George Osborne said on Wednesday that Britain should remain in European Union, but not be run by Europe. The risk is that, instead of freeing up Britain from European influence, “Brexit” would turn the United Kingdom into a European economic satellite.
Business leaders know this risk very well – and fear it. This is why the Financial Times’s editorial yesterday encouraged pro-European business leaders to start the campaign now. Regardless of the outcome of the Cameron’s negotiations: ‘At best, the reforms he secures — on benefits for migrants or on the shape of EU institutions — will be modest. At worst, the economic case for continued membership of a bloc with 500 million citizens and 21 million companies will remain overwhelming.’
The necessity of making the case for continued membership of the EU relates to our place in the global economy – but it relates to our place in the world, too, and the two are inevitably intertwined.
None of us, as countries, can succeed alone in the complex world we live in. The threats we face are multifaceted and need to be dealt with using the broadest set of international tools available.
Think of Ukraine. Many of us believed that Russia had moved away from a cold war mindset. So far, this has proved us wrong. Also, take Libya. It would impossible to address migration, terrorism, regional stability while Libya is not a functioning state. This shows that what happens in eastern Europe, north Africa and the Middle East impacts all of us – and we cannot shy away from it. In this global world, we can share expertise, tools and assets to achieve together what we cannot achieve on our own – peace and prosperity for future generations. To me, that is what Europe is all about. We need to start making this case now.
What we are facing instead is a prime minister who is stronger – having won an overall majority – but not strong enough to not listen to the vociferous Eurosceptics in his own party. Having stated that he wants to campaign for to stay in the reformed EU, he is now facing a heated debate within his own party, with his own ministers saying that they want the freedom to campaign for Brexit.
This is a dangerous game. The first effect is that the negotiations have started with the prime minister saying that he wants the EU to be a multi-currency union. I am not clear what this means, no one is proposing the option of joining the Eurozone, far from it. Businesses know that what is really crucial is access and proximity to Eurozone. Others in the continent might think that Cameron is threatening to leave the game – while wanting to tell the others to change the rules.
The reality is that the European partners should be forthcoming, in particular if Britain asks to open negotiations in areas where it knows that many other EU member states would be keen to join forces and achieve progress – think of the energy market and the digital economy – rather than simply looking for opt-outs for the UK from the fundamental principles and policies of the EU. By turning Cameron’s gamble into an open discussion about reform, we might be able both to secure Britain’s ongoing membership, and be that bit stronger as we stand together in our globalised world.
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