No writing about the EU can be completely neutral. I’ll show you now the Europe-shaped heart on my sleeve, but I hope that the first part of this post is as neutral as it can be. The second part isn’t.
Part the First
The EU is huge. It’s expensive. It’s largely unelected. It wastes money. It supports big business. But it’s also helped the British environment and economy, and arts and education.
What does the EU cost?
Britain nominally pays £18 billions, but we get a rebate of about £5bn and then another £5bn is spent by the EU on Britain, so we probably pay around £8 billions every year to the EU (people aren’t quite agreed on the exact figures). If you split that by 64 millions, the population of the UK, that’s about £2.40 per person per week. The cost of a pint (sorry, 560ml) of beer. It’s generally agreed that Europe has contributed to our economy by buying our stuff, and so on; if you want to know more about this, grab a passing Economics teacher.
Would the British economy be better if we left?
No-one knows. The Government says no. The Brexiteers say it would – that we’d be able to trade with whom we like much more easily, and that we’d have a single market deal with the EU, like Norway. But Norway reminds us that they still have to comply with all sorts of EU regulations, so they’re sort of in the EU themselves. Europe’s our biggest market. To know more about this, grab a passing Economics teacher.
Doesn’t the EU make all our bananas straight?
It has passed some silly things (it did repeal the bendy bananas law). And it did try to get rid of the pint and the dozen eggs. But it’s also made laws giving people the rights to decent working days, holidays and equal rights.
It won’t make any difference whether we’re in or out. EU migrants aren’t the problem. They, in fact, make a net contribution to the British economy (they put into the economy more than they take out). It’s non-EU migrants who, to paraphrase the tabloids, surf our NHS, milk benefits, and so on. Since Blair’s government, the UK has taken in more and more migrants. This isn’t the EU’s fault – not even when the EU expanded to include Romania and Bulgaria. Under the EU, the British government didn’t need to let all these Eastern Europeans in. The immigration crisis is the British government’s fault, not the EU’s.
This is a big issue for Brexiteers – how our power has been taken away, and we can’t control our own destiny. Without going into all the other areas in which we’re powerless (the TTIP deal, for example, will take away a whole stack of power, but people aren’t complaining enough about this), the EU has not removed the sovereignty of Parliament.
1) Sovereignty is the ultimate power over an area or political entity.
2) Parliament is sovereign in the UK.
3) Parliament has, by an Act, given some power to the EU.
4) Parliament has the sovereign power to take that power back if it likes. At any time. Just by passing another act.
5) The EU abides by a principle called ‘subsidiarity’. Subsidiarity means that all laws should be made by national governments wherever possible, and by the EU when necessary. So, for example, the EU makes laws about fishing, because fish don’t have borders: there are no Spanish fish, French fish or British fish. It makes sense, therefore, that we all club together and share our fish. However, Britain can make laws about freshwater fish, because they definitely live in Britain.
6) There are many areas where British law needs to abide by European law. Parliament needs to make sure that bills it passes conform to EU law. The government can be hauled up in European courts if EU law isn’t being followed. You’ll find cases where this is a bit crazy, but equally, if not more, cases that this is a sensible way of doing things. For more information on this aspect, grab a 6.1 Politics student (but not too hard. You don’t want it showing up on your DBS).
How does the EU work?
The European Council is the top dog kennel. It’s full of Prime Ministers and other useful people. They have the ultimate say. There’s also a Council of Ministers, which has a changing composition depending on what is being discussed.
Then there’s the European Commission. This is the bureaucracy. They make a lot of directives and do a lot of things that we moan about. Lots of these people are really rather well paid.
The European Parliament
is elected by us. It passes laws; these laws have to be agreed to by the Council (which comprises politicians we’ve also elected). It’s full of dogs far smaller than those in the European Council, and they bark more than they bite.
Part the Second: Why I’ll be voting to stay in.
First, it’s not really about my gut feeling. I don’t believe in voting on my gut feeling. Unfortunately, a lot of people do – even when they say they don’t. Almost all Brexiteers I’ve spoken to feel that we’re not part of Europe. This is just silly. Our language is a bastard of French and German; our land mass used to be part of Europe. Our culture is European. Our greatest composer was… German. Some of our greatest philosophers and historians were German. The inventor of our beloved radio, and founder of our first radio company – Britain, after all, rules the radio waves – was Italian. Our Queen is German! (In fact, imagine being George V on the eve of the First World War – having to choose just which cousin to go to war with!) My gut feeling is that we are European. But I also have a gut feeling that Big Government and Big Business, and corporativism in general, is a Bad Thing- and the EU’s full of this. So my guts are all upset. That’s enough of them, then.
I think that the EU needs radical reform. I think that economic union cannot work, and that ‘ever-closer union’ needs to be seen in its historical context: it was a Italian-Franco-German idea during the Cold War; it doesn’t sit well with welcoming more states into the Union. The Common Agricultural Policy is unwieldy; the Fisheries Policy hasn’t stopped overfishing, although it looks more promising now.
On the other hand, the EU has ensured a certain quality of life and liberty for all EU citizens. In order to join the EU, countries have to promise to be nice to their people (something called the Copenhagen Criteria). The EU has meant that Britain’s environmental policies have improved – there’s a Friends of the Earth report on this, so it must be true. Working life under the EU has improved, too. And the European Convention on Human Rights, on which our Human Rights Act of 1998 is based, is a thoroughly sensible thing, and it’s frightening that our government is so opposed to it.
I think that the overwhelming issue is the environment. I’m thoroughly pessimistic about it: we’re too selfish to do the right thing, and we’ll have to face various catastrophes (the least of which will be much more immigration). We can’t do that on our own. At the moment Italy’s olive groves are being devastated by some bacterium we’ve imported from the Americas (start stock-piling olive oil); I would be willing to bet that the money that is funding plant science research and emergency action is EU money, and not just Italian. Renewable energy would be so much more effective if the European Grid, being worked on now, came into being: this would mean that the electricity produced by solar panels in Spain could be enjoyed by, well, us; we could also enjoy the wind and water power produced by Sweden. I can’t wait for this!
As educators, it would be hypocritical to wish to leave the EU, whose policies have had so many benefits for education (and, dear to my heart, the arts and especially the many freelance musicians who enrich my life). There much evidence that Brexit would have bad consequences for universities.
Whatever your feelings about Jeremy Corbyn, I think he makes some excellent points about the EU in his speech of 14/4/16. (He makes some swipes at the Tories, which you can take or leave depending on your viewpoint.)
Some good websites on the EU question.
Debating the EU
The EU for the easily bored
Channel 4 Fact Checker
And here’s the best of the lot.