The UK is a very important player in the EU
This Thursday, the citizens of the United Kingdom are going to make a momentous decision, a decision which will affect both the UK and the rest of Europe for generations to come. Will the UK remain in or leave the EU? This is for the British voters to decide and I have the greatest respect for their right to do so, and for the British democracy. I would just like to make a few comments on the matter from the point of view of a Swedish MP, chairing the Committee of the Constitution of the Swedish Parliament.
As a Swedish parliamentarian, I sincerely hope that the UK voters will decide to remain in the European Union. When decisions are made in the EU Council, the UK is the country which Sweden most often agree with. If the UK were to leave the EU, Sweden would lose an important ally.
However, I understand that the British voters are not very concerned with the interests of Sweden in the EU. Instead, I would like to emphasize that the UK is a very important player in the EU and stress all the progress that the UK has already achieved in the EU – and why it is in the interest of all other member states as well as the UK itself that the UK remains a member. Let me give a few examples.
I am – to put it a bit less formal – a great fan of Britain and fascinated by British history. Britain has a historic legacy, which underscores that it has been and still is one of the most important and influential countries in Europe and in the world. Last year the 700th anniversary of the Magna Charta was celebrated. The Magna Charta is one of the first examples of a document of a constitutional nature, which in a structured way deals with the issue of separation of powers and the rights of the citizens. It shows that the discussion on how to create a legitimate and just political system has very long traditions on the British Isles. It is not surprising, then, that the issue of democracy is one of the most important in this year’s referendum debate.
I therefore think that the UK is a very important member state when it comes to reforming the EU, because reform has to mean more democratic accountability and more focus on bridging the gap between the EU and the citizens. The UK is also crucial when it comes to influencing the day to day operations of the European Commission, in order to make it more efficient and reduce the number of initiatives it takes. The British passion for a more efficient and more focused EU in better touch with the will of the citizens is a major factor behind recent changes in the way the Commission operates, important steps towards an EU which deals with the key issues where European cooperation can really make a difference, rather than trying to regulate areas where no European rules are needed. This development must continue, but without the UK as a member I fear it would be much slower or even halted.
The UK is also a very important member state when it comes to promoting free trade. Free trade creates growth, benefits consumers and producers alike and contributes to peaceful cooperation between nations. Some important EU member states, however, have more protectionist inclinations. If the UK were to exit the EU, the free trade bloc in the EU would be severely weakened. A more protectionist EU would probably mean a more protectionist world, to the detriment of us all. It would be even more important for Britain with an EU which wants free trade if Britain were to exit the EU – but then much more difficult to obtain. A Brexit is therefore a lose-lose deal when it comes to free trade.
Moreover, the United Kingdom has contributed greatly to the creation of the single market. The single market is based on the idea of free trade between the member states and common or harmonized rules in order to facilitate that. The single market has created growth and investment and is in many ways the most important part of the EU. The UK has been a progressive partner during its creation and it is vital that the UK continues to watch over it’s development, to make sure it keeps it’s most distinctive features.
Apart from this the UK has been instrumental in the work to reduce red tape in the EU. Now everyone, including the Commission, is talking about the need to make EU legislation simpler and to reduce excessive regulation. This would not have been the case if some member states, with Britain being the unquestionable engine, hadn’t pushed the issue very hard.
I have noted that some people on the Brexit side claim that the UK can still cooperate with other countries, even if it were to leave the EU. That is of course true in principle. However, in practice there is a great difference between on one hand an organized, continually ongoing cooperation based on a structured process and on the other hand cooperation through ad hoc agreements. As a Member of the Swedish Parliament I follow the law making process in the EU closely, and I can say without a doubt that the daily meetings and negotiations on various matters in the EU give the EU cooperation much more stability and ability to accomplish results than negotiations between countries on a specific agreement. It will never be the same.
On the other hand, if you have such a stable and able organization it becomes very important how you use it – and Britain is very important as a force to make sure that the EU focuses on matters such as free trade, the single market and reducing red tape.
The choice on Thursday is the choice of the British people, but it is a choice which affects so many more. I hope the voters on Thursday will realize what an important force for good the United Kingdom is in the EU – and will let the UK continue to play that crucial role.
Member of the Swedish Parliament for the Moderate Party (the Swedish Conservatives), Chair of the Committee on the Constitution of the Swedish Parliament