The European Union, or the EU as it’s known in the common vernacular, is a long way from perfect. Only a few weeks ago, I was genuinely unsure of which way I would vote in the coming referendum. It’s become easy to view the EU as an unaccountable morass of bureaucrats and excessive regulations, controlling our taxes, our borders, and our currency without very much oversight. As a body, it’s in desperate need of democratisation, and the recent treatment of Greece has highlighted that the EU is all too eager to intervene in domestic economies.
It’s understandable, therefore, why so many people from across the political spectrum are fed up with the EU – I have numerous concerns about its structure and practices. But despite all this, and more, I’ve already sent off my postal vote to remain. It’s not a decision I took lightly, but it has become my thorough conviction that the EU is an ideal worth fighting for.
My vote has little to do with the scare tactics and statistical gibberish that has been thrown at us by both sides in the referendum campaign, a period which has been bombarded with a series of huge and altogether meaningless figures; if we left the EU, Britain could apparently be better off by £350 million a week, although every household would allegedly lose out on £4,300 a year. Likewise, we would have more money for the NHS, or less, and wages could either fall or shoot up.
If the economic consensus is anything to go by, there would of course be a detrimental short term effect; it’s likely that we would suffer a fresh recession, a fall in the value of sterling, and a hit to house prices. Whatever the reality, however, this isn’t a debate that is going to be won on economics. Not only have people increasingly lost faith in economic authority and the status quo throughout the last decade, but there are issues of sovereignty and national identity at play which are, arguably, more essential to the long term future of this country. Indeed, for many, including myself, the neo-liberal economic program propagated by the EU is enough reason to consider a vote to leave. Although an exit may involve a rude awakening, I don’t believe that the UK would be unable to survive outside of the EU; a little reduced in stature, perhaps, but an independent Britain would not be a calamitous outcome.
So what is it about the EU that has me clinging on by my fingernails? Fundamentally, it represents a framework for international cooperation. Whether it’s climate change, security, trade, or the maintenance of peace, the EU provides a structure within which we can work together toward a common goal, and that has to be a good thing. Progress is rarely achieved through nationalism and a retreat into ourselves, and that’s why we should be fighting for an internationalist, democratic Europe.
The EU also provides an essential break on the powers of national governments. There was once a time when much of Europe was in the thrall of various dictatorial regimes, not least the Eastern bloc under the Soviet Union. Today the EU provides its member states with a number of guarantees on civil liberties, including democracy, workers’ rights, freedom of speech, a free press, and the right to a fair trial. I, for one, have more faith in the EU to uphold these values than I do our current Conservative government , and such protections have become more important than ever with rise of a hard-right, nationalist clique across European politics. To abandon the EU would be to abandon our dedication to these binding principles.
Nevertheless, it really isn’t a surprise that the ongoing debate in this country has failed to inspire the masses – much of the remain campaign has focussed on the economic risks of leaving Europe, while the trump card of the opposition is taking back control of our immigration policy. Both of these arguments ignore the tremendous good that the EU does in ensuring social and political security for its members. If the remain side wishes to win this debate, they must make a positive argument for the EU, not only as an economically beneficial arrangement, but as an internationalist principle. If you can’t convince voters to believe in a united Europe, then none of the economic fearmongering in the world is going to convince them to stay.
Of course, it must be acknowledged that much of Britain’s heightened status derives from our membership of the EU. Our position within the world’s largest trading block not only makes us an attractive prospect for foreign investment, but a magnet for many of the world’s most skilled workers and professionals. Leaving the EU would not only stunt our political leverage on the world stage, but harm our continued growth at home. Perhaps EU regulation may feel somewhat stringent at times, but it has undeniably brought great fortune.
For all its achievements, few would argue that the EU is ideal in its current form. Much more needs to be done to make people feel like their representatives in Brussels are listening to them, particularly on the controversial policy of free movement. However, the globalised reality of today’s world is not something to be ignored, nor shied away from. As European nations become more interdependent, we must fight for a continent that goes forward in a spirit of friendship and solidarity, not splintering into any number of nativist shells. The British have often led the world in the battle for democracy and civil rights – it remains our duty to stay and fight for the traditions that we hold dear. Otherwise we run the risk of rapidly making ourselves an irrelevance, feeding only on the scraps that fall from the big table.