The debate about Britain's membership in the European Union is continuing to rage on. In recent days prominent Conservative backbencher Adam Afriyie has said he will try to force the government to hold an early vote on whether the UK should leave the EU. David Cameron has already promised a referendum in 2017 if the Conservative's win the next election but has also pledged to renegotiate the UK's relationship with the EU beforehand. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg weighed in during a recent speech at the London headquarters of Swiss technology firm Buhler Group, saying it would be "economic suicide" for the country to leave.
A cross-government audit is currently under way looking at where the EU has powers in the UK. The idea is that each will be examined to see whether it is necessary or whether the power could be "brought back" to the UK. This is Mr Cameron's proposed stance on Europe: take back control while still maintaining EU membership.
Euroscepticism and general resistance towards the EU is not exactly new but it wasn't until Jacques Delors's three phase plan for Monetary Union and the subsequent preparations for the Treaty on European Union (TEU) that opposition towards the EU emerged as a major issue across the nation states. Denmark's rejection of the Maastricht Treaty at the referendum in June 1992, followed by the close and bitter referendum in France, where the 'yes' vote was carried by the narrowest of margins, was a warning shot for the EU's political elites
So is Britain better off out or in? Well that seems to be the million pound question everyone is asking and one which is not straight forward to answer, however the loss of sovereignty at nation state level is at the core of the debate.
The relationship between Britain and the EU has always been complicated. Throughout the European project's existence successive British governments, and EU institutions themselves, have done very little to make the Pro-European case to the British public. People simply just don't know how it has benefited us.
Despite the economic woes of the EU, the UK economy benefits from the single market. It gives British companies free trade access to the world's biggest single market allowing firms to export to other member states. Our membership provides UK nationals freedom of movement across the entire EU. Legislation has brought about equal pay and non-discrimination for men and women and was enshrined in the 1957 Treaty of Rome, which first established the European Community. Age discrimination laws which came into force in the UK and other member states in 2006 stemmed directly from legislation passed at EU level. How about foreign study? Thousands of students take part in foreign exchanges ever year under the EU's Erasmus programme. It helps students learn a foreign language, gain experience of another culture, and profit from the host country's expertise in their field of study. Then there's the European Regional Development Fund which supports economic regeneration through projects in the areas of innovation, business support and sustaining communities. Least of all we can't forget that the EU has brought about half a century of peace on a continent previously ravaged by war...
I'm not saying that the EU is perfect; it has its negative aspects like everything but it doesn't mean Britain should necessarily turn its back on membership. Public demand for a referendum is growing and now seems inevitable. It's a debate which young citizens should be paying more attention to and I don't mean by just watching the coverage on the news channels. Whether you believe in the EU or not we shouldn't just rely on what party leaders and other elites say on our screens. Their job is to convince us of their arguments and by all means they have valid points. But we should also be researching and educating ourselves on what Europe has done for us and drawing our own conclusions. We shouldn't sit passively by and vote against it because it seems to be what everyone else is thinking.
It's my belief that convincing Europe's citizens of the benefits of the EU remains fundamental to the EU's overall legitimacy, especially here in the UK but it must provide convincing evidence of its benefits in order to sway the British public to vote in favour of staying in.