Nobody seem to have noticed, but this week marks the thirtieth anniversary of the start of Britain's European adventure. On New Year's Day 1973 the UK joined the European Economic Community, the forerunner of today's European Union. Ten years earlier France's General de Gaulle had vetoed Harold Wilson's bid for British membership but by 1970 the principals were Edward Heath and George Pompidou who saw eye–to–eye. It still took two years to clear what was then the biggest issue – Commonwealth trade, especially with Australia and New Zealand.

Britain could have been in at the very start of the European project when the original six, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, got together in the 1950s. But then and ever since the British people and their leaders – with the single exception of Edward Heath – have preferrred to act with too little enthusiasm and too late. This dilatoriness continues even now with the prospect of a referendum on joining the euro likely to be delayed further.

The economic advantages of membership of the EU cannot be questioned: it offers a market of 380'000 million consumers, the largest and richest in the world, and British exports to it have risen from 35 per cent in 1973 to 58 per cent today; Britain exports four times as much to the EU as to the United States. But the EU is not just a trading community: it is a potent political association, a potential United States of Europe, of which Britain should become a full member before it is too late.



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