On the 23rd of June, the United Kingdom will vote on whether it wishes to remain a member of the European Union – the world’s largest common market – or leave and go it alone. Have no doubts, it’s a complex issue and one about which people up and down the country feel very strongly about; with massive issues on both sides.
On one side we have the luring of Britain into the TTIP agreement, the unelected European Commission, the large sums of money directed towards Brussels, the powers held by the EU over our own laws and so on. The other side argues about free trade, better cooperation in areas of security, finance, &c., visa free travel and subsidies for our farms, fishing and other vital industries.
The sad thing is, that for all the complex arguments on all sides of the political spectrum, the media has, as usual, turned it into a wholly right-wing bun fight. We have only heard of the Tories supporting the Remain campaign and the Tories supporting the Leave campaign, with the occasional weighing in from UKIP and the Kipper-General, Nigel Farage.
Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing the Conservatives, especially when they’re in government, tearing themselves to pieces and fracturing up, but on such a crucial issue, it really is of paramount importance that we see the whole picture – and there’s a startling amount on the left side of the road too.
On the side of getting out of the EU is the fact that the whole institution seems to be a massive, sprawling behemoth of neo-liberal, anti-democratic bureaucracy run for the financial gain of some of Europe’s elite.
On the other hand, the EU is a fantastic vehicle for cooperation between countries, allowing free trade, free movement of people, thoughts and ideas and so on.
With membership comes a huge number of positive factors; the most notable of which is our inclusion in the largest common market in the world. As a member state, we enjoy free trade with other member states, citizens can work and trade in any member country, can live and vote in any member country and can contribute to the economies and societies of whichever country they choose to work and live in.
For Britain, this does a huge amount of good in allowing us to attract skilled workers from across the EU – scientists, teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, electricians – the list goes on and on. All of these skilled workers can come into Britain to work and contribute to our society, to our economy.
It also also allows companies and businesses to set up here and trade in Britain with relative ease. Goods can travel back and forth without punitive tariffs imposed and companies can employ people across borders without the need to work with multiple lines of red tape and different legal systems.
But the main ideal behind the EU has always been cooperation between member countries, promoting peace in Europe and working with one another to solve problems.
So why, then, is it, that in the past couple of years, that cooperation has broken down? When faced with the big issues that have been thrown upon Europe in the recent past, the EU has floundered spectacularly.
When Russia decided that it wanted to have a nosey around in Ukraine, pinch Crimea and start a civil war, Europe stood back and did little other than grumble in a corner and watch as an entire country unravelled before them.
When Greece defaulted on its debts, Europe dragged its feet over a bailout; the whole fiasco a consequence of a poorly thought out monetary and fiscal union that let anyone into the club regardless of their financial situation.
And when refugees from Syria and the Middle East conflicts – the result of Western intervention in the region – spilled into Europe looking for a safe haven and a chance at starting anew, the EU began shutting borders and herding people into squalid camps to live in the same sub-human conditions as in their home countries.
Perhaps it’s all to do with the nature of the EU as a massive club for Europe’s capitalist elite, focussing on trade deals such as TTIP and other, equally questionable partnerships? Perhaps it’s to do with the sheer size of the EU, with its 28 member states, all with their own governments, laws, customs, politics and views of the world? Or perhaps it’s a result of the sprawling bureaucratic mess of the EU’s government?
In all likelihood, it’s a combination of all of these issues and a lot of smaller, far more complex issues. The European Union is, let’s face it, a mess of things that don’t work, people arguing, things breaking down and bit’s falling off – but is running away from that really the way forward?
In our modern, interconnected world, where countries are, more than ever, having to work together to tackle global issues such as climate change, terrorism, poverty and so on, we are always going to be working with our neighbours in some capacity. The biggest issue is going to be trade.
The EU is our largest theatre of trade and many of our jobs depend on it. As a nation, our economy is built around trade with Europe, to pull out of that free trade area would be a catastrophe which would likely cripple our country irreparably. So yes, we’d negotiate some kind of deal whereby we could trade with Europe within that free trade area, much like, say, Norway.
Norway, say those campaigning to leave, is a sterling example of being outside of the EU, but still reaping the benefits of free-trade agreements. Nope. It is not.
Norway, in order to trade with the EU, must abide by the a number EU’s treaties and laws in order to trade freely with the rest of Europe. The catch here, however, is that, not being in the EU, Norway has no say over how those laws are made or the treaties are drafted. In essence, it has even less say over some of its own laws than we do as part of the EU.
This brings me on to some of the trade deals within Europe and that Europe has with the rest of the world namely… TTIP! The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership is essentially a bi-lateral trade agreement between the EU and the US that would have the result of opening our public services up to US private companies, moving European jobs to the US, decreasing regulations in Food Safety, Environmental Safety and so on, and allowing companies to sue governments.
It’s not a good outlook and that’s probably the reason it’s been negotiated largely in secret. The left-wing argument for leaving the EU hinges massively on TTIP – get out of Europe, get out of TTIP. Again, not really.
The thing is, as with the Norway model, to trade with Europe (and indeed the US) we need to abide by the relevant treaties, over which we’d have no real say any more, and that includes the TTIP agreement. If we wanted out of TTIP, we’d have to jump out of trading with Europe and the US to a massive degree; and that would spell disaster for the UK.
The other problem is, we have a Tory government and they love TTIP: Privatise the NHS? Sure! Allow the use of previously outlawed but cheaper pesticides and growth hormones? Sure! Companies can sue countries? Why the hell not!
In short, pulling away from the EU is not a road away from TTIP or indeed any other similar agreements.
On the other hand, staying in Europe allows us a say in how this all pans out. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which held a number of the same central elements of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership was thrown out by a massive majority in the European Parliament.
If we remain within Europe, we can have voices in the Parliament to shape the treaties and laws governing how Europe works.
No, the EU is not perfect. It’s a mess. But it has done a huge amount of good in brining countries closer together and fostering genuine peace and cooperation in Europe. There are bits that don’t work, but if we leave, we can’t make them work.
The only way to really ensure that the EU works and changes for the better seems, to me, to stay in, to use our voice in Europe to promote better trade deals, better democracy, help those who need it and try to promote a fairer Europe.
For me, the pros far outweigh the cons and the future staying in looks far brighter than that of leaving.
If you disagree, let me know why. If you agree, let me know what your reasons are. And, as always, thanks for reading.