Can we imagine a European Commission without a British member?
Can we imagine a Council meeting without a British minister?
Can we imagine a European Parliament without British MEPs?
And, can we imagine TEPSA without a full-fledged British member?
The answer to all these questions clearly is: NO.
The European Union is a safe place to discuss and decide about common and global issues, whether related to economics, security or people.
It makes quite a difference to be member of a family or a related member. We all know that from our personal experiences. It is simply not the same.
Of course, dependent of whether there will be sufficient political will on all sides, one can imagine an alternative construction for the UK like EEA membership, a preferred associate status or something similar. However, again, it is not the same.
That, by the way, is the reason why our General Assembly in Bratislava of 2 June will decide about a proposal of the Board, supported by all TEPSA members being present at the last General Assembly in The Hague in November 2015, to broaden the scope of TEPSA membership: from, as the Statutes are worded now, institutes established in ‘Member States of the EU’ to institutes established in ‘European’ countries. Indeed, for European academics dealing with EU studies it is better to be fully involved than to be ‘associated’ to the work of others.
In fact, the European Union is a peace project. We aim at creating conditions of peace, stability and prosperity for all our citizens. It is the old narrative of EU cooperation. Many politicians ask these days for a new narrative, more appealing to younger generations. However, the original one still has its merits. On a daily basis issues appear on our agenda which individual states cannot handle anymore alone. Whether it is trade, the economic crisis, the migration crisis, terrorism or the geopolitical tensions at all our external borders (Russia/Ukraine, the Middle East, and North Africa).
Problems arising during internal EU negotiations have to be solved by elaborating compromises, eventually in the form of formulas of differentiation and flexibility. In fact, to a large extent it is due to the British position in EU cooperation that we have already developed an extensive practice of differentiated approaches (in the domain of the Area of Freedom, Security and Justice and the Euro cooperation for example).
Because of the differences with regard to economic and political orientation already existing between the present Member States and, still more evidently, between the present and candidate Member States, differentiated cooperation is the model for the future, whether we like it or not. Moreover, is ‘Unity in Diversity’ not the motto of the European Union? As long as differentiated solutions do not interfere with the basic principles and the core acquis of the Union, they have to be accepted. In that respect the New Settlement elaborated for the United Kingdom by the European Council in its meeting of 18/19 February reflects a careful balance.
Last but not least, sovereignty these days is an illusion. The world has become a global village, our economies have become interdependent and communication is organised through ultra-fast networks.
Therefore, again, we better share responsibilities to cope with common challenges rather than have to deal with them on our own. From such a global perspective, the United States – with its President, Barack Obama, as its best spokesperson – is the first to agree that the United Kingdom has its place in Europe, in the (perhaps not perfect, but all the same) stable framework of the European Union.
So, let us hope that common sense will prevail on 23 June when the referendum in the United Kingdom will take place. Let us hope for the best result, for Europe and the United Kingdom!
Prof. Jaap de Zwaan, TEPSA Secretary-General