Just two months before the 2015 general election in May, the issue whether Britain should remain in the EU remains and will remain highly topical even after the election. On the 23rd of January 2013, the prime minister of Britain announced his intentions to proceed in holding a referendum on Britain's remaining in the EU, only in the case he is to be re-elected in the next national election on the 7th of May 2015.
In these uncertain economic times that nowadays shake Europe's stability and prosperity, David Cameron probably expressed a view that is shared by many Britons; that there is a need for a debate to begin in order to redefine the relationship between Europe and Britain and to eventually end up to a conclusive referendum. The possibility of Britain's EU-exit is imminent more than ever, despite the fact that there is considerable time before a possible referendum can be held. After all, David Cameron pledged to create the outline of the relevant legislation before the next election and it will only be formally introduced if the election has a positive result for the Conservatives. Even if the EU considers the "threat" of a possible exit either with apathy or with concern, it nevertheless recognises that there is justifiable danger for the European "edifice" to fall apart, piece by piece, starting with Britain. Thus, how should the European Union and Britain address the issue?
First of all, Britain should be left free to make decisions for its own future. The majority of Britons may be extremely wary of Brussels' policy interventions and a possible interference in the referendum process may increase their frustration or create a predisposition to the answer 'NO' to Britain's remaining in the EU. The decision for a member-state to remain in the Union is clearly a voluntary one. Even if it becomes a "take it or leave it" option imposed by the inevitable ultimatums of Europe, it does remain a unilateral choice of the British nation. So, without the EU's interference, the result -negative or positive- will be a choice of a responsible, sovereign state.
Secondly, in the meantime, the meaning of a possible British EU-exit and its possible consequences should be fully understood. The UK sits at the centre of the financial transactions of the current "axis" of London-Brussels-Frankfurt; therefore, it lies at the heart of the EU economic activity. A possible exit might signal the isolation of the British economy, the decrease of the volume of transactions and the GDP, slower development rates, loss of subsidies stemming from the EU's agricultural or infrastructure capital infusions, disruption of Britons' ease of transportation across the continent, as well as inability for British products and services to gain access to the single market. At the same time, the EU should examine what a Europe without Britain would signify for its own position in the global geopolitical landscape; would it signify a stronger, more consistent and confident Europe? If not, the EU might then realise that the UK deserves a "special" treatment, in comparison to the other member states.
Thirdly, and most importantly, the EU has the ability to re-establish its relationship with Britain in a "win-win" situation. How? Europe should ask Britain to play a defining role in setting the economic and political agenda of the whole EU, to provide suggestions and plans for the European future and to contribute to the success of European political integration. Since its joining the EU in 1973, Britain has always been euro-skeptical, apart from the Blair years, when, not only did it come closer to the EU, but also came one step before "adopting" the single currency. Despite its skepticism, Britain has always supported the combined efforts for a better Europe. Therefore, with Europe eagerly asking Britain to shape much of its future, Britain will have to give an answer to the dilemma; either to embrace its skeptical past or to embrace the idea of a united Europe under British innovative leadership.
Either way, the ball will be in Britain's court. After all, one cannot protest, but offer no original solutions. One cannot stick around when the "party" is on, but flee when it is off. A nation like Britain must lead the way, not be the third "wheel" in a Franco-German axis. It should introduce plans of action, not hide in the "backbench" of decision making.
In my view, the EU would be a better place, if the plethora of its policies were not defined as an outcome of the everlasting conflicts between a humanitarian but unrealistic France and a productive but austere Germany, but if they were rather set by a pragmatist Britain. This outcome might as well be the best choice possible for Europe's -and Britain's- future.