06 September 2007

The EU is fantastic.

The European Union (EU) is a wonderful institution and has been a fantastic success.

I wanted to start with that sentence because it is something you rarely hear..yet nearly everyone (except the most hardened Eurosceptics) would generally agree with it. Even those who think the EU has been bad for Britain would agree that it has been successful for most, if not all, of its members, both economically and by keeping the peace and spreading diplomatic solutions to potential conflicts...

Not only am I fantastically pleased that we are members of the EU, I despair of our status outside the single currency. Our reluctance to join the Euro reminds me of our mistake in not joining the community at the outset. I remember Edward Heath and other Torie's relief and satisfaction at finally getting us inside the largest economic unit in the world. One that was sitting on our doorstep and destroying our economy with punitive tariffs on our successful companies and superior competition to our weaker ones. EU firms were benefiting from the sort of efficiency gains that comes from economies of scale advantage that our small economy (on the global scale) could not compete with.

Yes, the EU has a democratic deficit (so too does the UK). Yes, the budget is mishandled and there is too much fraud, but if there wasn't an EU we would certainly need to invent one to strengthen our sovereignty in the face of the unelected power of multi-national corporations, to co-ordinate business standards across borders, manage migration, the environment, in fact most areas need international co-operation. Whatever negative distorted tabloid stories are thrown at us by our US moguls who own the press, we would be mad to leave the EU and the electorate ultimately realises this.


  1. Neil,

    a) do you remember that in early 2005, MPs voted by a majority of 215 for a referendum on the Constitution?

    b) Do you think they were right or wrong to do so?

    c) Do you think that the 'Treaty' is any different from the 'Constitution'?

    d) Do you think that we are now entitled to a referendum?

  2. Mark, I think the new treaty is significantly different from the constitution. But lets have a proper debate and referendum on it anyway and beat you eurosceptics once and for all. The treaty just makes necessary procedural changes, a lot of the big ideas on political union have been dropped. What would you have in place of the treaty? Or do you just want to leave the EU?

  3. Thanks.

    a) the new treaty is NOT significantly different, even the EU chaps say so. But I doubt whether either of us have read either document, so fair enough.

    b) It's not "eurosceptic" it's "EU-sceptic", nobody is denying the existence of a whole continent here!

    c) I would have nothing in place of the treaty and, yes, I would love us to leave the EU (just like my two older children who live in Germany).

  4. So where is the EU flood relief money then?

  5. Mark, Neither of us would have read the whole document, but from snippets I have read and glanced at I have deduced the following;

    This treaty is about 10% different from the constitution that was proposed. 10% sounds little but it is a crucial 10%, as this Observer leader explains;

    "The constitution was meant to supersede every past treaty that EU member states had signed. It included symbols of federation, an anthem and grandiose mission statement. The treaty has more modest ambitions...The treaty is indeed a technical document of relatively modest ambition. But it salvages the political heart of the constitution - streamlined voting, a strengthened European presidency and diplomatic service. So the symbols have been dropped".

    This Treaty is certainly not as important as the Maastricht treaty (which the Tories never even contemplated giving us a referendum on). But never mind that - I don't think we need a referendum on this treaty as such, but having one could engender a healthy debate and expose a lot of myths about the EU that are put about by sceptics. The big question is; will it be possible to have a reasonably balanced debate with our press so hostile? I think it is about time the government was brave and took on the press.

  6. Fido, I think it is too soon to say what funding we will receive, but an application was made at the end of July to cover both the flood damage in June & July which has to exceed £2.2bn for us to receive a payout.

  7. Neil, thanks for that, I think you've missed out a word from that quote, it should read...

    "... it salvages the political heart of the constitution - streamlined voting, a strengthened European presidency and diplomatic service. So only the symbols have been dropped".

  8. What would you like to be taken out of the Treaty?

    It is mostly stuff that needs to be done for the EU to function properly with 27 (or more) members.

    The symbolism of the constitution was very important because it signalled a much closer political union, that has all been removed.

    If your real motive is to get us out of the EU, then fine. Say so loud and clear and lets have a referendum on that, you have already lost once and will lose again.

  9. Thanks, yes, I think we ought to get out of the EU sharpish.

    Rejoing EFTA but not EEA - like Switzerland will do me fine.

  10. EFTA??? Are you joking?? You really think our industry can survive exporting to Switzerland, Norway and Iceland?

    So this is not about this treaty at all - you want a referendum about the EU.

    While you pretend this is about the treaty you may have some support from people generally annoyed about the EU, but as soon as you cross that line into leaving altogether - you are in a very small minority - you have no chance of winning any referendum on EU withdrawal.

  11. You really think our industry can survive exporting to Switzerland, Norway and Iceland?

    Silly question. Do you think that those countries survive by just exporting to (and importing from) each other?

    Of course not. They trade with the EU, China, USA, everywhere.

    Anyway, the UK is a net importer from the EU, so it won;t be too dificult getting a mutual free-trade agreement off them. The EU already has such agreements with dozens and dozens of countries.

  12. "it won't be too dificult getting a mutual free-trade agreement off them".

    Do you wanna take the risk? What if they start slapping tariffs on our best exporters to the EU? What do we do then? This is very likely, the countries you cite are very small, the UK is a real competitor. Toyota, Sony, Nissan and hundreds (thousands?) of foreign owned companies would soon desert us when they had no access to EU markets (France have already made clear their hostility to these companies and would soon argue for tariffs if we were outside the EU). Our absence from the Euro has already halved our FDI. Leaving the EU would be a disaster for us. Then what about industry standards where would lose all say?

  13. "Of course, Britain could survive outside the EU...We could probably get access to the single market as Norway and Switzerland do..." said Tony Blair in Ghent (wherever that is) on 23rd February 2000.

    Yes I would take the risk.

    The French are complete bastards and do what they want anyway, whether we're in or out. Didn't it take them like, ten years to lift ban on British beef after the CJD unpleasantness?

  14. As to jobs in car manufacturing, Spain joined the EU in 1986 and Volkswagen promptly shifted a lot of production over there (lower wages). And now production is being shifted to Eatern European countries (even lower wages).

    So, even if we remain in the EU, if e.g. Nissan decide to set up a factory in the EU, they'd set it up in Eastern Europe, and not in the UK.

    Further, we import about 800,000 cars into the UK each ear and manufacture 1,800,000 ourselves (see this useful report), many of which are no doubt exported.

    So if the French don't want to buy our cars, we'll just export less and import less.

  15. Mark, most of those exported cars go to the EU, that industry would be decimated if we left. Before we joined the EU our car industries were inefficient and on their knees. Yes, incompetence cost us Brit owned Rover, but foreign companies would never set up here if we were outside the EU.

    Maybe we could negotiate some trade agreements outside the EU, but it is not definite. New technologies lobby host governments on industry standards. Its is not just about wages but expertise, labour flexibility etc. Would a new company take the risks associated with being outside of industry standards and a single market that might impose tariffs on them at any moment. We already have added extra costs and deterred Foreign investment by staying out of the Euro. The evidence is comprehensive that the UK would suffer economically outside the EU, and for what? Just to satisfy a few xenophobes and bigots fearful of foreigners. Because that is what it boils down to, an irrational fear of being overun by those 'culturally different'. Have the Scottish and Welsh lost their identity because of being in the UK? Have the French become less French, the Germans less German because of the EU? This fear is just rubbish. The UK hs prospered in the EU, what I really fear is the bunch of semi-elected Tories that run this country into the ground, and the completely unelected US/Australian/Canadian media bigots who use their power and wealth to feed this anti-EU prejudice.

  16. "The evidence is comprehensive that the UK would suffer economically outside the EU"

    That's the discussion here. Where is this evidence? There is plenty of evidence that being in the EU harms us economically, which I also used to ignore (being half-German and pretty pro-EU until about five years ago), but I think there is a lot in it.

    Yes I agree, were we to leave the bastard French would go out of there way to block imports from UK, but they do that anyway, and giving in to blackmail is hardly statecraft of the highest order, is it?

    And would Germany f*** over BMW and VW by banning import of cars manufactured by their UK subsidiaries? Methinks not.

    Further, you don't seem to get the point with cars. We are net importers of cars. We build less than we buy. If we couldn't export them we could just drive them ourselves.

  17. Any protectionism is bad. Am I the only one here who will defend this basic economic fact. Yes we can drive our own cars if we can't trade with the EU - but overall that will reduce choice for the consumer, competition for the producer and hence probably the efficiency of the economy - right across a whole range of products and services - a lot of which would be seriously affected.

    This 'build a wall round England' little Englander attitude of yours is thankfully in decline - as the Tories successive attempts at getting elected using it have demonstrated.

  18. This 'build a wall round England' little Englander attitude of yours

    Woah, Neil, I never said that, did I?

    I merely asked you for some links to support your contention that "The evidence is comprehensive that the UK would suffer economically outside the EU".

    If I saw such "evidence" then I would weigh up the arguments and might possibly revert to my earlier pro-EU stance.

    Like I said, I am half-German, married to a Malaysian, I have lived abroad and love going on holiday elsewhere in Europe, I am a great believer in free trade, I despise protectionism.

    (And actually I am not too fussed about cars, as I live in London and am a big fan of public transport, and the Official Minute Taker at venerable lefty group the Labour Land Campaign, who get a link from my blog in the 'sensible policies' section).

  19. Mark, you said 'If we couldn't export them we could just drive them ourselves". That sounds like protectionism to me. Surely you recognise that reducing trade with the EU would be bad for us?

    As for evidence that the EU has been good for us;

    The UK's share of world trade fell from about a third at the turn of the century to about 7% when we joined the EU in 1973, since then it has stabilised around this figure (now 6% and rising). The same trends can be seen with our economic growth, which was well below the EU average before membership and now at or above the EU average since membership.

    Our net contributions to the EU budget are around £2bn. Our trade with the EU totals over £120bn.

    It is easy now to dismiss the importance of the EU in binding Germany and France together and reducing the risk of war. There is nothing more detrimental to our economy then war. The EU has been a huge democratising force - opening up new markets as countries desperate to join the EU open up their economy, democratised their elections, improved their human rights combatted fraud and reformed their legal systems. The EU has expanded trade and opened up new markets for our exporters. It is also the largest aid donor in the world. This can not be undervalued.

    You may think that the EU would not impose tariffs on our industries if we left - but these are some of the tariffs on UK goods that were in place in 1972 - commercial vehicles 22%, organic chemicals 18%, plastics 18%, tractors 18%. Notice it is our most successful industries that get hit the most.

    Your Euroscepticism is a 'wedge issue' like abortion and immigration - used by the Tories to get elected but they don't even believe their own rhetoric - they signed the most federalist treaties - the single european act in 1986 and maastricht european union treaty in 1992.

    As GSM mobile phone standards exemplifies, the EU standards are massively important to promoting trade and efficiency. There are thousands of these standards right across every industry - we currently have a say and can defend British interests, outside the EU they would be decided without us and we would still have to abide by them. In fact the price of entry to the EEA might be a similar contribution to the budget that we make now and we would get nothing in return.

    Even if you are right and the EU were bad for the UK, we cannot ignore it - the largest market in the world 29 miles from our coast is not going to uninvent itself. It would still be better to be inside having an influence than outside being shat on. Every country in the world is joining or trying to join regional blocs to protect their national sovereignty and improve their world influence in trade talks. That is the bottom line.

  20. Neil, the £2bn net cash contribution is a small, btu meaningless figure.

    You are ignoring stuff like the fact that Gunter Verheugen, EU Free Trade Commissioner admitted in November 2006 that the cost to businesses of complying with all the EU regulations and directives and so on was about €600 billion, i.e. about £1,000 each per man woman and child.

    And the destruction of UK fishing industry, and negative impact on farming and so on.

    And the extra cost to our consumers because altho' there is free trade within EU, there are restrictions on what we import from rest of world. Trade with the Rest Of The World is just as important to us as trade with EU (I don't know actual figures).

    If the EU were so fantastic, why do you think that small countries like Iceland and Switzerland don't join? (Norway can live of oil, so that's a red herring)

    Don't tell me that you think the Swiss wouldn't be in like a shot if their cost-benefit analysis of a couple of years ago had shown a huge net gain from joining, rather than a huge net cost?

    And what about the Channel Islands, whose per capita income is a lot higher than ours, they aren't in, are they?

  21. It would still be better to be inside having an influence than outside being shat on

    You are basically saying we should give in to bullying? Please confirm.

    My view is, having weighed up evidence (that figure of £120 bn is probably correct, but we import MORE than that, so I still maintain that a free trade agreement with EU would be achievable, in any event it is hardly detailed research is it?) that we SHOULD NOT GIVE IN TO BULLYING!

  22. Maybe it is bullying - the EU is not a charity set up for British interests. It is a group of nations working together each with, quite reasonably, their own interests to protect. If you prefer to be economically worse off outside the EU, that is up to you - but I was just talking about the economics.

    If you want to talk about the morals of EU membership then we have to consider that redistribution of wealth to poorer member states (and potential applicant states) is a good thing - especially if it makes them more democratic and integration reduces the possibility of war (and increases our trade).

    A lot of the problems we have with the EU - (CAP, budget contributions, democratic structure) stem from our refusal to join the ECSC in 1952 which developed into the EEC in 1957 which we also failed to take seriously. It was our biggest foreign policy mistake and we have paid heavily for it by being kept outside the EU for 13 years when a lot of important decisions were being made about it's structure and then having to pay a high price for membership. We can only blame ourselves. We are making the same mistake with the Euro.

    Whether we like the EU or not, we cannot ignore it, we have to make the most of it. And that means being a part of it.

  23. by being kept outside the EU for 13 years ...

    Firstly, it's 15 years (from 1958 to 1973) and secondly we weren't outisde the EU, were we? We were outside the EEC. The EU did not exist until 1992. Further, there is no point us debating the merits of what happened fify or thirty years ago. That is irrelevant.

    ... when a lot of important decisions were being made about it's structure and then having to pay a high price for membership. We can only blame ourselves

    I don't blame myself at all, nor you. We are both too young. But you must accept that the EU that we have now is a completely different beast to 1973. We were the 7th= member to join, along with Ireland and Denmark, and how much influence have we (the people of the UK) had over the last 34 years? Fuck all, is my guess.

    If you prefer to be economically worse off outside the EU, that is up to you - but I was just talking about the economics

    That's the point here. We, the UK, could if we wished give money to poorer countries even outside the EU, so that's a non-point.

    I care, primarily about the economics. All the evidence I have seen suggest that all in all we'd be much better off outside.

    Yes there would be costs to leaving. Yes the French would do their damnedest to prevent us exporting to them, but they do that anyway and the more free market nations would be happy to do a mutual free-trade deal with us, like with Switzerland, Iceland, Norway etc.

    I am bored now, if you can think of anything else to say, post it in the comments here.

  24. We were kept out for 13 years because we didn't apply to join till 1960. Ok I should have put EEC instead of EU, but everyone knows what I mean whether I put EEC, EC or EU.

    We fundamentally disagree on the costs of being inside or outside of the EU.

    Yes there is a few small rich countries like Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, but there is a longer list of those who want to join. Countries want to join for a reason. If I was in a club where there was a waiting list and most were being denied entry unless they met very stringent conditions, I would think very carefully before relinquishing my membership.

    There are costs to being in the EU. But even if you are right and the EU is bad for the UK, I believe it will be even worse for us outside of the EU. We joined for a reason. Our politicians begged to join because our country was going to the dogs. Now we are doing quite well inside the EU and I don't want to lose that.