Editoral: #StrongerIn

I have some pretty strong views about the EU. In my latest editorial, I went on a little bit of a rant – and had to rearrange page 2 to fit in an extra 400 words. The perks of being the editor, I suppose. 

The date has been set. In four months time, Britain will have the chance to vote on our membership of Europe – should we leave or remain?

If you have a glance through the newspapers, you’d been forgiven for thinking that British membership of the EU was a huge mistake – since the 1990s, the press has been dominated by anti EU stories, blaming domestic problems on the institutions of Europe.

In a recent article for The Journalist, former Fleet Street editor Roy Greenslade suggested that ‘Britain’s right-wing press has done everything in its formidable power to demean the European Union,’ but that their reporting on affairs ‘has been marked by a mixture of misinformation and disinformation, replete with inaccuracy and innuendo.’

It’s not hard to find evidence supporting this claim – former Epigram editor and BBC correspondent, James Landsdale, suggested that Boris Johnson ‘told such dreadful lies’ in his anti-EU coverage of Brussels for the Daily Telegraph 25 years ago.

Only 35% of the electorate turned out at the last MEP election – so if we’re complaining the process is undemocratic, perhaps we should first look at our own behaviour.

Similarly, Editors at The Times, Daily Mail, The Sun, and The Express have actively encouraged staff to hunt down anti-EU stories.

Sensationalism has dominated coverage of Europe, and that’s continued into the current In and Out campaigns.

Both sides have crafted arguments largely based on fear factors: fear of the unknown consequences of leaving; fear of the continued effect of immigration if we stay; fear of the impact on our economy if we leave; fear of the impact on our sovereignty if we stay.

What happened to a rational, informed debate, based on facts not emotion?

In my opinion, there has been a lack of reporting on what the EU has actually achieved. We’re all too happy to focus on the negatives – it makes a better news story – but we shouldn’t forget that British people have directly benefited from EU membership. Cheaper flights; cheaper international telephone calls; easier travel; the ability to live and work abroad; equal pay; improved consumer protection; paid leave; wildlife and environmental protections – theses just a few positives to have emerged from EU incentives. And for students, the Erasmus scheme – which has a budget of €2 billion and involves over 15,000 British students each year – has not only ensured we have the option to study abroad, but at an affordable price. Related article: Erasmus Calling: From Bristol to Valencia https://twitter.com/tdebbonaire/status/701345887306567680 However, the main issues in the upcoming referendum debates are undoubtedly immigration, the economy, and national sovereignty; let’s debunk some of the myths. Firstly, immigration. Our ‘immigrant crisis’ is not solely caused by EU citizens. In the first quarter of 2015, immigration from within the EU was actually lower than that from outside it – 183,000 people compared to 196,000. And don’t forget, many Brits have taken up the option to work and live abroad – there are currently 1.8 million living in mainland Europe, compared to 2.3 million Europeans in the UK. Those who have moved here have also made a significant contribution to the UK’s public finances – contributing an estimated £20 billion between 2000 and 2011 – which is far more than they receive in benefits.

Fundamentally my point is simple: the EU is not the root cause of many of the issues the press blames it for

It’s also worth remembering that we benefit from welfare systems abroad too. Roughly 2.5% of Brits claim unemployment benefit in other EU countries, for example, which is similar to the number of Europeans claiming jobseeker’s allowance here. The Department for Work and Pensions have estimated that 2.5% of their benefit bill goes towards EU migrants. Information overload there – but what does it mean? EU migrants are not the only group of people coming to Britain; they have contributed to our economy; and they don’t claim all our benefits – in fact they don’t claim many at all. Related article: Should students vote to leave the EU? Next up, the economy. I’ll try to be brief. The Confederation of British Industry have estimated that financially, Britain gains between £62 billion and £78 billion each year thanks to EU membership. A pretty decent return when you consider that we contribute about £9 billion, or 0.5% of our GDP, to the European budget. There have also been estimates that 3 million UK jobs are linked directly to trade with the EU, as 57% of British trade is with Europe. This could be endangered if we left and were hit by hefty EU trade tariffs.

Surely we’re better to be within Europe, shaping reform and direction, than on the outside, still being impacted by EU law but without contributing to it?

Yes, it would probably be possible to negotiate our own separate economic agreement with the EU – but there is no clear proposition for what this would look like. Turkey currently has a customs union; Switzerland a series of bilateral agreements; Norway has the European Economic Area Agreement.

 

 

Perhaps Britain could negotiate a similar deal. But, and this is a massive but, all of these countries have to agree to European laws in exchange for economic agreements, and the service industry is not included.

Based on precedent, this effectively means that the UK’s strongest sector, services, would be damaged by Brexit, and we would actually have less say over EU legislation that would still affect us.

This leads nicely into the final issue – sovereignty. The term is thrown around left right and centre, and suggests that the UK Parliament do not have control over the legislation stemming from the EU. But, in my opinion, this view is often based on a lack of understanding of the institutions of Europe.

The European Commission, effectively the civil service, sets the EU budget and proposes legislation. Every country has a commissioner who influences this process in the interests of their nation.

Once legislation has been drafted, it is passed on to the European Parliament, which contains 751 MEPs, representing every country, and further discusses legislation and policy put forward. The UK has 73 MEPs, but only 35% of the electorate turned out at the last MEP election – so if we’re complaining the process is undemocratic, perhaps we should first look at our own behaviour.

After going through Parliament, legislation reaches the European Council, which contains the 28 Heads of State from EU member countries. For nearly any new law to be accepted, all 28 Heads of State have to agree and sign the legislation.

This process is far from perfect, and reform is necessary, but it is clear that Britain has the chance to shape legislative outcomes at every stage of the process. If we left, we would not have this opportunity – but we would probably still have to agree to many laws in order to gain trade agreements, and the 100,000 pages of EU law we’ve already accepted wouldn’t be undone.

Related article: Bristol students set up campaigns ahead of EU referendum

Surely we’re better to be within Europe, shaping reform and direction, than on the outside, still being impacted by EU law but without contributing to it?

I could keep going with reasons to stay in the EU, but fundamentally my point is simple: the EU is not the root cause of many of the issues the press blames it for, and, before you suggest it is, do a bit more research about how membership has benefitted Britain. Because, in my view, Britain is significantly ‘stronger in Europe.’

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