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Europe Day

Europe Day

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Yesterday was Europe Day, though not that you would know here in the United Kingdom. Europe Day is an annual celebration of peace and unity across the European Union, be we weren't observing it here as we were too busy celebrating a transient victory over old enemies rather than a lasting peace between new friends. Which I think says a lot about Britain and its attitudes towards the European Union.

Britain sees itself as separate and distinct from the rest of the Union, a unique special snowflake in contrast to some homogeneous European other - and in two years time we will, if our Prime Minister is to be believed, be given a choice to vote whether to remain within the Union or to leave it and cut ourselves loose. If I might be completely frank, this scares the hell out of me. There is so much euroscepticism here in the UK, especially in England that I really worry how the vote might go. It is my deeply held belief that our future along with that of our European neighbours lies together as part of a close union, not apart, all fighting for ourselves and against each other.

The Union gets a lot of flak in the UK, and we get told a lot of things. We get told it's run by "unelected technocrats" ... I've never been sure who these people are, though, are they the European Parliament, who are elected by us? Um, nope. Maybe the European Council, then, but no, wait, they're just our leaders who are, uh, elected by us. Ah, but what about that awful European Commision then? That would be the one whose president is proposed by our own leaders elected by us and voted on by the European Parliament who are elected by us, and the commissioners themselves who are appointed by the national governments we elected. No, I'm still not quite seeing it.

We get told how we have to pay massive amounts of money to the EU - well it's actually about a half a percent of gross national income for the UK, about a tenth of what we spend on defence and somehow there's always enough money for that. Even on top of that we get a generous rebate back, in any case.

We get politicians complaining about "health tourism" and people coming over here to use our wonderful NHS - don't get me wrong, I absolutely love the NHS and I think it's one of the best things about the UK. But don't forget that we also have that brilliant reciprocal health arrangement where we are entitled to state healthcare across the EU courtesy of the EHIC. So it cuts both ways.

We get told that "Europe" meddles in British affairs, and that's awful. Leaving aside for the moment that we are part of that same Europe, what meddling do we get exactly? The Conservatives complain about the European Court of Human Rights deciding against the UK, telling us that we can't do things like retain DNA samples from people accused of a crime but later acquitted, or deport people to countries where they might be tortured or executed, or denying our citizens the right to vote if they're in prison. Here's some more things the ECHR has decided, see what you think.

As well as this, our membership of the European Union gives us freedom of movement anywhere within the Union, freedom of settlement and the free movement of goods. I sometimes wonder how the UKIP voters in the South-East will feel if we cut ourselves adrift from the EU, when they decide to go on their booze-cruises to the Calais hypermarkets and find that they can bring back only up to a duty-free allowance.

If the UK leaves, I wonder how our students will feel when they find out they can't take part in the Erasmus programme any more and can't go and study abroad in other European universities.

If the UK leaves, I wonder how the 1.8 million UK nationals living permanently elsewhere in the European Union will feel when their lives suddenly become rather more complicated as their right to movement and settlement is pulled out from under them. I wonder how my own parents, living on the Mediterranean coast of Spain will feel about that.

If the UK leaves, I wonder how our businesses will feel when their imports and exports with the EU are suddenly hit with tariffs and protectionism? I wonder how many of them will leave? I wonder how many UK citizens will leave?

Let me put this as plainly as I can - I will as you have probably guessed by now be voting "Yes" to remaining in the EU at any upcoming referendum. You're entitled to your own vote and I won't criticise you whichever way you decide. All I ask is that you read up, think hard about what you're deciding on and then vote based on what you think is best, rather than what anyone else might tell you. If you vote no, do it because you believe in it, don't do it to stick two fingers up at Brussels or Strasbourg, because that would be a really bad reason to vote for anything.

One more thing - if the UK waves goodbye to the European Union, it can wave goodbye to me as well. Those UK nationals I mentioned earlier who might leave? I'll be among them, on the first train, ferry or aeroplane out of here.
  • OK, I'm not that sure about how all the parts of the EU government work, but the image (right, or (probably) wrong) that I have in my head is that there's a heck of a lot of bureaucracy out there. Yes, there's the people we vote for, and the people they appoint, much as there is in our UK government. But is there not a large EU equivalent of the civil service, who, while their job is to do what the elected officials tell them to do, are not actually elected by us, and have longer-term interests than the politicians who come and go?

    Yes, yes, I know I should probably only be as worried about the EU "civil service" (if they even have such a thing) as I am about the UK version.

    But. The EU parliament seems much more distant than the UK parliament. It seems vastly more distant from the UK parliament than the UK parliament is from local councils.

    OK, I don't know who my local councillers are, and I've never been that confident about knowing who my MP is, but the news I read seems to do a reasonable job of checking up on them for me and letting me know if they're doing something really stupid. Enough that many of their names will register a spark of awareness if I come across them. The news I read also seems to do a reasonable job of letting me know if the national goverments of EU nations are doing something stupid too, and I'll recognise the names of a fair few presidents, treasurers, and the like of those countries.

    But I can't say the same for MEPs. Yes, I'll probably recognise the name of the president of the EU if I see it, and maybe some of my MEPs, but I can't remember the last time the news raked some of them across the coals for doing something daft. And these are politicians, remember. I can't believe they're off doing their political stuff, and not doing something daft. Consequently, I don't even know what they actually do. Sure, they represent our interests - but in which direction, and on what subjects?

    Now, I'll happily admit, it's entirely my own fault that I don't know enough about this. The information is out there (somewhere) and if I were interested in finding it out, it's probably not that hard to do. I'm a bad EU citizen. But I'm not interested in finding this stuff out, because it feels so far away, so disconnected from my life, and so irrelevent.

    I realise, from your post (thank you), that EU politics are not as far away, disconnected or irrelevant to my life as they feel. But knowing that still doesn't conjure up the the enthusiasm to go and figure all this stuff out.

    In a slightly odd twist, I am actually in favour of a united Europe. I just don't feel connected to the current EU government. When I hear (one-sided?) stories about some of the weird historical quirks like the various type of protectionism (e.g. farming subsidies) that it supports, it's discouraging. On the other hand, I think we're probably better off in it trying to fix it from the inside, than opting out and waiting for it to magically fix itself before hopping back in.
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