There doesn’t seem to be much that’s positive in the referendum campaign. Here are a few things that the EU has made possible for people in Britain.
- The right to live, work or retire in Europe. About 2.2 million Britons are doing this at present. (The estimate is from the IPPR. Lower figures from the House of Commons library rely on the UK Census – which does not count Britons living abroad – and unhelpfully exclude people who live in other European countries for part of the year.) Scandalously, many of them have been denied a vote in this referendum.
- Taking easy, safe holidays in Europe. About 80% of all UK holidays abroad are taken in the EU. I’m old enough to remember not being able to go on a planned holiday in Prague because of visa restrictions.
- Workers rights. The EU’s record is patchy, but think about the Working Time Directive – which British governments have constantly griped about – or parental leave.
- Gender equality. Perhaps, again, people don’t remember the discriminatory rules for pensions or disability benefits that the EU has made us change, much to the fury of the UK government. Housewives Non-Contributory Pension, anyone?
- Consumer protection. Much of this seems minor now, because we take the protections for granted – covering, for example, goods by post, customs, phone networks, savings accounts – but there was a time when they weren’t there.
- Environmental controls. If, for example, you live somewhere near the coast – most of us do – you may have noticed the push to clean up the waters. The UK can’t clean the seas or the air on its own.
- Providing millions of jobs. It doesn’t follow, because the UK now has large numbers of related jobs in finance, cultural industries, education, science or that all of those jobs will be lost – but the reason those jobs are there has been our trade with Europe.
- Infrastructure projects. Unbridled free trade has a downside, which may mean the decline of local industries and regions. The EU has a set of compensatory mechanisms to mitigate this – the social fund and the regional funds – and several of our regions have benefitted from them, at a time when London-based government was ready to let the market rip.
- Security. Again, perhaps people don’t remember the dictatorships, the wars or the Iron Curtain. The EU was set up to stop this, and stop it it has.
- Influence. Britain has consistently pushed to extend EU influence in foreign policy and the effect has been to achieve things, e.g. on nuclear non-proliferation, which otherwise would not have happened.
The EU could do more:
- controlling multinationals
- limiting tax evasion
- reducing the costs of currency exchange
- creating a financial transactions tax
- guaranteeing rights for its citizens
- distributing its funds so as to reduce poverty
- giving the European Parliament the power to legislate, allowing decisions of the ECJ to be set aside, and other powers to reduce the democratic deficit
However, it will only be able to do things like this if the member states let it.