British euroscepticism is nothing new
British Prime Minster David Cameron’s refusal to approve an amendment of the European treaty to streamline the budget policies in the member states continues to reverberate across Brussels. The “mistake of his life,” Liberal party leader Guy Verhofstadt said in the European Parliament on Tuesday. Cameron gambled and lost, it is generally believed. What awaits him now is splendid isolation. But is that really true? Four Belgians active in the British business world give their comments on the general belief that the British have shot themselves in the foot. British involvement in Europe has never been that significant. “The ties of the British with the Commonwealth countries and earlier colonies such as the United States and Hong Kong are much firmer,” remarks Greet Brosens, managing director of Advantage Technical Resourcing, a British recruitment and selection specialist in London. “The average Brit would rather consider emigrating to Australia, Canada, New Zeeland or Asia than to Germany or France, as they consider the opportunities offered by these new-world countries more ubiquitous than in the older Europe.” The Eurozone’s debt crisis has simply confirmed this perception. “I have been living in the UK for almost five years and during that time the negative attitude towards what they refer to as the ‘European continent’ has grown expeditiously,” says Peter Verkempynck, Daikin UK’s Belgian CEO. At first glance this development seems almost paradoxical, as Europe continues to be Britain’s biggest trading partner. “And yet the attitude among the British has a perfectly logical explanation,” remarks Bert Albrecht, export director at Sauven Marking, a British producer of printing technology. “Like the US, England is first and foremost a capitalist society run on business principles. The British would like to extend their business dealings with the Europeans, but with as little meddling from the European Union as possible.” The refusal of the Brits to sign a treaty that will devolve more power to Brussels in respect of national budgets is nothing new. “Great Britain has always kept its eye on the rest of the world,” says Patrick van der Vorst, former Sotheby’s director and owner of the British concern ValueMyStuff, an online art and antiquities valuer. As a Belgian Brit he is convinced Britain’s veto will help survive the recession and become even stronger in the process; eventually even helping Europe pull through. Britain’s Euroscepticism is primarily based on business motives, Van der Vorst believes, saying: “Europe may very well be its biggest trading partner, but Britain does not plan to put all its eggs into one basket if there is more fish to fry.” Only days after the European summit a columnist at The Economist wrote the following: “Two decades after the Maastricht Treaty, which led to one European currency, the tectonic plates of the European Union have split at the exact same place which has always caused a rift: the British Channel. Nothing new under the sun, in other words.