As France and other countries celebrate Europe Day today, all mention of the European Union in the UK is in hushed tones. A referendum on Britain’s continued membership now looms in the next couple of years.
The country – and the ruling Conservative government in particular – is likely to tear itself apart in the run up to the poll.
Fortunately, there is some hope for Britons living in other parts of Europe, including France. The latest survey for The Times found that 34% of voters would definitely opt to stay in the EU, while just 18% would be certain to vote to leave.
If you exclude Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph readers from the survey, the percentages jump to 97% to 3%. (OK, I made that last bit up, but it probably isn’t too far from the truth.)
Some 78% of British businesses, big and small, want to stay in. They think leaving the EU will harm Britain’s economic recovery. They fear that nervousness about the outcome will send foreign investors scurrying to other parts of Europe.
France seems to have an easier relationship with the European Union than Britain. That isn’t to say it isn’t a demanding participant, but its place at Europe’s table is rarely in question.
Unlike Britain, which walked away from talks to set up the European Coal and Steel Community in the 1950s, France gained concessions that have served it well over the years.
Britain had to come crawling back to its neighbours on three separate occasions before it was able to join. French president Charles de Gaulle famously rejected the UK’s application for membership twice – first in 1963 and then again in 1967. Finally, in 1973, the UK joined the club.
To quit now would be a huge economic mistake for Britain. To imagine that replicating Norway’s approach is a viable alternative is nonsense: Oslo has to accept EU laws with no say over them.
Some 3 million jobs in Britain depend directly on the UK’s membership of the EU, and 1 million more are indirectly linked to our place in the EU. Putting those in jeopardy would be foolhardy at best.
“3 million jobs in Britain depend directly on UK membership of the EU, and 1 million more are indirectly linked to it.”
I can only hope that the referendum will settle the issue.
For one thing, it would enable British expats in France and other parts of Europe to breathe easily. Their right to live, work and enjoy the many day-to-day benefits of European membership – from lower mobile phone bills to free access to healthcare – would remain intact.
Today, on Europe Day, that has to be worth celebrating.