In under a month, the electorate will decide whether the UK will remain in or vote to leave the European Union. Studying this fascinating supranational organisation for the last 10 years, and writing a Master’s thesis on the UK’s role in EU decision-making, I’m quite aware of how bureaucratic and unaccountable it is, yet it is not the demon headmaster Vote Leave would have us believe.
Enjoying similar status to founding member states, Germany and France, the UK has what we could describe a ‘cushy’ deal with the EU with opt-outs including: The Schengen Agreement (this is why we always need passports), Economic and Monetary Union (the sterling rules supreme and why we still love Travelex), Human Rights (apparently British people are different humans with different rights), and Freedom, Security, and Justice (European Arrest Warrant, anyone?)
It’s not surprising to see why the UK is politely known as the ‘awkward partner’ amongst member states, whereby the cake is had and certainly eaten.
In a 33-year membership to the then European Economic Community (EEC) and now Union, Britain has and is a net contributor, so basically puts in more money than it gets out, just as Germany and France. That said, the poorest regions in the UK receive vital contributions through the European Regional Development Framework, totalling at around €5.3 billion in 2014. This is probably what leads to the demands of “What has the EU ever done for US?”
Aside from recent notable policies such as Maternity Leave Directive (which the UK branded unfair to businesses), a cap to data roaming charges (I wonder how the UK could’ve implemented this alone?), plus the free EHIC card my mum loves, there are also the meatier points of uniting once warring nations through economic means to prevent the outbreak of European war, and in more recent decades, address climate change.
It is these last points that make me an unashamed EU citizen. In the brief study of history, it’s not hard to see that Europe has been ravaged by war, power-crazed leaders always seeking to conquer nearby territories at the expense of millions of lives. So what if people could be united by having a shared goal of economic prosperity? Could this reduce the perceived differences that lead to hate and violence? A socialisation effect so strong that even the most egoic national leaders would co-operate instead of proliferate? This is what we see in the European Union.
A mere 71 years has passed since the end of WW2, but it seems that the noble cause of never to repeat the atrocities of WWI and II has been forgotten by Vote Leave. Whilst there are members who are certainly not raving nationalists, these members still naively forget that all it takes are a few magic ingredients of economic downturn, unemployment, and immigration issues to light the flames of nationalistic sentiments. Whilst the UK has always been too reserved for any extreme nonsense (although the elite are fond of not-so-covert xenophobia), a vote to leave the EU undoubtedly affects the continent as a whole, and could mark the end of this placating institution in its current form. The possible break-up of the EU would have cataclysmic social, economic, and political effect whereby the century of peacetime would be something of a distant dream.
But I don’t want to play the fear card. I’m a natural optimist, but sometimes there’s a need to simply state what my education, experience, and intuition tells me to be the case.
Climate change wasn’t on the agenda when the EEC was formed in 1958, but the now EU’s role in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol – the first legally-binding international agreement on reducing carbon emissions – suddenly made this institution a force to be reckoned with, a ‘green leader’ on the global stage. And no, not ‘leaders’ but ‘leader’. What was witnessed in the creation and adaptation of the Kyoto Protocol was the realisation that climate change knows no borders. It doesn’t only affect Italy and not France, it is not one nation’s problem and not another’s, and in effect, climate change renders the idea of ‘sovereign’ borders useless. The then EC demonstrated that its members were prepared to work collectively as one for the common good of mankind.
Whilst it is embarrassing that the UK will miss its 2020 targets, it should be applauded that legally-binding targets exist as the EU is making short-sighted leaders to be accountable for the role their nation is playing in a warming process that could wipe-out humans. Not British, Chinese, German, American, or Nigerian, but HUMANS.
And this is the crux of the matter. We are bound more by our similarities than our differences, whereby we are taught from an early age to play and work together for our greatest benefit, so why is the UK even having the conversation of going it alone? What the EU represents is the transference of a small portion of sovereignty to create peace through shared values and a cohesive approach to issues that are beyond the power of one nation.
Unfortunately, the referendum represents colonial delusions of grandeur which are no different to those of an infant who believes the world revolves around them; we’re simply witnessing these being played out on a larger scale by politicians desperate for airtime and power at the expense of cooperation and a more unified people who see beyond borders.
Needless to say, I’ll be voting to stay on 23 June.
1957 European Economic Community created by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands and West Germany
1961 UK has its EEC application twice vetoed by France
1973 UK application accepted following Charles De Gaulle’s death
1975 UK referendum on EEC membership sees 67 per cent vote to stay
1993 EEC changes its name to European Community
2007 EC changes its name to European Union
2016 UK referendum to be held on 23 June