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Politics Weekly podcast: Euroscepticism

The eurozone faces an existential crisis as debt-laden member states look for a way out of their current predicaments. But amid the crisis a new breed of Eurosceptic is emerging, one that senses an opportunity to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Europe once and for all.

Ever since Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973, a significant portion of the country has favoured less involvement with continental politics.

Now, with the eurozone facing a debt crisis on several fronts, so-called Eurosceptics sense an opportunity to substantially retreat from what is now a European Union comprising 27 member states.

The debate over Britain’s involvement in Europe and its exposure to the continent’s troubled economy is likely to be played out at this year’s political party conference season. With this in mind, Anne Perkins looks at the recent history of British Euroscepticism and its current standing.

Mats Persson, director of the thinktank Open Europe, detects a marked decline in support for the EU across its member states – especially in Germany.

Meanwhile, on the Conservative backbenches, a new Eurosceptic pressure group is being formed. Douglas Carswell says it’s important to avoid saying “I told you so”, while Dominic Raab is careful to stress that Euroscepticism should not be confused with hostility to Europe, its people or its culture. The new backbench grouping has the potential to cause the government problems, but Tim Montgomerie, editor of ConservativeHome wonders exactly how distant it is from the Tory leadership.

We also hear from Martin Kettle, Larry Elliott and John Palmer. The Guardian trio co-authored a short book in 1997 on the debate over Britain’s option to enter the single currency. The authors revisit their arguments and explore how they have stood up to reality. On one thing at least they can agree: it is not in Britain’s interest to have the eurozone break up. Paradoxically, that is also the view of Eurosceptic Conservative chancellor George Osborne.

However, as former Labour Europe minister Denis MacShane points out, right across Europe, politicians are latching on to an easy way to score points: bashing Brussels and denigrating the EU. With the status quo appearing increasingly unstable, the EU faces a fork in the road: further integration or a move back towards more independent nation states.

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