Major discussion on Europe is needed

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

A poll has found that under one in three British people have firmly made up their minds on whether to back the UK’s continued membership of the EU.

This is, on one level, not such a surprise. Anyone under the aged of 50, which is a majority of the electorate, will have little or no recollection of life before the UK joined the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1975.

Membership of Europe has been a fact of life for those younger generations, as opposed to something that has been seen as optional.

But the In-Out referendum that David Cameron has promised before the end of 2017 was something that sooner or later had to take place.

The EU of today is very different to the EEC of 1975, which was itself a significant expansion on the European Coal and Steel Community, founded in 1951. What began as a treaty among six countries to pool coal and steel production has, over 64 years, become something akin to a super-state, comprising 28 countries, 19 of whom share a currency.

There are, now, very serious questions to be answered.

Does a two-speed Europe (eurozone and non eurozone) make sense, or should the EU and eurozone become synonymous, with political union and fiscal union, in addition to monetary union? If so, the UK will quit, while Greece and/or other countries may yet be pushed out.

And if a two-speed Europe, with the UK on the outer tier, does make sense, does the UK even want to be part of that or should it quit regardless?

These are questions that have massive implications for Northern Ireland (indeed the very existence of the UK, because if England quits the EU Scotland might quit the UK).

This newspaper is Eurosceptic, but as yet – like the nation – undecided on whether the huge and irreversible step of a Brexit is the way to go.

Major public discussion of the issues needs to begin now.