By Patrick Dawson
Sometimes you need to see things from the outside to really get some perspective.
The relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union has long been one of mistrust, reluctance and complacency, with speculators accusing the institution of denying our nation its rights to independent procedures.
And yet it is ironic that, while British politicians are aghast at the level of power handed over to the EU, various nations from the Eurasian fringes see Brussels as the only way forward towards democracy and economic efficiency – and, most importantly, sovereign independence.
In Britain, it's been the same old story for decades: a large number of our politicians rally against the European trading group, castigating it for inefficiency and insufficient transparency, and for limiting British control over its own policies. Nigel Farage's Ukip and its anti-EU messages have rapidly gained in popularity in recent years, while the Tory party is being torn apart by a divide in EU opinion. Meanwhile, public opinion is coloured by scepticism and indifference. PM David Cameron's "wait and see" approach merges well into Britain's – or at least England's – general apathy and cynicism.
Our country has become a breeding ground for euro-scepticism, euro-pessimism and general euro-disinterest, but it is worth bearing in mind that not everyone can afford such vague or disparaging positions. While the EU remains a subject of boredom and even contempt for many in the UK, it is nothing of the sort for those who dream of one day gaining accession.
On the edge of the Western world, caught between Russia and the European Union are the former Soviet republics which share a history of subordination to Russian dominance and a deep desire to avoid ever having to re-experience it. For these nations, joining up with the EU is the only way to finally escape the corrupt gravitational pull of Vladimir Putin's Russia.
Eastern Europe has become a danger zone where some countries are fortunate enough to find refuge in the EU, while others are sucked under Putin's growing sphere of influence.
Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine are the three remaining former Soviet nations still caught in between Russia and the EU which have yet to either escape the real threat to their sovereignty coming from the east or fully succumb to it. They watched with growing anxiety as their neighbour Belarus got caught up by the Russian-led customs union, which has brought the country's economy even further into ruin than before. While Belarus had to sacrifice its economic sovereignty to Russia just to take part in the union, direct investment into the Belarusian economy dropped fourfold in the first year of its participation, and its deficit to Russia has grown from £727 million to £2 billion in the last two years alone.
Understandably, the three countries which still haven't taken up membership with either union are fearful for their own future.
Former president of Ukraine, Viktor Lushchenko, an open supporter of EU integration in favour of rejecting Russia’s advances, was fed a near-lethal dose of the poison dioxin while at a Russia-held dinner, at a time when his Orange Revolution political movement was gaining ground. He warns that Putin "is turning Ukraine into Belarus II" by attempting to force the country into dropping its EU ambitions and siding with Moscow.
For these countries, European integration is no joke; the prospect does not get laughed at or reproached, but grasped with both hands.
By the two most recent governing parties, Ukraine's sails have been firmly pointed in the direction of the EU. Russian pressure to join the customs union to the east has been pushed back again and again, while the country has been chalking up new laws like the new Criminal Procedure Code and releasing the prisoners whose arrests were viewed as political motivated.
The country's every major decision in the past ten years has been made with a view to making stronger ties with the EU possible, and bringing itself into the refuge of Western Europe's democracy.
In Britain, it's hard to imagine actually needing the EU – if anything, we often feel like the EU needs us – but our EU critics are living in a first-world bubble.
Britain does not have to deal with its major politicians getting poisoned, nor vastly more powerful forces doing their utmost to prise our sovereignty from out of our hands. That's why most of us are ignorant to the EU's real value.
It's great news for us that our issues with the EU are only the most trifling, but whether the EU should exist at all is a different matter, and one which Brits often sound off about while utterly failing to comprehend or care about the real benefits of the EU and the repercussions of breaking it up.
Listing the failings of the establishment is all fine and good when you are living in the safety of Britain, but speculators should wake up and take a look at the institution for the way it truly matters: a political and economic necessity for countries which don't have the same good fortune we do.
After many years as a cultural attaché at the British Embassy in Kiev, Patrick Dawson has recently taken up a similar position in Budapest. His interests lie in Europe's ever-advancing geopolitical interrelations, the significance of wider powers and most notably the overlooked importance of Europe’s fringes.
The opinions in Politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.