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11 March 2015

Euractiv: Voting on Brexit - The EU issues shaping the UK election

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The May 7 UK general election will go a long way towards deciding whether Britain will stay in the European Union, or choose to leave, after forty years of uneasy relations.

A surge in Eurosceptism has firmly pushed the European Union up the political agenda in Britain.

The ruling Conservatives have promised an in/out referendum on EU membership before the end of 2017 if they win the election, placing Europe's future at the centre of the debate. 

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he would campaign for the UK to stay, but only if the EU was able to reform, saying “Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union.”

However, five years after the formation of the UK’s first coalition government since World War II, the polls are pointing to another hung parliament.

Former minority parties such as the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the pro-EU Green Party now see a realistic chance of entering government via a coalition with either the Conservatives or Labour. 

A year after European elections in Britain were won by the UK Independence Party (UKIP), and two years from a potential in/out referendum, "Europe" is no longer a topic the parties can afford to keep quiet about.

The Tories' approach to the EU is "renegotiation and referendum". They want to reform the UK relationship with the EU and then put that reformed relationship to a referendum by the end of 2017.

Meanwhile, the opposition Labour Party are committed to Britain's place in Europe, but are equally committed to reform of the EU. The party said it wants to make the "hard-headed, patriotic case both for Britain in Europe and for change in Europe".

Labour is also considering an EU referendum, but said it would only do so if there was a substantial further shift of powers from London to Brussels.

With their leader, Nick Clegg, a former MEP, the Liberal Democrats are the most prominently pro-European party in the UK.

Clegg debated UKIP leader Nigel Farage ahead of the European elections in 2014 and was widely regarded to have lost. The party is clear they want the UK to remain in the EU, but they face a tough challenge to retain their position as the UK's third largest party after five years in coalition.

The UK Independence Party's (UKIP) position is the clearest on the issue. They want the UK to leave the European Union as a first step towards regaining Britain's 'lost' national sovereignty.

The Greens have a strong presence in the European Parliament and are currently experiencing a surge in membership across the UK.

Full article on Euractiv


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