One of the key problems with how the British public perceive the EU is that they feel the UK doesn't have any influence in EU policy making and this means EU policies are forced upon the UK.
It is time for this assumption to be challenged!
Since the UK's entry into the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973 it has been a key driver in many areas of European policy. Yes, there have been peaks and troughs of UK interest in the EU, as there has been with all EU member states. This article will show that the UK has been an active participant in some of the most important areas of EEC/EU policy making and now more than ever before the British public should be made aware of this and, most importantly, be proud of these achievements!
The bottom line is that the UK must stop the current retreat from Europe and should instead engage with EU member states in finding areas of common interest in the hope of creating effective coalitions that can successfully work within the EU to upload preferred policies.
I shall focus on two British interests that successive UK governments have more or less agreed on: the completion of the single market and the EU enlargement.
Even the most ardent euro sceptic will admit the single market benefits the UK; in fact much of the Euro sceptic argument is based on the premise that the UK voted to join the economic area not a political union and that the UK should revert to a pure trading relationship with the EU. But what is lacking from the debate and indeed what many fail to recognise, is that the UK has played a major role in creating the single market. Successive UK governments have ensured that the single market has been effectively yet fairly regulated, and it is time the British public took ownership of this success and cast off the belief that regulation has been forced upon us by unelected Eurocrats.
David Cameron, 'the man who has promised a referendum', has in the past stated that the single market is vital to the economic success of the UK and he is currently one of the strongest voices arguing for the completion of the single market. How absurd is it that the Prime Minister whilst acknowledging the importance of the single market and the need to make it truly single, may in 2017 argue that it is in the UK's interest to leave the EU.
In David Cameron's words: 'As the digital economy expands there are more and more opportunities for companies across Europe to grow, create jobs and help consumers to secure a better deal. All too often however these opportunities are being stifled by burdensome regulations and differing national regimes. It is time to put this right by completing the digital single market once and for all and unlocking the growth that this market could generate.'
What must be stressed is that the UK has only benefited from the single market because governments have sought alliances with other states in ensuring that our shared preferences have been implemented at the European level. If we were to leave the EU, we would have zero - yes, zero - influence in the EU, but most importantly no allies helping the UK shape the rules and legislation of our largest trading partner.
Another aspect of European policy the UK has been fundamental to, and one of the EU's greatest success story, is enlargement. This may surprise the euro sceptics reading this article, but Margaret Thatcher - yes, Maggie the pin up girl for euro-sceptics and role model of so many right wing conservative backbenchers - was one of the most ardent supporters of EU enlargement. Don't just take my word for it; Jose Manuel Barrosso, the former President of the Commission, had this to say after Thatcher's death: 'She was a leading player in bringing into the European family the Central and Eastern European countries which were formerly behind the Iron Curtain. As you remember, Britain under Mrs Thatcher's leadership was very supportive of the enlargement of the European Union.'
Thatcher saw European enlargement as the surest way of consolidating the fragile democracies of Europe and the market economies taking shape on the EU's borders. In her view this would guarantee a long and deep peace throughout the former Soviet space. This has indeed been the case as since their accession to the EU the former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe have enjoyed external security and internal stability previously unknown to them.
As well as benefits to UK security, the accession of the former Warsaw Pact states has ensured that UK businesses have access to the eastern European markets, which provided a much needed boost for a flagging British economy. Once again, the point to be made is that the UK has been at the forefront of some of the EU's greatest successes and it is time the public are made aware of this.
British citizens should be proud that the UK was pushing for integration of former communist countries into a democratic market-orientated system that would ensure they would make the peaceful transition to the western model of governance. The success of this is made clear when one compares the socio-economic situation between Poland and Ukraine. Before the wall collapsed, Poland and Ukraine had very similar economic and social indicators, yet more than 20 years after the collapse of the USSR, the difference between Poland and Ukraine is striking. Polish accession to the EU, supported by the UK, is very much responsible for that.
For too long the British people have seen the EU as some sort of distant leviathan - this is totally wrong. The UK has been an active participant in the European project since joining and has, in cooperation with like minded states, secured reforms, policies and legislation that have benefited this country and other countries across the continent. It is time the British public take ownership of this and be proud of what this country has achieved at the European level. The UK has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the EU; let's keep it that way by not only voting YES in the upcoming referendum but becoming more engaged in European politics and thereby reversing the retreat from Europe!