Wednesday, 23 January 2013

EU or not EU?

Lord Palmerston 1855
"Bombastic and foreigner despising" was the way my History Master used to describe the principles underlying the policies of Lord Palmerston when he was Foreign Secretary under Queen Victoria.  To be more accurate, it was "bombastic and foweigner despising" as (the late) Mr Percival had an unfortunate lisp. If he were still teaching today, Mr Percival would probably describe them as "arrogant and xenophobic" (sorry, "awwogant and xenophobic").  Which takes us to the Head Boy's speech promising a referendum on our EU membership if, heaven forbid, he gets re-elected,

I think 'arrogant and xenophobic' is an apt description of the UK's attitude to the Common Market/EU over the years.  We've never been fully engaged and our politicians have never seemed to take it really seriously.  No wonder that the great British public are lukewarm.  Yes, the EU faces major challenges brought on by neoliberal economic globalisation.  And, yes, the challenges are worsened by its own systemic weaknesses.  But it is taking measures to overcome these and the UK should be active and constructive participants in any discussions.  Unfortunately, I don't think we will as the long hard slog of detailed negotiations is not Posh Dave's style.  Much better to do a Lord Palmerston. 

Coming back to the promised referendum, what are the chances of us having a reasoned and rational debate about the issues?  With rabid attack-dogs like Nigel Farage already snapping and yelping, the answer to this is probably 'no'. We need to reflect on whether our net contribution of £7bn out of our total government expenditure of £695bn is good value.
And talking of good value: what has the EEC/EU ever done for us?  Not much, apart from:

Providing 57% of our trade;
Structural funding to areas hit by industrial decline;
Clean beaches and rivers;
Cleaner air;
Lead free petrol;
Restrictions on landfill dumping;
A recycling culture;
Cheaper mobile phone charges;
Cheaper air travel;
Improved consumer protection and food labelling;
A ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives;
Better product safety;
Single market competition bringing quality improvements and better industrial performance;
Break up of monopolies;
Europe-wide patent and copyright protection;
No paperwork or customs for exports throughout the single market;
Price transparency and removal of commission on currency exchanges across the eurozone;
Freedom to travel, live and work across Europe;
Funded opportunities for young people to undertake study or work placements abroad;
Access to European health services;
Labour protection and enhanced social welfare;
Smoke-free workplaces;
Equal pay legislation;
Holiday entitlement;
The right not to work more than a 48-hour week without overtime; Strongest wildlife protection in the world;
Improved animal welfare in food production;
EU-funded research and industrial collaboration;
EU representation in international forums;
Bloc EEA negotiation at the WTO;
EU diplomatic efforts to uphold the nuclear non-proliferation treaty;
European arrest warrant;
Cross border policing to combat human trafficking, arms and drug smuggling;
Counter terrorism intelligence;
European civil and military co-operation in post-conflict zones in Europe and Africa;
Support for democracy and human rights across Europe and beyond;
Investment across Europe contributing to better living standards and educational, social and cultural capital;
It has for 60 years been the foundation of peace between European neighbours after centuries of bloodshed;
It has assisted the extraordinary political, social and economic transformation of 13 former dictatorships, now EU members, since 1980.


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