The case for British membership of the EU is overwhelming: it makes the UK more democratic, not less, more economically powerful, more social and here it is set out in detail.
* This briefing was the basis of a speech given by Julie at the North West Lancashire Questiontime in Preston on September 18th. Much of the material used comes from Richard Corbett MEP's Mythbusters. Julie also recommends his app Doorstep EU.
The case for British membership of the EU is overwhelming. It is an enormous positive contribution to the British economy, which is good for businesses, big and small, and provides millions (3.5 million!) of jobs. It makes Britain more powerful and influential internationally.
EU membership makes Britain more democratic, and gives British citizens greater say in what happens to them in a globalised world. If the UK wants to remain relevant in the 21st century, it must remain a part of a robust, vibrant, socially just EU.
The Left has always had concerns that the EU is a big business neo-liberal project, and there are indeed neo-liberal strands in the EU as there are in national governments. But the EU is also a social project, which strives to raise social and environmental standards and strengthen the welfare state, and European values of fairness and care. It is up to us citizens to fight for social justice in Europe, just as we must fight for it in Britain. A compassionate, social, progressive Europe must be fought for and can be attained.
Britain has always been an outward looking, open and bold nation. To close ourselves off because of an unfounded fear of immigrants is cowardly. For Britain to leave the EU would be thoroughly unBritish.
Does EU membership cost a fortune?
No. In fact, our own (rather eurosceptic) government estimates that EU membership is worth £3000 a year to every British family. And the budget for the whole EU is just 1% of GDP, compared to about 49% spent by national governments. That’s just 2% of our public spending each year. Evidence
Each country pays a contribution to the budget proportional to its wealth, so wealthier countries pay more. The exact amount varies each year, but over the seven-year cycle 2007-2013 UK net annual contribution was £3.8 billion, or about £63 per person. The UK’s contribution is actually much lower than other similar sized economies such as Germany and France, partly because we get a special rebate. Evidence
This contribution must be weighed against the financial benefits of our access to the single market - the largest single market in the world. In 2011, the UK government estimated this to be between £30 billion and £90 billion per year — so a return on investment of between 800% and 2370%. Evidence
Many thousands of projects in the UK benefit each year. Detailed lists
Is the EU good for business?
You wouldn’t believe it from the eurosceptic rhetoric, but in fact, both British businesses and inward investors have been emphatic that Britain must stay in!
- 85% of British manufacturers want us to remain in the EU, according to a 2014 survey by the British manufacturers’ association EEF. The association represents 600,000 companies of all sizes. Evidence
- Small businesses support EU membership. The Federation of Small Businesses argued in 2014 that the EU is good for business, and 20% of its members trade overseas. Evidence
- The Confederation of British Industry is a strong advocate for EU membership. British industry argues that “the benefits significantly outweigh the costs” and that it’s vital to our global competitiveness that we stay a member. Evidence
- The head of the UK government’s export credit guarantee agency reports EU membership is “critical” for exporting around the world. Evidence
- British Chambers of Commerce members overwhelmingly want the UK to stay in the EU, and think withdrawal would have “a bad impact on their future”. Evidence
- Members of the Institute of Directors strongly support EU membership, with members voting more than three to one against UK exit in 2013. Evidence
- An independent poll of the top 500 British businesses in 2015 found that only 1% of boardroom bosses wanted to leave the EU. Evidence
- The financial sector in the City of London thinks that EU membership is an “enormous benefit”. Evidence
- A group of top free-market economists pointed out in 2014 that UK withdrawal from the EU would be a “grave threat” and would cause foreign investment to dry up. Evidence
Is the too much EU Red Tape?
EU legislation is an exercise in cutting red tape! After all, we need common rules for the common market to protect workers, consumers and the environment.
When we replace 28 divergent sets of national rules with a single set of pan-European rules, we can cut duplication and compliance costs. Just one example: it’s now possible to register a trademark once, valid across 28 countries, instead of having to do 28 different sets of form-filling, registering, troubleshooting and fee-paying. Evidence The same will soon hopefully apply to copyright, for example.
EU technical standards are generally drafted and agreed by the industry themselves. This means that most standards are based on the national regulations that they replace, rather than brand new requirements. Of course, we would need those rules anyway, but sharing them across the entire market means businesses only have to work to one set of standards rather than 28. Evidence
Simplifying the compliance framework for businesses in particular has been a major priority of the European Commission in recent years. The REFIT programme is a rolling scheme to evaluate, simplify and repeal extraneous rules. Evidence
The EU is not "a sprawling bureaucracy", but presenting it as such helps politicians pass the blame for unpopular measures onto Brussels, and helps sell tabloid newspapers.
The European Commission has fewer employees than a medium-sized city council in the UK. Evidence
Public policy studies have repeatedly shown that EU decision-making and policy making process are generally as efficient and effective as European national governments.
The Eurosceptics try to rebuff this saying that these jobs depend on trade with the EU, not on EU membership. The idea that a move as drastic as leaving the EU, and imposing immigration restrictions on EU citizens would not send serious shockwaves is pure wishful thinking. Business leaders have indicated clearly that hundreds of thousands of jobs would be lost if Britain were to leave. The CEO of Airbus warned of 200,000 jobs lost in Wales alone!
Why should we risk millions of UK jobs? Imagine if some kind of evil EU Directive were to put 4 million British jobs at risk. Would the Tories and UKIP be so blasé, and talk it off, saying the jobs may or may not be lost? Of course not! They would be crying 'wolf!' off of every roof in the land. This is the hypocrisy of the Eurosceptics! They are willing to mislead the public and exploit people's fears for political gain, while putting jobs at risk.
We must cry out against the threat of losing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of jobs in this country. By comparison, the number of jobs lost in the UK during the financial crisis 2007-2010 was around 1.1 million. Losing any initial number of jobs will lead to a downward spiral, and the impact could scar a generation.
Trade with the EU
Trade with the EU cannot be replaced by trade with the Commonwealth and other countries.
The EU is the world’s biggest single market, and it’s far and away our biggest trading partner, amounting to well over half of our world exports. Indeed, we export more to Holland alone than to the entirety of the Commonwealth. Evidence
The same applies to our imports, with European countries providing about two thirds of our incoming goods and services. Evidence
There is a persistent myth (reliably recycled every year by UK newspapers) that the European Court of Auditors has refused to sign off the EU’s accounts, but this is entirely false.
In the most recent audit year (2013), the Court gave a clean bill of health to the accounts for the seventh time in a row. This means every euro spent from the EU budget was duly recorded in the books and accounted for. Evidence
According to the European Court of Auditors, around 0.2% of the EU budget may have been subject to fraud. Any amount of possible fraud is unacceptable and needs challenging. But it’s worth noting that the figure of 0.2% is much lower than most national budgets! Evidence
British people are the EU’s biggest beneficiaries of the right to settle anywhere in the EU: more British people live in other EU countries than any other nationality! And there are about as many Brits living elsewhere in the EU as there are other EU nationals in Britain. Evidence
In reality, only 3.6% of the UK population is from another EU country. Most migration in the UK is from outside the EU, which means freedom of movement rules don’t apply and it’s completely up to the British government how to manage this migration. Evidence
And EU migrants are net contributors to the economy. Between 2001 and 2011, they contributed 34% more in taxes than they took out in benefits and services. Evidence
Compared to the UK average, EU migrants are more highly educated, more likely to be employed, and much less likely to claim benefits. Evidence
A 2014 UCL study found that EU immigrants to the UK contribute 20bn pounds more than they receive. West European EU migrants (pre-2004 expansion) contribute 15bn, East European (post-2004 expansion) contribute 5bn. Preventing immigration would lose us money! East European migrants are becoming increasingly more skilled, and make greater contributions. If we stop letting them in we will lose increasing potential gains. Evidence
British working class people have expressed concerns about immigration. Those concerns are about wages being undercut and jobs lost, or public services being squeezed. But these problems are not caused by immigrants! They are caused by employers who exploit workers by slashing wages, and by a government that insists on austerity and refuses to invest in public services.
What made Britain great throughout its history, was openness, forward-thinking, and an attitude of adventurous curiosity towards the rest of the world. Victorian liberals imposed trade around the world and built an Empire, for better or worse. Victorian Tory aristocrats invested in new technologies that set off the industrial revolution, while continental nobility refused to change, decayed, and faced revolution. In the meantime, British socialists founded the Cooperative movement, set up trade unions and fought for workers' rights, women's rights, and international solidarity.
Every stand of successful British politics has always been open and outward looking. Euroscepticism driven by a fear of immigrants coming in is wrong for Britain, and it aims to close us off to the world. That would take us back to a medieval time in our history. Britain has always been stronger when it has been internationalist and European.
Democracy and Sovereignty
Britain is more democratic in the EU than out!
UKIP and the far right would love for you to believe that if we leave the EU and "take control of our own borders", we would be more sovereign, and more democratic. Unfortunately for UKIP, that is simply not true.
Norway and Switzerland, who are not members of the EU, but in order to trade and maintain connections with the EU, the must implement EU law without being represented! They have no seat around the table when EU rules are made, but must apply the rules in order to have access to the EU single market of 500 million consumers, the largest single market in the world. Eurosceptics try and sell the idea that "Norway and Switzerland do alright", but the situation they face is much less democratic, and they tolerate it only because the two are small and very wealthy economies, Norway with its oil reserves and Switzerland with its banks. The UK is a much larger economy, applying EU rules that do not suit it would be costly and socially and politically destructive.
Nor does staying out save money — the Norwegian contribution per capita to the European budget is about the same as that of the UK! For the Norwegians, being non-members, it’s taxation without representation. Evidence
We live in a complex and globalised world, with many powerful actors, and global challenges to be tackled. Superpowers like China, India and Brazil vie power on the international stage, while the US is pushing large scale trade frameworks like TTIP, TiSA, and TPP. There are international challenges that need to be tackled like climate change. British citizens are now subject to strong international forces. If Britain leaves the large bloc that the EU is, it will have much less power to deal with all of these issues, and we would lose sovereignty, rather than regain it. We cannot go back to a world of detached national states, any more than we can go back to an age of gunboat diplomacy.
As opposed to the fictional story that UKIP tries to sell to concerned voters the European Union has strong democratic institutions. The European Parliament is directly elected, and the Council of Ministers represent the national governments. The Commission, which does not legislate, but only proposes legislation, is appointed by national governments and elected by the Parliament. The European Union also brings together stakeholders and civil society from all over Europe into large scale consultation and negotiation processes, where trade unions and employers, NGOs and businesses are required to be consulted. These are transparent and democratic process which UKIP does not want to tell you about.
The infrastructure for a democratic EU is there. Citizens need to get more involved, and our media needs to provide them with the information to be more involved. Europe's future depends on citizens shaping Europe for the better.
Europe and the Left
Europe is a political platform the European left must fight for a social Europe
I backed Jeremy Corbyn for Leader of the Labour Party, and I am glad he has now come out with a decisively pro-European line, saying we must fight for social justice in Europe.
Historically, in the Labour Party and elsewhere, the Left was concerned that the European Union is a project for free marketeers and big business. But, as we have seen, EU also guaranteed rights for workers, social standards, health and safety and environmental standards - it has consistently moved the bar upwards! When Thatcherism slashed social protections, and neo-Liberals across Europe wanted to take away social protections, it was the European Union's Charter of Social Rights, incorporated into the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, which aimed to protect Social Europe. The Tories opted out of the Charter, and it was the Labour government that applied it in 1997. Any future Labour government must pledge to reverse any damage to European social protections this governments might do.
Big business is present in Europe as it is at national level, and as with national government the fight is political. The Left must unite across Europe to fight the good fight for social justice in Europe. We will not be able to tackle issues like tax avoidance, or finaicial regulation and corporate law any other way.
EU migrants and health tourism
The idea that EU migrants are a burden on our NHS is a fiction. In fact, official figures from the Department of Health show that the opposite is true! The cost to other European countries of treating Brits abroad is more than five times the cost to the NHS of treating EU visitors here. In other words, we benefit enormously from the EU rules, without which the NHS would be £125 million worse off each year. Evidence
This is not really a surprise. Brits who travel abroad tend to be older and so the healthcare they get abroad is more expensive. Other EU citizens who come to the UK are relatively younger and healthier, so they are less likely to need medical treatment while they’re here.
The EU has always sought to be a leader on climate change.
It has put into place the 2020 goals, aiming to cut 20% of CO2 emissions, cut energy use (though greater efficiency) by 20%, and increase recycling by 20%. It has also put into place emission trading schemes, and promoted investment in green jobs and green investment.
The Commission's Green Employment programme aims to invest and create 1,000 green small business across Europe, and 50,000 jobs.
Much more needs to be done, and a global challenge like climate change requires large scale European action with the UK at the helm.
UKIP MEPs have repeatedly claimed that climate change is not human-caused, despite there being no climate scientist in the world who doubts that position. As with immigration, UKIP prefer to peddle myths and misinformation, and exploit people's fears rather than address real problems.
Women on Boards
Today the European Commission has taken action to break the glass ceiling that continues to bar female talent from top positions in Europe’s biggest companies. The Commission has proposed legislation with the aim of attaining a 40% objective of the under-represented sex in non-executive board-member positions in publicly listed companies, with the exception of small and medium enterprises. Currently, boards are dominated by one gender: 85% of non-executive board members and 91.1% of executive board members are men, while women make up 15% and 8.9% respectively.
The proposed Directive sets an objective of a 40% presence of the under-represented sex among non-executive directors of companies listed on stock exchanges. Companies which have a lower share (less than 40%) of the under-represented sex among the non-executive directors will be required to make appointments to those positions on the basis of a comparative analysis of the qualifications of each candidate, by applying clear, gender-neutral and unambiguous criteria. Given equal qualification, priority shall be given to the under-represented sex. The objective of attaining at least 40% membership of the under-represented sex for the non-executive positions should thus be met by 2020 while public undertakings – over which public authorities exercise a dominant influence – will have two years less, until 2018. The proposal is expected to apply to around 5 000 listed companies in the European Union. It does not apply to small and medium-sized enterprises (companies with less than 250 employees and an annual worldwide turnover not exceeding 50 million EUR) or non-listed companies. Source
The proposal might be accepted by the end of the year, but it has required an enormous amount of campaigning, and has been politically controversial, with UKIP opposing it strongly, and misrepresenting it as "the EU imposing rules", where in fact it is no such thing - it is democratic negotiations of legislation.
1. Mobility & exchanges
Erasmus Impact Study reveals that those who have studied abroad are less likely to experience long-term unemployment and that participation in the Erasmus study exchange programme increases job prospects for young people.
Erasmus is more important than ever in times of economic hardship and high youth unemployment: the skills and international experience gained by Erasmus students make them more employable and more likely to be mobile on the labour market. Erasmus has also played a tremendous role in improving the quality of higher education in Europe by opening up our universities and colleges to international cooperation.
Since the creation of the Erasmus mobility programme in 1987, more than 3 millions of people have studied abroad. It also allows mobility of teachers, Higher education institution staff and researchers Over 300 000 staff exchanges for teaching and training have been supported.
Long term cultural impact of Erasmus: 1 million babies born to Erasmus couples since 1987
The EU provides funding for mobility and exchanges programmes of course, but on top of that:
- Work on visa simplification and harmonisation to foster mobility
- Promote best practices example and facilitate peer to peer exchange
2. Cooperation for the Reform of universities:
The European Parliament coordinates the participation of EU countries to the Bologna Process. The aim of the Bologna Process was and remains to provide students with a wider and more transparent choice of high-quality educational opportunities as well as create a simplified process of recognition (common degrees) both internally and externally throughout the participating national higher education systems. All 47 current members of the Bologna Process have introduced major reforms to their higher education systems
Labour Protections in the EU
With over 240 million workers in the European Union, EU labour law rights benefit large numbers of citizens directly and have a positive impact on one of the most important and tangible areas of their daily lives.
EU labour law also benefits employers and society as a whole by
- providing a clear framework of rights and obligations in the workplace,
- protecting the health of the workforce,
- promoting sustainable economic growth.
EU labour law goes hand in hand with the single market. The free flow of goods, services, capital and workers needs to be accompanied by labour law rules, to make sure that countries and businesses compete fairly on the strength of their products - not by lowering labour law and social standards.
Health and Safety at Work Directive (1989):
encourages improvements in occupational health and safety in all sectors of activity, both public and private.
promotes workers' rights to make proposals relating to health and safety, to appeal to the competent authority and to stop work in the event of serious danger.
seeks to adequately protect workers and ensure that they return home in good health at the end of the working day
EU labour law protects working conditions. This includes provisions on working time, part-time, and fixed-term work, temporary workers, and the posting of workers. All of these areas are key to ensuring high levels of employment and social protection throughout the EU.
In line with its Treaty, the EU defines minimum requirements at European level in the field of working conditions. The Treaty gives the European social partners - European trade unions (ETUC) and employer associations (BusinessEurope) - a special role in the preparation of labour law initiatives at EU level. The Commission encourages the social partners to conclude agreements in this field. The Commission can also put forward legislative proposals to the Council and the Parliament.
 Neill Nugent, The Policies and Policy Processes European Union, 2010.
 Sources: Southbank University, 2000, Centre for Business and Economic Research 2011.
 Eurosceptic neo--liberal economists argue that the number of EU dependant jobs (4 million) is roughly equal to the number of jobs annually created and destroyed by the UK labour market, and so the free market could adjust to job losses incurred through leaving the EU. Any losses incurred would be on top of 'natural' job destruction, and there is no indication markets would adjust other than wishful thinking. A downward spiral recession as a result of jobs lost would make much more difficult for markets to adjust.
 Also: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-12-860_en.htm