TOPIC GUIDE: European Union
"The UK should leave the European Union "
PUBLISHED: 31 Jan 2013
AUTHOR: Tim Black
The UK joined the European Economic Community (a forerunner to the European Union) in 1973, a decision later endorsed by popular referendum in 1975 [Ref: BBC News]. In recent years, there have been a number of calls to reconsider the UK’s membership of the EU and now David Cameron has pledged that, should the Conservatives win the next election, he will seek to renegotiate the UK’s position with the EU and follow up with a referendum on whether to remain members. [Ref: BBC News]. While Nick Clegg and Ed Milliband have both voiced opposition to the plans, both Labour and the Lib Dems have in the past considered support for a similar referendum [Ref: Guardian]. Moreover, with reports circulating that Germany will call for a new EU treaty to deepen integration [Ref: Der Spiegel] despite opposition [Ref: EU Observer], under the terms of the coalition government’s European Union Act 2011 [Ref: Telegraph], any government may well be forced to call a referendum. The question as to whether the UK should continue as part of the European Union will no longer be an academic question; it will be urgent. So, should the UK leave the EU?
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European Union DEBATE IN CONTEXT
This section provides a summary of the key issues in the debate, set in the context of recent discussions and the competing positions that have been adopted.
The democratic deficit
Over recent years, as the union has continued to expand, it has attracted considerable criticism for a ‘democratic deficit’ [Ref: Europa]. For critics of the EU, it seems that national electorates and governments are increasingly subordinate to EU commissioners and ‘Eurocrat’ officials [Ref: Telegraph]. As the coalition government was to discover a year into office, half of the policies it was implementing came from the EU, ‘or, more specifically, the Civil Service machine, which is busy implementing various EU Directives, often passed many years ago’ [Ref: Spectator]. More strikingly, following the rejection of the EU constitution by France and the Netherlands in 2005, and the Lisbon Treaty by Ireland in 2009 [Ref: BBC News], other governments then reneged on promises to hold referenda on the EU. As a result some argue that the EU has become more undemocratic, perhaps overtly anti-democratic, in its attempts to evade popular votes [Ref: OpenDemocracy]. This sense that European institutions are colonising national political life at the cost of democracy, is compounded by the actions of the European Court of Human Rights (a separate institution from the EU), which can seemingly dictate what laws national elected lawmakers actually make. This is particularly apparent in the argument over whether prisoners should have the vote [Ref: Huffington Post], wherein the ECHR’s ruling in favour of prisoners having the vote contradicts the decision of elected MPs to continue to withhold the vote [Ref: Guardian]. For those calling for an exit from the EU, the EU is seen as a threat to democratic sovereignty and the ability of a national electorate to determine its own future.
For those who want the UK to exit the EU on the grounds that it is anti-democratic, criticism has increasingly focused on the EU’s attempts to maintain the stability of the Eurozone – an economic and monetary union of 17 member states (excluding the UK) which share the common currency of the Euro. To prevent further bailouts to countries such as Greece, Italy and Ireland and the deepening of the crisis across the Eurozone, European leaders have sought to agree on strict fiscal rules regarding national debt. Enacting the deeply unpopular and controversial austerity measures these require, however, led to the departures of the democratically elected leaders of Greece (George Papandreou) and Italy (Silvio Berlusconi), and their replacement by unelected so-called ‘technocrats’ [Ref: Financial Times]. Some defenders of the EU argue that such measures are short term and necessitated by the demands of the economic crisis – and that the changes were ultimately democratically ratified by the countries’ respective parliaments. Critics argue, however, that it is representative of EU’s leaders’ contempt for ordinary peoples’ capacity to self-govern [Ref: spiked] – and that there is no guarantee that powers granted during the crisis will necessarily be returned at a later date.
While supporters of the UK’s membership of the EU are ready to acknowledge that there are issues, including the democratic deficit, ‘not believing in transnational co-operation is a mistake’ [Ref: OpenDemocracy]. As one commentator put it, ‘together we are more than the sum of our parts’ [Ref: Guardian]. Underlying this conviction is the knowledge, confirmed by a recent report [Ref: Open Europe], that the UK’s membership of the union, in particular the EU customs union, has bought economic benefits. Cameron himself made the pragmatic case: ‘The single market is at the heart of the case for staying in the EU’. Or in the words of two Hungarian commentators, the choice to exit the union or stay in it amounts to deciding ‘whether to sell Cadbury chocolate in a market of 60 million or one of 500 million people’ [Ref: OpenDemocracy]. Conservative MP George Eustice is also adamant that the UK’s continued membership of the EU, and the influence membership allows it to wield in the single market, is the best way forward amid the global economic crisis: ‘For British trade the single market in goods and services beats all other models. Norway adopts 75 per cent of all EU legislation but has no say in its formulation. Turkey has access to the single market in goods, but it is not in the single market for services and that part is important for the UK. Norway is also not in the EU customs union, an element which is very important for British manufacturing and was the reason we joined the common market in the first place.’ [Ref: Guardian] But it is not just economically that EU supporters believe the UK benefits. EU advocates also highlight the advantages of a transnational approach, from removing barriers behind national borders to facilitating the pursuit of shared goals, be it tackling climate change or cross-border crime [Ref: Guardian]. As former British prime minister Tony Blair argues: ‘Europe is a destiny we will never embrace easily. But it is an absolutely essential part of our nation remaining a world power politically and economically.’ [Ref: Scotsman].
Keeping the peace
The current Eurozone crisis, argues one pro-EU commentator, ‘has arguably strengthened the original case for Europe – as a means of keeping the peace: while conventional warfare on EU soil still feels unlikely, the rise of neofascist parties does send a shiver down the spine’ [Ref: Guardian]. Indeed, the belief that the European Union, its earlier incarnation having been forged in the aftermath of two world wars, provides a bulwark against far-right, nationalist antagonism underwrites many of its advocates’ arguments. As an influential blog argues: ‘For well over half a century, the various evolutions of European community have maintained unprecedented peace and stability on the continent. We should not not take this happy situation, that is rooted in the EU, for granted.’ [Ref: Left Foot Forward] Euroscepticism, EU advocates counter, is a means to legitimate right-wing positions. That is, ‘populist’ right-wing politicians, from Golden Dawn in Greece [Ref: New Statesman] to UKIP in the UK, are exploiting people’s discontent with the EU, and mobilising it for right-wing ends [Ref: LSE europblog]. But others are not convinced. Warnings ‘about the dangers of populism speak to an elitist disdain for mass politics’ [Ref: spiked]. And notable Eurosceptic John Redwood is equally critical of the belief that the EU is a source of peace. ‘This is rather like arguing that we need to belong to the EU to keep horses and carts off our streets. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century our streets teemed with them, but since joining the EU they have disappeared.’ [Ref: John Redwood]. For those in favour of the UK’s continued membership of the EU, it seems that the combination of a common market and a transnational form of government has plenty to recommend it: centralised decisions can be made for all of Europe. But for those calling for the UK’s withdrawal, the loss of national sovereignty and self-governance is too high a price a pay.
It is crucial for debaters to have read the articles in this section, which provide essential information and arguments for and against the debate motion. Students will be expected to have additional evidence and examples derived from independent research, but they can expect to be criticised if they lack a basic familiarity with the issues raised in the essential reading.
BBC News 23 January 2013
Douglas Fraser BBC News 10 August 2012
David Cameron Telegraph 30 June 2012
Bagehot's notebook Economist 11 May 2012
Michael J. Geary & Kevin Lees EUobserver 12 December 2011
Gavin Hewitt BBC News 16 November 2011
Guardian 23 May 2012
spiked 29 November 2011
Janet Daley Telegraph 5 November 2011
Daniel Hannan Telegraph 21 July 2011
Left Foot Forward 12 June 2012
Gaby Hinsliff Guardian 21 May 2012
Philip Oltermann Guardian 16 November 2011
Herfried Münkler Der Spiegel 7 August 2011
Open Europe June 2012
Ken Erskine PostDesk 2 March 2012
Perry Anderson London Review of Books 20 September 2007
Definitions of key concepts that are crucial for understanding the topic. Students should be familiar with these terms and the different ways in which they are used and interpreted and should be prepared to explain their significance.
Useful websites and materials that provide a good starting point for research.
Guardian 23 January 2013
Bagehot's notebook Economist 1 December 2012
Scotsman 28 November 2012
Mark Pritchard Telegraph 24 November 2012
Douglas Alexander Guardian 1 July 2012
Robert Ford LSE Europblog 25 June 2012
George Eustice Guardian 10 June 2012
John Redwood 4 June 2012
Tamas Dezso Czigler and Izolda Takacs Open Democracy 15 May 2012
Daniel Trilling New Statesman 9 May 2012
Amol Rajan Independent 2 January 2012
Tony Barber Financial Times 11 November 2011
Fraser Nelson Spectator 13 February 2011
Links to organisations, campaign groups and official bodies who are referenced within the Topic Guide or which will be of use in providing additional research information.
IN THE NEWS
Relevant recent news stories from a variety of sources, which ensure students have an up to date awareness of the state of the debate.
BBC News 23 January 2013
EU Observer 14 December 2012
Telegraph 9 December 2012
Independent 26 November 2012
Telegraph 19 November 2012
AFP 19 November 2012
Der Spiegel 27 August 2012
Telegraph 27 August 2012
BBC News 1 July 2012
Financial Times 7 June 2012
EUobserver 6 January 2012
Metro 9 December 2011
Guardian 24 October 2011
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