Angela Merkel’s visit to the United Kingdom has shown that Britain is better together with the European Union; and that our economic, cultural and international ties cannot and will not be severed by the isolationist fears of centre-right government. Britain’s voice is loudest when in Europe, its convictions strongest when working with neighbours, and its future brighter when moving towards the common good.
Downing Street said today would be the first step on a long road of reform that will ultimately lead, in the eyes of David Cameron and his allies, to a referendum in 2017. Yet the message from Merkel was clear: you cannot have something for nothing. Quite rightly, if David Cameron wants the EU to consider ‘repatriation’ of powers in areas such as immigration, ‘benefit tourism’ or working rights; then he must commit to stronger ties over banking reform, the Common Agricultural Policy or even the power of the European Commission. This would be important in allowing Europe to tackle its remaining debt crisis and granting the UK its domestic wishes. More importantly however, Merkel steered well away from condemning immigration, benefit tourism and the issues that plight right wing Tories and UKIP. Instead, her conclusion was remarkably positive: that in less than a century and after two world wars Europe is now the strongest powerhouse in the world.
Merkel’s upbeat and positive speech centred on Britain’s key role in the EU, and its force for good in the world. It needn’t address or give extra media time to the baseless arguments that Britain can survive outside of the world’s largest trade bloc; or that the governments of Europe owe Britain something special. Instead her speech was centred on ongoing reform to match the needs of today’s Europe – admirable aspirations in a world of over-complex political ramblings. Correctly she pointed out that Britain’s reluctance to embrace Europe should not be an example to other European nations, but instead Europe’s cooperation should be an example to every country on every continent. The European Union remains a cost efficient organisation. The EU has reduced red tape and regulations by equivalent to €30 billion. Our membership payment of a much smaller €10 billion a year has resulted, according to the OECD, in a 6% increase in family incomes and doubled our trade exposure. Moreover, it has made trading with other countries easier, with the World Trade Organisation claiming that Britain would not be the 2nd largest exporter of services in the world without the European market creating trade deals with countries such as South Korea and India. Importantly, the alternatives for Britain would be devastating. If Britain was to join the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement our incomes would plummet 7%, more than wiping out the progress made over the last two decades.
The European Union shouldn’t just be present in our pockets though, it should be present in our minds and yes, in our hearts. We should be willing to embrace greater cooperation. Yes, state our limits, what we stand for and what we believe is right – but do not backtrack on agreements already made. Yes, say when you don’t agree, but do not allow it to cut through what Merkel quite rightly pointed out has been decades of progress.
By James Wand