The UK and the European Union – Doomed to Divorce?

Mr Crawford - Principal's Lecture

By Sasha Kirienko

The first Principal’s Lecture of 2013 took place in the PH on 19th January. Mr Charles Crawford, who has been an Ambassador three times for the UK, treated all UC5s and SFCs to a lecture entitled: ‘The UK and the European Union ­– Doomed to Divorce?’ From a man who has had an extensive career at the Foreign Office, and who is now a communications consultant, the highly entertaining lecture was stimulating and thought-provoking. Earlier that week, David Cameron had cancelled his speech on how he sees Britain in the EU. His address on Wednesday, 23rd January promised us a referendum upon the matter, if the Conservatives win the next election, and as a result, the EU has never been more topical in Britain than it is now.

Mr Crawford presented to us a condensed version of the history of Europe, starting with the Anglo-Spanish War 1585 -1604 and the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 (the latter of which, no-one had ever heard of, apart from one eleven-year-old girl… Shameful!). This peace treaty settled the issues between major European countries for some time, until new ideas created further tensions in Europe. These ideas sparked off debates about the existence of God, an individual’s good as opposed to collective good, and the fundamental nature of governments; all this led to the French revolution, the Russian revolution, and the rise of dictators such as Hitler and Stalin.

The role of the EU can therefore be seen as that of a peacemaker. Winston Churchill talked of the creation of a ‘United States of Europe’ in his Zurich speech of 1946, but it was Jean Monnet (and others) who laid the foundations for an integrated Europe. It wasn’t until 1993 that the European Union as we know it today came into being. The aim was to unite countries that were already members of the European Coal and Steel Community into a strong organisation that would ensure peace and uninterrupted trade between its members. Since then, the EU has grown from six member states to twenty-seven, and in itself consists of several structures that unite countries on the basis of currency, trade, leadership roles in the Union, and other factors.

Based on all of this background information, what can we therefore say about the role of the United Kingdom in the EU and the pros and cons of its being a member? The UK is one of the six countries that ‘pay in more than they get out’ – i.e. we spend more money in putting money into the pot, to run the EU and to meet the needs of its poorer members, than other members of the Union. It can be said without doubt that the membership of the UK is important for other member countries. But what do the UK and these other five nations (Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden) get back from their membership? There are certain trade agreements and privileges, working alliances, and other structures that exist within the EU which allow countries to cooperate and do business and trade with each other in an easy and reliable way.

Greatest contributors to the EU budget (2007-2013):

Germany: €86 billion

United Kingdom: €57 billion

France: €51 billion

Italy: €46 billion

Netherlands: €24 billion

Sweden: €11 billion

The aim of the lecture was to establish whether the UK gets enough back from being a major member of the European Union to justify it paying a total of €57 billion over the course of six years (2007-2013), and what the risks of escaping this economic burden and leaving the EU are. There is no easy answer. Mr Crawford presented us with his own opinion: he believes that the EU in the form that it exists in today is not going to last for very long, and that it is likely that our generation will be witness to huge changes within a few of decades’ time. For the meantime, UK politicians and representatives in the EU such as Baroness Ashton have a choice of either being “tough” and threatening to leave the EU, or leaving things as they are and not taking the risk. As recent polls show, 56% of the British population would choose to leave the EU, whilst 30% would vote to remain. Yet these figures tend to fluctuate but there is concern that UKIP is rising in popularity due to their anti-EU stance. There is a risk in both staying a member and being dragged into the problems of other countries, or alternatively, in leaving and rebuilding trade connections almost from scratch. All we can do is make our own minds up as to which option we believe to be the most reasonable, and wait to see whether our predictions turn out to be correct.

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