In 1975 I voted for the first time. My first vote was to stay in the EEC. On 23rd June I shall vote to remain in the EU.
I feel European. I work for a large global corporation and in such an environment, being European, not British or English, matters. The people I work with are from all across the globe. Many I have not met, but I know their voices and have seen their photographs. We work together with trust and confidence just as we would if we were all in the same office. The cultural diversity, the different perspectives and variety of ideas makes working in a multi-national environment stimulating, educational and rewarding. I belong, I feel welcome, I feel part of a community. A global community.
So, you wonder, why do I feel European? And why does EU membership matter to me? Geography will not change.
When you work with people from across the world, and experience the diversity, it also highlights the enormous similarities within Europe: shared history and, importantly for me, shared expectations of social justice. It also highlights the restrictions of borders. Or rather the liberating impact of no borders (even if travel documents are still required in some places).
Borders could simply be security check points. In this day and age it is a sad fact that serious attention has to be give to security. But a security check point type border is not the same as a border to stop perfectly safe and honest people coming to marry, study, live or work. Borders which once crossed make some one an immigrant (in the modern nationalist sense rather than the literal sense of the word).
In my working environment EU colleagues who move to the UK are not thought of as immigrants. In many cases they do the same or similar job as they did before and they are not taking a job that “should go to a Brit”. They are bringing their own job with them. Quite often they come because the company has restructured or relocated functions to the UK to UK’s advantage. All these people pay tax in the UK and very few use any of the benefits, some even preferring to travel home for medical and dental appointments. Needless to say British colleagues have reciprocal opportunities and it is probably lack of language skills more than anything else which skews the numbers. If there are no borders other than security checkpoints, then the EU citizens who have moved to an EU country other than their birth country have moved like a Yorkshire man to London or vice versa.
This concept of the EU not being foreign is even stronger among the younger generation. When given the opportunity to study a “year abroad” my daughter ignored opportunities in Sweden, Netherlands and Ireland and when challenged retorted: “It’s for a year ABROAD Mum! ABROAD.” I suppose that from someone whose first solo venture to a big city was to Berlin (several times) which she knows better than London, it isn’t really surprising. But she assures me all her friends are the same.
If UK leaves the EU, and the single market (otherwise why leave unless to undermine rights of consumers and workers?), it would be very easy for corporations to move their offices to say Ireland, where they would have the benefit of access to the single market and the English language.
The feeling of solidarity and common cause with EU colleagues is re-enforced by the common standards and laws: the type of laws a society makes represent its values, its ideals and its aspirations. The common laws represent these shared objectives – not the other way round – but nevertheless the existence of the laws is an express sign that they exist. This is a powerful position when seeking to influence outcomes in other regions of the world, and within global organisations.
The regulations and directives much despised and even more misunderstood by most of the Brexiteers are often helpful. For example, in the early days, data protection was seen as red tape and bureaucracy gone mad, possibly because it was used as a scapegoat for some terrible practices and un co-operative customer services departments, but these days, most people take their rights to data protection for granted. EU members have all implemented laws to enforce an agreed common minimum standard and the freedom of movement rights mean that no additional “red tape” is needed to move data between countries in the EU (in fact EEA as the EEA members are also signed up to the standards).
Some countries in EU have strict national regulations governing certain aspects of business, commerce and banking. They are not EU laws. If businesses from other EU states trade with these countries the standard EU rules apply but for businesses from non EU countries the national regulations apply and I have seen and experienced first hand how onerous and time consuming it can be to comply, even for large, international organisations. Most small businesses would not be able to afford the time or cost. For me, operating within frameworks pre-agreed at EU level and implemented through the EU regulations and/or directives saves a lot of time and effort.
I have listened to the arguments about loss of sovereignty, the cost of EU membership and the burden of regulation and I am not convinced. To me most of the arguments rely on ignorance, (ignorance meaning lack of knowledge caused by lack of information, not lack of intelligence or stupidity) or in the worst cases they blatantly appeal to nationalistic, jingoistic emotion.
Many of the Vote Leave arguments suggest a “them and us” as though UK has had no say in any of the EU laws. I can’t see how that is true. The UK has a loud and powerful voice in the EU, as demonstrated by its opt outs and rebates.
The Leave campaign argues about loss of sovereignty but then talks of bilateral trade deals. But trade deals can and do reduce sovereignty as can security, climate change and other treaties; while UK is party to a treaty or trade deal it has limited its rights to act unilaterally outside the terms of the agreement – but that is not usually raised as a problem: UK joins because of common shared interest and the ability to achieve more as a collective than individually. Security and climate change are serious issues and significant action is needed. If we want to make an impact, adding our weight within the EU and jumping in together will make more of a splash than if we jump in alone, or two by two with bi-lateral agreements.
I haven’t seen any explanation of what we would gain by “getting our sovereignty back” except that we would probably repeal human rights laws, opt out of the European Convention on Human Rights (read it and let me know what you don’t agree with) and celebrate that people no longer have right to remain in our country because of their cat and that once again we can eat bent bananas without interference from Brussels. Yes! we would get our sovereignty back to correct all those, er, none existent issues made up by headline writers, misinformed ministers (and Boris). And we could demonstrate our regained power by undermining our own rights.
And democracy. OK, parts of the EU acted disgracefully towards Greece but disregard for democratic decision is not restricted to the EU. Democracy has been subjugated to big business almost everywhere and it is as rife in the UK as in any other democratic country with the possible exception of the US. Democracy needs to be revitalised everywhere, including in the EU, but I think the democratic deficit argument as a reason to leave is overstated. For me the EU represents me and my interests better than the Westminster parliament in the UK. For all its faults I think it represents the social democratic principle and the rights of the citizen better than the current UK government. When things work well they don’t make good news and distorted news reports about vacuum cleaners, bananas and other Euro-myths sell newspapers and feed the appetite for outrage that they thrive on.
Brexit supporters frequently refer to laws we didn’t vote for. But we did vote, or had the right to even if we didn’t exercise it, for MEPs, and the EU parliament can amend or stop EU laws. A controversial view maybe, but I think the democracy within the EU is better than in the UK. That isn’t to say it is good, but I am better represented by my MEPs than by my MP who does not represent me at all. In my constituency people who do not vote for the winning party are effectively irrelevant. Letters to my MP always receive a party line response, even when it doesn’t address or even acknowledge the point raised. At least with the proportional system there are MEPs from my area that do represent my views. Remember the celebrations of UKIP following the last EU election. It was the EU not the UK that gave UKIP the number of MEPs earned by its share of the vote. In my opinion, although I profoundly disagree with UKIP, that is how it should be. Democracy in the UK did not serve UKIP or the Greens well in the last general election.
The European Commission is most often cited as the source of laws we didn’t vote for. EU commission members are appointed by national governments (a bit like the House of Lords). They propose EU legislation, so are in that sense the source, but they can’t make it law. The legislative procedure requires that a proposed law be agreed by the parliament of MEPs (directly elected) and the Council (relevant minister from each member state). Either one can amend or stop it.
If we leave the EU, I am sure that the bonfire of the laws we “didn’t vote for” and the removal of “red tape” to boost trade will be paid for by the ordinary worker (fewer paid days holiday, reduced maternity/paternity rights, lower health and safety standards). Actions and restrictions to mitigate climate change may also go. No one may notice until they come to rely on something they had taken for granted for so long, only to find it has gone. I am sure that a lot of the “red tape” will remain because whether we are in the single market or not the goods and services we export to the EU will still need to comply with its standards, and possibly extra regulations as in my example above.
Finally immigration: I think by now my views are clear, so the only thing left to say is that it is a bit rich people in the UK criticising the EU for their handling of the refugee crisis when they did little to contribute to a solution. Good luck if all the UK borders actually move back to the UK.
I know there are a lot of people out there who disagree with me. They call me naive, un-patriotic and more concerned about foreigners (or immigrants or terrorists, often used as synonyms) than “our own”. A few of them are my friends and I know that some think their EU derived rights are God given.