The Australian Financial Review
It is easy to see why anyone would rail against the European Union. Too much about the 28-nation grouping is an experiment in overblown statism. It is led by a vanguard class of remote bureaucrats, all convinced of the historic inevitability of ever-closer political union. Confronted with a disaster of its own making like the euro, the instinct in Brussels is to double down and call for “more Europe”. It is a long time since the EU looked like the shining future. More often it’s monolithic but impotent, when even Germany can’t get anyone to follow it in sharing the burden of Middle East refugees. Now the EU faces the threat of its second largest economy, Britain, voting to leave on June 23.
The British are the EU’s most detached members. Unlike the rest of Europe, they were neither defeated nor occupied in World War II and therefore have no great emotional commitment to European unity for its own sake. Their view of the Union is transactional, simply a giant free-trade zone.
At its best, that is what the EU still is. The UK was a prime mover of the European single market in 1986, still its greatest achievement, and for all its flaws the largest and richest in the world with free movement of goods and now half a billion people. Former Iron Curtain countries flocked to join it once they were free, and its co-operation and strength are still the best bulwark against Vladimir Putin’s attempts to reverse history in eastern Europe. Britain’s global military and diplomatic role and outlook, which in Europe it shares only with France, is important in this regard too. It is all those instincts which both like-minded outsiders such the United States and Australia, and EU insiders like Germany, would like to keep inside the European tent in future.
Britain has already kept itself free of the two most problematic parts of the union – the shared currency and shared open borders which have caused other members to fall out badly since 2010. And Mr Cameron this weekend got important symbolic opt-outs from demands for closer union, from any threats to London’s role as a global financial centre, and to egregious welfare payments to migrants.