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Media Information: Embargo 00.01am Friday 20 May 2005

Is now the time to withdraw from the EU?

Now is not the time for Britain to talk about withdrawing from the European Union, according to one of the contributors to a new publication from independent think-tank Civitas. Writing in Should We Stay or Should We Go?, Stephen Pollard of the Centre for the New Europe argues that the forthcoming referendum on the European Constitution offers 'the opportunity of a generation to mould the EU in the direction which the British have been advocating for decades… [and] places the power to force change in the hands of the electorate, who will have the opportunity to say what they think, and to say it in a way that can't be ignored' (p.25).

Pollard sees the conflict over the Constitution as a battle between the forces of Old Europe, led by France and Germany ('statist, tax-devouring… old, sclerotic' pp.28 & 28) and New Europe ('more market-flexible, politically loose and sovereignty-respecting' p.26). New Europe is led by Britain, but with the very important fresh allies of Eastern European countries that have recently joined the EU, and which are more drawn towards the British and American political model - 'the EU did nothing to free Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia and Hungary from the Soviet empire' (p.27).

Pollard cites the appointment of José Barrosa as President of the European Commission as a sign of the new outlook in Europe, an outlook that owes much to British influence:

At a time when the possibility now exists of sending so severe a shock to the EU's system that change is unavoidable, it would be crazy, now of all times, to consider withdrawal (p.26).

Pollard warns that the Blair government wants to portray the referendum on the European Constitution as being about whether we should be in or out of the EU. This should be resisted, as he believes there are many who share his own Euro-scepticism, and who will vote to reject the Constitution, but who want Britain to remain in the EU. If the referendum is allowed to turn into a vote for or against EU membership, it will let the Euro-federalists off the hook:

The withdrawal issue is thus political stupidity of the highest order, given the opportunity for a resettlement of the EU's foundations which would be presented by a "No" vote (p.31).

Better off out!

Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the other contributor to Should We Stay of Should We Go?, shares Stephen Pollard's aversion to the proposed EU Constitution, about which he finds only one good thing to say:

M. Giscard D'Estaing … has done us all one great favour. The wording of the document is really very easy to understand; it is not written in the usual impenetrable verbiage of the Treaties (p.16).

But what it says is that:

the EU will acquire its own legal personality, superior to that of the member states. There is no longer even the pretence that the EU is an arrangement between sovereign nations. The EU, the Brussels system, becomes Sovereign (p.15).

However, Lord Pearson feels that the whole EU project has gone too far, and that the surrender of sovereignty involved is already so serious, that the only answer is to withdraw completely. The threat to our sovereignty, our democracy and our centuries-old tradition of self-government, coupled with the huge costs and institutionalised corruption of the EU ('Its own internal auditors have refused to sign its accounts for the last nine years' p.5) make sensible reform impossible. The only way forward is out.

Leaving the EU would be a liberating, refreshing, positive, modern thing to do. And we would be very much richer as well! (p.19)

Both essays are in the best tradition of political polemic. The authors argue their opposing positions with passion and conviction, enabling readers to compare and evaluate the two sides of this most topical debate.

Should We Stay or Should We Go? By Lord Pearson of Rannoch and Stephen Pollard is published by Civitas, 77 Great Peter St, London SW1P 2EZ, tel 020 7799 6677,, price £5.90 inc. pp, ISBN 1 903 386 40-3.

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