EU and Me

In a few weeks I get to decide on the future of Britain…..

Don’t worry, there hasn’t been some huge administrative cock up in the corridors of power, we all get to decide, each a little bit, as we get to cast a vote on if the UK should be in or out of Europe.

Yup. After the hugely popular 2015 hit “The Scottish Referendum”, David Cameron has released his sequel “The EU Referendum” and we’re all in it together… or out of it…. I mean we just don’t know yet……

But that’s the thing. I don’t know and I’ve not met anyone yet that’s convinced me that they honestly know either. What is the EU, how does it work, will we benefit, would we lose the pound and will I have to learn German? Sooooo many questions but let’s look at them individually…..

I’d like to thank Dr Simon Sweeney for some of the facts in this piece

Firstly, what is the EU?

It was born out of conflict from the ashes of WW2 when much of the continent lay in ruins. In 1951 the Treaty of Paris placed the coal and steel of France and Germany under joint control, preventing any one nation from ramping up these vital ‘war creating’ commodities. Seeing this union as a good thing, just 6 countries, France, West Germany, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands decided to join up in 1957 at the Treaty of Rome. We British decided to remain aloof. We’d never been defeated in war or militarily occupied so never really got over the sense of ’them’ and ‘us’. It took until 1973 for us to officially join and it’s fair to say that ever since, we’ve seen the Union as part of ’them’ rather than nurturing a self-image as participants in a political community now made up of 28 states. It has since grown to become a “single market” allowing goods and people to move freely, creating a pseudo mega-country.

There you go, that’s where the ‘happy’ family is today.

So what do we have to give to Brussels to be included in the EU?

Well firstly, there’s a financial cost, which in 2015 was £7.5 billion. It’s a lot of money, but to put that into perspective that’s less than 1% of the UK’s expenditure of £759.4 billion, half the cost of the Cross-rail transport project in London or double the cost of the BBC’s annual budget. Next, there’s the membership rules, we’ve paid our entrance fee and now we need to adhere to the rules of the club. Both are used to change the way people live and do business in Europe and are meant to benefit every member nation.

However, now we’re paid up we get to send in our own people to help shape those rules. The UK currently has 73 members of the European Parliament to do just this. That’s the 3rd highest number of any country behind Germany and France and is a proportional amount based on each member countries population. Malta has 6, bless!

So once everyone is paid up, we have the largest union and single trade market in the world consisting of 508 million people, a GDP of £11.8 trillion (more than the US) with its own currency (although at the moment we’re still keeping the pound), its own parliament and set of rules in a wide range of areas from the environment to working conditions. All that for a cost per head of £114 a year!

What’s in it for us?

Now, we’ve reached deep into our pockets, forgone that extra pint down the pub to save up for it. What delectable treats do we get in return? Well this is actually where the list is quite a long one, so let’s cue the music and reel them off like a set of dubious terms and conditions…..

  • It provides a stonking 53% of our trade
  • Funding to areas hit by industrial decline
  • Clean beaches and rivers, We’ve got Otters back in every river in Britain.
  • Cleaner air, reducing emissions of air pollutants
  • Lead free petrol, the UK was very anti this when first announced.
  • Restrictions on landfill dumping
  • A recycling culture
  • Cheaper mobile phone charges and air travel
  • Improved consumer protection and food labelling
  • A ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives
  • The breaking up of monopolies
  • Europe-wide patent and copyright protection
  • Zero paperwork on exports throughout the single market
  • Price transparency and removal of commission on currency exchange across the eurozone
  • Freedom to travel, live and work across Europe
  • Funded opportunities for young people to study & work abroad
  • Access to European health services
  • Smoke-free workplaces
  • Equal pay legislation
  • Holiday entitlement
  • The right not to work more than a 48-hour week without overtime
  • Some of the strongest wildlife protection in the world
  • Improved animal welfare in food production
  • EU-funded research and industrial collaboration
  • Upholding of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty
  • European arrest warrants including cross border policing to combat human trafficking, arms and drug smuggling
  • Investment across Europe for better living standards including educational, social and cultural capital.

None of the above is permanent or finite and surprisingly doesn’t force us to learn German. Improvements are needed in all areas. But all of this is nothing compared with its greatest achievements: the EU has for 60 years been the foundation of peace between European neighbours after centuries of bloodshed. It furthermore assisted the extraordinary political, social and economic transformation of 13 former dictatorships, now EU members.

What next….

There you have it, a snapshot of the EU, what we give to it and what we get from it. The Union faces many challenges, worsened by it’s own systemic weaknesses but should we help to improve the ‘club’ we’ve been apart of for 60 years or toss her to the kerb. One thing is certain, we can’t do this from a position of detachment.

Whatever way you vote, make sure you do vote as this Referendum is a one time thing. If we leave, there’s no coming back with our tail between our legs begging for a second chance.

Make sure you’re registered and voice your opinion on the 23rd June.

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