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Is Europe Worth the Effort?

One hopes that the EU membership debate, now that it has begun in the United Kingdom, will be honest enough for everyone in Europe to learn from it. The main question, however, is whether the pragmatic argument for remaining in the EU – the focus of the pro-Europe camp in the UK – will be enough.

PARIS – When the United Kingdom joined the then-European Economic Community in 1973, it was at the rearguard of European integration. The question raised by the UK’s upcoming referendum on continued European Union membership is whether Britain is now at the forefront of Europe’s disintegration.

The issue has little to do with the insignificant accord that Prime Minister David Cameron recently reached with his EU colleagues. Indeed, it is hard to believe that this agreement will determine Britain’s fateful choice in June. The fundamental issue is whether EU membership still yields large enough benefits to outweigh the loss of sovereignty that it entails.

This is not a matter for discussion in Britain only. For many in the EU, however, it is a very difficult question to ask, because Europe remains emotionally loaded. Only in Britain could a cabinet minister from the same party that brought the country into the EU call for exiting it. No mainstream German, French, or Spanish politician would dare discuss the matter openly, let alone advocate divorce.

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