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In 1963, French President Charles de Gaulle stunned the United Kingdom by rejecting its application to join the European Economic Community, the predecessor of the European Union.In the more than 40 years since, the United Kingdom has played a major role in shaping the course of European integration, while transforming itself from a "sick man of Europe" into one of the world's most competitive economies.So it is ironic that a significant swath of the British electorate seems to share De Gaulle's verdict on their country's affinity to Europe.If the U.K. leaves, that power will quickly wane.Negotiating a complicated divorce and a new relationship with Britain could consume the EU's political oxygen (especially if, as is quite possible, the U.K. itself breaks up, with Scotland rejoining Europe).A U.K. that cuts itself adrift would be at risk of tragedy.A world without a strong, unified Europe would be poorer and less safe.
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