Chris Van Es

Does Europe Need Britain?

Those who favor European unification should take criticisms of its political flaws very seriously. That is why Europe needs Britain: not as an offshore center of banking and commerce, but as a difficult, questioning, stubbornly democratic partner.

NEW YORK – Many people in the United Kingdom believe that their country can do perfectly well outside the European Union. Members of the UK Independence Party even think that Britain would do better, as do a considerable number of Conservative “Euro-skeptics.” They dream of Britain as a kind of Singapore of the West, a commercial powerhouse ruled from the City of London.

That is why Prime Minister David Cameron felt obliged to offer the British people a referendum on a simple question: in or out. Cameron does not personally want Britain to leave the EU, but he knows that some form of democratic consent is needed for future British governments to settle the matter.

The year of the promised referendum, 2017, is comfortably far away. Many things may change in the meantime. If the eurozone forges ahead, what countries outside the zone do may not matter much anymore. Moreover, other Europeans may end up agreeing with Cameron that ever closer political union in Europe is undesirable – if they have a choice, that is, which is by no means certain.

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