Sunday, 11 May 2014

Why I want to stay in the EU

Cards on the table: I was not in favour of acceding to the Treaty of Rome when Edward Heath took the UK into the European Common Market (YouTube video here). It is not that I was against European cooperation. Indeed, I had been enthused by presentation by a European Community enthusiast to an assembly of the whole school when I was at Oldershaw Grammar. (Looking back, I see that as an unusual decision by our headmaster, so conservative in other ways.) I felt that the membership of the European Free Trade Area together with our ties with the Commonwealth gave us the best of both worlds. (There was also the Council of Europe to which practically all democratic European nations had joined.)  Joining the EEC would mean turning our back on the Commonwealth economically speaking. It was not a comfortable position to be in. If I remember correctly, all the newspapers were in favour of going in apart from the Daily Express, still standing up for the British Empire, and the Communist Morning Star.

It is not true, though, that Conservative leaders had been silent on the political implications. Heath and Macmillan had both spoken of pooled sovereignty. Both had served in the armed forces and were, I believe, moved at least as much by the need to prevent another European war as by the economic prize on offer. Perhaps there was a conspiracy of silence over the preamble to the first Treaty which declared that the signatories were "determined to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe", something which has never been removed and which therefore governs European Commission and Court of Justice rulings to this day. In any negotiations over a new treaty, those words should be the first to be revised, in my opinion, and I am sure that a majority of EU member states would be in favour of that.

It would be good still to have that UK role as hinge between the ancient democracies and high-tech economies of Northern Europe, together with Canada, and the developing nations of the Commonwealth. However, Commonwealth nations have long since forged new trading links and key EFTA nations have followed us into the EU so, like the last Stagecoach in Merthyr, that bus has departed for good. We are, as they say, where we are.

It would be a mistake to sever economic ties with 27 other European nations with no guarantee of an adequate replacement. We would still have our transatlantic links, of course, but our experience of the 2008 economic crunch should have taught us the dangers of ever-tighter binding to the US economy. 150,000 (Plaid Cymru) through 170,000 (LibDem) to 190,000 (Labour) are the estimates of the numbers of jobs in Wales linked to the European Union. It would be dishonest to claim that all those jobs would be lost if the UK left, but it is equally dishonest to assert that the majority would be safe if, in the words of Tata Steel's submission, the UK were left "isolated and weakened".

On the positive side we benefit from the EU's economic mass. The EU can conclude favourable international trade deals. The EU can force mobile telephone companies to adopt a common tariff across the Union. It can even punish the mighty Microsoft for anti-competitive activities.

People who object to the free movement of Polish plumbers and Latvian leaflet-deliverers should consider that at least the same number of UK citizens are plying their trade on the continent. They should also remember the UK recession-before-last when the continent offered an escape from the dole. "Auf Wiedersehen, Pet" was reality-based. When Ireland was booming, Welsh youngsters with easy access to ferry ports made a living in the Republic. One hand washes the other.

But as former MEP Diana Wallis complained elsewhere on the Web, we hear the economic arguments to the exclusion of all the others. It is only natural that political parties should plug a simple message that resonates with the most people, and currently that message is about job security. There are other reasons, though.

Ms Wallis's concern is with the law. The link above leads to an article summarising the efforts being made to ease red tape across the EU and bring the standard of protection of the individual up to a common standard. That standard is needed because of the EU arrest warrant, which otherwise is such a boon to us, as Nick Clegg has emphasised.

There is also the Charter of Fundamental Rights. This is different from the European Convention on Human Rights, but entrenches and extends it. (By the way, leaving the EU does not necessarily mean rejecting the ECHR, though many leading Conservatives would like to do both; whether the converse is also true is a moot point.)

Some employment rights are guaranteed by the EU, and it is clear that they are what the Conservatives and UKIP most object to, together with the measures intended to ensure the future good behaviour of bankers.

Later: I have come across an argument from the Polish foreign minister, one of the Solidarity generation, on Mark Pack's web pages: It concludes as follows:

No comments: