I feel the need to undermine the right wing blogosphere's dominant paradigm. The idea, as expressed by a certain peer this evening on 18DoughtyStreet, that there is no case for not leaving the EU relies on a number of misconceptions.
First, the descriptions of vast amounts that the EU costs us are based upon it hurting free trade. This relies first on the EU, which would be our largest trading partner by some margin, not putting tariffs against us because it wouldn't be in their interests (as they sell more to us than we sell to them) but a eurosceptic arguing on the basis of the European Union's strict rationality and an enlightened French trade policy cannot be convincing. Second, it relies on predictions that we could secure a more liberal trade policy from the United States as they really love us as good little War on Terror buddies. Anyone who knows much about American political history or culture can tell you they're unreliable free traders at best. Look at the Joint Strike Fighter Project where they are holding up the release of basic information to us.
Finally, it relies on the idea that we would be unilateral free traders; this sounds credible initially but we are a fallible political culture like every other and if, for example, farmers started to commit suicide under the pressure of losing the CAP are the euronihilists really confident a tariff couldn't pass? It's not like our immigration policy can really be defended as a triumph of rationality. Leaving the EU could increase the freeness of our trade but on the balance of probabilities a sensible assessment has to be that it would make our trade less free.
The second argument that the euronihilists rely upon and which does not stand up to scrutiny is that the EU cannot be reformed. "We've been trying for decades" is usually the response to anyone claiming the EU can be improved. The problem is that things have changed and our past record of failure might not imply failure in the future. We joined the EU in a position of weakness as a declining power and moribund economy after the basic terms of engagement in the EU had already been set. Since then our agenda for the EU as primarily a free trade area has been boosted by our conscious effort to secure enlargement that makes a deep political union ever more difficult. The rejection of the constitution before it even came to us is an early sign that the integration train has been derailed.
Finally, the euronihilist case relies upon the argument that nothing significant and positive has been achieved by the EU. Enlargement is, again, the reason this argument does not hold. Just as the Marshall Plan created economic incentives to a liberal economic development and softened the blow of adopting such a system the European Union did the same for creating relatively stable political societies and would appear to have played an important role in the remarkable success story of Eastern Europe over the last decade and a half. This is a remarkable, significant and positive achievement of the European Union.
There are serious problems with the EU: The CAP is truly disgusting, there is massive corruption and a growing burden of regulation. However, the EU has achieved something remarkable for Eastern Europe, is a force for more free trade and can be improved.