Britain has to face up to the loss of empire and accept Europe
by James Elles
Eurosceptics hanker after a world where Britain ran an Empire, including a quarter of the worlds' population, but geopolitical change means that the United Kingdom can only remain a global player through the EU - argues Tory MEP
This week, the issue of a referendum on British membership of the European Union has once again dominated the headlines. As our national debate deepens, we must not simply hanker after a world where Britain ran an Empire including a quarter of the worlds' population - a world that no longer exists. Nor must we allow our judgement to be clouded by focussing too much on minutiae of how Europe is run and too little on the big picture.
We must, above all, try to understand the speed of change taking place beyond our European frontiers. We must inform ourselves as best we can about the type of world that Britain and the rest of Europe are likely to find themselves facing over the coming decades. It is, after all, the future of our country and its people about which we will be called upon to decide. One thing we can safely say is that it will be radically different than it is today.
A report was recently published on Global Trends 2030
, produced by European academics but with a global perspective. In its analysis, the document examines the major shifts taking place in the world economy. The conclusions, based on several site visits and discussions, mostly with the BRICs countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China - revealed three major trends underway: empowerment of individuals through the huge development of the internet; dilemmas of security and shortages of food, energy, water and so on in the years ahead; and most revealingly, it highlights the fundamental - and very rapid - shift in economic power and wealth from the west to the east, expected within the next 20 years.
Here are some of the most relevant statistics. First, the report shows that we are in a rapidly changing world and that by 2030 we will see "an economic power shift toward Asia, where over half of the world's population will be concentrated by 2030. Second, the crucial change set to take place is the rise of a global middle class. While Europe and North America made up 64 per cent of the global middle class consumption in 2009, this is set to decrease to 30 per cent by 2030. Meanwhile, the Asian Pacific middle class is set to increase from 23 per cent to 59 per cent over the same period; with the majority of this increase happening in India - 23 per cent - and China, 18 per cent.
Third, China is expected to be the world's largest economy by 2030. The European Union 27 will still be the third largest, with the United States in second place. While Australia and Canada have a high gross domestic product per capita, they make up a comparatively small proportion of global GDP. What is to be made from these trends as of today? From all studies available, there is relative certainty that China will be the worlds' largest economic power within 20 years. The Asian century will be with us with a vengeance.
Former British Defence Secretary Liam Fox said last week that he could live with ease with Britain outside the EU, fending for itself in the global economy. My colleague Dan Hannan MEP waxes lyrical about the great opportunities, which await us once out of the EU, with the expanding markets of Australia and Canada of the Commonwealth. Can we rely on their judgement or is there a need to look closer at their premise to see if it is valid for our country?
The truth is that this is a cosy option, which has no real economic validity. It is a historical mirage. Like the concept of Communism, wonderful in theory, but useless in practice. Not only will the EU remain hugely important for millions of British jobs in continental markets, particularly once the European economy recovers its upward growth - powered by Germany - which it will do. More importantly, the fundamental question about the future of the global economy is who will set the rules, which underpin the commercial exchanges. Will it indeed be a rules-based system, as of today, set by western powers, or one increasingly dominated by the Chinese, setting the rules with their allies, because they will be big enough to do so?
What changes everything for us and our relationship with Europe is that, as China becomes more assertive and more powerful economically - we are going to have to work closer together as European powers with the US to ensure that we can still have real influence in setting the rules and making sure that it is a rules-based system at all. No single European country, including Britain, can be a major geopolitical player on its own in tomorrow's world.
That is, by the way, the relevance of the European Council's conclusion last week, concerning the real likelihood of a deepened EU/US trade and investment agreement in the months ahead. The conclusions state that "heads of state or government look forward to the recommendations of the EU-US high-level working group on jobs and growth and commit to working towards the goal of launching in 2013 of negotiations on a comprehensive transatlantic trade and investment agreement". Any Eurosceptic out there still think that the EU is anti-American?James Elles is Conservative Party MEP for South East England. This article also appears on his blog
As a British citizen, I am completely offended by this article. We don't care about empires or imperialism. What is changing our relationship with Europe is immigration from Eastern Europe, the politics, the corruption, the ECHR, our overcrowded country, our strained public services and our watered down identity - the lot.
We never had a problem with the trade side of it - but why do they have to think they have the divine right to govern our countries? We do NOT want to see the South East of England all becoming part of Greater London. Sorry, but the EU is dying. Stop making excuses for its failings.
Mark Thompson - Northampton, England
Right now, it takes a brave man to stand up for the EU in the Conservative Party. Hats off to Mr Elles.
Alexander - UK
Well informed, cogent and to the point. Shame he is a lone voice in the Conservative Party.
Eloise - Oxford, UK
This really is a very poor article. Essentially, it dredges up the worn-out old arguments that any Birtish criticism of the EU is due to hang-ups about the former empire or watching too many Second World War films. The point is that the British Eurosceptics are in the position of being able to say 'I told you so'.
The euro has unequivocally failed. It has plunged Europe into the worst peacetime economic catastrophe since the 1920s. The EU has shown itself wholly incapable of action, it is paralysed and out of touch with ordinary people - both in Britian and on the continent.
Clearly Mr Elles sincerely believes what he saying. He should, therefore, have the courage of his convictions and stand for the Westminster parliament at the next general election, or by-election, and make his case to the people there. And, if elected, in the House of Commons. Of course, this would mean having to get off the lucrative MEP gravy train; I wonder what he will do?
Pugg - Blighty
By the way, I notice that the map at the top of the article has Scotland in a different colour to the rest of the UK. Has the EU perhaps already decided that Scotland should cede from the UK, there being no need for anything so tiresome as a referendum? P.S. it's not that people think that the EU is anti-American, rather that is anti-British.
Pugg - Blighty
The more Britain goes into the EU, the more Britain looks like a European colony - paying its tariffs to the bureaucrats and taking the very few bounties on offer. Britain needs a relationship with Europe but it can't be ruled by Europe. It's a European empire we need to avoid.
Mike Rocksteady - UK
The British Electorate are sick to the back teeth of the rubbish our political elite spew forth. Most of which is incorrect. We left the empire days decades ago so don't cloud the water with that rubbish. We, the British, want out of the EU and a return to ruling ourselves.
The EU is one of the most costly, corrupt, undemocratic, confining, detrimental experiments ever attempted by the rubbish of Europe and stroked by our political elite who claim to know what they are doing in governing this country.
This country has never been afraid of standing alone but under the overbearing rules, regulations, laws and diktats from Brussels - we are being choked until the pips squeek. Keep us on this path and you will kill the Goose that Lays the Golden Egg - the taxpayers.
Diane Sanson - Lymm, Cheshire
What a biased article. I am English, Not British, certainly not European, the EU has destroyed every economy in Europe that it has touched - the corruption, negligence and sheer stupidity of these Brussels bureaucrats is astonishing. Our own politicians have secretly greed that we must all be churned into this European super-state, despite the fact that no European citizen wants to be a part of this scam.
This article assumes that English people want to rule the world. We don't, but we do not want to send £50m of our money, plus trillions in bail-outs to Brussels or to the IMF - both of which are run by those that despise democracy and refuse to even publish accounts that explain where our money has been going for the last 19 years. Only a fool would put money into this.
D smithers - West Sussex
I find it totally disgusting that a British politician can blatantly spout pure EU propaganda and expect us to swallow it. Luckily though, there are other MEP's who put Britain first, These are the people we should take notice of.
This article is just an insult to all Britons, who are witnessing first hand the EU's decimation of our country and other member states - as if by design. Get out of your highly-paid ivory tower Mr Elles and visit the real world,
Thomas Franks - Notts, England.
The only path to influence in the modern world is a vigorous economy. Britain shackling herself to the dying hand of European Marxism is not the solution to remaining an important player in world affairs.
Britain's main hope of avoiding a descent into total irrelevance is to rediscover what once made her powerful - to recreate the low tax, a lightly-regulated economy which powered the Victorian age, the likes of which can only now be found in the Far East.
This isn't a nonsensical dream of recreating the empire - it is about looking to the past, and the present, to work out where Britain went wrong.
Eric Worrall - Southampton