He quoted a recent statement in Financial Times ‘that Britain had created the Europe of today and should not leave the European Union’
The President of the Mid-Atlantic Club of Bonn, former Secretary of State and press speaker of the government, Friedhelm Ost gave an account of Germany’s role within the EU and its contribution to the development of the EU over the past decades. He quoted a recent statement in Financial Times ‘that Britain had created the Europe of today and should not leave the European Union’ .Herr Ost said that only through joint efforts would Europe succeed in a globalised world. Germany, without doubt, wants to keep Britain in the European Union.
The issues raised were discussed in some detail by members of the Mid-Atlantic Club of Bonn and the Mid-Atlantic Club of London at a joint follow-up meeting held at the Hotel Konigshof, chaired by Ambassador Volker Schlegel.
The majority of the press in Britain is eurosceptic and a strong pro-EU countermovement is currently missing
Professor Alan Lee Williams, Chairman of MAC London, opened the discussion. He emphasised that the eurosceptic tide in Britain is mounting and that if a referendum on EU membership is held in 2017 it is by no means certain that the result would be in favour of staying in. The majority of the press in Britain is eurosceptic and a strong pro-EU countermovement is currently missing. Ensuring a vote to stay in will not be easy. Help from Germany in particular as well as from other member states is needed to spell out and demonstrate the huge advantages for the UK of remaining within the European Union.
During the lively exchange that ensued the following key points were made:
- The rise of the UK Independence Party illustrates the increasing euroscepticism among the UK electorate.
- Most of the UK electorate support being part of the Single Market but believe that currently too much control is in the hands of EU institutions.
- The growing call in the UK (and indeed in other member states) for the repatriation of a substantial number of EU powers is a strong indication that the operation of subsidiarity needs to be critically reviewed.
- The UK electorate is overwhelmingly opposed to a continued drive towards ‘ever closer union’ as stated in the various EU Treaties.
- The UK electorate does believe in close co-operation with other EU member states in the fields of defence, security and the fight against crime.
- Germany strongly wants the UK to remain within the EU. Germany regards the UK as a powerful partner in spearheading efforts to bring about essential reform within the EU.
- The United States, though increasingly moving its attention to asian-based co-operation, strongly supports continuing UK membership of the EU. It still regards the UK as an essential conduit between the US and the EU.
- The difficulties encountered in attempts to resolve the Euro crisis has created the impression of an EU that cannot solve its own internal problems. This does not promote confidence in the EU project and gives ammunition to the anti-EU propagandists in the UK.
- The UK press is predominately eurosceptic and when reporting on EU activities it concentrates on the negative issues and rarely, if at all, mentions EU successes and the benefits of EU membership.
- Currently there is a lack of any EU voice in the UK. The European Commission has a very low profile in Britain and pro-EU organisations, such as the European Movement and Open Europe are weak in terms of political influence.
- The high rate of unemployment among young people across the EU is not a good advertisement for the EU project. Nationalist tendencies emerge when the free movement of people across the EU leads to fierce competition for the jobs available.
- There is a strong and growing concern in the UK (and in many other member states too) over the lack of democratic accountability within all the EU institutions. A serious void has opened up between the governed and those who govern them.
The main conclusions from the joint meeting are the following:
- It is critically important for the future of the UK, Germany, the EU as a whole and EU-US relations that the UK remains within the European Union. However, much needs to done to persuade an increasingly eurosceptic UK electorate that it is beneficial to remain within the EU. If an in/out referendum is held in 2017 a positive vote is by no means certain.
- A strong broad-based pro-EU campaign needs to be mounted in the UK well before 2017 if the growing eurosceptic tide is to be turned. The benefits to the UK of EU membership need to be demonstrated. Answers to the question, ‘What’s in it for us’ must be forthcoming and positive. The help of Germany and other member states in this will be crucial. The European Union desperately needs a new positive image in the UK.
- To counter the ever increasing calls for the repatriation of certain EU powers (competencies) and the growing feeling that more and more power is being transferred to the centre the EU needs to critically review the operation of subsidiarity, with a view to transferring as many powers back to member states as is possible. It is vitally important that the EU does this soon and is seen by the electorate to be doing so.
- The continued commitment in EU treaties to ‘ever closer union’ has become something of an anachronism and its retention as a continuing objective is a serious impediment to gaining increased support in the UK for the EU project. The EU should abandon this as a universal objective and adopt it only in specific instances, such as solving the euro problem where much closer union may be necessary.
- The lack of accountability to the electorate of EU institutions is a serious problem. It evokes strong anti-EU feelings in the UK, as it does in other member states. Much improved accountability and greater transparency across all EU institutions will be necessary if the increasingly eurosceptic UK electorate is to be persuaded that its future lies within the European Union.
Affirmation of continuing MAC co-operation
During the meeting the Mid-Atlantic Club of Bonn and the Mid-Atantic Club of London affirmed their commitment to the Mid-Atlantic-Concept as stated in the Protocol of Association signed in London in 1996.