There is a certain distinction between the British approach to European integration and that of most other member states. While many European politicians wish to move closer towards a federal Europe most British politicians support a more cautious intergovernmental approach. With this debate already initiated, there still stands the fundamental question of whether or not Britain would benefit from further integration with Europe.
There are many historical and political reasons why further European integration would not benefit the UK. Britain has had continuity of its political institutions since 1688, in comparison with some current member states that have had as many as 11 different political systems in the same period. We are very much used to the status quo, and most people feel reluctant to let centuries of tradition go to waste. British people generally feel separated from Europe in more ways than simply geographically. Britain?s insularity means we are literally separate from the rest of Europe, and have not been directly involved in either world war, but even so, we still feel a sense of pride in our nation after coming out of conflicts victorious against European enemies. British people see further integration as a threat to the national identity and culture. We do not want to be made ?all European.? Britain is said to be reluctant to limit itself to an exclusively European role, partly due to the history of Britain as a world power with a massive empire, but overall it seems that the people want a balance of power on the continent, avoiding permanent commitments. The conservative approach of UK politicians has hugely influenced public opinion over the last 50 or so years. Democratically, further European integration means a loss of power and a loss of sovereignty. Already some people feel as though we are ?run by Brussels,? suffering the laws and regulations which we have not approved or even had a say on ? further integration would make this all the more apparent to every one of us, particularly as EU law has precedence over UK law. Europe means bureaucracy to many, and this signifies inefficient government and money wasted, but most importantly, further European integration means significant changes to democracy as we know it. As previous President of the EU, Jacques Delors, said: ?Yes, we have to have transfers of sovereignty to achieve economic and monetary union.?
?It is a myth that our membership of the Community will suffocate national tradition and culture. Are the Germans any less German for being in the Community, or the French any less French? Of course they are not!? (Margaret Thatcher speaking to the Conservative Group for Europe 16th April 1975). The same is argued today. Those who oppose further integration can be said to be paranoid that Britain is under assault from Europe. That isn’t really the case. In the words of the German president, Johannes Rau, in March 2001 ?No-one wants to do away with the nation states and their sovereignty.? Britain would still be Britain in a ?United States of Europe? because of the huge diversity and striking differences between the cultures of the member states. Britain has always been a leading global power. Today, it is a more influential power in the world because it is more dominant in Europe. It is claimed Britain is taken more seriously by America because we are strong in Europe. We have more to offer to other nations such as those in the Commonwealth if we are more integrated into Europe, too. We are their gateway to Europe. America?s former Ambassador to the UK, Ray Seitz, said: ?There is a simple observation that if Britain?s voice is less influential in Paris or Bonn, it is likely to be less influential in Washington.?
The next step towards further integration economically comes in the form of joining the Euro, the European Single Currency. Foreign investors already choose Britain because we are a gateway to Europe. A decision to join the Euro would increase the attractiveness of our country to foreign investors because they would not have to worry about damaging currency value fluctuations when they export to the European Union. In the same way, importing costs could also be reduced. Over three-quarters of foreign investors believe that it is in the best interests of their company for Britain to join the ?Euro-Zone,? according to a survey conducted by London First in 2000.
Britain benefited enormously from the creation of the European internal market, yet it stands to profit even more from sharing a currency with its most important trading partners. As more than half our trade is with Europe, the internal market is the foundation of our prosperity. Access to it has attracted thousands of American and Japanese companies to invest here as a gateway to Europe. Consequently, up to three and a half million British jobs depend on European trade, and by joining the Euro, Britain has the capability to attract even more foreign investors.
However, the situation is changing, and fast. By sharing the same currency, the twelve Euro-Zone members have created for themselves a truly single market. Britain is said to be waiting for the right economic conditions, but in effect could be being left behind and risking putting itself at a notable competitive disadvantage. If Britain decided to join the Euro it would benefit British businesses because it would reduce costs, increase opportunity and sustain stability.
It is said to be wrong to claim that each country in Europe is at the same economic level in terms of wealth and stability. The biggest problem with EMU is that it allows only one interest rate for 11 contrasting economies, all growing at different rates at different times. The ?one-size-fits-all? interest rate will never be right for all 11 countries. To illustrate the difficulties this has already caused one can compare the current situations of Germany and Ireland. At present, the German economy is in difficulties with unemployment twice that of the UK, while the Irish economy is booming. The Germans need lower interest rates to stimulate their economy, while the Irish need higher rates to avoid a property crash. Within the Euro, they must both have the same rate, whether they like it or not.
If Britain were to join the Euro, we would certainly be forced to accept an interest rate that would be wrong for our economy. If we continue to fix our own interest rate, our economy will not be put at risk. For this reason, the Governor of the Bank of England said recently that he was ‘relieved’ we did not join the Euro when it started. There would also be the potential of higher unemployment due to more competition, caused by the removal of market protection that seems to have happened already. On average, there are twice as many people unemployed in European countries than in the USA. Europe is in fact lagging behind America in most respects. It has more people out of work, its people earn lower wages and suffer higher taxes. Britain would be more at risk of following the depressing patterns already present in Europe if it were to join the Euro.
Further integration with Europe appears to make transfers of sovereignty and authority to Brussels inevitable. The British public are keen to hold on to ?their democracy? and all the tradition which surrounds it, and rightly so. Certainly the EU?s idea of democracy is questionable, and given the reality that further integration with Europe means Britain practically giving up control of its economy, at the present this further integration cannot be good for Britain. However, there is hope that it could be, since the question of subsidiarity is being hotly discussed and seems a reasonable step towards reforming the institutions of the European Central Government. Until the Euro has had time to settle down it would be unwise to write it off. There are most definitely both advantages and disadvantages to joining the single European Currency, but it can be stated that it will be a very significant element in further European integration.