Thursday, 27 October 2011

Britain and Europe

There were potentially several things I felt like posting about this week but in the last few days it's become clear what the main topic at least will be.
The relationship between Great Britain and Europe is one that has always intrigued me from the old battles going back to the Middle Ages right up to her relationships political and otherwise today.
The observant or pernickety for that matter will pick on that phrase - One I sure use a lot "Great Britain and Europe"- and I'd hazard a guess most Brits use too because it sets out crystal clear that most see Europe as 'beyond these shores' rather than being an integral part of it.
This I would say is large bedrock of the ill kept secret of the British public general distrust for anything that is seen as telling them what to do from overseas.
The British, I feel have a very strong sense of national identity and interest seeing their history and global influence acquired through that as of supreme importance. It diplomatically speaking punches above its own weight and so takes strong exception to notions of their being a European Union Ambassador at the United Nations, of EU common diplomatic policy with embassies and departments.
It's also the case that through shared values and even history the English speaking democracies act in concert with aid programs as well as conflict resolution so understandably feel they have a lot to lose.
One reason put forward as I understand it for Britain's membership of what was the European Economic Community in 1973 was being off of the Mainland, there were more trading opportunities and so a 'common market' with the free passage of goods and labour without barriers was seen as a 'good thing'.
The way I see it is there was a opportunity cost - for that gained by access to European markets a tariff laden barrier was put up against others especially the of Commonwealth Counties most noticeably in foodstuffs that pushed up the cost of living and simultaneously required large subsidies that the UK is large provider of the funds of.
Plus other countries such as Norway managed to negotiate access to the same markets without this so I can't but wonder if perhaps given the general disinclination toward integration with mainland Europe politically, if this might of been worth exploring as a more palatable alternative.
It seems to me unfair on the existing members, for the UK have a membership with more opt outs than any other individual Country which with the move toward majority voting with no right of Veto, doesn't really sit well with it.
Which takes to that most obvious side of the EU of late the single currency - The Euro - that naturally the UK accepts but famously refused to join on the basis that "one size doesn't fit all", there were doubts of some countries even met qualifying conditions regarded by institutions here as being lax (some doubt if the figures given were even true) and to make it work the decision making powers of national treasuries and banks would have to go a central bank, The ECB.
Throw in the importance of the City of London and the realization a large chink of economic sovereignty would go, the reaction was predictable: A loud NO!
It's this currency and their inability to deal with huge pan national debt that currently occupies the thoughts of Britons this morning having contributed to loans to the IMF and others to bail out Greece and Ireland it looks likely requests will be made for more money even though the UK isn't a member of the Euro Zone and many are suffering sizable reductions in their own standards of living. If there is to be a two speed EU, the the UK may well be marginalized with major consequences on common policies.
Earlier this week a debate of sorts was held on EU membership in the lower legislature, the House of Commons and while for many contrary reasons most supported 'no change', the Government had a major party rebellion calling for a referendum on the issue.
Given the palpable hostility toward the EU in Great Britain today perhaps the only way through this is a fresh referendum on membership as one things for sure, the call is only getting louder by the day.

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