Leading article: We need rational debate on the EU, not hysteria

 

Share
Related Topics

From the tenor of the current debate, you could be forgiven for wondering why Britain ever joined Europe at all. Fuelled by hysteria over the eurozone crisis, easy clichés about costly red tape, sclerotic bureaucracy and emasculated democracy are gaining ground, reducing the entire European project to nothing more than an affront to British self-determination and a drag on lively Anglo-Saxon economic growth.

It is high time for some balance. Contrary to the rhetoric, the benefits of membership of the EU are not difficult to find. Europe accounts for an estimated three million UK jobs, not to mention nearly 60 per cent of our exports and more than half of our imports. At a personal level, estimates suggest every household gains up to £3,300 annually. That's not all. There are also less quantifiable advantages, such as beefed-up consumer protection rules, the boost from free movement of labour, and the extra heft in trade negotiations from being part of the world's biggest single market.

With Europe facing unprecedented economic and political problems – and on the brink of momentous reform to resolve them – what Britain needs is a measured analysis of both the benefits of our place in Europe and the carefully calibrated compromises that go with it. Instead, the political class is descending into an all-too-familiar Punch and Judy show; and if such a sideshow was toxic in the past, it is potentially catastrophic now.

Last week's parliamentary debate over an in-out referendum is just the beginning. Thanks to its mishandling by David Cameron, the situation escalated into the largest ever Tory backbench rebellion over Europe. The Prime Minister then spent the rest of the week bandying vague promises about the repatriation of powers from Brussels (in the teeth of overt opposition from his coalition colleagues) in an effort to restore unity. Such a spectacle does not augur well.

Eurosceptics claim they are merely channelling the views of their constituents. And polls suggest as many as 75 per cent of Britons would like a referendum. But with anti-Europeans gleefully flexing their muscles for a trial of strength with a mistrusted leader and his pro-Europe coalition partners, the danger is that the detailed arguments are drowned out by petty politicking.

The co-opting of the euro crisis to the anti-EU cause is a similarly unconstructive sleight of argumentative hand. While it is true that the sovereign debt crisis has exposed flaws in the workings of the eurozone, that is not to say that the flaws were the cause of the problems. Nor is the severity of the situation any proof that the euro, let alone the EU, is fundamentally unworkable. Nor, even, does a positive stance on Europe imply there is no need for any reform.

While opportunists try to use the crisis as a cover for grabbing back powers, the real questions facing Britain and Europe could not be more serious. With the creation of a two-speed EU, Britain's place in the rump of 10 non-euro countries can only diminish its influence. There are those – such as Dominic Lawson on the facing page – who argue that Britain does not need to be at the centre of Europe to look after its interests there. The converse case was made by the Deputy Prime Minister at the weekend, when he wrote of the "economic suicide" of retreating to the policymaking margins.

That there are no easy answers is precisely the point. These are nuanced issues requiring the most careful, measured consideration. But any hope of sensible debate is in danger of being hijacked by a Tea Party-esque fundamentalist fringe, in shrill dialogue with itself. The decisions to be taken over Europe will have almost unimaginably far-reaching consequences for Britain. It is time to be level-headed. There is frighteningly little sign of it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Quantity Surveyor - 224/15

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: The infrastructure, support services and const...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing Executive - £20,000 OTE - Uncapped

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning IT company a...

Recruitment Genius: Solutions Consultant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: As a Solutions Consultant for this Professiona...

Recruitment Genius: HR Consultant

£30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A small family run HR consultancy based ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Royal fans Maria Scott, left Amy Thompson and John Loughrey wait outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in London  

Royal baby: The commodification of an unborn child

Jane Merrick
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd make sure half of Parliament was female, and have a zero tolerance approach to sexual harassment

Gill Slocombe
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders