Commentary by Fiona GESKES
With the date for the in/out referendum now set for May/June 2016, the debate on whether the UK should remain in the European Union or leave is likely to heat up. Given the relatively short referendum campaign (compared to the prolonged Scottish referendum) this debate is set to be one which will shape the political landscape in the UK no matter what the outcome. The monumental responsibility of making this decision is, unfortunately, not likely to be debated in a rational and truthful manner -but rather driven by the perceived threat of the thousands of illegal migrants who will descend on the shores.
Many of the polls indicate that the UK will in fact remain in the Union.1 Yet even if this is the outcome come summer 2016, the damage of the referendum campaign to the UK relationship with its European neighbours may be harder to overcome. The EU is currently, much as the Eurosceptics would like to deny it, more than a plain economic union and still sui generis in its nature – it is a political and cultural union. Even if we ignore the potential economic danger of a Brexit and focus on the political and diplomatic dangers, it can be argued that these are just as serious. The fluidity of the political and diplomatic relations between the member states is facilitated by the differing political arenas, from the Commission to the Parliament and the Council at the highest levels. Leaving these arenas for the political discourse and discussion, means shutting a door. There is a whole list of issues that dog the EU – from the lack of accountability to the democratic deficit – and some of these are without a doubt issues that need to be addressed. Yet the question that needs to be asked is, are they worth risking the relations with our closest neighbours over? As we enter into the in/out debate, one hopes that the enormity of the situation is understood and respected.
In a speech given at Schloss Bellevue, Berlin in 2013, the German President Joachim Gauck, directly addressed Britain with the words: “We would like you to stay with us! We need your experience as the oldest parliamentary democracy, we value your traditions but we also need your pragmatism and your courage! During the Second World War, your efforts helped to save our Europe – and it is also your Europe. (…) More Europe cannot mean a Europe without you!” Despite speaking in 2013, the message of this speech seems tantalizingly accurate today – more Europe cannot mean a Europe without the United Kingdom.