Let’s get one thing clear, whilst it doesn’t seem it anymore, the EU was a peace project. The Cold War was in full swing, politically (and visibly, in Berlin) dividing Europe. Europe had just faced two of the biggest wars the world had seen and all the countries needed to recover. So, in 1957, specifically in Rome as it is the birth place of the Roman Empire, originally uniting Europe through the linguistic roots of Latin, the Treaty of Rome was signed by Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and (West) Germany establishing the EEC. This had the sole aim of the six founding members working together economically to bring about stability and prevent the rise of extremism which had, and still was, spreading across Europe.
Arrogantly, despite it being Churchill who suggested a united Europe, we did not join. As a result, it is believed this is why we do not have the same emotional connection to the EU which these few countries do. A referendum in 1975 has meant that we have negotiated many opt-outs from the EU, most noticeably the Schengen Agreement, meaning we do not have open borders (only free movement of travel, which is different) and the euro. In all honesty, we have such a good deal with the EU, why throw it away? If we were to easily go back to the EU in a few years (as so many people seem to think we can do): Firstly, why would the EU let us do that? Secondly, we would have to agree to all the conditions new members have to adhere to, without our existing opt-outs.
As promised, this is my follow up post as to the benefits of being within the EU.
1. Rights and civil liberties
Here’s what we all have because of the EU:
- a 36 hour week (edit: I completely forgot that this is actually a key area the UK has an opt-out of – the Working Time Directive – if you were to move to another EU country, this would be the case but the UK decided that this was not good for business here and so we have our own WTD)
- right to paid holiday
- right to safe conditions
- right to be given warnings before being fired after 2 years of working for the employer
- protected agency work
- right to paid maternity/paternity shared leave
- anti-discrimination across he board
Being a part of the EU really does protect the rights of women, in few but significant ways:
- maternity and paternity rights (again, these have been negogiated with the EU so that Britain doesn’t have as long but this is another aspect we’d have to fully adopt if we were to rejoin in a few years)
- equal pay – this was set out in the Treaty of Rome under the anti-discrimination clause. Before the UK wrote its own equal pay laws, the EEC was far ahead
- anti-discrimination – in general, because of legislation the EEC passed before we joined, you cannot be disqualified for a job based on gender, race, religion (additionally, now also sexuality) so it’s a win for all
Even in Britain, people with disabilities get discriminated against by their employer. The EU can and will do it’s best to help you.
- the rights of the carer, which were not previously protected by British courts
- making life easier for people with disabilities – I know that accessibility doesn’t always happen but technically, you have a right to complain and state that they are breaking not only EU laws but UN conventions which the EU (thus Britain) and the UK have separately signed
As a consumer, we don’t notice the little things we get from the EU
- for food: allergy advice, sell by and best before dates, health advice and calorie content
- quality of product (the ‘CE’ mark on toys and any product sold in the EU legally)
- one set of regulations for all products sold across the EU meaning that you know anything you buy in Germany, Croatia or anywhere else will be the EU will have exactly the same set of standards, good for the consumer and for business
Humans in general
These are just some of our rights protected by the EU. Many come from the Fundamental Charter of Human Rights, which overrides member states’ laws concerning civil liberties. Before you start shouting “That’s an erosion of our sovereignty”, you should know that our own Human Rights Act 1998 is mainly based on the European Convention of Human Rights anyway. It’s one of the main reasons I’m voting ‘In’, I like to know that my rights and civil liberties are protected. I don’t trust Cameron’s proposed ‘British Bill of Rights’ – we are talking about the guy who tried to force through the Snooper’s Charter (which the European Court of Justice condemned).
After watching Britain and Europe and previous negative comments I’ve heard about the EU and its restraints on business, such as Employee Involvement and the hassle for employers it brings. I am very much aware that it is difficult to trade with countries outside of the EU and this is a cost or a loss to business. I know that not all groups can be heard within the EU so not all the voices across Europe can be represented (with reference to the Tate and Lyle representative in the documentary).
However, can Britain do anything for you? Britain clearly doesn’t have trading deals with many countries outside of the EU. Therefore, businesses have to abide by the World Trading Organisation’s policies of a set 10% tariff for trade. The EU simply allows businesses to have a wide market which does not have tariffs. Leaving the EU would result in having tariffs on EU countries as well as with countries that already have tariffs.
Does Britain listen to lobby groups and pressure groups better than the EU? Well, they have fewer voices to listen to, true, but does that mean they do? You have to be an ‘insider’ pressure group to even get close to an MP. And, as evident from recent months with the Junior Doctors’ Strike, even then it doesn’t always work. The BMA is catagorised as and ‘insider’ pressure group, but did Jeremy Hunt back down and listen to them? No, not until there had been strike after strike and popular opinion against him. So can we expect the EU to listen to every single pressure group from across all 28 countries when our very own British-better-than-Brussels MPs can’t even listen to one country’s complaints? It’s simply not feasible.
3. Tourism and travel
One of the things most notable and visibly great about the EU is the ease with which we can travel across the EU. In this way, you and I are able to carry a passport and some euros and go across the 18 countries in the single currency – making holidays cheaper – and the 26 countries in the Schengen Area – making holidays easier to travel around.
Who doesn’t love a quick trip to Benidorm, Ibiza or Corfu?
Sites I have seen across the EU with visa-free travel. People from all across Europe come to the UK with ease (but still having to go through border control and convert their money) and we go to Europe (with no border controls, outside of the UK, and with only one currency).