Get EUr facts right; the referendum is not for dummies

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Dr. Oscar To

Staff writer


It’s official, the United Kingdom will be voting on its status as a member of the European Union in the coming months after Cameron secured ‘reforms’ for the country. But a question on many people’s minds will be, ‘what is the EU, and what does it do?’ Some people may answer immediately that it let’s immigrants into the country that plunder our gold, and takes away our sovereignty, or alternatively a peace project. Whilst this rhetoric is widespread, it is also drivel shoved down our throats by newspapers with little analysis. Considering the implications that an ‘out’ vote can have for the country, we need to take a more nuanced approach to the matter.

The European Union is a politico-economic body established in 1957, initially as an economic body: the European Economic Community. The aim being primarily to provide so much economic interdependence between European countries that war would be economically unviable, thus maintaining permanent peace. This initial economic integration would aim eventually towards ever closer union, and a political union would in time be formed.

This has culminated in our current state today with a European Union consisting of 28 countries, which elects a parliament as well as an unelected executive which passes legislation. It is this second body which causes outcry as the faceless bureaucrats of Brussels so often remarked by politicians and media. There is a fundamental democratic deficit as a result which has lead to backroom discussions with no public scrutiny such as the TTIP negotiations which could potentially lead to corporations being able to sue governments for denial of profits, such as by refusing to sell off public assets like the NHS. Not that the current government cares about this issue.

Nonetheless, the EU has also passed laws to protect human rights such as the European Working Time Directive making it illegal to work beyond a certain number of hours, a powerful law to protect against abusive employers trying to exploit their workforce. Should we throw out the entire human rights act because we couldn’t deport one person to his death? Well apparently the answer to that question is yes.

The EU also sets many standards that ensure that the goods we consume are not harmful. As a result of this, countries operating outside the EU such as Norway have to comply to these standards in order to trade with countries within the EU. In addition, Norway also has to pay a fee to access the European market whilst having no voice in the EU parliament, a position the UK will also find itself in, should it choose to leave. Some may complain that we already pay the EU too much but it is a paltry 1% of our GDP, pretty much equivalent to our overseas aid budget, and much less than the 20% we spend on pensions.

Primarily, the EU is currently an economic union, not a political union. The Euro is the greatest symbol of this, with a united currency in the absence of centralised economic powers to manage it. This is the fundamental issue of the European crisis due to structural deficiencies in the vastly differing economies in Europe. The UK is already buffered against the worst of these issues as it retains its own currency, and leaving the EU is not going to change that. Indeed, staying in ensures that we can influence the union and possibly steer it towards real solutions rather than imposition of austerity measures which leave the Southern European countries in a permanent downward economic spiral.

However, Cameron’s reform package does not address any of the issues that are in vital need of discussion in Europe right now; if his deal is the direction that Europe is going, I would rather not be a part of it.

Indeed, it is imposing a Conservative agenda on Europe where basic welfare rights are denied to those that need them. The economic argument is void when immigration is a net contributor to tax, and with a falling population, completely necessary. Furthermore, the one concession Cameron did get, that most media outlets are ignoring, is that the City will be protected from EU laws, ensuring that the real winners in the deal are the bankers that continue to float the entire economy of the UK. This will likely undermine any attempts to regulate international tax evasion or prevent further economic crashes directly due to deregulation of banks, a problem that has remained since the 2008 crash.

The fundamental reality is that the world is becoming ever more globalised and the UK is no longer the head of an international empire. Leaving Europe will only be a further sign of our own decline as we believe our leaders who continue to spout baseless rhetoric, instead of looking at the facts and realising that we can have influence and change the world. But we will not achieve this by striking out on our own; we are in it together.

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