While the debate on Britain’s membership of the EU focuses on the loosely defined notion of “sovereignty” it ignores the fundamental principle at the core of European integration.
In its simplest terms, the European Union exists to widen access to international markets and increase the competitiveness of each member state within the Union.
The issues that have cluttered the European debate over the past ten years, such as debt-GDP issues, opt-outs from the Social Chapter or other EU policies are secondary to the core raison d’etre of the European Union, which is to promote trade and economic growth.
It is this focus on growth as a positive story rather than a negative one that is what we are missing. Relentless negativism about Europe masquerades as “debate” and creates uncertainty around the whole project across Europe, not just in the UK.
Clearly this is a difficult story to tell. Europe teeters on the brink of recession and the fragility of the truce between the markets and Europe’s policy makers was made briefly evident when the Italian election results suggested more uncertainty and rekindled the rhetoric around sovereign debt and the collapse of the Euro. Delta Economics’ trade forecast suggests a flat picture for growth in trade for at least the next two years which will result in a decline in its share of world trade of 0.3%.
But there is potential for re-focussing the growth debate. Growth remains a challenge but, as the same recent report by Delta Economics demonstrates, Germany, France, Spain and Ireland will see strong growth in their trade performance (all well above 3%, and Irish trade growth at 5.9%) during 2013 and this reflects greater export penetration into emerging markets. At a recent event on trade a senior financial executive said, “Come on, the peripheral European economies don’t trade anything – how can they get out of their mess?” But we see a 26% increase in Greece’s oil exports to Saudi Arabia over the next two years suggesting a rebalancing of Greece’s trade economy so that it competes more directly with the likes of Turkey as a hub between central Europe and the Middle East. (http://www.deltaeconomics.com/wp-content/uploads/Europe-Feb-2013.pdf)
The economic case for the EU hinges on trade: to widen internal European markets and therefore to provide a competitive platform for its businesses to trade outside of Europe. Underneath the trade headlines are a few little-known facts: The EU is largest economy in world, worth €12.6 trillion. The Single Market has 500 million of the world’s most affluent consumers. The EU is top trading partner for 80 countries (by comparison, the US is the top trading partner for a little over 20 countries). Europe constitutes 33% of world trade (if you include intra-regional trade); European countries dominate as importers into all of the emerging economies as demand in them for cars, medicines and high-end electrical equipment increases; Europe’s exports to China alone are forecast to grow at above 7% year-on-year for the next three years; while Europe as a trading block may see flatter trade, Europe’s businesses are an integral part of global supply chains.
All of this suggests that we are looking at the wrong things. We need to look at how Europe’s businesses are adapting to a new global order, not only by exporting to the emerging economies but also by locating there and building competitiveness from outside of Europe. Failure to look at what’s good about Europe means that we stoke the fires of uncertainty and, as Delta Economics research shows, this fundamentally weakens the trade environment and therefore the potential for growth through trade.
The debate needs to focus on the practicalities of trade integration rather than just the underlying politics of the European project. The EU is founded upon economic as well as political principles, and mutually beneficial trade at its heart. It is upon this founding principle the project of European co-operation must build its route out of the current economic crisis.
Dr Rebecca Harding – CEO Delta Economics and economic policy adviser to the European Movement
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About: European Movement UK
The origins of the European Movement
The origins of the European Movement lie in the aftermath of the Second World War. More than eight hundred delegates from across Europe gathered in The Hague in May 1948, under the chairmanship of Sir Winston Churchill, to create a new international movement to unite Europe and prevent further wars between its members. The British section of the European Movement was founded a year later.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the European Movement put forward the arguments for joining the European Economic Community, and it ran a major campaign in the early 1970s, both among the general public and in parliament, to win the battle for entry. In 1975, during the referendum on membership, the European Movement played a central role in the YES campaign. Other campaigns since then have included pressing for direct elections to the European Parliament in the 1970s and promoting the benefits of the single market in the run-up to 1992.
During the 1990s, the organisation became revitalised around the need to create a new national pro-European coalition. The rise in anti-European feeling threatens to undermine Britain's place in the European Union; our exclusion from the first wave of countries joining the euro is an example of how we lose out when the pro-European case is not put strongly enough in public.
Aims and activities
The European Movement is
- A rallying point: The European Movement rallies all those who believe that European unity is vital where the peoples of Europe have interests in common such as increased trade to improve economic prosperity, an improved environment to tackle climate change, and action to combat global poverty. A politically united Europe is needed to sweep aside the petty tribalism that has historically, at the very least, been an obstacle to progress or, at its worst, has led to bitter conflict and a catastrophic loss of human life. Europe must be united as a region of law, justice and democracy, equipped with the institutions capable of achieving these ends. Members receive a regular newsletter, euromove, with information and news about Pro-European developments. In addition, the office publishes updates on campaign ideas and issues an e-mail newsletter, e-News. Members take part in lively discussions in person and online, and the European Movement maintains an informative website.
- A campaign: The Movement has since its creation in 1948 sought to build and maintain public support for the unity of Europe. In the face of a backward-looking nationalist resurgence in some quarters, this role is as vital as ever. The campaigns include public information points, working with the media, and lobbying MPs and other decision-makers. In addition to the work of the London office, the branches and national councils organise campaign activities in their own areas, as well as political discussions and social events for members.
- A pressure group: The creation of the European Union has been an extraordinary achievement - democratic, sovereign states have created a common institutional framework in order to forge a future together based on the rule of law. But the European Movement is not the Union's information service or an apologist for its weaknesses. It must work to win support for the reforms necessary to improve its ability to meet the hopes and aspirations of its peoples.