10 Reasons for Staying in the EU - by Dennis Kennedy
A letter from Leave.EU dropped through my letter box. It began with a bizarre assertion:
‘…In 1975 we voted for a Free Trade Area known then as the Common Market.’
In fact the United Kingdom in 1973 had just left a Free Trade Area (EFTA) and joined an Economic Community, (EEC). One reason why the Common Market had become the name generally used, in the UK, for the European Economic Community was perhaps because it highlighted one of the main differences between EFTA , which the UK had taken the lead in creating in 1960, and the more closely integrated EEC. Both groupings had free trade within the group, but the EEC’s ‘common market’ traded with the rest of the world as a unit, while EFTA members’ external trade was still a matter for each independent nation.
In 1975 the citizens of the UK were approving the switch in Government policy, first made in the early 1960s by Harold Macmillan and later confirmed by Harold Wilson. They were endorsing the decision to leave a loose free trade area and join a much more comprehensive economic community formally committed to ‘ever closer union’.
So much of the Leave campaign is ill-informed, or deliberate distortion that I sat down to list my own reasons for voting to stay in.
My ten reasons for voting to stay
1 To vote to leave is to vote for abandonment of the European policy espoused since the 1960s, by both Labour and Conservative governments, and by the Liberals. That policy still has majority support in those parties and in the House of Commons.
2 It is not true to say that the European Union today is radically different from the European Economic Community the UK joined in 1973. The EEC was then already formally committed to the achievement of full economic and monetary union, a commitment endorsed by the UK at the Paris summit of October 1972. The goal of a single European currency was already under discussion.
3 The UK has formally endorsed all the various Treaties which have expanded areas of competence transferred from member states to the EU, have improved the decision-making mechanisms of the union and have approved the membership of 18 new member states.
4 There is no commitment to the creation of a single European super-state. The goal of ‘ever closer union’ set in the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and endorsed by successive British governments over the past 43 years, is a form of words which encapsulates the commitment of member states to develop the unique form of cooperation and sharing of authority, and of sovereignty, which is the European Union. Each step to a ‘closer union’ has to be in the form of a new Treaty agreed by all member states.
5 European laws are not made by ‘unelected bureaucrats in Brussels’. The power to legislate lies with the Council of Ministers, and the European Parliament – the Ministers are politicians representing the democratically elected governments of the member states, the MEPs are politicians directly elected by the citizens of Europe.
The European Commission is both a bureaucracy and a unique supranational college of 28 political appointees nominated by the member states, appointed by the Council of Ministers, and approved by the European Parliament. This college has the key role of proposing legislation, but only within areas of competence assigned to the EU by the Treaties unanimously agreed by the member states. Commission proposals become European law only if they are agreed by the Ministers and the Parliament.
6 By leaving the EU the United Kingdom would not ‘reclaim its sovereignty’. It would still be bound by the NATO Treaty to go to war in defence of any member state under attack; it would not be free to trade how and where it wishes – international trade today is not free trade, but trade regulated by regional, global and bi-lateral agreements. The UK’s ability to negotiate favourable terms as a single state would be much weaker than that of the EU.
7 The United Kingdom is currently the second strongest national economy in the EU. In a Union founded to ensure the economic and social progress of all its peoples and in particular to reduce the backwardness of its less favoured regions it is obvious that the cost of running the Union and financing its programmes must fall on the wealthier states. At present eleven member states are net contributors – that is the money they pay into the EU budget is less than the total they receive from EU funds. The UK’s net contribution in 2014 is reckoned to have been the equivalent of 1.4% of the UK’s total public expenditure.
8 Since January 1993, under the EU’s Single Market regime, there has been no visible physical border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – no custom posts, no check points, no long queues of commercial vehicles waiting to cross. No proponent of Brexit has yet indicated how the UK would ‘reclaim control of its own frontiers’ on the island of Ireland. The Common Travel Area agreement between the UK and Ireland covers only the movement of people, not goods.
9 When the movement towards European integration began in the aftermath of World War II its prime objective was political, not economic; it was to bind together the nation states of Europe, particularly France and Germany, in a union which would make war between them both unthinkable and impossible. The way to do so was by means first of a common market, and then by broader economic union. The goal was not to eradicate nation states, or to suppress national identities, but to contain them within a wider European organisation and identity.
The result was a unique experiment in supranational governance – not a federation, certainly not a super-state, but a binding set of institutions with a supra national core. From the six member beginning in the 1950s, it has grown to 28 member states, with others still anxious to join. For the UK to walk out in a fit of jingoistic pique would be tragic for Europe, and disastrous for the UK.
10 The institutions of the EU played only a minor, if helpful, role in restoring a measure of peace in Northern Ireland. Much more important is the idea of a European identity which can be shared by both sides of the apartheid-like British-Irish divide enshrined in the Belfast Agreement. If we all can see ourselves as European, then we cannot be all that different from each other. If we are living in a European union, then it may begin to matter less whether our immediate address is Irish or British.