Where do we think the EU might be going; and will Britain go there too?
(A talk given to ‘Faith in Europe’, 17 January 2013)
Sir Michael Franklin
For those like me who support the EU and British membership of it, the past few years have not been happy ones.
It is not only in the UK that public opinion has become much less enthusiastic about the EU and it institutions. The European Commission regularly takes the temperature of public opinion through a series of polls. The best known asks people whether or not they think the EU is a ‘good thing’. It shows that over the last five years average support has declined from 52% to 30%. It has happened in virtually every EU country. In France, for instance, 52% of those polled five years ago said membership of the EU was a good thing: last year that had dropped to 46%. In Germany the figures were 65% and 54%. In Spain the fall was even more dramatic: from 73% to 55%. (No surprise that the corresponding figures for the UK showed only 33% thinking that membership was a good thing 10 years ago, and only 26% last year – but more of that later). No doubt much of this dissatisfaction reflects the general feeling of economic gloom and the perceived failure of governments, both national and European to rise to the occasion. Nevertheless, it provides a difficult political backdrop against which governments have to deal with the problems the EU faces.
Of these, the biggest is clearly the formidable problems arising from the world wide banking and economic crises for the EU as a whole, but notably for the future, indeed the survival of the EU’s single currency, the eurozone. But first let me say something about another immediate problem for the EU: the fixing of the EU budget for the next few years.
In purely numerical terms the EU budget is not a big issue: the total EU budget, some £120 billion is only about 1% of Europe’s GDP, whereas total government expenditure in most EU countries amounts to around 40% of GDP. The UK’s net contribution to the budget is a mere £7.4 billion, scarcely more than 1% of government expenditure, about half what Germany pays and substantially less than France or Italy.
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