EU in or out? Britain’s future in Europe

EU in or out? Britain’s future in Europe

Britain’s role in Europe needs to be debated. Our report uncovers insight from Germans, French and Poles into their views on the EU and Britain’s place in the group compared with UK citizens and business leaders.

This report has been commissioned to enable leading thinkers on EU policy from across the political spectrum to put their arguments to the test and learn more about what their fellow citizens think.

Read the full report here.

“We must build a kind of United States of Europe,” said Winston Churchill in 1946, only a year after the end of the Second World War, a conflict which was responsible for unimaginable destruction across the European continent. His reasoning behind that statement was shared by the ‘Founding Fathers of Europe,’ creators of the European Coal and Steel Community, the international organisation which would develop into the modern day European Union.

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According to Robert Schuman, pooling together natural resources and creating a common market for coal and steel, would “make war not only unthinkable but materially impossible.”

More than half a century later, the European Union comprises 28 Member States, and has a population of over 500 million citizens. The EU has evolved from more than just a free market area; it now has exclusive or shared competence in areas such as energy, agriculture, competition, transport and justice/home affairs.

This level and deepening of integration has always been viewed with suspicion by certain citizens and indeed governments in Europe, but none more so than the United Kingdom, perhaps ironically given Churchill’s 1946 statement which provided the theoretical basis for the modern EU.

Over the past few decades, this relationship has steadily deteriorated and the British public has grown increasingly Eurosceptic. Britain’s continued membership of the European Union is now far from certain. In January 2013, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced his plans for an in/out referendum and repatriation of certain powers, should the Conservative party win the next election in 2015. The actual possibility of a British exit from the EU has led to a deluge of statements from businesses, politicians, associations and academics on why the UK must remain at the forefront of this internal market of 500 million consumers. At the same time, there have been many who are pushing for the ‘Brexit,’ asserting that Britain need only have a free-trade agreement with the EU, thus benefiting from access to the single market but without the regulatory burdens and commands from Brussels.

How has all of this been received on the continent and by the UK’s EU partners? German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he wants Britain to remain in the EU but that cherry-picking its level of involvement cannot be an option. His French counterpart, Laurent Fabius said “imagine Europe is a football club and you join. Once you’re in it you can’t say, ‘let’s play rugby’.”

With all of this in mind, this survey has looked at attitudes to Europe among business, the UK general public and consumers in a number of other European countries to gather their views on this fractious relationship.

Specifically, the issues covered include what people in each country think of the EU as a whole, the impact it has on particular issues or areas of policy, what people in Britain think the consequences of withdrawal would be and what people in the other countries think of the UK.

It also looks at which countries people feel the closest connections to and how much, or little, people feel connected with Europe or other European countries.
Among businesses, we asked about what impact the EU has on respondents’ own businesses as well as how withdrawal might affect them.

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Why we chose each country:

  • Germany – Germany, since the advent of the Eurozone crisis, is the most powerful country in the EU. No possible treaty change can
    take place without German support and David Cameron’s hopes of a renegotiation of Britain’s place in the EU rest largely on securing
    some sort of agreement from Chancellor Angela Merkel
  • France – The other half of the Franco-German “engine” of EU integration, France also has a number of useful similarities to the UK. Both are former imperial powers with large overseas diasporas and France has also seen a sharp rise in support for the far right under the Front Nationale with concerns about immigration featuring prominently.
  • Poland – Poland is a recent accession country and brings a new perspective in contrast to the two founding members (France and Germany) and the UK which joined 40 years ago. It is the most pro-British country and, along with the more negative views of France, gives an idea of the range of opinion and sympathy (or lack thereof) available to the UK. It is similar to the UK in being more pro-American than much of Europe (the Iraq war being a recent example) and also outside the Eurozone. It is also primarily a recipient rather than a contributor when it comes to EU subsidies and grants in contrast to the complaints about direct costs of EU membership that are such a feature of the British press as well as viewing the other side of free movement of persons in Europe

While it has not been possible to survey businesses in each of these countries, including a sample of UK senior business decision makers has shown a number of clear contrasts with the consumer samples as well as some differences between businesses of different sizes.

Methodology

We conducted online surveys among samples of general consumers in each of the UK, France, Germany and Poland as well as a sample of senior decision makers from UK businesses.

Respondents in each country were shown the same questions (translated into the required languages by native speakers). Some of the identification questions required country-specific answer sets but otherwise every effort has been made to ensure that respondents were answering the same questions.

In France, Germany and Poland, the consumer sample has been weighted to nationally representative criteria including age group, gender, region and how they voted in the last national election. For the UK, the sample has been weighted to nationally representative criteria including age group, gender, region, social grade and working status with the “current voting intention” question weighted to match Opinium’s most recently published political polls.

Sample sizes for the consumer surveys in each country were 2,069 in the UK, 1,017 in France, 1,001 in Germany and 1,030 in Poland.

For the business sample, interviews were conducted online among senior decision makers in businesses of a range of sizes. The criteria for respondents was to be a senior manager or above in a private sector business based in the UK but which bought or sold goods or services to or from parties abroad. The sample was split into segments of micro businesses (1-9 employees), small businesses (10-49 employees), medium sized businesses (50-249 employees) and large businesses (250+ employees) with the aim of approximately even sized segments rather than making the sample strictly representative of UK businesses generally.

Among businesses, there were 274 respondents with 81 coming from micro businesses (1-9 employees), 59 from small businesses (10-49 employees), 42 from medium sized businesses (50-249 employees) and 92 from large businesses (250+ employees).