Last year was perhaps the only time I have ever come to fully appreciate the European Union. Thanks to an Erasmus grant, the EU gave me over £2,000 courtesy of my choosing to study abroad in another European university. Considering the huge economic problems of Europe, the donation was particularly appreciated.
The debate about whether the UK should remain in the European Union has been a prevalent one recently. In terms of national interest, the question is whether or not an institution so eager to give away money in times of heavy economic uncertainty and hardship is really that beneficial.
In his recent Q&A session at University of Nottingham, David Miliband’s support for the EU was confidently expressed and my research has made me inclined to agree with his position.
Steve Richards recently wrote in The Independent that though the leadership of all three main UK parties are currently pro-Europe, there are strong dissenting voices from within them. He made the damning prediction that, should the UK leave the Eurozone, the result will “destroy at least one” of them. However, whether a party is destroyed or not (I highly doubt one would be) is besides the point.
Current EU membership is a bad policy, not on economic grounds, but on those of sovereignty. 80% of our laws are currently being made in Brussels rather than Parliament, while, to quote Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), a considerable sum of the taxpayers’ money is spent by distant bureaucrats. That speaks very little for us being the ‘cradle’ of democracy.
According to The Spectator, two-thirds of the British public are in favour of Britain leaving the EU, so it seems that leaving would be a more democratic decision than staying in it. At last week’s by-election in Corby, UKIP managed to secure over 5000 votes, consequently pushing the Lib-Dems into fourth place. Many in the Conservative party, such as David Davis, favour a referendum on the issue, knowing public support is largely in his favour.
Despite this, it would still be very hasty to completely pull out. At his talk, David Miliband did say one thing which resonated particularly well- that, for all its imperfections, the EU can only be reformed from the inside. The EU must not simply be a bastion for our economy (50% of our trade lies with the institution), it must be accepted that arguments of the sceptics are valid, and not just squalid opinions of Little Englanders.
The idea of us as a nation that has control over their economy, sovereignty, borders and laws is an ideal that was fought for from the Glorious Revolution, to World War II. With this in mind, the idea of a yes-no vote would be too black and white and simplify the issues at stake too greatly. The problems of the EU must be resolved while fighting for an institution that would be more favourable towards our political traditions, not just beneficial to our economy and business.
Ed Miliband recently endorsed a tougher stance on Europe, while maintaining that membership is favourable. The question is whether his words will be matched with actions if he reaches office. Ed Miliband’s words were that the UK should not “sleepwalk” out of the EU; I would agree, so long as the UK is given more autonomy. New Labour’s previous policies with the EU often proved disastrous, from the unrestricted migration permitted to new EU states, to the loss of the rebate won by Margaret Thatcher. Tony Blair’s decision to sacrifice it consequently has cost us £10 billion since 2007.
At the recent Brussels summit, David Cameron was under pressure to guarantee that the EU budget not be increased. He threatened to use the UK’s veto. Cameron’s threat came little less than a month after being defeated in the Commons for a UK increase in the budget of 5% to rise with inflation. The summit was however, suspended due to indecision and arguably a new power bloc was developed within the EU as its president and Commission’s President attempted to exclude us from the financial debate, despite the EU’s hold over banking regulation in the City of London. Even Angela Merkel was furious. While Cameron is a believer in the value of the EU, he must nevertheless be prepared to get tough with the EU over actions such as this, and, in the future, continue to never be held to ransom by the wishes of other member states or various unelected EU presidents.
From an “international relations” perspective, to completely leave the EU would be a foolish isolationist move. This is not just an economic argument, but also one for the security of our state. In the wake of the Arab revolutions, and the rise of China, we face an uncertain world. The idea of Britain imposing sanctions on Iran, for example, as opposed to the combined powers of Britain, France and Germany doing so, is laughable. Jose Marroso’s and Van Rompey ‘s decision to try and exclude the UK from the budget talks was foolish too and has no doubt fanned the flames of further British Euroscepticism. In this regard, we would be right to challenge the EU’s authority. We are a democracy and the opinions of our citizens must be respected by the EU; if they were, then the institution would perhaps begin winning more respect and validation from our disillusioned citizenry, and Nigel Farage’s arguments would become invalidated.