UK in Europe

By Petros Fassoulas

For a while now the rhetorical narrative of those that advocate leaving the EU has been accompanied by a variety of alternatives to EU membership. Many ideas have been put forward, some quite ‘exotic’ or outright unrealistic, but there are two paradigms that are held up as the best possible options for Britain: Norway and Switzerland.

But upon closer inspection both options fail to stand up to scrutiny. They are both very different to Britain and not an appropriate model for how a country like the UK conducts its affairs on the world stage. Both Norway and Switzerland are small and peripheral states, with specialised economies and limited aspirations for influence at the global stage.

Take Norway for example, as a member of the European Free Trade Association it is part of the European Economic Area, which does give it access to the Single Market, with all the economic advantages that come with it. But here lays the catch, to be part of the Single Market and enjoy the benefits that affords you, Norway has to abide with its rules (not to mention contribute handsomely to the EU budget). But since Norway is not a member of the European Union it does not have the right to take part in the decision-making structures that decide the rules that govern that Single Market. Not a particularly advantageous state of affairs and the Norwegian government had the following to say in a recently published report: ‘The most problematic aspect of Norway’s form of association with the EU is the fact that Norway is in practice bound to adopt EU policies and rules in a broad range of issues without being a member and without voting rights. This raises democratic problems. Norway is not represented in decision-making processes that have direct consequences for Norway, and neither do we have any significant influence on them. Moreover, our form of association with the EU dampens political engagement and debate in Norway and makes it difficult to monitor the Government and hold it accountable in its European policy’ (Outside and Inside: Norway’s agreements with the European Union).

This is a damning verdict for those that call for withdrawal of the EU. Asking to relegate the UK to such an associate membership status is catastrophic and it does an enormous disservice to Britain, limits its influence on the international stage and undermines its ability to form the decisions that have an impact on its economic wellbeing.

The case of Switzerland is no different. It has to abide by the rules that govern the Single Market if it wants its companies to trade within it but it has no representation in the institutions, the EU Council and the European Parliament, which make those rules. Perhaps this is a satisfactory situation for a country with 2% of the EU population that might have compromised with the fact that its ability to influence the things that affect it is limited.

But Britain is one of the largest EU member states, smaller only to Germany and Poland, and of similar size to France. It has considerable influence over EU policies that affect it. Its views, when argued with confidence and convincing arguments, are respected and listened to. Very rarely has Britain lost a vote on matters governed by qualified majority voting, it is always consulted by the European Commission when it comes, for example, to rule-making in financial services and it has repeatedly and successfully argued its case before the European Court of Justice, which has ruled in its favour in cases that have to do with single market issues and liberalisation of trade.

Leaving the EU would mean removing ourselves from where decisions are made. Britain’s place is not outside the room, with its face pressed against the window, watching others take decisions that affect us, without us. Britain’s place is at the heart of the decision-making structures that govern one of the biggest economies of the world.

The benefits of EU membership are numerous and have often been repeated by pro-Europeans. Britain gains both in economic terms and in terms of its standing in the world. Our ability to influence the things that affect us, like Iranian nuclear aspirations, negotiations on climate change, international trade agreements, energy security, illegal immigration, international crime is enhanced when we act together with our EU partners, using the institutions of the EU as a vehicle to pursue our common interests. Leaving the EU will remove us not just from the biggest and wealthiest common market in the world. It will set us apart from an organisation (and its institutions) that share our aspirations for a liberal and peaceful world where democracy, the rule of law, respect of human rights and environmental protection reigns. The globalisation of our world and the rising power of developing countries are both full of challenges and opportunities. Britain can either try to make the most of these challenges and opportunities by standing together with its EU partners or risk having its influence fade by standing apart from them. This is no time to contemplate leaving the EU. The EU is a platform upon which we can all stand taller. We must make the most of that platform to increase our influence in the world and promote the principles that are important to us.

Petros Fassoulas is chairman of the European Movement UK.

This article was first published in the January issue of The European www.euromove.org.uk

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  1. Britain belongs at the centre of where decisions are made
    Posted by UK in Europe on 08/02/12

    The argument that Petros Fassoulas makes employs that old, old tactic that if you tell people often enough, whether it is true or not, that you will be unsuccessful and face a life of purgatory if you leave the EU. We are told you are too small to survive etc etc.
    There are other organisations that have many experienced and intellectual supporters, who can dig very deep and find information which would support the case for the UK leaving the EU without losing money. The average citizen does not have the time or knowledge to combat your statements which are not supported by facts. I would therefore refer you to http://www.civitas.org.uk/pubs/EUFactsheet.php

    I would counter a number of statements in your blog which I believe to be inaccurate and untrue as follows:

    “Both Norway and Switzerland are small and peripheral states, with specialised economies and limited aspirations for influence at the global stage”.

    “Britain’s place is at the heart of the decision-making structures that govern one of the biggest economies of the world.”

    I would suggest that the preferred option would just to come out of the EU, no half measures. That would leave us free to negotiate a trade agreement with the various countries in the EU, or indeed with the EU itself just as you are doing with Australia, Canada, the USA and any other country that you think might be good to trade with. I hope that you are not suggesting that Germany will not want to sell us their BMW and Mercedes cars and vans. I think you will find that the EU will still want to trade with the UK without too much prejudice.
    With the voting setup after Lisbon the EU will increasingly be run by Germany and France and as we will be increasingly sidelined. It’s time to go and this will allow us to return our parliamentary supremacy, ditch all the EU red tape and do what we are good at, trading with the rest of the world.
    The land mass of Western Europe its history and its people has developed in such a way that this may well work for them. On our little Island where we have always looked outwards to the world and traded and made relationships where ever it was to our benefit, is the model many of our citizens would like to advance. Our skill levels in IT and other high end management and manufacture will allow us to trade with all the BRICS countries and beyond.
    Remember that in or out of Europe we are a major player on the world stage as part of NATO and we of course remain a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
    “But Britain is one of the largest EU member states, smaller only to Germany and Poland, and of similar size to France. It has considerable influence over EU policies that affect it. Its views, when argued with confidence and convincing arguments, are respected and listened to.”
    The above statement is of course, a little like your argument, inaccurate. I am not sure if you are referring to countries by population or by square kilometres! Please find below somewhat more accurate figures.

    By Population
    Country Pop Dens Population

    Germany 233 82,217,800
    France 111 63,601,002
    United Kingdom 244 60,587,000
    Italy 192 59,715,625
    Spain 88 46,777,373
    Poland 124 38,625,478

    By Area
    Country Pop Dens Area Km2

    France 111 547,030
    Germany 233 357,021
    Italy 192 301,230
    Poland 124 312,685
    Spain 88 505,782
    United Kingdom 244 244,820

    Most people with an ounce of democratic spirit have a reason to dislike the EU as it is the most undemocratic organisation (after the old USSR) that has been visited upon Europe.
    Why am I so anti EU? Mainly because my country has changed so much because of it and on balance I don’t believe for the better. The ways that it has invaded our everyday life without voters being allowed to approve or disapprove of it, is usually the voters main gripe. I am old enough to remember the EEU referendum and believe it or not, much as I rack my memory, I can’t remember if I voted and if I did which way. The answer to this argument is to present before a referendum of the people a ‘T’ or Churchill close. This would simply list the benefits to the UK of EU membership and the costs. We could then list the disadvantages, savings and opportunities that would become available by being able to make our own decisions.
    That is why we need a grown up debate over a six month period with all sides putting their points to the UK voter and then we can have a referendum, I just know that Brussels will not like that as referendums could be catching and they really don’t like them when they provide the wrong answer (as in Ireland).
    How can someone be asked to support an organisation like the EU when after Lisbon we end up with more Presidents than you can shake a stick at. If the President of the USA or Russia needs to speak with someone in the EU over its position on a world event who should they ring? Ashton, Von Rompuy, Barrosa, The Premier of the rotational country, or a conference call to Merkel, Sarkozy and Cameron? I hope that is all quite clear! The first person has never been voted to anything in her life, the second is an ex premier of a failed state and the next is an ex premier of a small bust state, pot luck with the next one and the next three probably can’t stand each other.
    The Euro problem has been top of the news for weeks now and may go on for months yet. How does that give you confidence in the EU project when the so called best brains in Europe came up with that one without recognising the pit falls? You don’t need an economic or political degree to work out why that was dodgy from the word Go!
    Britain has gone out into the big bad world before and succeeded and we can do it again!

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