THE BLOG

What Has The EU Ever Done For Us?

18/02/2016 23:33 | Updated 18 February 2017

As the whispers of Brexit turn into a very possible reality, I can't help but think of the classic Monty Python sketch in Life of Brian.

"What have the Romans ever done for us?" John Cleese asks, trying to inspire a revolution. "Er, Sanitation, aqueducts, roads, public health, medicine..." is the reply.

The same thing is happening with the EU. Eurosceptics are shouting blindly about revolution, and forgetting to celebrate what Europe has done for us.

The EU has its problems. It is dense, unaccountable, and thick with red tape. But, with Cameron failing to negotiate a better deal, we're at real risk of losing the things we take for granted.

Peace

Let's not forget why the EU exists. It may have swelled into a wheezing, bureaucratic monster, but its origins were all about peace. The EU was created to make war impossible, by tying the European economies together.

It's a peace that still lasts today. When France called on its EU neighbours to lend military assistance after last year's terror attacks, it was a proud moment. The EU stood together.

If Britain votes to leave, it will send shivers of distrust throughout Europe.

Lucrative trade agreements

The idea that we could make better trade agreements on our own is simply arrogant and naive.

If there's one thing we've learnt from the last two months, it's that Cameron's bargaining power on the global arena is nowhere near as strong as he thinks.

The EU, and its 740 million consumers, is in a much better position to negotiate with the world than the UK alone (with just 64 million consumers). It's simple economics.

As for the 50% of our existing trade with the EU, we'll spend years negotiating the very same deal. And we'll still have to adhere to all the same rules.

What about China? Well, China's economy is haemorrhaging at the moment, dragging the entire world with it. Thank your lucky stars we're not tied more closely with this volatile giant.

And when China does come to the table, you better believe they're going to the 740 million consumers in Europe before us.

Nissan factories, Google Headquarters, Coca-Cola etc...

These enormous global companies have set up their European base in London. But it's not because they like the view. They set up in London because we're a gateway to Europe. Which is exactly how the UK government sells itself in its official business brochure, by the way.

The only reason London is the biggest host of foreign business is our link to the EU. Even George Osbourne's tight relationship with Google isn't enough to keep them from moving to Paris or Berlin.

As for the automotive industry, the chairman of Nissan has already expressed concern about Brexit, and made it clear that the EU is incredibly important to their business. Nissan aren't alone.

Multiculturalism and tolerance

The entire rhetoric surrounding our place in Europe has been soured and vilified by immigration. Let us never forget we send as many migrants to Europe as we take in. (2.2 million, if you're wondering).

The EU has been a powerful force in normalising multiculturalism. It has bred tolerance and encouraged compassion. Freedom of movement has softened arrogance and distrust.

Inevitably, this multiculturalism has also given birth to savage pockets of intolerance. A 'No' to Brexit gives a clear sign that our future lies in acceptance.

The regeneration of Birmingham and Wales

The EU has an egalitarian heart. It invests huge amounts of money in the struggling countries of Europe. (Our 1% of GDP contribution to this fund is often cited as a reason for leaving). Although we don't get out as much as we put in, some of that money is funnelled to the north of England (and heavily into Wales). It's a region that our own government is less inclined to invest in directly.

The regeneration of Birmingham's New Street station was paid for by EU funds. Look closely, and you'll see 'funded by the EU' signs across the North. Where the Tories look at with disdain, the EU looks with compassion.

Clean beaches and environmental regulations

A realistic and meaningful agreement on environmental standards will only ever come from collaboration. Without the EU setting restrictions, there would be very little environmental conscience in Westminster.

As an organisation, the EU leads the world on environmental policy. We can thank European regulations for our clean beaches and investment into alternative energy. Or perhaps we'd all prefer to wake up in a city full of smog, like Beijing?

Jobs

Our link to Europe fosters more than 3.1 million jobs. Of course, those jobs won't just evaporate if we vote to leave. But it will throw up insecurity and unanswered questions. The biggest global companies in London will debate whether to move their operations. It will take a while for the dust to settle, and even longer to encourage big Asian and Indian firms to fill the gap.

Child maintenance justice

Behind the scenes, the EU enforces a lot of useful laws on domestic issues such as child maintenance and abduction. Before the EU laws kicked in, it was entirely possible to skip the country to avoid maintenance payments. Leaving the EU could leave us unable to tap into these justice systems.

Wages, holidays, maternity and paternity leave

The EU enforces most of the universal laws of maternity/paternity leave, and basic work holiday allocation. The Trade Union Congress chief, Frances O'Grady, yesterday claimed that these rights are at risk if Britain votes to leave. There would certainly be pressure from businesses to relax the existing regulations.

Solidarity against extremism

We talk about the EU like it's a bureaucratic machine, but it's more than that. It's a community. It's solidarity against extremism. The EU is stronger when we are united. We are almost certainly weaker and more vulnerable alone.

So, apart from free trade, solidarity, jobs, environmental sustainability, justice, and peace, what has the EU ever done for us?