alphonBritish Prime Minister David Cameron recently argued that the UK leaving the EU would be a “denial of our national interest… [unless] your vision of Britain was that we should just withdraw and become a sort of greater Switzerland“. For some, of course, the idea of the UK as a “Greater Switzerland” sounds quite appealing. Others are worried that the terms of the EU debate in Britain seem to be shifting away from “In or Out” and towards “Half-Out or Fully-Out” (whilst Timothy Garton Ash has been arguing for years that the whole of Europe is already a “Greater Switzerland”).

For the third part of our series investigating the UK’s tumultuous relationship with the EU, we spoke last week to Dr Lee Rotherham, author of the book “The EU in a Nutshell“. Dr Rotherham was also the author of a report, published by the TaxPayers’ Alliance in December of last year, looking at which powers the British government might try to repatriate from the EU during any potential treaty renegotiation. It’s interesting to compare this report to the green paper (PDF) recently published by the EU Fresh Start group of British MPs, which also covers similar ground. We’ll be publishing more analysis of this comparison in the report that will follow this series of posts.

Just to make it clear: at the end of this series of posts, we will be compiling a report based on all of the interviews we have conducted. This will contain previously unpublished interviews and will summarise the most interesting points made during the series.

During our interview, we took the opportunity to put a couple of your questions to Dr Rotherham. The first of these came from Jaroslav, who argued that all this talk of “renegotiating” is completely premature. Jaroslav argues that renegotiating is not an option, and that “Britain will have to choose between [staying in the] EU with all its pros and cons, or simply leaving.”

How would Dr Rotherham respond?

Simply saying the UK has to ‘take it or leave it’ is wrong. Clearly, within the existing EU structures, you also have several different forms of association. You have opt-outs on home affairs, Schengen and on the euro. So, variable geometry already exists.

Even outside the EU, there are different forms of relationship; there is actually a section in the Lisbon Treaty which specifically allows for states neighbouring the EU to develop a ‘special relationship’ with the EU, even if those countries are not member-states. You have Switzerland, Norway and Turkey, for example, all with different forms of relationship with the EU and none of whom are EU member-states. There also exists a series of bilateral Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) between the EU and other countries internationally, including Mexico and South Korea, and each of these varies from the others in the details. If you start taking these treaties apart, you find that the Mexican FTA has material on mining, whereas the South Korean one has provisions on motor vehicles. Each FTA caters specifically to the country or region it is signed with. So, there’s a great deal of variety.

Next, we had a comment from Morag, who argued that: “It is essential that the UK clarifies its position with regard to a referendum in Europe BEFORE Scotland decides on the independence referendum. What if Scots voted NO and then the UK pulled out of Europe?

The issue of where Scotland sits if Scotland goes independent was raised early in the debate, both in terms of legal ramifications and treaty change. If you want to be cynical, then what’s the point of regaining your independence only to hand over your sovereignty to another country? That’s not a particularly ‘Braveheart’ thing to do: gaining your freedom from the English then handing it over to the Holy Roman Empire, to use a 13th Century analogy.

When you start looking into the legal ramifications and the application of the treaties, there are several historical precedents; the Czech/Slovak divorce, for example, or the break-up of Yugoslavia. I would personally imagine that Scotland would assume all the obligations and rights encumbant upon the existing state, including membership of the EU. How many MEPs it had, what voting rights it got, etc., would have to be negotiated. Scotland might get an extra MEP if it were independent, but I believe its voice in the EU would be very much diminished.

What do YOU think? Does the UK have to decide once and for all whether it wants to be “In” or “Out” of the EU? Or is EU membership more flexible than that, with a range of different possible relationships available (from the opt-outs of the UK, Denmark and Sweden to the association agreements of Norway, Switzerland and Turkey). Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

39 comments Post a commentcomment

  1. avatar
    Lazaros Kalaitzidis

    From a slightly different angle, I think that it’s not only a brittish decision but also a european one. The UK figures at the end of most EU decisions as an exception. What’s the point having “in the family” a member that clearly shows you that it doesn’t want to be part of it?

  2. avatar
    Morag Keith

    I find the ‘Braveheart’ remark insulting – but also revealing. The fact that you believe that EU membership means ‘handing over your sovereignty’ shows that you just don’t get it. The EU respects national sovereignty as well as regional subsidiarity.
    Scratch the skin of a Unionist and it won’t be long til the bigot is revealed.
    I think that it is important that the UK makes clear it’s position on Europe before the Independence referendum. If it intends to exit, we should know. If it intends to ‘renegotiate terms’ then it would be interesting to have that discussion, particularly within the context of the UK position to the Scottish Government regarding the referendum. (We wouldn’t want to have inconsistencies now, would we?) How do the views of the 3 unionist parties (who share a ‘better together’ platform in Scotland) differ?
    I am grateful, however, for the view that Scotland would be treated as a successor state.

    • avatar
      Morag Keith

      anyway, the question that I asked has not been answered. If the UK position is to renegotiate its terms with the EU or to withdraw from membership, this position should be made clear when discussing the question of Scottish Independence. Otherwise, Scots are being misled on what ‘better together’ actually means. Are you actually saying, better with England but without Europe? And what would happen if any one of (or all of) the devolved UK nations voted to remain in the EU whilst England voted to exit?
      In my opinion, a UK decision to withdraw or renegotiate terms would lead to other EU nations ignoring the UK.

    • avatar

      The rest of the UK will not be bullied by Scotland on this issue. The debate has barely begun and the parameters are unclear. It will be years before a referendum can be held, most likely 2016 at the earliest.

      It is up to Scottish if they wish to leave. The EU situation is what it is. The world does not revolve around you.

      Make your choice on Scottish independence in 2014. Its the date you chose. Stay or go, either is fine.

    • avatar
      Morag Keith

      I believe that I asked a perfectly legitimate question. What will happen if there is a UK referendum on the EU and one or more of the devolved areas votes to stay in whilst the overall UK vote is to leave? How would that be dealt with?
      You seem to think that anyone who questions your position is ‘bullying’ – your idea of democracy appears to be somewhat flawed.

    • avatar

      Scotland represents less than 10% of the UK population. The UK relationship with the EU is a true fundamental and will take years to be settled.

      You chose the Scottish referendum date. There is no way your question can be honestly answered before then and you know it. If you’re not happy with the situation that’s tough.

      So stop your endless complaining. Reality won’t change to suit your schedule, and the other 90%+ of the British population are not obliged to meet your demands.

    • avatar

      Actually Morag, the fact you believe that EU membership doesn’t mean handing over your sovereignty demonstrates you’re as ignorant as all nationalists. And, truth be told, scratch a nationalist and it won’t be long before the ignoramus is revealed. Which is why you’re losing the referendum, according to all the polls.

      Oh, by the way, Scotland will get a say in any UK referendum on the EU — every man and woman in Scotland above the age of 18 will get the vote. Also, Scottish MPs in Westminster (who are completely disproportionate in number to the share of Scotland’s percentage of the UK population) will also be involved.

      But keep voting for Mr. Alex “We’ll keep the Queen!” “We’ll keep the pound!” Salmond. Even the ignorant have a right to political representation.

    • avatar

      Dear EU, please stop siphoning off democracy from the nation states.

  3. avatar
    Albert Saxén

    This is, forgive me, slightly misleading.
    They are not in the EMU (DK; Sweden and The UK).
    lol Tudor.

  4. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    O Reino Unido tem que deixar bem claro a suas posição na Europa antes de fazerem um referendo este governo do Sir. Cameron tem pele de um unionista a Europa precisa do Reino Unido e o Reino Unido precisa da Europa

    • avatar
      Robin Lings

      Yo no deseo ofenderlo pero puedo usted escribe de nuevo o su carta en inglés o castilliano para que más personas puedan entenderlo. Muchas gracias.

  5. avatar

    I think one of the key problems in the relationship UK/EU is that a lot of the EU critics in the UK never understood the EU to begin with. They constantly insist they joined a trade cooperation and would like it to remain that, when the Schuman declarations clearly point to the goal of the whole process that by now is the EU was something going much further than a purely economical cooperation.
    To quote Schuman himself ‘Europe will be born of this, a Europe which is solidly united and constructed around a strong framework,’
    Alas, we’re still lacking that “strong framework”. But then, that’s often the result of tinkering over decades and the resistance by the UK against efforts in that direction certainly didn’t help.

    Incidentally, I believe the oft-cited example of Switzerland is ill-chosen. Switzerland is extremely critical as a transit nation for intra-EU trade. As such, they have leverage far greater than their size justifies.

    • avatar
      Miguel Teixeira

      I totally agree with you, I don’t thing the EU was ment to be just a trade cooperation area, it is much more than that. It is about common values, about helping each other rather than feeling happy for the others failures, it is about solidarity, hope in a future with peace and without nationalisms. I think everyone assumes that the EU is far from perfect but I don’t know of any attempt on such a scale to do something as good as what we are trying to do in the EU. Part of the problem is the lack of democracy in the EU, but that is also a problem of the member states. The parliament taht is the only elected part of the EU only recently gained a significant amount of powers, and the most important decisions are still made in the European Counsil.

      The UK must make clear what they want and if they want to be out, its ok, they can use the Commonwealth and the post-imperial status and still trade with the EU but without always beeing bullying others to give them special clauses and tailor-made membership

    • avatar
      Robin Lings

      I think that the British disillusion of the EU springs from the majority of our citizens seeing a greater control of Europe than they ever reckoned with. The suggestion by Jean Monet that “Europe’s nations should be guided towards the superstate without their people understanding what is happening…This can be accomplished by successive steps, each disguised as having an economic purpose, but which will eventually and irreversibly lead to a federation.” Jean Monnet, Founding Father of the EU 30 April 1952 (in a letter to a friend.) has shown us over the years that these motives behind the creation of the EU are being implemented.
      Perhaps however, Jean Monnet was wrong and “the EU project” leads not to a Federation, but to a Totalitarian Supranational State and that is what we are afraid of and do not want!

  6. avatar
    MandyandPj Leneghan

    As Lazaros stated but that should apply to all European nations, in or out. As for the UK becoming a ‘Greater Switzerland’, that would certainly be ideal but unfortunately, the political paradigm held within the UK is far too immature and far too backward looking, at this time, in my humble opinion of course…. pj

    • avatar

      “The political paradigm held within the UK is far too immature and far too backward looking”

      Coming from the Europeans, the people whose political paradigm gave us Robespierre, Napoleon, Karl Marx, Bismarck, Kaiser Wilhelm and Adolf Hitler.

      Please, don’t be so humble.

  7. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    No more cherry-picking is my attitude.. How can we built a functioning union if every state picks only what suits them and opts out from what it doesn’t ? There will be no “union” if this happens, we will have to revert back to EEA or EFTA .. Many people will be delighted for this, but not me. I want to have a vote on what is being decided for me on a European level, I do not want to end up being a Norwegian or an Icelander. So if the UK is allowed to get opt outs and still remain in the union, then why not the rest of the countries do the same and only accept laws that do not interfere with their sovereignty? But if you want to keep your sovereignty then why join a union? I do not want a free trade agreement only as there will be no European Parliament and the laws of the market, will be decided for me without me… Not that we have a functioning EU or EP right now, but in my opinion we should make the EU more democratic and give full power to the EP.. Thus having ever closer union. Thus not so many opt-outs. Thus not a chance for the UK to have their cake and eat it, nor Norway, Iceland and Switzerland get the same benefits with the rest of us that gave up our sovereignty for the common good of the continent.

  8. avatar
    Nikolai Holmov

    There really is no “out” for the UK even if it was to formally opt “out”.

    The EU is like an onion with many layers as Dr Rotherham alludes to.

    There are layers within layers whether we talk about the Eurozone, the larger EU, or the larger European Economic Area. Alternatively, to head inwards in this EU onion we discover there is a myriad of bilateral, trilateral, multilateral groups, probably most recognisable in the military and mutual aid spheres in the formal battle groups and search and rescue agreements, but also in such groupings as the Wiemar Triangle etc.

    If anybody here, in the UK or in the EU thinks that the UK extracting itself from this onion is remotely possible in an absolute fashion they are seriously deluded, as there are certain things that both some member states if not the entire EU, or occasionally the entire EU and indeed the UK would all want to keep – thus entirely “out” is a complete and utter nonsense.

    If there are those who believe that the world is black and white in such stark terms they are deluded.

    If the UK was formally “out” it would still be inextricably “in” as the world, politics, diplomacy, defence, energy, economics, trade, R&D and any other major policy area you can think of only ever work in shades of grey with a vast amount of interchangeable partners in different situations.

    Quite simply, the positions, interests and needs of both the EU and UK (or any other Member State) may not always be aligned, but all too often they are either entirely, partially or necessarily – thus there is no entirely “out” scenario even if formally “out” is swallowed by the deluded who may vote for that option in the future.

    Just how “out” are the Swiss or Norwegians when it comes to the EU? Any EU Directive, policy or law that affects the European Economic Area, even in part, affects those nations. How would those casual effects be any different for the UK if it were officially “out” rather than being “in”?

    The only thing the UK would escape by being officially “out” would be the EU social policies to some degree. Almost everything else when it came to EU policy, the UK could not and would not escape either entirely or in part.

    Now the UK being out may mean there is one less nation to throw down its veto, but there are examples of other nations doing just that – Poland over further CO2 emissions this year for example.

    To be honest, the EU is better off with the UK in it, even if it can be “difficult”. All member states know the UK “red lines” and it is reasonably easy predict what will have UK support or not.

    That can no longer be said of many of the other member states as it seems that as the Euro fiasco rolls onwards, many “red lines” have been drawn by many nations, erased, moved, re-drawn and then ignored anyway as the glacier slowly slides towards its eventual destination (wherever that may be).

    The instability within the EU is not the fault of the UK as far as I can see. Whether the UK left or not tomorrow, that instability would remain due to structural flaws and lack of political will that is unfortunately multiplied by a serious void when it comes to visionaries and leadership.

    The EU with or without the UK, and the UK with or without the EU, simply cannot completely untangle themselves. They will muddle through somehow together whether the UK is officially “in” or officially “out”.

  9. avatar

    @Nikolai Holmov

    I think what you say has a lot going for it. But at the same time, I am not sure about the following part:

    “The instability within the EU is not the fault of the UK as far as I can see. Whether the UK left or not tomorrow, that instability would remain due to structural flaws and lack of political will that is unfortunately multiplied by a serious void when it comes to visionaries and leadership.”

    Yes, there is a serious void in visionaries and leadership – but that is a necessary, not a sufficient condition. Even if Schuman came back from the dead today and worked towards making his vision come true, when there is such a profound discrepancy on in which direction to go, the possibility of individual countries to torpedo actually tackling the structural deficits because they are tackled in a way they do not support will allow anyone little chance at success.

  10. avatar
    Marius Aparaschitei

    We must establish a limit. We can’t accept an EU with lots of immature politicians working to their own interest, not the greater European one.
    With no doubt UK should apply fully the EU regulations or remains the last state of USA.

    We need no Trojan horse

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      And when the EU has policies that are not conducive to the well being of the European people, as a whole, what then? Do you all follow like sheep and not raise the matters for public debate and correction?

      With the UK out, that is what will happen, just as it is happening now within the EU.

      What needs to be looked at is, what will change in the EU with the UK out of it? What is it the European people as a whole are presently finding unacceptable to live with? Is all in the garden rosy except for the presence of the UK?

      And if the European people are unable to live with policies that are presently part of it’s ideology, why will the UK leaving lift that burden from them? Do you believe the the UK is forcing unacceptable policies it created itself on Europe? And that it is in fact not the other way around? And if you think that, what are these unacceptable expectations and agenda Britain has and is pushing on you? Expand on those aspects and lets discuss them openly.

      You cannot talk around a problem you have without getting to its core and debating it honestly. That leaves you in a limbo of never ending chaos. If you want solution you have to acknowledge what needs to be put right and addressed.

      And that applies whether the UK is in or out of the union.

  11. avatar

    Britain joined a trade organisation which has evolved into something we don’t like, and so we ask for opt outs and our electorate are seriously considering leaving. In the meantime we pay in more than we get out, and obey EU directives to the letter.

    Why are you all so bitter about this? The British people never agreed to a loss of sovereignty and do not wish to be a part of a European super state. We never agreed to any of this.

    It is the British people who are demanding a referendum. It is a democratic process which you need to respect. Britain is a fiercely independent nation and we don’t apologise for that. Its not personal. Most us very much like our European neighbours. But we do not share your spirit of solidarity and you have absolutely no right to demand that of us.

    Who are you to say we are wrong, much less “immature”? Britain is a respected democracy with a long history of tolerance and decency.

  12. avatar
    Catherine Benning

    Now to get to the nitty gritty of this thread. It asks if the UK should become a ‘Greater Switzerland’ outside the EU. And in so adding this for discussion here, it must have been known what was about to become our latest propaganda stunt.

    In this article we read today, in our Guardian paper, we are told 68 MP’s in the UK have off shore tax haven status. Do remember before reading that the wealthy in Britain have more representation than any other segment of the population. And what they are now pushing for is the UK to be akin to off shore tax havens right there in our little island. Saving them the trouble of having to comply with residency laws.

    Look for yourself.

    This of course means they want the same perks they had in Greece before their collapse. Notice there is no suggestion of aping the Swiss on the rule of Direct Democracy and referendum. Along with all the other little safeguards there.

    Now this is broached at the call of 68 rich MP’s who were ‘appointed’ by their political parties and put before the public as ‘suitable’ agents for their constituent members. They didn’t reveal how many of these off shore rich are in the House of Lords that are likewise in the tax shy loop. We don’t here about that openly as many of them around, 90, are hereditary peers and they sit in that chamber because they were born into certain dynasties. Yes, born to rule. Which were of course made into those dynasties by having a Monarchy.

    A side bar, as soon as the Conservative party found its way into power the first thing it did, in these times of dire austerity for the British public and most of all the British poor, they increased the Royal tax payers stipend to an unprecedented increase of money for their pleasure. Yet, when government gives a speech or sells us some kind of bent on Europe, they tell the people that we must be out of Europe as it is undemocratic. LOL. Because, now wait for it, they are an unelected bunch of misfits who are having say over the UK laws, which is messing up our peoples lives. Laugh amongst yourselves openly. No offense taken.

    Is Europe prepared to take all the British people who want to flee their island when this becomes enacted? Better think about that one in advance.

    • avatar
      Miguel Teixeira

      Hello Catherine,
      I as an European want to take all British people who are commited to improve this Union and solve its problems and of its member states, for the good of all europeans and not just this or that country

    • avatar

      If you believe the UK political class is more corrupt than that of Continental Europe’s you’re cut from the same cloth as those people who, during the Cold War, told us the USSR was wealthier and more free than the West.

      Is Europe ready to take all the British people who want to flee their island? Well, madam, we’d certainly be glad to see the back of you. Goodbye.

  13. avatar
    Nikolai Holmov

    It seems that the UK may well be positioning itself for “officially out”.

    I have just heard from a reliable source that it will soon announce embassy sharing with Canada. As yet there has been no official statement to that effect but I am told that it is coming.

    The scope of this sharing, as yet, I am not sure, but if so, it would appear old Commonwealth ties trump the EEAS.

  14. avatar

    We were deliberatly decieved about the EEC and any notion of a united europe was denied…..and Oliver if you wish to see the documents you mentioned you have to go to the Naitonal Archive….they are in a Fawn coloured folder with a nice red secert stamp on the front….and Cathrine(Eunited?)….what good are human rights conventions that were origionally designed to stop `showers in eastern europe…etc`…when the rights of raoists now come before the rights of the victim?.

    • avatar
      catherine benning


      You refuse to look at the broad picture, you ignore the facts on every level and therefore have no idea what you are talking about.

      You write, you don’t like the treaties signed by the UK leaders over the years. Well, what exactly is it you don’t like, want or wish to do away with? And don’t play the infantile game of ‘all of it.’ That is a cop out of the ill informed. And an ill informed person has no reason to expect to be taken seriously.

      If you love UKIP understand what and who is running that rich man’s ploy and ask yourself if you are well off enough to tag onto their coat tails. What is it you think you will gain in a UK outside of Europe? Are you one of the misinformed who believe being the 51st US state will make your life better? If you do, then you should listen to last Fridays BBC 4 Any Questions. There you will here an American government adviser telling our MP’s and people listening to his lunacy, that the minimum wage for the poorest of our people should be reduced to half or less than it presently is. To £3 or £4 per hour.

      Listen to him for yourself. It is toward the end of the programme.

      First of all what is a Republican doing on a British political programme as an adviser to our people? Secondly, if you have your eye on us being more connected to the US, you of all people, can expect to be abused by having your salary halved in order for the wealthy to get more to move off shore, thereby pushing us all further into dire poverty.

      Besides, UKIP is a loser and has no chance of ever winning an election. And the way the Tories are going, neither do they.

  15. avatar

    There is no doubt Britain is better off out. Who is the EU going to get to cover for the loss of Britain’s net contribution? Exactly! France fears this.

    Britain holds all the cards. Lose access to the ‘market’? I think not. Britain could represent itself at the WTO and they would say ‘thou shalt not boycott’… and I as a consumer wouldn’t listen to unelected Eurocrats anyway.

  16. avatar

    The E.U. was a political gimmick from the start, a glorified “jobs for the boys club” for the political “elite” lol. But now the wheels are starting to fall off, apart from the corruption and fraud that is rife within it, there accounts having never been passed off, Kinnock being asked to investigate where millions of Euros disappeared too, only for him to dither for 3 yrs giving the culprits time to hide there tracks, the politicians themselves being inept and generally not up to the job and now the bail out and bankruptcies. The general divide and resentment among ALL the countries, they all have there own little “deals” “opt outs” “clauses” etc not just the U.K. seem to me to prove that the whole thing has failed spectacularly and should end, thou God knows how.

  17. avatar

    Thank you. And in the same spirit, I hope the people of Europe fall under the form of government best suited to them and from which we have erroneously liberated them countless times in the past. I refer, of course, to tyranny.

    Clearly, Soviet rule suited you, sir.

  18. avatar
    Baron Pete

    To leave Europe having gone this far would be an ill thought out disaster for all.

  19. avatar
    Robin Lings

    If the EU was anything like it is cracked up to be by politicians (of all member countries) and supposed to bring wealth, prosperity and happiness to its citizens, then why are Europeans now facing the worst period of their lives in terms of the above? The EU is an abject failure and to suggest otherwise is to succumb to the same intelligence level as a herd of sheep. Every European country was doing better than they are now in terms of citizen prosperity and happiness. Time to quit – you tried, it failed, why keep trying to make it work when it obviously can’t. There are too many variables that hinder integration – language, incomes, weather, standards of living, ambitions, apathy, complacency etc, etc. But of course, politicians know best – OR DO THEY? Give the people the right to decide and bring back democracy!

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