(a) Financiers, who suspect other European financial centres of attempting to damage London’s economic prestige.
(b) Politicians, who perceive the EU as a dominating hyper-bureaucracy, and whose power has been compromised by British self-isolation from European politics.
(c) The public, whose increasingly nationalistic tendencies are becoming a progressively important issue to the politicians.
For Brussels, combatting the phobias of these groups is as much about avoiding certain policies as it is about advocating others. As much as EU discourse shouldn’t favour particular members, the UK manages to find ways of making itself the centre of attention whenever doubt arises among its decision-makers or public. It is taken that the trade and exchange that London especially brings to the EU is most certainly worth fighting to keep.
What the EU must not do
There are two much-discussed policies that Brussels must discard in order to keep the British satisfied. First, the European political core must not be compressed any further. The British ‘acceptance’ of their inclusion in the EU is based on economics, i.e. the free market, and not politics, i.e. a central government. This is presumably the result of the UK’s geographical isolation from mainland Europe, and perhaps pride in traditionally effective bureaucracy. An increase in European political integration could spark a referendum, as proposed by Prime Minister David Cameron, which in turn might cause Britain to withdraw from the EU altogether.
Secondly, a proposed transaction tax for international actors trading with EU member states should be scrapped in order to raise British spirits. The UK already perceives the EU as a drag on its economy, however inaccurate this may be, and a levy such as this would only deepen such disdain. A transaction tax could push a chunk of business that uses London as an exchange platform out of the EU altogether, resulting in reduced revenue for the British.
What the EU must do
Having carefully avoided implementing strategies that alienate Britain, Brussels must look to coax the island state into committing its support to the mainland. It may be obvious, but first the EU should highlight the benefits of membership to all three groups mentioned previously, by funding lobbyists and trade unionists to increase support for European integration. The discourse should underline the profits of:
(a) Power, in shaping the world’s biggest single market.
(b) Influence, via the international authority that the EU holds.
(c) Openness, in the high levels of foreign direct investment available from international corporations that use Britain as a gateway to the European market.
It is not highlighted enough in the media just how much the British economy makes, or saves, from free trade with mainland Europe.
Secondly, it should be pointed out to Britain that its economic woes do not have roots in Brussels, but in its own structures. The EU must highlight that the downturn of recent years should be blamed on a combination of failing infrastructure, a poorly balanced ratio of skilled and unskilled workers, and an unequal taxation system. While this risks insulting British economic pride, a sense of realism must be impressed upon the UK to keep it in.
Thirdly, Brussels should make clear the negative effects of leaving the EU. This is perhaps the most crucial policy, as it is an area most anti-Europe politicians tend to gloss over in manifestos. The downsides include first and foremost tariffs on trade with EU member states, and compromised trade deals with its current associates. Next, the replacement of any fall in regulatory drains with new constraints from being economically disconnected from the EU. Finally, that Britain would inevitably experience falls in immigration, which would damage export industries, such as tourism and education. All of these losses must be spelt out in full, to counter the rhetoric of the anti-Europe lobby in Britain.
In short, the EU must both do a great deal, and not a lot, to keep Britain in its economic and political circles. Brussels is at war with British pride, in creating a union that works in favour of its most stubborn member. A combination of avoiding controversial policy and carefully moulding British opinion of the EU will win over the three most important groups, all of whom will have a say on the UK’s inclusion in the union over the next decade or so. Brussels has the task of managing a ‘stroppy teenager’ in Britain, that refuses to cooperate or work proactively to improve either the EU as a whole, or its position within it.
Grant, Charles, 2012. ‘The British Government and the European Union’. Centre for European Reform, available via www.cer.org.uk, retrieved 27/03/2013
Whyte, Philip, 2013. ‘Leaving the EU Will Not Set Britain’s Economy Free.’ Centre for European Reform, available via www.cer.org.uk, retrieved 27/03/2013