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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 11 September 2017
It may seem odd to review this book now - I read it first long before the referendum and found it to be an even-handed non-hysterical analysis of the pro- and anti-Brexit cases. I have been re-eading it partly as I remembered that it had some useful comments on the various post-Brexit arrangements that might be put in place - the Norway & Swiss models, the WTO set-up - with comments on the advantages and disadvantages of these. Of course, the book was written before the referendum, and is a little dated but in these areas the comments are still valid as the UK and EU negotiate the divorce settlement.

As a somewhat reluctant Brexiteer (I would have preferred to stay in a reformed EU where the direction of travel was not inexorably to a federal europe where being outside the Eurozone would have had implications for the UK), I was also surprised that I foound myself more postive about Brexit as the book brought back into focus the clear intentions of the European elite with regard to Euro federalism. I also found the comments about the use and mis-use of EU structural funds particularly apposite - I re-read the book on holiday on the Portuguese island of Madeira where I marvelled at the billlions of euros spent on grand engineering projects which seemed disproportionate to the tiny population of less than 300,000. Not all of this was funded by the EU but much of it simply would not have happened had EU structural funds not been available and now Madeira has enormous debts but there is scant evidence that all these projects have improved its economic competitiveness.

Although parts of the book are out of date, I think it also provides a good analysis of how the EU became such a toxic issue - the drift away from the EU started years ago, and our politicians were economical with the truth about the loss of soveriegnty right from the beginning. No-one could have foreseen in 1973 the huge explansion of membership, with mainly poor under-developed nations joining the queue, so the finances changed significantly over the years. It is a pretty good explanation of how the UK got to where it is. The book seems very even-handed to me, and highlights some of the wilder claims of the referendum campaign, such as the loss of 3m jobs or the additional cost to UK families from leaving the EU, as the propaganda tactics which they clearly were. I recently read a dry but detailed analysis of the survey results leading up to the referendum which showed that some of this scare-mongering back-fired on the Remain campaign.
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on 7 February 2013
A well written, fair, informative and timely book, franker than most politicians on either side of the debate. It leaves each reader to decide. I shall try to do the same, giving points first for one side, then the other:

Things 'Pro-EU' politicians do not tell us:

-It is now almost impossible to deny that for decades British politicians supporting EU membership from Heath to Blair concealed from the public how much further European integration would go. Consequently, especially now that the EU's most important project of recent years, the Euro single currency, is not the success they expected, most leading pro-EU British politicians are now almost embarrassed in speaking up for the EU and are not trusted when they do.

-Statistics used by supporters of EU membership suggesting that e.g. "three and a half million British jobs depend on EU membership" are often not based on much hard evidence. They often assume that all trade between Britain and the EU countries would cease if Britain left the EU; an assertion so unlikely as to be almost dishonest.

-Because of inadequate education in foreign languages in Britain, few British applicants land jobs in EU institutions, in which entrance exams have to be taken in one's second language and speaking 3 or more European languages is desirable. Consequently there are so few British officials in the EU bureaucracy that British concerns are often not understood. (How could former Primeminister Edward Heath, who enthusiastically led Britain into what is now the European Union in 1973, not see the need to improve education in European languages at the same time?)

-Rightly or wrongly, the majority of the EU countries are profoundly committed to the apparent safety and stability of regulation and redistribution over messy and unfair but dynamic free market economics. Partly in consequence more ruthlessly competitive but economically dynamic areas of the world are catching up or overtaking Europe in prosperity. Europe's low economic growth rates compare unfavourably to North America & Australia, never mind the Far East. Britain's trade with Europe will therefore continue to decline in relative importance.

-Politicians who suggest that, as an alternative to withdrawal, Britain could re-negotiate its EU treaties to gain various additional opt-outs and freedoms from regulation are either not telling the truth or do not understand how near impossible it would be to obtain the agreement of all the other EU members, and how strongly some of them are opposed to re-opening such questions. After all, if Britain can change the rules when it likes, why should not all the other (at time of writing) 25 countries do likewise, and how then could 26 countries ever reach agreement?

-There are an increasing number of successful bilateral and regional free trade agreements in the world, which a truly independent Britain may be able to join. Under EU rules Britain is currently forbidden even to open negotiations about joining them.

Things 'anti-EU' politicians don't tell us:

-We could not quickly make up for the disruption to trade of leaving the EU by joining other Free Trade agreements. Experience shows that even between willing partners, such agreements take many years to negotiate and implement.

-Politicians who say we could free ourselves from the EU and its `red tape' and meddling, but retain a free trade agreement with the other members, seriously misunderstand the attitude of other EU countries. Many of the latter see adoption of EU regulations as the essential condition of membership of the European single market. Otherwise, they believe, we would win an unfair advantage in European markets over Continental companies who have to abide by EU employment and other legislation. Perhaps some compromise could be found, but the debate could become so emotive on both sides that compromise is difficult.

-EU membership is more popular in other parts of the UK, especially Scotland, than in England. In a referendum there could well be an overall majority for withdrawal composed largely of English votes, with the smaller countries of the UK voting in favour of staying in the EU. Would Scotland (if it has not left already in its 2014 referendum) then leave the UK? If it did, would Wales want to stay, and where would that leave Northern Ireland? If the UK broke up, what would happen to UK dependencies like Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands, the UK's seat on the UN Security Council, international treaties to which the UK was a party etc.? Why is there almost no debate in England about these questions?

-Even if we would like to rebuild or expand our trading links to the Comomnwealth, USA, China or anywhere else as an alternative to the EU, these countries are thousands of miles away. For obvious geographical reasons, trade with our nearest neighbours in Europe will always be important. We shall never truly "leave Europe"; hence the title of the book, 'Au Revoir Europe' ('Au Revoir' being the French for 'until we see each other again'), not 'Goodbye'.

Conclusion: There is no easy answer to the question of the UK's future relationship with the EU. However, we are going to have to choose, as much of the rest of the EU, spurred by the need to make the Euro work as well as ideological and emotional commitment, moves towards further integration. Eventually we may either have to join them, or leave. Unfortunately our politicians are often not preparing us for either option, but hoping or pretending we can somehow have our cake and eat it.
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on 2 June 2013
This is a superb book; I'd give it six stars if I could. If you are unsure which way to vote in the referendum on EU membership that Britain will almost certainly hold within a few years, this is the book for you. Forget the rhetoric and misleading statistics that we are constantly fed by UKIP and hard-right Conservatives on the one hand and stubborn, starry-eyed europhiles on the other. David Charter gives us a detailed but very readable analysis of the history, finances, politics and agenda of the EU, together with a survey of Britain's options and their pros and cons. At last: someone who will just explain things to me in a dispassionate way so that I can make my mind up on the basis of the evidence. Which I now have.
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on 26 May 2014
I read this book, as I was anxious to learn about the pros and cons of belonging to or leaving the EU. This is particularly relevant at the present time, bearing in mind the major gains of Ukip in the recent European election and also those of other right wing parties throughout Europe. I confess I started as a europhile, but have certainly become less so since reading the book. The author clearly illustrated the astonishing cost of operating the EU, with its bloated and largely unaccountable bureaucracy. However, to balance this, the author was at pains to point out that many people have lost sight of the fact that Europe has avoided major conflict since the formation of the EU.

I found the chapter on the imagined scenario of Britain after a vote to exit the EU, following the intended referendum in 2017, particularly interesting and the possible serious adverse impact on the prosperity of Britain, in the short term, at least, was very sobering. I truly wonder how many of those people who stridently advocate Britain's withdrawal have ever considered this issue. Certainly, I see little evidence from the media that it has ever been given a detailed and balanced airing.

Well worth reading!
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on 30 September 2013
As an expatriate Briton, I'm frequently left shaking my head at both American and European incomprehension about British eurosceptism and their frequently ludicrous commentary on it. If you aren't British, and want to know why the British public and a good portion of Britain's elites are now so hostile to the European Union that the UK's membership is now in jeopardy, read this book. If you're British and want a primer, this is also a good starting point (it has been praised by Labour Party MP and shadow cabinet member John Cruddas, for example).
Charter was European correspondent for the Times (of London) and thus had a front-row seat when it came to the EU in general and the acrimonious EU-UK relationship in particular. Charter, unlike too many commentators on the EU, actually understands how it works and has spoken to many of the key players, which in and of itself is valuable.
Essentially, Charter's thesis is that the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union are headed in divergent directions and, despite an earlier period of relatively harmonious relations, have always been at variance. Simply put, the end goal of the EU always was some sort of federal system (although not necessarily a United States of Europe) and that not only has this idea never held any appeal among the British public, but that Britain's elites have, through deception, self-deception or ignorance, never clearly explained to the public what membership in the EU actually entails. We are now at the point where there is an EU inner core (the Eurozone) moving towards a federal destination to ensure the survival and viability of the euro and an outer core moving to the margins and, in the case of the UK, the exit.
While this is not an entirely original thesis, the strength of this book is the evidence Charter provides in support of it. This includes an intelligent potted history of Britain's membership of the EU (chs. 1-2); an honest assessment of the pros and cons of EU membership (ch. 3); a responsible assessment of the likely direction the rest of the EU is headed (ch. 4); an examination of the possibilities of the UK's repatriating powers ceded to the EU while retaining membership (short answer: virtually none)(ch. 5); an exploration of whether the so-called Swiss or Norwegian option is a possibility for the UK (short answer: unlikely and yes, but would only anger the British public further) (ch. 6); a sober consideration of Britain's options if it breaks off relations entirely -- so no access to the single market whatsoever (ch. 7); and a bean-counting analysis of how everything from jobs to the financial services to farming to education to fishing to several other aspects of British life would be directly affected by a British departure (ch. 8). The weakest chapter is the last which, set ten years in the future, imagines life in a Britain which voted to leave the EU in a 2017 referendum (ch. 9).
This review is already too long, but in answer to such questions as does Charter recognize that Scotland and Wales are more pro-European than England; that euroscepticism is hardly unique to the British; that it is not a case of the UK versus some behemoth in Brussels, but negotiations among European nations of which the UK is one; and that a lot of what constitutes the EU is as a result of British negotiations: yes, yes, yes, and yes. This book covers it all.
To Europhiles who believe the recent history of the UK is the story of missed opportunities en route to an inevitable European future will need to answer Charter's arguments to the contrary. Similarly, Eurosceptics who believe departure from the EU will be painless and without negative consequences will also have some explaining to do in response to this book. Individuals guilty of self-deception or deception who are gleefully skewered in here include Peter Mandelson, Vince Cable, Nigel Farage and David Cameron.
In short, if you have any interest in the question of the UK's place in the EU -- past, present and future -- this is the book to read.
Another possible benefit may be that reading it will, in the future, prevent numerous American and continental Europeans talking out of their backsides when it comes to British euroscepticism. Well, we can only hope.
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on 22 July 2013
This is not an easy read - but then the subject matter is complex.
However, at the end I was far clearer on the implications of leaving the EU.
It is written to inform not to push a particular view.
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on 27 August 2013
An excellent factual summary of the situation that posed rationale arguments on both sides. Everyone who wants an informed view on the UK's relationship with the EU should read thsi. Also an entertaining read.
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on 2 July 2013
I've read plenty of books, newspaper articles etc about the EU and this is only one that has really given me some meat about the subject. A very good summary of pro and anti arguments.
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on 12 July 2014
Since the publication of this book by David Charter, Brussels has been bruised by the result of the 2014 European elections which saw a huge swing to the Eurosceptic lobby, not just in the UK, but France as well. So it is a timely reminder to consider what being in or out of the EU actually means and if the UK can extricate itself from the tangled web that many see as the unstoppable Brussels machine.

Cameron's 26:2 defeat in the vote he demanded shows where the cards lie. With increasing membership numbers, the UK's influence will inevitably be diluted by the Brussels voting structure. And with QMV (Qualified Majority Voting) the chances of making a real democratic influence are severely restricted as well.

Chater has opened my eyes to both sides of the argument and he pools comments from a raft of UK and EU politicians, and importantly reveals within the modern Brussels machinery a significant discontent among EU member States with a recalcitrant UK whom they've seen as scuppering a lot of what they wished to do. Thus we find that to get around this, the goalposts are constantly being changed to sideline the UK.

But these actions must be viewed from the position of all those EU member States who want to continue to go down the Federalist route and can't allow one member State, the UK, to prevent this. It is clear that many States are happy to exchange Sovereignty for what they see as the advantages in being a member of the EU, problems and all.

And it is at this point that the UK and Brussels diverge significantly. But my anger at this is not so much directed towards Brussels, but a succession of UK governments of any persuasion who have consistently lied to the British electorate, and even more damaging from a domestic perspective, that PM's have told the electorate one thing, when privately they knew, and have expressed, counter views, which acknowledge that they knew the direction the EU was going in.

And one mustn't overlook a rabid British press which has done so much for the anti-vote that unless something should drastically change in 2017, there is likely to be a "No" vote based on ignorance.

Another reviewer has, very usefully, quoted at some length from various comments in the book, and these are simply the tip of the iceberg.

The subject is so complicated with the better quality arguments for both sides seeming to be quite persuasive, but perhaps if I were to take one thing away with me after reading the book, is the real difficulty the UK could face in trying to remain in the EU but with renegotiation of our Membership terms.

I can't help but feel what damage De Gaulle did in refusing entry of the UK into the original Common Market for 12 years. Had it been 7 founders and not 6, how much different would be the UK's modern day attitude towards the EU?
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on 3 February 2013
I feel very afraid about the prospect of leaving the decision about the EU to the British public. But this book has almost held my hand in terms of reassuring and explaining things to me. I still don't know what to vote but I do know more now. And I have lent 'Au Revoir Europe' to my husband as well.
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