CONTROVERSIAL: Why The EU Is A Force For Good
I’d best first point out that this article was not written with the purpose of being put on Gossip Tory, having initially been written for another publication. Please ignore the note regarding the editor.
The issue of Europe. One that has plagued Conservative governments for generations, with an ongoing battle between die hard Tory backbenchers demanding our immediate exit, the reformers, and those that are happy just as we are. Well, maybe the third option is unrealistic. I have been asked by our esteemed editor to present an argument describing the benefits of Britain’s membership in the European Union. My personal opinion is that for Britain to remain in the EU, serious reform is needed; however, I have attempted to cast aside my biases for the purpose of this article. Some of the points I raise in this article are not necessarily about benefits for Britain in remaining in the EU, but point to the benefits of the EU for all. I feel it indulgent to only think about the advantages to our own country, instead we should take into account the benefits of the EU for people all over Europe. Britain’s contribution to the EU, in terms of funding and legitimacy through membership, enables it to carry on with the good work it does in helping people all across Europe. We should not selfishly withdraw even if it is found to disadvantage us. I maintain that the EU is a positive force for not only the people of Britain, but for all of Europe.
I guess I should start with the most quoted benefit of membership, the economic advantages. Through the European Single Market, Europe is one of the three trading blocs within which the vast majority of all trade, investment and financial transactions are situated in, allowing it to compete with rival blocs North America and Japan. It is unrealistic to posit that Britain’s current service based economy, with our main service, banking, being increasingly squeezed, to think that Britain alone could realistically compete with these powerful trading blocs. If Britain were to withdraw from the EU they would lose any influence in the WTO “Quad” of which the EU is a member. This would deprive Britain of their chance to negotiate the list of priorities for WTO Ministerials that the Quad formulates. Standing alone without the security of being able to trade within Europe is simply unfeasible. Forty percent of our exports are EU bound, and millions of jobs would be risked by withdrawal. The only realistic way to change this is for Britain to develop a competitive, manufacturing based economy capable of exporting products around the world, in contrast to the service based economy that currently exists.
It was only once European countries integrated in the late 1960s via the development of the European Economic Community that European countries, including Britain, managed to enhance their position in relation to the United States. A united Europe granted states the security and confidence to diverge from American policies. Personally I don’t want a global American hegemony and I believe that Europe provides an effective counter balance.
Britain receives billions each year in aid through European Structural funds, this money is used as regional aid in deprived areas, or those that are more rural, without many of the facilities of cities. Funding also goes towards cultural events in the UK. To cut off this valuable source of financial support during a recession is downright irresponsible. This funding has led to improvements in the environment on a local, national and international level. Britain’s beaches and riverbanks have been hugely improved, and there are now stricter rules that have been introduced by the EU regarding issues such as levels of pollution. The EU has also taken the brunt of the work in upholding the Kyoto Protocol after it was renounced by George Bush, creating the first ever international emissions trading system. Alone, there is minimal chance Britain could have made such progress. The regional safeguard organization EURATOM has also played a large part in facilitating oversight over nuclear developments, and has proved an effective overseer in comparison to many other regional organisations around the world.
The EU also protects what I see as two of our fundamental rights, freedom and equality. One cannot deny that membership of Europe enables a more extensive freedom of movement and freedom to work, as citizens we can live and work where we choose throughout Europe. If you want to live in England, but work in France, and then retire in Spain, you can. Freedom is one of our basic rights, and the EU is a facilitator of this. EU directives also play a large part in maintaining equality by preventing discrimination on the grounds of gender, religion, age, sexual orientation etc. The European policy process also gives more freedom to pressure groups who can lobby an increasing number of actors, especially useful to those that may not be so successfully at lobbying their respective national government. The EU facilitates further chances for groups to present their message at the highest levels of government. On a more trivial note, the schemes that the EU has created, such as the Erasmus scheme, bring great enrichment to the lives of those who are able to take part.
A safer Europe is achieved in two ways via the integration inherent in the EU. One must turn to one of the reasons the initial European Coal and Steel Community between the “original Six” was formed, as a way to prevent war breaking out again between France and Germany. Since the formation of Europe, we have seen peace between countries previously struck by the scourge of warfare that ravaged states’ livelihoods and economies. Through the European Security and Defence Policy in 1998 and the European Security Strategy in 2003, Europe has made the first steps in becoming an independent military power. As individual states, they would have no such power. By pooling their defence spending, it also means that national defence spending can be reduced, leaving more money to put towards the deficit, or other national issues. Working together, countries are also able to co-operate on law enforcement in all manners of organised crime. If one state implements tough policies on criminals in one country, it goes without saying they will simply move to another and continue their operations. European-wide legislation and enforcement prevents this from happening. Co-operation is also needed to prevent triangulation of illegal goods.
Membership of Europe is also a mark of status, evident in the membership bids of Turkey and numerous others, hungry for the authority that comes with membership of the EU. Those of you that have studied the poststructuralist theory of international relations will know that discourse can exclude and marginalise. If Britain pulled out of Europe, we would lose the important discourse of being European, doubtlessly leading to a loss of international influence and increasing marginalisation in international policy making. Without this authority, and burdened with a serious political disadvantage in trying to influence international affairs, it is likely that inward investment would slow. The chance to be able to exert influence at world trade talks would be negligible if Britain was to make the decision to withdraw. From a constructivist perspective, when countries join the EU that may not share the same values that the rest of the EU do, a process of institutional isomorphism will takes place. This would lead to a gradual spread of the ideas of democracy, freedom and equality that the EU enshrines to other member states as individual member states come to resemble the most powerful.
As far as I know there has never been a government inquiry to conclusively establish whether Europe is benefitting Britain, be it economically or politically. What can be established though is that the British public is, and has been for a long period of time, Eurosceptic. It is hard to summon up popularity for what many see as simply another level of bureaucracy, detached from decisions made in Britain. I hope I have demonstrated in this article some of the economic and political advantages that result from Britain’s continued membership of the world’s most impressive attempt at integration to date. As I stated in my introduction, it is not only our own benefit we should consider, but the benefits to people across Europe brought about by the EU. Britain’s continued participation and funding gives the EU gives it legitimacy and finance to carry on delivering these benefits to people Europe wide. Europe is simply one level in a series of global governance, and it should be embraced as a way for national governments, international institutions, global public policy networks and local associations can co-operate. Neo-medievalism may not be appealing to the general public quite yet, but it is a rapidly approach reality. And not a bad one at that.