I put off writing this article for a long time. I've spent a good deal of the EU debate being confused: every time I think I have it sussed, another layer to the debate is peeled back to confound me again. I have friends I respect on both sides of the debate, some of whom will be disappointed, angry and, unfortunately, scathing about whatever I write. Above all it took me some time to figure out what I have to contribute to this huge and historic debate- what could I possibly write that hasn't been written a dozen times already? I decided honesty, about my own misgivings and the drawbacks of my position, whilst still arguing for a Remain vote might have some value to it. I have become convinced that, despite its flaws, inadequacies and at times immoral actions, the EU is far, far too important for us to leave. Why?
Firstly, whilst various figures have been touted, debated and abused (by both sides), the bulk of the evidence seems to suggest that the EU is what is best for Britain's economy. With only vague notions of 'trade deals with China' and saving on payments for EU membership (which dwindle to obscurity when all direct and indirect returns are added up) to counter numerous economic forecasts, Brexit has lost the debate on the economy. This is because those much maligned EU 'regulations', the bogeyman of Brexiters, often reduce barriers for businesses wishing to trade abroad, the opposite of what Boris and Farage would have you believe. Those that claim that we'll still easily be able to trade with Europe fail to grasp the fact that to do so will require compliance with these regulations, regulations we'd no longer have a role in shaping should we leave. All in all, we will have a more prosperous economy by remaining in the EU, and we should not be ashamed of the influence this has on us. 'The economy' does not always have to be code for the defence of austerity: here it means jobs, money in people's pockets and (potentially) increased public spending. Puritanically ignoring economic concerns might go down well on Marxism internet forums, but it doesn't help working class people one bit.
Secondly, the EU has not only been a source of some of the strongest and most progressive human, workers and environmental rights and protections in the world, as well as another check on governments determined to mistreat people and planet, but it is uniquely placed to tackle global issues such as climate change and the growing power of the financial world. Borderless issues call for borderless responses, and whilst it has failed in some areas, the EU has world-leading policy on animal rights and environmental regulation, it has proposed the financial transactions tax (against the wishes of our government), ensured all citizens the right to study, work and retire anywhere in Europe, complemented the hard-won workers rights by unions and grassroots labour movements with additional legal protections and extra legislation and provided relief funding for many of the most disadvantaged areas on the continent. This is not to over-claim the role the EU has played (as some Remainers have) or belittle the work of the labour movement here in the UK- the report by the TUC highlights how these achievements build upon those won in the UK, in part through solidarity between unions throughout Europe.
The final point is perhaps the most important, and one historically we Brits have been pretty bad at: it fosters a psychological mind-set of cooperation. Despite the now common parlance, 'Brussels' doesn't do anything other than eat chips with mayonnaise and make pretty good waffles. What we refer to when we invoke the name of Belgium's capital is actually a collaborative process of 28 countries debating, compromising and conceding, a grouping that Britain has played a powerful role in over the decades. This is a deep psychological and political point that we, as a nation still in a hangover of empire, need to be able to come to terms with. Negotiation and compromise between countries, with robust mechanisms in place to ensure these are vital to reach internationally fair resolutions: the fact that we do not always get our own way is, in the grand scheme of things, a very good thing. The EU has given us some of the strongest human and environmental rights we have, more prosperous economies, a vehicle for conflict resolution between the countries of what was once the most divided continent on the planet and an added layer of protection from the failures of our own government: but it has also led to the mistreatment of Greece, the possibility of TTIP and a failing agricultural policy, amongst many other woes.
Who can ignore my friends who describe the EU as a neoliberal despotism, especially in light of Greece's treatment? And whilst every single power-wielding institution in the EU is either directly elected by European citizens, composed of individuals elected in their own countries, or appointed by one of the other two groups (a very different picture to one the rhetoric often paints), this is still far too removed, opaque and unaccountable for any decent democrat to be content. None of this, however, offers fundamental rebuttals to the idea of the European Union. At its heart it is, as described above, an attempt at collaboration, at compromise, at working together for a better continent and maybe even a better world. It's lack of transparency and democracy, and its uglier policy decisions do not counter this anymore than the neoliberal, undemocratic decisions of my university dissuade me from pursuing my education: I am European, the EU is mine, and I'm going to fight to change it.
I often see Remainers asked why they don't trust Britain and its people to go it alone, to craft the society they want without the help of the EU, but the question could just as easily be reversed. Why do we not trust ourselves, the British people, to be able to fight the fight that needs to be had in Europe to ensure more transparency, more democracy and more justice? Why is this, the most important of fights, the appropriate one to walk away from? When did it become radical or progressive to give up? Walking away from all this wouldn't be walking away from a 'bosses club', or a neoliberal Death Star- it'd be walking away from ourselves, from our own problems and our own failures, from a bold attempt at international integration and cooperation, and from an important fight for justice, equality and peace.
I won't be voting for Remain on the 23rd but for Reform. It won't be a decision made lightly. I do so knowing that such a vote may well enable Merkel and crew to stranglehold the economies of countries like Greece, or callously reject desperate and vulnerable migrants from violence and chaos we have helped sow. I do so knowing that many of my friends will continue to feel disillusionment and distrust, and that the EU will in all probability continually fail to address this. I do so knowing that the EU has come to represent to some everything wrong with the modern, multicultural world and they will continue to feel alienated by the mind-set it travails. But these very thoughts that may yet cause my hand to waver at the ballot box are also the roadmap we need to follow on June 24th.
It will be by no means easy, but we can fight for reform in Europe, and this referendum has started a conversation that can instruct us in what that reform must look like. For the Left, assessing our shortcomings in national elections (which will the ensure more representation in EU institutions), as well as how we can better connect and mobilise with our counterparts in Europe, forming around some core, common reformist aims for Europe (in part informed from the conversation this referendum has started), must be our first steps in fighting for a more progressive Europe. As the power of the global 1% grows, the inequality between rich and poor deepens and the threat from climate change looms, these borderless issues need a borderless response - that response is a progressive, cohesive European left movement, building on the protections and successes of the EU, whilst also being unafraid to critique its many flaws. Europe should be for all of us: let's make it so.
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