Letters: The reality of Britain’s relationship with the EU

Identifying the strategy for securing any changes to the UK’s relationship with the EU will be as important as determining what, if any, these changes should be (Report, 16 January). How one asks for things, after all, often determines what one gets. In this regard, the current strategy being touted looks hopelessly counter-productive. The premise is that, by threatening to veto treaty changes sought by other member states, the UK will have maximum leverage to secure the changes it wants. However, this veto exists only on paper.

The court of justice stated in its Pringle judgment last November that member states can set up treaties outside the EU framework and use EU institutions to run these. The only constraint is that these must not alter the “essential character” of the institutions. Faced with a threat of British veto on future fiscal integration, other member states would thus simply agree a new treaty managed by the EU institutions. This would be “EU” in everything but name. There would be no reason for it to take account of any British interests.

The terms of trade have therefore changed. A price no longer has to be paid by those wishing to push on with integration to those who previously could stop it. Rather, a price has to be paid by those who do not wish to participate to ensure they are not excluded on unfavourable terms.
Prof Damian Chalmers
London School of Economics and Political Science

• It is difficult to see how Britain, after leaving the EU, could possibly be sidelined. In macroeconomic terms, EU membership is virtually irrelevant for a member state that is large and not in the eurozone. Given the size of the EU budget, which is tiny, there is no reason why free trade and free capital movement cannot continue after “Brexit”.

Besides, the EU is becoming increasingly irrelevant in the global economy. When Britain joined the EEC – the forerunner of the EU – in 1975, the EEC was a trading block that accounted for 40% of global economic output. Today, it accounts for 25%. Within a decade, this figure is likely to be less than 15%. There may be many reasons why Britain should stay in the EU; fear of economic or political marginalisation cannot be one of them.
Randhir Singh Bains
Gants Hill, Essex

• Many benefits from EU membership are directly attributable to legislative change. Eric Deakins (Letters, 14 January) says much of this legislation would have appeared anyway. In fact, the UK was dragged kicking and screaming to accept equal pay, the working time directive, and many other social and labour rights.

The regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (Reach), entered into force on 1 June 2007, obliging UK manufacturers to meet common environmental standards. Changes in sewage processing, waste disposal and recycling were in direct response to EU law. Moreover, the whole point of single market legislation, including that concerning lead-free petrol, is that it is universally applied so we benefit not only from implementation and enforcement here, but throughout the European Economic Area.
Simon Sweeney
Lecturer in international political economy, University of York

• Simon Jenkins (No more talk of in or out. We should be thinking opt-outs, 16 January) appears remarkably confident in his assertions. Many of us, who reject the anti-European stances he backs, would prefer the UK to be part of the eurozone, making it work a lot better by pooling fiscal sovereignty, and also accepting the social chapter and other civilising measures which go to make up a truly free market; free, that is, of the neo-classical economics that are presently ruining the world.

He accuses “Brussels” of power-grabbing and corruption, but these operate in every economy because some people prefer to gain advantages by less than fair means. You only have to look at the wreck of the British economy to establish that.

Furthermore, we are not yet done with establishing peace in our small continent, since many of the Balkan countries have a long way to go. As Europeans, we bear a responsibility to help them get there, without treating them simply as a market opportunity, which, as you report elsewhere, is being driven by hedge funds in the case of Greece. Only a tough-minded EU can put a stop to such shenanigans and it needs some British muscle to do so. I shan’t even mention climate change.
John Starbuck
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

• British trade with the EU will be governed by EU legislation whether we choose to be in or out of the club. Almost half of GDP in the prosperous part of the EU is accounted for by government expenditure. Governments there have a huge role through the EU in shaping the rules for trade, and not just in government procurement. It would be surprising if British companies in their dealings with the EU are not required to obey social, environmental and labour regulations – red tape in populist demagogy – emanating out of the EU institutions. As long as the EU accounts for well over half of UK international trade, realising the full potential of the trading opportunities in Europe will also entail movement of capital and labour on terms that may not be to the liking of the nationalist wing of Mr Cameron’s party.

Economic interests will continue to dominate business decisions in the UK to obey EU rules and regulations, whether they are passed with or without the presence of British ministers, until such time as the UK is cut adrift from the EU and trade with the emerging economies like China and India increases more than tenfold to compensate lost trade with Europe. It would be many years before this could happen. By then, these new trading partners may have been dictated by economic logic to embrace much of the EU “red tape”.
SP Chakravarty
Bangor, Gwynedd

• I am delighted that Eric Pickles has finally realised that his department’s policies (or lack of them) have resulted in a shortfall of affordable housing. However, his silly warnings about eastern Europeans taking what little housing stock is left fail to take account of the bigger problem he and his friends are creating. Where will the UK house the estimated 2.8 million Brits who currently live in other EU countries when they lose the right to live, work and retire anywhere in the EU should we leave?
Eric Goodyer
Colsterworth, Lincolnshire

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