Wednesday, 1 June 2016
As some of you may have noticed the UK is currently in the grip of Referendum mania... though that may be stating it a bit too strongly, really. What I mean is that we are having a Referendum on whether our country should remain in the EU and that we go to the polls on the 23rd of June.
So with 23 days to go, I thought I would throw my tuppence into the ring and say what I think.
First, I think that from the first precepts of the organisation that preceded the EU, and for that matter the EEC, the European Coal and Steel Community, the EU has been an unparalleled success. Where France and Germany had been at war, on and off, ever since antiquity (before France and Germany even existed, suffice to say that the Rhine has seen more warfare than most of the rest of Europe... though I concede that that's a tough statement to defend), we have now seen seventy years of peace in western Europe. That's really no mean feat and whatever else has happened since we cannot surely scoff at this achievement?
The UK did not join until the 1970s, something that I'm sure that the organisation's detractors will try to paint as a wise decision, overlooking that we were scrambling around trying to set up EFTA (European Free Trade Association) as a counter organisation. As ever the British attitude to Europe was 'divide and rule' , setting up proxies and stalking horses. Even when we did join there was an air of 'we're only here for the economic benefits', rather missing the point of the group, I feel. The country's relationship with the rest of the EU has been stormy, with many demands for vetoes and constant bickering about how much money we pay in comparison to other countries.
Sometimes I wonder if we should just get out to give the neighbours some peace... except. Except.
We are living in a time where the Westphalian state is on its way out. This is not just because of the rise of groups like the EU, you can find similar experiments in Africa and Asia, but because we are seeing authority and power devolving away from Parliaments and into the hands of the corporate sector. I hesitate to say that we are living in a Cyberpunk age, but I fear we are on the cusp of one. The authority of the elected bodies we rely on has been chipped away, and in some cases (like Britain's) thrown out in the belief that it will make things more efficient if Government is not involved. A world where unelected agencies like Standard and Poor call the economic shots forcing austerity onto countries. Many of the most vocal members of the Leave campaign are in favour of unfettered capitalism, and I daresay they measure your worth by the size of your chequebook. This shift from the state being a provider to relying on the auspices of the private sector is already raising all sorts of questions, the idea that we must always adhere to the bottom line has come into question after schools built as part of a PFI initiative were found to be seriously substandard. This hardly inspires confidence in the future that Leave EU and the other BRExit campaigns are charting us towards. A weaker state will only mean that the country becomes the prey of corporations, in my opinion.
This feels especially true with TTIP and CETA on the table, the former in the throes of negotiation, the latter signed, sealed and delivered. While the EU is picking through all the fine details, both offer a system that sidesteps democratic processes and is geared to protecting the bottom line. Their profits are more important than your health, or your children's futures basically. While the EU might cave to the worst excesses eventually, there's no doubt that as the world's largest economic block the union is in a stronger position than if the individual nations were forced to negotiate on their own. Here at least is another tick in the 'stay in' column for me.
There are other factors that lead me to believe we're better off in the EU than out of it. The fact that Brussels provides money for regenerating dilapidated cities is something we should consider. Do we believe that there will be financial help for cities in a post BRExit world? I fear there will not be, given that in the 90s I was told at university that the Treasury is meant to match the EU 's contribution but never does.
Consider too beneficial legislation like the Human Rights Act, the Working Time Directive, and Environmental protections that have come out of the EU. These are pretty humble pieces of legislation really, but they are geared towards defending us, the people. Again, and I don't want to scaremonger, I don't see that these things will survive the move to an independent Britain. It seems likely that they will be discarded in an orgy of excess as the effigies of the EU are ceremonially burnt (and no I don't apologise for waxing purple). Given Mr Cameron's 'get rid of all the green crap' I honestly don't feel we can rely on our locally elected representatives to do the best they can by the environment... if only because it's not sexy, it won't grab any headlines unless something huge and sweeping is done. For all its flaws (and yes there are flaws in the EU but I'm going to leave you to Google those), we are stronger together.
I confess the immigration argument cuts no ice with me, perhaps because I have Prussian, Spanish and Dutch ancestors. If there was no immigration I literally wouldn't be here. Likewise, the trade arguments don't really interest me, though I confess that I am on the side of staying in because having to renegotiate all that red tape seems stupid and self defeating.
Whatever your feelings on the matter, I do urge you to vote. Its likely the only chance you'll have in a generation, or more, and its important to make your voice heard.