What is a eurosceptic?

A question without an easy answer, 23 September 2003

I read your Glossary with interest, but it seems to me that your definition of “eurosceptic” is probably wrong. This word is now commonly used to mean an opponent of British membership of the single currency, who therefore may or may not think that Britain should leave the EU altogether, and therefore it is not correct to say that it is simply another word for “anti-European”.

Thank you for this enquiry: I am pleased that you find the Glossary interesting. The definitions of “anti-Europeans” and “eurosceptics” are something we wrestled with and I do not suppose it is possible to satisfy everybody.

I will start by saying that I don’t think I share your interpretation that the distinction between eurosceptics and anti-Europeans is that the former accept EU membership and the latter do not. It might be convenient if it were that way, but the terms seem to be used more interchangeably than this. I acknowledge the point that the term “anti-European” is rejected by most of the people to whom the definition in the Glossary would apply it, but the aim of the Glossary is to clarify the debate about Europe rather than confuse it. To suggest that to be opposed to the European Union does not deserve the description “anti-European” is to reduce the term “pro-European” to an expression of geography rather than politics. In my view, there is a clear and distinctive political vision of a democratic and united Europe which deserves a definition of its own – pro-European is commonly used – and the description of its opponents follows naturally from that. Federalism, of course, is a variation of pro-Europeanism that brings with it further philosophical assumptions and implications.

We still lack a term for people who generally support British participation in the process of European integration but who do not support membership of the euro on grounds such as the lack of economic convergence or the poor design of European economic governance. (Most arguments advanced against euro membership in fact turn into arguments against European integration as such, but as the debate in the UK becomes more informed that position might change.)

I have amended the definition of eurosceptic in the Glossary to reflect the distinction between an objection to the EU as a continuous process of integration as distinct from an objection to its existence at all.

The intellectual implications of opposition to increased powers for the EU are interesting, for the nature and extent of those powers at present is not the result of a conscious design but rather the product of a tension between a drive for unity and a reluctance to leave behind the concept of national sovereignty. They are the result of historical accident which means a principled opposition to their increase is rather odd and somewhat unlikely. No wonder eurosceptics and anti-Europeans seem to have a great deal in common. from a federalist and pro-European perspective.

Richard Laming,
Director, Federal Union

More information

Anti-Europeans – defined in the Glossary

Eurosceptics – defined in the Glossary

Federalists – defined in the Glossary

Pro-Europeans – defined in the Glossary

European integration – defined in the Glossary

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