A quarter century on, who has reaped the benefits of the European dream?

More trade but less growth is mixed blessing; 25 YEARS IN EUROPE
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The Independent Online
Has a quarter century of membership of the European Union been good for the United Kingdom economy? The question is impossible to answer without knowing what would have happened otherwise. Still, there are some useful indicators of the UK's progress since it joined the European club.

Trade with other EU countries has become more important over the years. In 1973 the rest of the European Economic Community - as it then was - accounted for 42 per cent of the value of British exports.

By 1995 that share had risen to 58 per cent. The importance of our European partners is even more pronounced in trade in manufactured products, where they take 64 per cent of UK exports.

Investment by European companies has grown significantly. Although the United States still dominates the league table of investors, it is followed by the Netherlands, France and Germany. The value of investments in the UK by EU companies, having doubled in the first 15 years of membership, has risen from pounds 23.6bn at the end of 1988 to pounds 46.1bn last year.

On broader economic measures, the UK's progress has been less obvious. Gross domestic product per head has grown more slowly, from a shade above the European average in 1973, to about 8 per cent below average today.

On that classic economic indicator, the strength of the currency, the pound has fared very badly. Despite the pound's recent gains, pounds 1 will buy only 2.7 German marks today, compared with DM6 in 1973.

On the other hand, the flexibility of its labour market means that the UK, unlike the Continental economies, has created new jobs in the private sector during the past decade. UK unemployment was a little below the European average in 1973. Last year it was well below the climbing Euro- rate.

Britain first applied to join the European Union (then the European Communities) as long ago as 1961. But the French, and in particular President Charles de Gaulle, concerned that the British would wreck the whole thing, vetoed the British application after a year of negotiations. Britain had earlier set up the European Free Trade Association in 1960, with other non-EU members. However, it proved an inadequate substitute for membership of the real thing.

Another British application followed in 1967; but so did another French veto. After de Gaulle left power in 1969, progress was made, and in 1970 the Commission invited Britain to resume negotiations to join. In 1972, the accession negotiations were finalised. That meant that the terms under which Britain was to be a member were agreed between London and the six existing members.

Membership followed on 1 January 1973. With Ireland and Denmark also joining, that took membership of the European clubto nine. Norway concluded accession negotiations at the same time, but then decided (after a referendum) not to join.

Britain later held a referendum after criticism from the left wingof the Labour Party. The first referendum in British history, on 5 June 1975, showed a solid67.2 per cent of voters in favour of membership; only Shetland and the Western Isles of Scotland were against.