I’ve noticed that lately, the Guardian has strengthened the virtual voice of some Eurosceptics by allowing them to blog on their comment is free website. This week alone, two of the contributors were an MEP from the UK Independence Party (whose role is an oxymoron in itself) and a senior figure from the Europhobe think tank Open Europe. That is, of course, the Guardian’s prerogative. But it reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend a couple of days ago. In between a couple of pints she laid out the question: If we left the EU now, would it really matter?
After two years in this country, I really get the island mentality. As much as I would like to change it, it seems that a lot of even my most pro-European friends simply still think of “Europe” when they talk about the continent. And after 60 years of peace and 36 years of membership of the European Union, I can also understand why the benefits of this membership are sometimes taken for granted. So what would change if the UK left the EU (as Cameron’s Conservatives still sometimes threaten to do?)
The 1.6 million British citizens who currently live in another EU country would lose their right to do so. The 7,000 British students who take part in the ERASMUS exchange every year would no longer be entitled to participate in it. The rules of the single market, which is Britain’s best hope to find a way out of the current recession, would no longer be co-decided by a British Government. The 50 million visits made by the British to the continent every year would become difficult and more expensive.
Not only the rest of Europe, but also the US would probably look at the UK with some bewilderment. The role of being the bridge between Europe and the US would no longer suit a country that quite frankly would have affronted and rejected its neighbours by leaving the Union. And while the times of the British Empire are simply over and will not be won back by a trip into isolation, this isolation would certainly weaken the UK’s role in the world.
Britain does not only play an important part in Europe, it also is an important part of it. Europe is not about living next to each other, it’s about living together. As long as this idea is alive, membership in the European Union still matters. We should remember that for the upcoming European Elections on 4th June.