Letters: Being European in a fast-changing world

It is 40 years since the UK joined the EU but the campaign to leave has never been stronger (Report, 27 December). Membership costs about £7bn per annum, a trifling sum given overall government spending of £695bn. Those looking forward to life outside the EU should reflect on the likely consequences of withdrawal.

The UK will have a diminished international role, adrift from its largest export market, lacking both influence and obvious allies. In a multipolar international environment comprised of large regions and Bric nations, the UK will face isolation and decline. The US is only interested in the UK as a member of the EU, so the “special relationship” will become decidedly less special. The Commonwealth wants the UK to remain an EU member, its only representative in the world’s largest trade bloc by GDP.

Instead of being part of the powerful EU/EEA voice at the World Trade Organisation, the UK will be obliged to renegotiate countless bilateral relationships. An existing trade deficit with Europe could not be countered by a sudden upsurge in domestic supply so the deficit would remain.

We will lose access to the single European market which takes more than 50% of our exports. Avoiding punitive tariffs would require the Norwegian solution of payments to the EU budget, probably at a higher cost, but without structural funding or agricultural support in return. We would have no representation and little influence on legislation affecting our products and services. Instead of the favoured status available to Switzerland decades ago, we will face decades of bitter resentment. UK citizens travelling or living on the continent could face limitations on rights and privileges concerning health, welfare, education, employment and residency.

Instead of being a preferred destination for foreign companies seeking access to European markets, leaving the EU would herald a gradual withdrawal by businesses relocating to the single market. Our financial services sector would be powerless to resist discriminatory legislation. There would be a haemorrhage of interests moving to Frankfurt.

Opponents of membership should be careful what they wish for. Sovereignty, nationalism and nostalgia will provide scant consolation to a friendless state floating around in the mid-Atlantic.
Simon Sweeney
Lecturer in international political economy, York Management School, University of York

• I was in complete agreement with Costas Lapavitsas’s piece on German austerity (Comment, 26 December). His statement about the German people first being beggared in order to subsequently beggar the others is absolutely true and, yes, this will lead to serious social and economic tensions.

However, current events are, I believe, not so much a “German” trend but rather a “corporate” one. As a contractor I have worked for many German companies and have always experienced security, stability and general respect. But this is falling away and being replaced by American-style “dynamism” with management imposing short contracts and playing off employees (especially younger ones) against each other. On paper, wage costs are reduced and productivity increased, but this is often to the detriment of quality, stability and continuity (not to mention employee wellbeing).

Furthermore, until now European consumers have mostly been at the “benefiting end” of globalisation with low-wage (sweatshop) regions providing an abundant supply of low-price goods for us. But a re-alignment is coming and we in the west are caught with our trousers down: Some regions (eg Germany) continue to thrive on exports of luxury or hi-tech goods, but with classic manufacturing now “outsourced” and agriculture widely industrialised this leaves whole regions and sectors of society in serious distress.

In my view we need to stop living in a fairytale land of endless cheap imports and instead drastically curb the power of corporations and have communities actively producing rather than simply consuming.
Alan Mitcham
Cologne, Germany

• In one sense the terms pro-European and anti-European (Editorial, 27 December) are unfortunate since the issue is not whether the institution is good or bad, but whether it is in our interest to be a member. Since its inception the Common Market and the EU has primarily been a vehicle through which states have pursued their own national interests.
Jeremy Barker

• By forcing countries to privatise state assets the EU is looking increasingly like an extension of Thatcherism. Is it still possible for any Labour party supporter to remain a Europhile?
Dr Michael Paraskos

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