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Ralph Brinkhaus on The EU will be a better place with the UK in it

28th January 2013

photo: Yves Logghe

Ralph Brinkhaus (CDU) is a member of the German Parliament. He also published this article in The European (

We are aware that the UK thinks of the European Union primarily as an economic project, a single market, rather than a political project. For us, however, the European Union is first and foremost a political project. This may explain why we in Germany stick by the European idea for all its imperfections. From our history, we have learned that we are better off coordinating policies with our neighbours. We are very well aware of the fact that we have to pay a high price for it: we are the biggest net contributor to the European Union, we accept European rules in cases where we would probably be better off regulating things on our own, and we live with the administrative and legal imperfections of some of our fellow EU member states.

I admit that these circumstances sometimes constitute a serious burden. However, we accept it because in return, we get a political union which not only enables us to live in peace with our neighbours in the middle of Europe but also creates a common market that is of utmost importance for us in Germany. It is particularly important to us since a big percentage of our exports go to other EU member states: almost 40 per cent of all our exports go to eurozone countries.

We are deeply concerned about the ongoing discussions in the UK whether the UK should loosen its ties to the EU, or even leave the EU. I can very well understand why many people in the UK and elsewhere have great concerns about Europe and the way the European Union operates. We, too, are not happy with some of the developments in Europe, for example the EU budget and the excessive bureaucracy. A UK exit from the common project EU, however, would constitute a serious harm for Germany. Germany and the UK share a similar way of thinking and a similar approach to getting things done. It is always good to know that we have a like-minded ally at the negotiating table in Brussels. In my opinion, the British input is vital for the development of a better Europe.

This input, however, would be missing if the UK decided to withdraw from the EU or to retreat from some EU policy areas. The UK would no longer be part of the negotiations in Brussels. On the contrary, in order to guarantee its access to the single market, the UK would be subjected to many regulations without having had any influence on the negotiation of those rules (regulation without participation). At the end of the day, this would also weaken the negotiating position of Germany.

In my view, the unlimited access to the single market is essential for large parts of the British economy. Take the City, for instance: an important role of the City is to act as gate to the European economy. The    gate will only remain open if the UK applies all the rules, rules that then would be negotiated without the UK having any say.

We know that some politicians and political experts in the UK would prefer a “Europe à la carte” – receiving all the benefits of the single market and not having to pay any of the costs. Nobody can and will accept that kind of cherry-picking. Other member states would want to follow the British example. ‘UK à la carte’ would lead to ‘Poland à la carte’, ‘Italy à la carte’, etc., which would ultimately result in the dissolution of the so very important political union.

The EU will be a better place with the UK in it. That  notion is also true for the UK itself. The European idea is worth the price we pay for it, and that we keep working on it together. There is an alternative to the UK’s exit from Europe: No longer stand in the corner but take a leading role in building a new and better Europe, for member states, for businesses and for citizens. Let us fight for a Europe that has a strong voice in the world. ‘Join the team’, as we would put it.

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