For me, the European Union has always been a fact of life. At primary school in The Netherlands we got a Euro-passport to prepare us for the introduction of the euro. It contained a quiz to find out if you were Dutch, European or a world citizen. I can not remember exactly what my outcome was, but it was certainly not ‘Dutch’… Now that we live in England and people suddenly start talking about ‘leaving the European Union’, my world is turned upside down. Why would anyone want to do that? But it is also a good opportunity to refresh my knowledge about the EU. I found that this video explains some key facts.
The UK has never had a very warm relationship with the rest of Europe. This BBC-article says “Britain’s island mentality, combined with an imperial hangover” is probably the reason. The country was late in joining the EEC (European Economic Community). In the eighties, Margaret Thatcher fought against the further integration that Brussels was pursuing. But she got no support from her cabinet and could not prevent the UK signing the Maastricht Treaty in 1993. The country is now a half-hearted member of the European Union: The euro never got through here and England is not a member of the open-border zone of Schengen.
The rocky relationship between the UK and the European Union might just be over this summer. The anti-European sentiment is fueled by parties like UKIP, who would prefer to put all foreigners on a boat to mainland Europe anyway. Many people are afraid that immigrants from Eastern European countries come here just to get social benefits.
A referendum on whether the country should remain a member of the EU was one of David Cameron’s election promises. Before putting this question to the people he wanted to negotiate with the EU about changes in the membership of the UK. That happened last weekend. The new agreements mean that social security for immigrants can be limited and that individual countries have more opportunities to delay European law proposals (Guardian).
The most principled issue is the text of the EU Treaty. This document states that the EU aims for “ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”. This reflects a vision of the future where the EU is increasingly functioning as a country. I do sympathise with this idea (I’ve also voted for a European Constitution), although I cannot oversee all the political implications. There are several countries that do not support this sentence. But the residents of the British Isles wanted an explicit statement that this is not about them. The following text was added: “It is recognised that the United Kingdom … is not committed to further political integration in the European Union … References to ever-closer union do not apply to the United Kingdom.”
The pro-EU campaigners hope that these changes are good enough for the British people. On June the 23rd they can vote about this in a referendum. The battle is now well underway and also appears to include a brawl within the Conservative Party. Meanwhile, all that we can do as Europeans in the UK is patiently await our fate…