New York Times on Britain’s Place in Europe

Euro-skepticism has remained a current in British politics, long after
Britain put aside centuries of anti-European sentiment to join the
Common Market in 1973 and to become a member of the more highly
integrated European Union 20 years later.

Until now, periodic spasms of parochialism did little lasting harm.
But since the European debt crisis and recession, there has been
growing sentiment across the British political spectrum for leaving
the European Union. As Roger Carr, the leader of Britain’s biggest
business group, the Confederation of British Industry, rightly warned
on Monday, this latest trend needs to be taken seriously and strongly
countered by pro-European business and political leaders. Leading
political figures expect a national referendum to be called on
continued British membership in the European Union, probably for 2015.
If it were held today, an Opinium/Observer poll suggests, the
anti-European side would prevail, with a large majority of
Conservatives, a plurality of Labour voters and a significant minority
of Liberal Democrats voting for a British exit.

Leaving the union would be a grave mistake, sacrificing Britain’s best
hopes for a brighter economic future to half-baked longing for the
simpler days when the British ruled an empire and had less need for
European trade. There’s plenty of time for pro-Europe leaders to make
that case. But they must heed Mr. Carr’s advice and speak up.

Twenty-seven countries now belong to the European Union, with several
more nations like Iceland, Serbia and Turkey hoping to join. Even
without further expansion, the union accounts for almost 50 percent of
British trade and is its largest trading partner.

Of course, the skeptics can point to the European Union’s many
disappointments. Too much senseless, stifling regulation flows from a
bureaucracy with too little democratic accountability. Costly and
indefensible agricultural subsidies to local farmers deny needed
markets to developing countries and is a factor in driving economic
refugees to Europe, a movement that politicians like to rant against.

The euro was established as a common currency with too little
preparation and institutional support. And, over the past year,
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has been destructively pushing her
partners to enact laws that would prolong the recession by setting
rigid deficit ceilings, denying countries the fiscal flexibility
sometimes needed to revive growth.

But the union’s shortcomings are all the more reason for Britain to
keep its seat at the table where Europe’s economic future will be
made.

Britain, as the Continent’s third-largest economy after Germany and
France, has had a crucial role in shaping European policy, pushing the
bloc toward freer trade and away from political federalism. And it has
helped preserve the rights of others to opt out of unwanted
initiatives like the euro. With decisions on fiscal policy, bank
supervision and financial regulation likely to be made in the near
future, Britain’s voice is needed more than ever to protect British
interests and larger European ones as well.

British supporters of continued European Union membership in all three
major parties and in the business community need to counter the
seductive simplicities of the euro-bashers who claim that Britain can
ignore Europe and thrive on its own. They need to make the case that
British engagement in Europe should be, as Mr. Carr put it Monday,
“the linchpin of our wider global trade ambitions.” Britain needs the
European Union as much as it needs Britain.
A version of this editorial appeared in print on November 23, 2012, on
page A34 of the New York edition with the headline: Britain’s Place in
Europe.