Letter: UK can seize leadership in Europe

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The Independent Online
Sir: I recently returned from a posting with a British organisation in Taiwan. Britain is second only to the US in the buoyant market for students from Taiwan, and also the recipient of the greatest proportion of Taiwanese investment of any European country. Crucial to the United Kingdom's success in both of these fields: easy access to European markets now and, more particularly, in a more closely integrated Union; the related desire - particularly in the case of students - to gain knowledge of the workings of the European Union; and the English language.

Toyota's announcement some weeks ago about discontinuing investment if Britain did not join the single currency came as no surprise to me.

The English language is arguably Britain's most valuable national asset. It is the international language and will no doubt remain so, though the degree to which we continue to participate in the European Union will probably have a huge impact on the extent of its future predominance.

Britain, as a fully paid-up member of the Union, would be in an unassailable position to secure English as the Union's lingua franca. Consider the scope for the Union-wide - not to mention enhanced worldwide - exercise of British influence. Conversely, consider the lost opportunity if a Britain- less EU, or an EU in which Britain opted out of the single currency and the Social Chapter, were to choose one of its other languages. The people of the Pacific Rim are not falling over themselves to learn French and German. Yet.

As the world divides into three trade blocs, Europe is light-years ahead of both Asia and the Americas in terms of formally constructing its bloc. Nafta is, at least in population and membership terms, smaller than the EU. In Asia, notwithstanding Asean and Apec, there is nothing comparable. Moreover, the emerging markets of both Asia and Latin America, as well as the booming economies of the Pacific Rim, lack, as yet, the sophisticated political and legal infrastructures, not to mention the political stability, of Europe.

We are standing at the threshold of what could really be Europe's century. Who in the world, having created such a head-start for themselves, would decide to "wait and see?" I say, "Seize the day."

Britain remains a world-class performer in numerous fields. Higher education, the media, banking and finance, the law, science and technology, the arts, all spring to mind.

Why must we keep playing the whining, bruised victim of Euro-bullying instead of exercising leadership in Europe, given the overwhelming credentials we have for doing so?