In Britain, it is fashionable to be anti-European. This is not surprising. Europe has a very negative press. Whenever there is some wastage or some alleged ridiculous decision is made in Brussels, this is being reported in the press. It has happened that the press has misrepresented actual situations and dis-informed their readers, when the duty of the press should be to inform. Not surprisingly, as a result people are against Europe. Hence we are seeing the rise of parties like UKIP, which are in favour of pulling out of Europe altogether. People have now got into a habit of making the EU a scapegoat for all our ills.
Understanding the benefits of being part of Europe is being able to read the small prints. Politicians everywhere, not just in the UK love to blame Europe for their own failings. Unfortunately, we are getting very little information about the benefits of being a member of the European Union. Being a part of a free trading bloc is about much more than free movement of goods within a certain area.
For such a trading bloc to work there must be a number of rules that each member adheres to. It would be ridiculous to have free trade with another country that espouses slavery or does dumping on certain goods. There must be similar levels of economic development. The average level of education of people must be comparable. The demographic profile of members of such a block must be similar: if in one country, women have on average 4 children and life expectancy is 65, whereas in another country women have 1.8 and life expectancy is around 80, free trade arrangement between these two countries would not work for either sides. This is because a trading bloc means free movement of people as well as goods - it is hard to see how goods can move around freely without people dealing with that. One country would suffer a massive brain drain and the other would have a problem with too many immigrants.
In the European Union, the demographic profile is remarkably similar among all member states, including new members. Levels of education are high all round. Nevertheless, it would accurate to say the EU has expanded too quickly. The economies of former communist Eastern Europe were held back for too long. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, most of Eastern Europe has espoused Western style democracy and is catching up fast. Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia are all promising according to my sources of information. Hungary has been a bit of a disappointment with regards to its adherence to human rights. This may be a blip, and we should put pressure on member states to insure they follow the rules. This means all rules and includes strict adherence to human rights and civil liberties. Just complying with economic standards is insufficient and short sighted, particularly as democracy and personal freedom are necessary requirements for economic advancement.
Another requirement for a free trading bloc between several countries to work is population and size must be similar. If not, one country is just going to bully the others. In effect, it might as well annex the smaller countries altogether. This is another strength of the EU as it is fragmented and no country is big enough to dominate all others. Even Germany has not even 82 million people, compared to 63 million in UK. That is only 30% more. France and Italy have roughly same population as UK. All other member states have a lower population. In all, there are 507 million people. That is a great deal less than China or India, but still the third most populated bloc in the World.
Within a free trading bloc, there must be regulations governing standards and specifications of a vast array of goods. Take for example a car. This has to adhere to a great number of standards ranging from pollution levels to safety. The advantage of the common market is that all cars must adhere to such standards. Therefore, a consumer can feel some degree of protection when purchasing a vehicle. These regulations differ between the US and the EU. Should the UK wish to leave the EU, they would still have to comply with either US or EU protocols without the power to influence or would have to devise their own rules at much greater costs than being a member. We need such standards: what would we do if it were legal to sell a car with faulty brakes for instance?
Very little is said about the benefits of being a member of the European Union. Apart from advantage of standardized goods within a trading bloc, here are a few of these benefits:
The concept of being anti or pro-European is dated and the focus should be on getting EU institutions to work the way we want them to work for the advantageous benefit of all member state. This means remaining a member of the European Union.
Unfortunately, Britain has a policy of withdrawal from Europe. The usual complain is that things are not moving the way we want. What British people do not seem to understand is they are not alone in theirs grievance and criticism on how European institutions work. The idea should be about building pacts and agreements with other member states for getting changes put forward. European history is littered with such agreements and pacts. In the past, this would mean teaming up with other states to go to war against another group of countries. Obviously, now diplomacy and economic requirements has taken over the need for war at least within Europe. It should suffice to say that Germany and other states are longing for Britain to team up with them as they also want to reform the way Brussels works. In the UK, we are focused on the recent past and two World Wars and there is still a rather pathetic antipathy towards Germany. We have not gained anything as a result of these wars – rather lost a lot in economic power and World influence. Look further back in history and Great Britain has been allied with Prussia and other German states and benefited massively. There has been the seven year war (1756-1763) and Napoleonic wars. Without these alliances, the British Empire would in all probability have been a lot less powerful.
The Conservative Party does not understand this concept of teaming up. For instance, it pulled out of the European People’s Party, which is the main centre right party in the European parliament. As a result, they are without much of a say, pretty much isolated and not taken seriously.
There is wide consensus that some powers should be returned to nation states. For instance, the Southern countries have over 5000 years of experience in producing olive oil. It is ridiculous the regulations should be dictated from Brussels. We should also talk about repatriating fishing rights. At this time, any fishing vessel within the EU can fish within waters of any other member state. This should be changed. The idea that there is an unlimited supply of fish and that any fishing vessel can just help itself as much as is can is a fallacy. We do have quotas, but have limited control on whether and how these are being adhered to. It is this notion on fishing rights which was one of the main reasons why Norway refused to join the European Union. The problem is that sea waters are perceived to belong to everyone or no one, so no one feel any responsibility for maintaining fish stock. Supposing we gave fishermen that responsibility: a group would have rights over a particular wide area. That wide area could be split and it is decided that part of it shall be left free of fishing for a lapse of time so fishing stock can recover. We are not blocking freedom of movements of people: a Spanish fisherman should still be able to become a UK resident and fish in UK waters. We should just stop the concept that everyone can help themselves everywhere. If we had the same attitude with arable land, would we care about maintaining it for growing crops? No. We would in effect be returning to bygone times and farm production would dive as happened in the former Soviet Union. We should be lobbying and building alliances over this issue. Everybody, including fishermen would massively benefit from a change in the rules. This is just an example of what could be done, but I am not aware of any nation willing to repatriate fishing rights.
We need to repatriate certain powers away from Brussels, but centralise others. For instance, there has been a lot of talk about multinationals abusing different rules within member states to pay as little tax as possible. We could review the rules so tax is paid where turnover is made. Whereas it would be completely unacceptable to have standard tax across the European Union, it would certainly be desirable to have a minimum set of rules to prevent tax dumping, where a state deliberately attracts multinationals by offering very low tax rates on income earned in another state. The United Kingdom, which is relatively large would certainly benefit from a change in these rules.
Another example is the transaction tax. The UK objects to having such a tax, even though it is already applied in the UK. The discussion ought to be on a minimum rate and whether it could actually be safely applied, without running the risk of companies delocalizing elsewhere outside of the European Union.
Indeed, there are inefficiencies in the EU, but the UK is far from alone in complaining about these. When Brussels wanted a rise in budget at the height of the recession, this was loudly resisted, not just by the UK, but also by most other West European members.
Europe is made a scapegoat for our problems. We are focused on wastage from Brussels, but not worried enough about wastage and poor governance within the UK. To give an example: we have allowed immigrants to claim benefits immediately on arrival in UK when we are perfectly entitled within European Union rules of only giving such benefit after 3 month. In truth, British institutions are in far greater need of reform. The root of British failure is poor governance and we should tackle that.
Whatever happens, we will still have to comply with European Union rules. The difference between been in and out is that is we are in, we have a say on those rules, if we are out we don’t. As I have argued above, it is simplistic to think the UK can leave the Common Market and join instead the World market by having free trade agreements, without having to worry about standards.