UK & the EU; Love to Hate, Hate to Leave

United Kingdom
The World


The relationship of the United Kingdom and the European Union has always been a love hate affair.  After joining the Community in 1973 it quickly disagreed with Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) provisions which created a crisis within the Council.  Following in 1991 it fought to be excluded from specific articles of the Maastricht Treaty and in 1998 from ones in the Amsterdam on issues related to immigration policy and the common currency.  Nearly two years ago it stirred controversy over its inhibition to provide a share for the ESFS.  Overall, political parties and politician have often used the EU as an opposite pole against which they defend tooth and nail national sovereignty too boost popularity. They overemphasize the negative issues that come as due to membership to the Community and neglect mentioning the benefits it offers.  It is argued that in the EU bureaucrats control national policy and that it does not offer a positive impact; the country ought to exit this unhappy marriage.

For a start bureaucrats do not control policy, this is a false accusation made by national level politicians.  The Commission offers proposals which are amended and decided upon by national ministers in the Council and MEPs.  National governments with the size of the UK can with a few smaller alliances block proposals, even under the Qualitative Majority Voting system.  Moreover, decisions taken on the Council level are nearly always unanimous.  Though it can be argued that accountability is less direct, full on loss of national control is not the case.  Exiting the European Union would put the UK in a lower bargaining position; essentially the country would pick up a status such as Norway or Switzerland, which in policy fields with large amounts of trade align themselves in terms of policy.  The recent deals on bank account information struck between Switzerland and other EU States is an example.  It would be harder to discuss and argue for its policy agenda.

More importantly the EU has benefitted the UK in many ways; open borders, the common market and advanced policy measures.  Perhaps the community is not always as market oriented as London would have wished, and more political than Westminster would lke.  However recent events suggest politics have a significant role to play with in large integrated economies.  Cohesion and Structural funds have helped many infrastructure projects to take place across the country, especially in rural areas.  The EU’s funding for research and pilot projects sees recipients in large UK universities.  The common market has provided much potential for firms to expand and develop, gain know-how and provide competitive services and products to the public.  More importantly the freedom to move, work and do business across borders (the UK is not part of the Schengen agreement) allows some of the best employees, students and firms to enter the country; helping considerably in competitiveness.  Policy wise the EU offers advanced common policy in areas such as environment or trading while allowing national parliaments to deal with more local problems.  Finally, common policy positions across the 27 States are represented globally by the EU providing further negotiation power.

Not all is rosy, EU policies such as the CAP have serious drawbacks and depending on your perspective even increase total social costs.  The absence of control over implementation of measures can be irritating and even detrimental when other States do not apply them.  Larger countries provide larger parts of funds in absolute numbers.  However, arguing that the EU has nothing to offer and that exiting is the a better option, is simply not true.  What the recent story of the referendum made by back-benchers of the Torries on UK EU membership shows that exiting the Community is not an option really open for discussion.  A more honest approach would allow for a clearer mandate on how the UK to represent itself in Europe.  Moreover, it would allow the country to better shape EU policy and promote its agenda.  A good example is Scotland which has utilized its status as a Region of Europe to benefit and impact policy economy through funds and networking with peers in Europe both on the governmental and private level.  The rest of the UK could further benefit if political parties were more honest about what the Community can offer and make better use of it.  Let the love flow.

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