The argument over a referendum on Britain’s involvement in the European Union has come up once more. The argument about how it is run has come up once more. The Tories are being pulled apart by the issue of Europe… once more.
For someone who spends time reading about and studying the EU, these debates are repeated ad nauseum. I hardly ever see a televised discussion about the European Union without being subjected to hearing Nigel Farage blurt out the same old cringe-worthy exaggerated rhetoric. I rarely get the chance to read an article about the EU which isn’t about electoral reform, referenda or “red tape”. The one dimensional discussion on Europe in the public domain is incomparable to the varied discussion in the academic domain, which is more inclined towards the direction of EU policies. It is the responsibility of those who care strongly about the EU to engage with public debate around the future of Britain’s role in the EU and influence it.
An example of the schism between academic and public debate could be the argument over the democratic deficit. Many of the EU’s detractors often rant about “unelected bureaucrats” in their rhetoric but unquestionably support Britain’s role in NATO, the UN and the WTO (all unelected). They also fail to engage with the actual process of how commissioners get their jobs.
The EU is probably one of the most democratic of the international organisations which Britain is a member of. As well as this the fact is often neglected that most people who support the EU want to see it become more democratic and often don’t support the status quo. Historically it has been “Euroskeptic” governments who have blocked reforms of the EU, fearing that power being given to the parliament (the body to which we directly elect MEPs) would take power away from the Council (a body made up of the governments of members states). Those who want to pull out of the EU but keep trading with the single market, in a way that Norway or Switzerland does, don’t offer a democratic alternative but instead offer the opposite. They offer people no voice at all over matters affecting both Britain and her largest trading partner with no MEPs, no council seat and no commissioner.
Even the term “Eurosckeptic” is rhetorical. Skepticism doesn’t mean opposing something, it means being critical of it. Those who support the EU are critical of it, as they must be if they want it to work well. What better describes parties such as UKIP is “Europhobic”. They ideologically oppose the EU and aim to abandon it instead of reforming it.
Here is what we face today. The EU is our largest trading partner and also the largest single market in the world. In modern times the decisions which Governments make affect citizens outside their countries. Examples include the economic crisis, where in the past it would be incredibly difficult to collectively solve problems in Spain, Italy or Greece which threaten the UK’s economy. When member states work together in a community then Governments of that community act according to common practice. It means that Governments whose decisions can affect the whole market are held accountable to the community as a whole, including to us here in the UK. This accountability allows for more responsibility between governments and in turn helps give people a say on matters which affect them. If we leave the EU; we as citizens cannot elect people to argue for our interests when what happens in the community is being discussed, our Government will not have a seat at the top table to discuss the best way to solve issues we share with other countries and we will not have any British policy makers in the Commission helping create solutions to crises such as the ones we face today. Britain’s influence over matters which affect Britain would be minute.
Look at ACTA, legislation affecting civil liberties and the internet, to which he rapporteur is the British MEP David Martin. Look at the monumental sanctions which are placed on Iran to halt development of nuclear weapons, or the action on the Government in Syria which are formulated by the High Representative for Foriegn Affairs and Security Policy Baroness Ashton, also British. We would not have any influence over these if we were outside the EU. British people would have little influence over these hugely important issues which affect citizens here in Britain. Do Europhobes seriously expect us to have as much of a say if we decide to give up this representation?
In the current climate; putting forward arguments for greater collective decision making over issues which affect all of our lives is hugely important. If we don’t fight for our membership then we allow for the same rehashed nonsensical arguments to dominate public debate and we fail to highlight the good work the EU does for British families, workers, farmers, businesses and communities.
A referendum at this point is also a danger to global economic stability. Those who are gung-ho about leaving the EU seem to forget we are in possibly the biggest financial crisis in living memory and that we should concentrate fully on working with our partners in the EU to solve the crisis which is affecting lives here in the UK, right now.
The debate about Europe’s future, and Britain’s role in that future, is on now. It’s the responsibility of those who feel strongly about the important work the EU does with regard to improving worker’s conditions, increasing consumer rights and growing our economies together to speak up. All we have to lose is our say in how largest single market in the world is governed, a say in the direction it goes and access to the standards it guarantees.
I don’t apologise to anyone who is sick of hearing me talk about the EU. The EU is of huge importance to our families, consumers, workers, farmers, travelers, businesses, communities and so much more. The campaign to support our membership of it should not only happen when that membership is under threat, it should continue so we make sure that public debate, not simply academic debate, is always well informed and balanced.