The role of a District Councillor is mainly about local stuff. Best value for Council Tax, chasing other organisations for road works or rubbish dumping issues, but also to be an ear to feedback issues to the parties we represent. One of the biggest issues I do hear about is Europe (European Court Of Human Rights, Immigration, Bailing out other countries etc).
I am not sure I know enough about Europe to debate the issues, and if asked ‘What would happen if we left the EU?’ I could not answer without bluffing. A lot.
I do recognise that being able to sell stuff to countries in Europe without customs and internal duties is good for us. It makes trade quicker, cheaper and easier for us, but, like you, I am also aghast that we can not rid ourselves of Abu Qatada because of our namby pambying niceness and following the rules. For once I admire the French whose approach is to just deport them and allow an appeal in their absence. Why don’t we do this here.
I am not certain that immigrants coming in from Eastern Europe are ‘taking all of our jobs’ as some of our idle unemployed need to get off their backsides and go out to earn a days wage and get them first, even if it is in a job that is beneath them and lowly paid (I started off at the bottom of a ladder and was grateful for the opportunity). This would reduce the supply of jobs, and reduce the influx of immigrants. I do agree that we need to control the influx of people into this country to people who can bring in skills and wealth we can use to build a stronger country and economy.
I am worried that we are in danger of making decisions on Europe in the future based on a selection of high profile issues that hit the press, and not fully understanding what Europe is for us. The current surge in support for UKIP does worry me as they are currently in the luxurious position of being able to make promises and policies they do not need to keep. That said, I am not a Europhile, but am not ready yet to be a complete Euroskeptic. Europe does need, however, to change, and if it can not, then our obligations and commitment to Europe must instead. I firmly believe it is important that whatever we do to change our relationship with Europe it must not affect the free trade and commerce that allows our businesses to sell across the continent freely or to operate business units in other countries. We must do nothing that is self harming.
So, I decided to find out more, and bought a copy of ‘Au Revoir, Europe: What if Britain left the EU?’.
A real corker of a page turner? Well… Erm, Yes. I am actually finding it very easy to read and am enjoying my progress through the book. If you would like to find out more, it is written by David Charter, a reporter for The Times who spent 5 years covering Brussels. My copy came off Ebay for £12.00. I do recommend it to you.
I have decided to summarise it here in blocks. Some bits of blatant plagiarism, and I hope the Author takes this as a compliment and accepts the suggestion to buy a copy as good promotion. It may take a while, but the first instalment (below) is How we got here. Future blogs will be on what the EU does for us, and what might happen if we left. If you would like to know the full story then I would strongly recommend the book. Dan Hannan MEP is also another writer on Europe who is well worth following and reading. A columnist for The Telegraph, he is another exceptional speaker and writer on the subject. My ramblings will be recognised as very inferior in comparison.
How we got here.
In 1957 6 countries signed The Treaty Of Rome to form The EEC (European Economic Community). These founding states were Belgium, France, Italy, Luxemburg, the Netherlands and West Germany. Their ambition was to ‘lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe’. Unfortunately, despite the United Kingdom having sacrificed immense losses during two world wars to support France and Europe, Charles De Gaulle (Left) used France’s veto to block British entry for 12 years while this formative period was used to form a lucrative support system for its farmers and generally write rules in favour of the founding members.
The first post-war British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee stated “Know them all well. Very recently this country spent a great deal of blood and treasure rescuing four of ‘Em from attacks by the other two”. The strong feelings in post war Europe and exclusion from this new club did not bode well.
Britain’s membership was finally allowed in 1973 (after a change of leadership in France when President Pompidou (Right) replaced De Gaulle) and, along with Ireland and Denmark, we joined. At this point the established rules, regulations and objectives stood at 13,000 pages long. Take it, or leave it, there was to be no opportunity to review and redress. These documents, presented to Edward Heath as he signed, stood over a metre high tied, ironically, in red tape. Worse still, on realisation of the imminent admission of these 3 new sea-faring nations, the other 6 drew up and implemented The Common Fisheries Policy, a contentious and one sided document that did not require the friendly cooperation of the new states in its preparation, regardless of their coastal interests.
The tentacles for the EEC ran deep into international trading agreements, and enforcing the rules of Europe’s single market. Agriculture, The Environment, Industry, Health and Safety, Employment Law, Justice, Transport, International aid, Development and Sport were all now under the control of EEC rules. Areas controlled by individual member states included (essential) Sovereignty, Fiscal policy, Defence, Education, Law and Order, the NHS and Welfare.
In 1975, just a few years after joining, a referendum was held to ask if we should remain in the Common Market. This was preceded by a leaflet that was sent to every home setting out the debate as it was seen then. Here is a link to that leaflet: http://www.harvard-digital.co.uk/euro/pamphlet.htm The vote was for an overwhelming ‘Yes’.
As time marched on the Economic and Monetary Union was created. In 1989 the framework for its introduction in Europe was proposed and in 1989 the European Central Bank was formed and in 1999 The Euro was launched with a total of 17 countries now using The Euro (Estonia the most recent addition in 2011). A further 10 countries are currently heading towards this full integration of currency with Denmark and the UK the only two countries who have opted out.
The move for full integration into Europe is very strong in some countries with Polish leaders calling for the European Commission and the European Parliament to become the true government of the EU. Herman Von Rompuy, the President of the European Council, claims in September 2012 that “There is a genuine willingness amongst the EU leaders to address the systemic nature of the crisis. To finish a house half built… the leaders commit to themselves to bringing the Economics and Monetary Union to its solid and stable end state in the years ahead”. Strong Stuff.
While in the UK we greatly value our Sovereignty, Currency and identity, other countries are working hard for greater integration and assimilation with more control, not less.
Regardless of our views of recent governments, our position in Europe has not, however, been one of submission. John Major and David Cameron have opted out and vetoed policies and rules in acts which have irritated the other member states and these include the ‘Schengen borderless travel zones’, opposition to reform of the financial services industry, and rejection of deeper coordination of fiscal policy. While Tony Blair was a true Europhile, it is fair to note that Gordon Brown’s decisive ruling out or euro entry in June 2003 was as significant (and represented the view of over 80% of the population).
More recently, David Cameron’s EU Act of 2011 (which received Royal Ascent on July 2012) means that any further power sharing with Brussels must first be put to a referendum.
Our position in Europe, 26 miles off its shores with a different currency and belligerence against conformity is already irritating the rest of the member nations who see greater strength in unity while we heckle from the back of the class. Indeed, we as an electorate do not take Europe seriously using the European Elections as an opportunity to protest vote and send anti Europe MEP’s to the heart of the organisation.
We are now talking about a referendum on Europe, but the prospect of a simple ‘yes’ ‘no’ vote is surely too simplistic as we are currently most definitely not embracing the full values of Europe, and do not intend to. There has to be a third option to secure the best of the trade agreements and some common ideals, but not to allow further power to slip to Brussels. Currently the UK government is conducting a review of the balance of EU competencies and this is due to be reported back on in 2014. This will look at what powers we might wish to take back from Europe.
It is curious that our own core values are so different to other member states who do not value their own sovereignty and distinction as greatly as we do, and the thought of joining a currency used by Greece, Spain and other countries teetering on the brink must never get support in the UK?
To be continued…
Enlargement of The European Union – Source: Wikipedia