Britain has never really known its European place

Article by Brian Hayes MEP which was published in the Sunday Business Post on 24th May 2015

Post World War Two different European counties needed the European Union for very different reasons. For Germany their commitment to democracy after nazism was expressed by their commitment to the EU. The French needed a new relationship with Germany, a kind of new economic inter-dependence, and found it in the EU.

For others like Spain, Italy and Greece they needed the EU to bookend a period of military control and dictatorship. The new accession counties to the east expressed their independence from soviet domination by joining the EU.

Ireland needed Europe for slightly different reasons. How independent were we in the 1950s because of our dependence on Britain? The punt was pegged to sterling. The Bank of England effectively set our interest rate. The economic war with Britain in the 1930s highlighted just who was boss in trade and export terms.

We joined with the British in 1973, because we couldn’t have joined without them. I wonder if they were to leave the EU now, would the same logic apply?

Our economies are totally connected and not just on trade both ways. Our economy resembles the British model. IT, financial services and a heavy dependence on exporting mark both of us out. We are both very Northern Europe is the economic model we employ.

It’s also fair to say that we have been fortunate in recent years to have the British powering ahead, especially when the euro zone was so sluggish. Without that performance our recovery would have been very flatfooted.

Ireland joining the EU was a kind of coming out to the world. Much of the progress we have made since joining the EU, both with the economy and in Northern Ireland – is due to our membership of the EU.

For Britain they never really understood why Europe needed this thing called The EU in the first place. They had won the war. Britain didn’t go the way of fascist Europe as their institutions remained intact.

And having been unable to understand the need for EUROPE, they were then prevented from joining it because of French interests. Like us they waited in line to join.

Yes The British are an island people just like us.  But unlike us, they have failed to explain and sell the benefits of Europe to their citizens. Europe in the UK is a battering ram for politicians who seem unable to understand Britain’s place in the world. That will have to change if David Cameron is to succeed on his greatest challenge yet – to settle Britain’s problem with Europe.

The upcoming UK in out referendum on Europe is the biggest decision effecting Irish foreign policy ever. It’s ramifications are without exaggeration enormous for us and for the rest of Europe. Were Britain to leave the EU, we would face a terrible dilemma. This debate effects us all. And the Irish political establishment needs to wake up to proper contingency planning for all possible referendum outcomes in the UK.

David Cameron needs a deal and we can help in being a bridge of interpretation for those who can deliver it. Germany wants to help Cameron and will do everything, bar treaty change, to keep the British in.

Losing a big county from the EU could have a knock on effect. Would the Finns or the Dutch want to go next? That’s what really concerns the Germans and that’s why a deal will happen .

David Cameron has so far said nothing that would allow him not to do a deal. From his first major Bloomberg speech to the recent UK election, he hasn’t boxed himself in. Many in Europe agree with Britain’s argument for reform of the EU, but resent the way that reform is put forward as an exclusive British concern.

So what might that deal look like? An honest stocktaking exercise of what has and hasn’t worked within the single market too date. A demand that those counties not members of the Eurozone – be involved more, especially where euro zone decisions effect them. Probably a final acceptance that the EU today is permanently two speed. A more effective decision making process. Less inter institutional gridlock. Better use of the EU budget to stimulate growth and more SMEs.

A good start was made this week in Brussels. Commissioner Timmermans (a rising star within the commission Curia) produced a raft of good ideas to cut out some of the over regulation landscape built up in the EU. A straight talking Dutch man, speaking with a perfect English accent, fired the first shot in the great UK referendum debate .

If David Cameron drops his talk of migration and the right of european citizens to work where they like, he can succeed in getting a deal. He will need friends in court. And that’s where we can help.

If he succeeds in pulling it off, he will have achieved what looked like the impossible and killed off UKIP. An objective that he and the new Labour leader also have in common.  If he fails all bets are off – for Europe and for Ireland.

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