA or the BRICS-states (Brazil, Russia, India, China,South Africa) or growing economies like Mexico or Indonesia. The European Union has a much better chance to secure own economic and political interests.
Brexit may also weaken Britain’s political position in Europe. I do not think that trade barriers will be erected. Britain will remain part of a free-trade zone such as EFTA states like Norway and Iceland or Switzerland. However, if Britain leaves the EU it will not have a political saying in the EU. Relevant political and economic decisions will be made without any participation of Great Britain. Malta will be more influential than the United Kingdom. A Swiss colleague told me a few months ago that in reality Switzerland is part of the EU without any political influence. Switzerland has a lot of economic and social agreements which guarantee freedom rights and free trade between the Swiss confederation and the EU. Euro sceptics should be aware of the fact that free trade agreements with the EU will not come without political concessions.
Recently I saw a political documentary about the political position of Norwegian people concerning EU-membership. More or less every interviewed Norwegian said that staying out of the EU leaves Norway economically and politically vulnerable to unpredictable worldwide tendencies. However, they value their cultural independence higher than the political and economic cover of the EU. This is also due to the fact that for centuries Norway was under foreign rule and became independent not earlier than 1905. If the British will opt for an exit because of cultural and political sovereignty whatever the cost are I can accept that. However, I think that the cultural argument is false. I have family, friends and colleagues from the UK, France, Spain and other European countries. I cannot see that cultural identity diminishes within EU-member states. They keep their languages alive and cultural diversity remains. My wife has lived for about twenty years in Germany but has never lost her Scottish roots. Cultural equalization has its reason in globalization but not in EU-membership.
Beside all this there is a risk to Great Britain which comes from the Union itself. It seems very likely that Scottish are not in favour of leaving the EU. Nicola Sturgeon already announced a demand of a second Scottish referendum on independence if it is forced to leave the European Union. I am in no doubt about the outcome. I am not sure what people in Wales and Northern Ireland would vote for. There is a risk that an EU exit will destroy Great Britain’s unity.
Interesting Statements have been published by The Guardian.
Author: Peter Scheller