This was written before we knew the result, and has been adjusted accordingly.
The In campaign and its supporters in government have been clear that they believe Britain would be better off in a reformed EU. David Cameron even suggested early on that if he could not secure an adequate renegotiation deal that it may be worth thinking about leaving. Whilst we support the reforms included in Cameron’s deal, the effectiveness of the proposals are uncertain, and some are not guaranteed to happen. Even so, the very existence of this referendum has highlighted criticisms of the EU more than ever before, both domestically and abroad. If still inside the EU, Britain should have take the opportunity to play a role in influencing the future of the EU alongside other member states. Pinning down what these reforms should look like is difficult, but in a general sense the main issues seem to be increasing political integration and the impact of burdensome regulation on competition.
One of the contradictions of the EU is that in order for the project to be successful significant political integration is required, but a majority of its populace are against the idea of the EU as a government, preferring national democracy. At the extremes this has led to the rise of nationalistic politics across the continent, but there are many indications that dissatisfaction with EU centralisation is increasing. Recent polls have even shown that a majority of the public in Sweden, Italy and France want an EU referendum of their own.
As a currency union, economic and political integration in some areas will always be a necessity. For example, financial markets and banking regulation should remain integrated to facilitate financial flows across borders, and to stop a race to the bottom. In some other areas though, national democracies are currently unable to pursue policies that are in the long-term interests of both the country itself and the wider Eurozone.
The future may see the EU leaving more to its member states. Where possible, instead of making union-wide decisions on matters such as fiscal policy and structural government changes, the EU could delegate national decisions to independent national bodies. If the EU can become more respectful towards the boundaries of member states whilst maintaining the principles upon which it was created, it could concentrate on adding national value rather than simply increasing its own functions. Furthermore, increased national democratic accountability could see national parliaments become the ultimate check on EU decisions. Similarly, there could be reform of the EU’s structural funding, perhaps looking to minimise the bureaucratic process of members sending money to the EU only to get it back in various forms. If the EU can devolve these processes to national parliaments, it could refocus its efforts towards projects that those parliaments would find impossible individually.
Business sentiment on the EU is also hard to ignore. A recent survey from the Council of British Chambers of Commerce in Europe (COBCOE) highlighted three areas for reform: regulation, finance and innovation. 93% of COBCOE members think the EU is ‘a work in progress’ and ‘needs to become more open, less bureaucratic, more competitive and more responsive’. The EU and its member states must ensure that further Eurozone integration does not undermine the principles of the single market. Burdensome regulation is a constant theme of mainstream EU criticism, and as part of the EU in the future Britain should get specific with what needs to change and why. For a particular example, there should be a push to reinforce the single market for services, digital technologies and energy, for which true free trade is yet to be realised. Removal of trade barriers in these areas could significantly increase competition, benefitting customers and boosting EU-wide GDP.
Another of the EU’s primary objectives in the future should be to build upon the successes of the internal single market towards a more global trade outlook. The EU has been notoriously sluggish in agreeing trade arrangements with big non-EU trading partners, and it must ensure that the single market keeps up with the forces of globalisation. Movement towards a global single market is inevitable, and as this happens the benefits of being within a tariff-protected EU single market may diminish. The EU must become more dynamic and responsive to avoid hindering its members when operating on a global stage. Finally, if Britain were to remain in the EU it would have needed to become a spearhead for change. It is obvious that many businesses and other member nations have concerns, and by voting to stay in the EU Britain should have rallied other members to fight for reform, rather than resting on her laurels and allowing criticism of the Union to grow. A vote to remain should have been a vote for Britain to take a pro-active leadership role in fighting to build a better, more dynamic, more responsive, more democratic and more global Union.