Briefing Influence

  • Laid out why the EU-UK status quo is no longer an option for the UK public, and set out the main reasons why reform is vital.
  • Adopting a range of Open Europe ideas, Prime Minister David Cameron subsequently announced his strategy to renegotiate EU-UK relations before putting Britain’s EU membership to an In/Out Referendum by 2017, if the Conservatives are re-elected.
  • Highlighted that, if they are given the option, UK voters prefer the option of staying in a radically reformed Europe – a position Open Europe has been advocating for years. But absent of reform, UK voters may choose to leave the EU.
  • Emphasised the urgent need for non-euro countries to obtain safeguards from being outvoted by Eurozone countries.
Stay in (%) Get out (%)
1992 53% 32%
1994 52% 36%
1996 44% 39%
1997 40% 40%
1998 47% 40%
1999 41% 37%
2000 43% 46%
2001 43% 41%
2003 49% 41%
2007 51% 39%
2011 41% 49%
2012 44% 48%

UK public’s increasing sceptical view of EU membership without reform

The UK cannot afford to freeze the issue of its EU membership: without EU reform an increasingly sceptical UK public is more likely to vote for an exit. Renegotiation of the UK’s EU membership, followed by a referendum is one of the few viable ways to square developments in Europe with UK public opinion.Source: IPOS MORI

22 January 2013

Cameron’s Bloomberg Speech:  The UK cannot freeze the issue of its EU membership

Two developments mean that the “do nothing option” is no longer viable for the UK in the EU. First, Eurozone integration is changing the rules of the game. The UK needs to secure its existing rights as a non-euro member state, and create space in Europe for countries that do not want to join the euro.

Second, as polling suggests, without any change, the UK electorate is likely to vote for an EU exit. However, polls also show that, when given the option, the public consistently backs the option of staying in on new terms. Renegotiation of Britain’s membership, followed by a referendum is, therefore, one of the few viable ways to square developments in Europe with UK public opinion.

EU Reform is not a UK-only issue

Europe is facing three existential challenges: the Eurozone crisis; the EU’s dwindling global competitiveness (its share of global GDP is expected to be 60% of its 1990 level in five years); and the urgent need to connect the EU back to its voters. There is a compelling case for EU-wide reform to address these challenges.

The EU should roll back its one-size-fits all model where it is actively fuelling discontent or hampering the EU economy, and focus on doing more of what it does best: facilitating trade, both internally and externally.

The UK can drive change in Europe

Despite claims to the contrary – the UK has clout in the EU in several key areas:

  • Future treaties and fundamental changes: The topic of treaty change will re-surface in the EU sooner or later, as there are several broad proposals around Eurozone integration that will require EU treaty change to be fully completed. Although fears that the UK may circumvented through inter-governmental treaties are valid, they are overstated, as Germany, in particular, is nervous about EU agreements lacking firm constitutional grounding.
  • An economic asset: The UK contributes some €14bn to the EU Budget annually, and if it were to leave the EU, the Single Market would shrink by 15%. Moreover, the UK’s annual trade deficit of £52bn with the EU remains important.
  • Balance in power in favour of freer trade: Without the UK in the EU, the Northern liberal bloc would lose its blocking minority in the Council of Ministers, radically tipping the balance of power in favour of a more protectionist Mediterranean bloc. It is in the interest of countries such as Germany to keep the UK in.
  • Global reach and ‘hard power’: The UK is one of the EU’s major military powers, with a valuable diplomatic network around the world. It also accounts for 24% of all EU spending on defence – more than any other member state.

The single market would shrink significantly if the UK left the EU

The UK is an economic asset for the EU. It contributes some €14bn to the EU Budget annually, and if it were to leave the EU, the single market would shrink by 15%. This gives the UK influence and clout, which can be used to spearhead efforts to reform the EU.Source: Open Europe

Doing nothing will only drive more uncertainty

Those who see uncertainty in negotiating for fundamental EU reform miss the point. The UK’s discomfort with the EU is already a fact, and the ‘do nothing’ option in itself feeds uncertainty. If the UK does not seek to renegotiate and deliver reform, it raises the spectrum that no pro-European campaign could hope to win an In/Out referendum in the future.

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