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EU would be better off without the UK

EU would be better off without the UK

What Britain can do for Europe

by Ernst Welteke in Frankfurt

Thu 7 Apr 2016

The British, as a great footballing nation, know that, if every footballer plays only for himself, his team will never win. Would Britain be better off staying inside the EU club, or by going it alone after the 23 June referendum?

I would suggest that this is the wrong question. It is not right that Britain focuses only on its own advantages and disadvantages. The correct question is not what the EU can do for Britain, rather what Britain could do for Europe.

Many referendum commentaries concentrate on the economic repercussions, either for the UK or for the rest of Europe, if the UK leaves. That again is the wrong angle.

Europe is much more than an economic zone. It is about peace, freedom, human rights and welfare, all over the world. To quote Winston Churchill’s famous 1946 speech in Zurich: ‘If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there would be no limits to the happiness, to the prosperity and the glory which its three or four hundred million people would enjoy.’

But he also said: ‘Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations… must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe and must champion its right to live and shine.’ So, in other words, it was never clear whether Britain should be in or out of unified Europe.

The European Union treaty of 2008 provides some clarification. Reducing the in-out issue to fiscal or economic criteria is not enough. The treaty states: ‘The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the member states in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.’

At the moment, in many ways the EU is not living up to these ideals. We see in many states a renationalisation of politics, together with a reduction in solidarity and a rise in right-wing populist and nationalistic parties. The elections in three German states on 13 March, in which the anti-immigration and anti-euro AfD party scored gains, provide a cautionary tale.

The European summit in February agreed a package of changes for the UK’s membership. This set a bad example for other countries or political parties, because of the one-sided focus on the UK.

Why should only the British decide whether or not the UK remains in? Why not ask the other Europeans to choose by majority voting whether they wish Britain in or out?

Maybe 500m other Europeans are fed up with all this UK special pleading and desire for separate rules – especially as it could lead to the break-up of the whole European construct. Without the UK, Europe might be better able to unify in line with Churchill’s vision – and would have a better future.

In a globalised world no individual European state can prosper on its own. Handling terrorism, refugee flows, climate change, financial stability: all these and many more problems require an ever more integrated Europe.

We Europeans cannot wait for latecomers, nor can we constantly take care of members who are permanently dissatisfied. The British cannot always expect that the rest of Europe will allow them to ‘have their cake and eat it’, perpetually saying, as the Germans put it, ‘Wasch mir den Pelz, aber mach mich nicht nass’ (‘Wash me but don’t make me wet’).

The British should go ahead and leave. The rest of Europe will be better off without them.

Ernst Welteke, a member of the OMFIF Advisory Board, was President of Deutsche Bundesbank between 1999 and 2004. This is No.27 in the series.

OMFIF’s series on the UK EU referendum presents a wide variety of perspectives from Britain and around the world ahead of the 23 June poll. We are assuring a balance between many different points of view, in line with OMFIF’s overall neutral stance on the issue.

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