To be in or not to be in
David Cameron, the UK Prime Minister, has promised an In-Out referendum on continued EU membership for the United Kingdom in the early summer of 2016. The plebiscite will take place only a couple of months after the 70th anniversary of the Zurich speech by Sir Winston Churchill in which, for the first time after WW II, the idea of a “United States of Europe” was launched.
Robert Schuman was already mulling over the idea in the darkest days of the war in German-occupied France, yet it was Churchill who first let fly the kite, which is credited with igniting the European project. Yet there is one secret Sir Winston took to his grave: even though he declared himself and Britain to be “the friend and sponsor of the new Europe”, it remains a mystery as to whether he ever wanted his country to be a member.
The UK did eventually sign up to the Treaty of Rome and, together with her neighbour Ireland and Denmark, joined the EEC on 1 January 1973. But while Ireland took to life in the European family of nations like the proverbial duck to water, the UK still continues even now to procrastinate on whole-hearted commitment to the European dream. For the UK “to be in or not to be in” remains an existential question. David Cameron hopes the summer referendum will solve his fellow countrymen’s dilemma once and for all.
It has to be acknowledged that within Europe the UK has been an admirable and constructive partner. OK, there have been significant opt-outs: Schengen, the Social Chapter, the metric system. Otherwise, even back in the days of Mrs. Thatcher, the British pulled their weight and proved to their European colleagues easy to work with.
British Euro-scepticism is a tabloid issue. The inhabitants of “little Britain” read the tabloids and run off to vote UKIP. What arguments are advanced by the Euro-sceptics are totally thread-bare. The City of London, the Confederation of British Industry, The Economist, the Financial Times and the remaining broadsheets all favour UK membership of the EU. However, the issue of membership remains sufficiently controversial in middle Britain to make a referendum a political necessity.
What is good about the promised referendum is that it will usher in a major debate about what it means to be in the EU and, seventy years on, what the mission, purpose and values of the European project are. The debate in the UK, especially given the huge out-reach of the British media – print, sound and visual – will be the subject of conversation and argument across the EU. That is good for the UK, it is good for all of us who care about the European project.
Without prejudice to the outcome of the public debate and with due respect for a sovereign nation’s decision, it has to be clear that even the most cautious commentator, reflecting the social teaching of the Catholic Church, is bound to want the UK to remain in the EU – the UK is a member of our family! So, our appeal to our UK readership would be: vote to stay and get your friends to do the same!
Furthermore, dear UK reader, after you have taken your decision, stay not with reluctance, not begrudgingly. Stay with enthusiasm, with a desire to make that unique British contribution to the construction of a better, fairer, more equal Europe – one of which Sir Winston might be proud!
Father Patrick H. Daly
General Secretary COMECE