Next month, June 2016 British people will decide in a referendum whether Britain should remain a member of the European Union or exit. This question has sharply divided their opinion. It was the same case when about 40 years ago they had to decide whether to join the predecessor of the European Union, the European Economic Community (EEC)
There must be many people in Britain who perhaps wish the European Union did not exist, because its existence creates painful dilemmas for them. Britain is part of European Union and yet she wants to remain distinct, she does not want to be swallowed up in a European superstate. It is a matter of being British first European next.
Let us refresh our memory of Britain’s relationship with her continental neighbours since end of World War II, Sir Winston Churchill the war time prime minister made speeches advocating establishment of a United States of Europe as one way of countering the threat of the Soviet Union. His speech was not given much attention in Britain and perhaps not on the continent either where some leading politicians preferred step by step march towards closer relationship between the erstwhile belligerent nations.
The European Union beginnings were very modest. In the early 1950’s three small countries agreed to harmonise their steel and coal industries. These countries were Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Together they were known by the acronym BENELUX. Their success attracted the attention of statesmen in Germany and France who suggested expanding BENELUX into a European Economic Community (EEC) a common market. They invited Britain to join the common market, Britain refused saying she preferred a free trade area to a common market.
In free trade area member countries agree to reduce tariffs among one another but each member country is free to establish its own tariffs with countries .Possible Sadc and Comesa are at this stage rather than genuine common market.
In a common market members agree to reduce tariffs between each other and also to set up a common tariff with third countries.
In 1957 six countries met in Rome and set up the European Economic Community. These countries were BENELUX countries Germany, France and Italy.
Britain responded to this by launching the European Free Trade Area, seven countries. By the early 1960’s politicians and technocrats in Britain realized they had made a mistake by refusing to join the EEC.A referendum was held on whether Britain should seek admission to the EEC,the majority voted for joining. But there were hurdles ahead.
Several times British Prime Minister applied for membership every time the President of France Charles de Gaulle voted the application. During the Second World War when France was overrun by those of his countrymen who said France had only lost a battle not the war and wanted to fight the Germans from the British soil. It is said that the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin Roosevelt did not accord de Gaulle the status he claimed as head of the Free French. From that time he developed intense dislike of the two Anglo Saxon nations.
When Harold Macmillan Prime Minister of Britain went to Paris to try and placate de Gaulle the French President reminded him that France and England had during most of their existence been at war including the hundred years and cover to same club belong to the same club. Only after de Gaulle died in 1970 was Britain admitted to the EEC.
Most of the time Britain has been resisting attempts to form closer relationships which would whittle down members sovereignty. For example she has refused to give up her currency the pound and adopt the euro. Britain feels uncomfortable to play the third fiddle within the European Union after Germany and France.
Those who want Britain to remain a member of the EU, whom I call the British Europeans, fear the dire economic consequences of existing .Most economists will apparently vote for continued membership. In the Newsletter Magazine the Royal Econo0mic Society of April,2016 it is reported that at a plenary session of economists membering 500 vote was cast,400 voted in favour ,40 to 50 voted to leave, and the remaining were undecided.
Is British membership of the EU of interest to Africans? Very much so, for economic and geopolitical reasons. Let us hope the economists vote is an indicator of positive British vote. A united Europe is essential for the continued peace of the world; a weakened Europe could facilitate the occurrences of a Third World War.
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