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21 January 2015

Euractiv: The EU was made in Britain

The United Kingdom is largely responsible for the EU’s predominantly liberal ethos and present geopolitical dimensions, writes Sir Michael Leigh.

Britain is in the grip of a prolonged political crisis concerning its own constitutional order and its membership in the European Union, exacerbated by acrimonious and misleading arguments over immigration. As in other European countries, a demagogic anti-EU, anti-immigration movement has driven the established parties into a defensive posture. The current prime minister, David Cameron, felt compelled to promise an “in/out” referendum on Britain’s EU membership if his Conservative Party returns to power after the May 2015 general election. As a further gesture to the populists, he is now hinting at advancing the date of this referendum.

But such efforts at appeasement have proved futile, provoking ever-increasing demands. At the same time, British leaders have upset natural allies within the EU and missed an opportunity to become the leading European voice advocating forward-looking policies such as completing the single market, strengthening Europe’s global competitiveness, and building an energy union. The government has also failed to explain to voters that the EU today bears strong signs of British design and as such serves Britain’s interests well.

Over the past four decades, the EU has been transformed from a relatively small “Community” of nine member states to a “Union” with 28 members embracing much of the European continent. What was once an inward-looking, largely Francophone, club has become a broad-based Union that is Anglophone, outward-looking, and open to trade. The United Kingdom is largely responsible for the EU’s predominantly liberal ethos and present geopolitical dimensions.

From the outset, Britain backed both enlargement and extending the EU’s global outreach. British commissioners, including Leon Brittan, Chris Patten, Peter Mandelson, and Catherine Ashton, piloted the EU’s trade policies and external relations at crucial moments in their development. Britain was among the most consistent advocates of enlargement in Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of Communism. Today, Britain supports EU assistance for democratic transition in the Balkans, Ukraine, and other former Soviet states as well as sanctions against Russia following its annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine.

British membership in 1973 led to closer EU links with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) paving the way for Sweden and Finland to join the Union in 1995. Britain championed new forms of association with African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries (many its former colonies), now incorporated in the EU-ACP “Cotonou agreement.” This is widely considered a model for development assistance, a key British foreign policy priority.

Full article on Euractiv


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