Should we stay in or leave the EU?

In four months time it is highly likely the British people will have to decide whether or not to stay in the EU. This referendum has been described as the most important decision for a generation, those who get to vote in June will most likely never have a chance again.So in this blog post I will discuss the advantages and the disadvantages of maintaining our membership of the EU. In the coming months there will be allot of scare stories trying to frighten the British people one way or another, so I have decided to try and present an evidence based approach to people are better equipped to make the decision.The EU is a complicated issue, I will try my best to address the major issues/ benefits that I can see.

British people  pay less for food

So what are the advantages to staying in the EU? In my mind the most important policy put forward by the EU is the Common Agricultural Policy. The most important thing to know about the CAP is that it effectively ensures the low price of products that are produced by farmers. So milk and bread are cheaper as a result, which are staples of every day life, these are effectively kept artificially low by European subsidy. As Andreaa Dragoi makes clear;

“Its main aims are to improve agricultural productivity and to increase the supply in order to provide stable and affordable food resources for consumers and to ensure a fair standard of living for farmers” (Dragoi 2013:1)

There is no guarantee that the subsidy that the EU currently puts into UK agriculture will be replaced by the UK government, currently under a conservative government this is very unlikely as state subsidy for business is currently being cut.

Restraining  our governments from acting beyond the law

The second most important benefit of staying in the EU is the checks and balances that it provides for our own national parliament. As we don’t have an effective second chamber like in the US(the house of lords cannot really be considered to have the same powers as the US senate) there is no other check and balance to the power of the state in the UK. The most important example of this is the European Court of Justice, this ensures that the UK is complying with EU human rights law. This has a dramatic impact as it means that our government, if it decides to get rid of the Human Rights act and replace it with  British Bill of Rights, the basic human rights will still be maintained by EU law.

A massive boost to our international standing

The third and a very  important  aspect of the EU that really does make a huge difference internationally is the influence we gain during negotiations if contracts are negotiated by the EU rather than just by the UK. The EU currently has the largest economy in the world, larger even than the US. This means when discussing transitional contracts such as TTIP(Free trade agreement between the US and EU) we can demand much more robust protection for our own industries.

Free Trade agreement

On the issue of the Free Trade Agreement between the US and the EU, many argue that this cause a negative impact on the UK economy. I have some sympathy with this argument, TTIP could have a detrimental impact. However considering we are going to have in total 10 years of a conservative government who are pro free trade, it is very likely a free trade agreement would have been done directly already between the UK and the US already. In fact it would be easier to put through, without having to go through so many different member states to be approved it would have come into force much earlier.

In democratic terms, the EU has a democratic tool called the European Parliament which makes sure that all decisions that impact member states have to be ratified by the European Parliament. We are represented well in the European Parliament with 73 MEP’s(European Parliament Website, 17/02/2016). All decisions are approved by these Members of the European Parliament, so the claim that we are being imposed on by a foreign power is unfounded.

Immigration

However the biggest issue that people usually raise about the EU is immigration policy. The free movement of people which is the corner stone of the Treaty of Rome signed in 1957 is fundamental to the European project. Immigration has benefited the UK economy in a number of ways, providing workers for the NHS and a host of public services. In addition they contribute a net profit to the UK economy, Liam Byrne in 2007 published a report that showed;

“It shows that immigrants pay more in taxes per capita than the UK workforce, contribute more to the public finances than they use, have higher skill levels, limit the impact of an ageing population and have no discernible bearing on unemployment rates among UK nationals.”

This report discredits the argument many of the myths surrounding immigrants. However, one argument put to me is that migrants put pressure on wages and public services, this argument is not without its credit. Net migration last year net migration was 336,000(BBC 2015) The result of this, is greater use of public services. This is a small part of the picture, the biggest reason for pressure on public services is an ageing population and government cuts to local services. Migrants contribute net to the economy but bring a bit of pressure on services as well, but this pressure is only felt because of the simultaneous effects of an ageing population and cuts to services.

The most important part of the immigration argument is that for the most part migrants come to the UK to work, the problem in the UK is there is a skills gap, people who already live here lack the skills to fill these posts. There are many reasons for this, but principally a lack of investment in practical non-academic subjects is one of the primary causes.

But lets look at the bigger picture, a lack of investment in eastern European states inevitably leads to high migration in the more developed economies. Although the EU does invest in business and agriculture, it can do allot more to try and balance the EU economies and to reduce the inequality that exists between them.

Infringing on national sovereignty

The cost of the many benefits outlined above, is our government is restricted from what it can and cannot do by the EU. It is much harder to change policy at a European level rather than a national level, this can either be seen as a positive thing(preventing governments from abusing their power) or a bad thing (preventing governments from doing positive things). So depending on what your point of view is, my point of view is I would prefer to have a restriction on the power of government, this means they cannot go as far as they would usually be allowed to go.

Conclusion

Overall my view is that the EU is a positive force that brings us together with our European neighbours to our mutual benefit, on the world stage we can act as one, despite the loss of influence Britain has had over the decades, the EU is one way to maintain that influence. Migration and sovereignty are an issue, but these downsides tend to be outweighed by the benefits we get being in the EU.  The EU is certainly not perfect, it does need reform. The policies put forward by leaders in the EU regarding the Greek crisis are much to be desired. But these can change with new leaders and a change of policy on a national level have much less to do with the EU institution than we think.

The corner stones of the EU are overall positive, but what we do with the powers in Europe is decided by states working together, so we can play a major role in those decisions and influence significantly the policy direction. The EU does need to do allot more to protect peoples jobs to promote industry and to invest in the future. It does do a fair bit of that at the moment, however it has to do more to really become an effective hybrid institution balancing national and European interests. The onus is really on us in the UK to support a position that puts forward a positive reform process in the EU, there are so many things that can be changed in terms of policy we just need to make the case for constructive reform to protect British interests. My position is clear, we need to stay in the EU, but also we need to push for reform to make sure it works for everyone.

 

 

References

 

  1. Dragoi 2013 “The future of the CAP and the Challenges of Europe 2020 Strategy” (Global Economic Observer)

 

European Parliament Website, ‘Your members of the European Parliament http://www.europarl.org.uk/en/your-meps.html(17/02/2016)

 

  1. Conrad 2007 “Report shows net benefit of Immigrants” (Public finance, INFORM Global)

 

BBC 2015 “Net migration will hit 336,000 in 2015” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34931725, accessed 17/02/2016)


4 thoughts on “Should we stay in or leave the EU?

  1. really good. i think you nailed the most important points. Let me add some more. British citizens will not be able to pop on a plane and buy a ;cheap’ ticket and fly to their houses in the South of Europe. They will not be able to use the health services provided in those countries and they will therefore be a ‘burden’ to their own country, that is the UK. Research, business, leisure and much more will become costly and out of reach with economic and social consequences. But also, what would you do with the million of UK people who are first, second third generation EU immigrants? Those who married with UK people and have double nationality? Will they suddenly need a visa? will they have to earn £35,000 to stay? Brexit is madness.

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    1. Some good points there Cristina. I agree with you there is uncertainty. However the reason why I did not allude to those in the article is because I want to state what we definitely know will happen as opposed to what could/might happen. In my opinion that is the best approach to take, but that is just my style.

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  2. All very well made points, Mark, and I agree with you that we should remain in the EU. The arguments in favour of doing so are irrefutable and you cover the key social and political reasons for doing so very effectively. In addition, it’s worth highlighting the overall economic benefits of EU membership. Over 45% of the UK’s exports currently go to other EU countries, and the costs of a Brexit would be huge. Not only that but we would have to continue to abide by EU regulations without having any say in the formulation of EU policy and legislation. Unfortunately, the arguments in favour of remaining in the EU are not yet being very well made by the political leaders in this country who should be doing so, and sadly, the Labour Party is being sidelines and is appears to be an irrelevance in the current debate.

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    1. Thankyou Nick for your support and your comments. I agree with you there, the Labour party needs to take the campaign to the electorate, we need to lead this campaign and the narrative, as the Labour party projects a positive narrative about Europe not just a negative one that is used by the conservatives.

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