Can these flags ever fly in harmony?
Nick Harris explores the cloud of uncertainty which hangs over the EU.
On January 15th, Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the EU Commission, compared Britain’s relationship with Europe to that of two doomed lovers, saying at a conference in Paris, ‘It’s easy to fall in love and more difficult to stay together.’ The debate on Britain’s involvement in Europe has spanned the centuries, from military intervention against Napoleon, ‘splendid isolation’ from Europe under Disraeli and reconciliation following two world wars. But is Mr Juncker right about Britain and Europe, specifically the EU? Is our relationship doomed to fail?
Is our relationship due to fail?
For the most part, the EU is beneficial for our country. The immigrants which some are so quick to condemn are young, hard-working people who just come to this country wanting to find work and do their job well. It is not their fault that the British public does not occupy these jobs, yet alone want to occupy them. As for the claims of benefit tourism, these can also be proved false; in 2011, for example, European Economic Area (EEA) immigrants put 34% more into the public purse, in the form of taxes, than they took out. The same is even true for non-European Economic Area immigrants, although by a smaller margin of 2%, and most likely because many of these non-EEA immigrants came to this country during the wave of Commonwealth immigration immediately after decolonisation and are therefore older and no longer in work. Furthermore, this influx of young workers could turn out to be a blessing. We have an ageing population in our country and in many sectors, like the NHS, we will have a crisis in the next few years when our older GPs retire and there are no new doctors to replace them. These new workers have to come from somewhere and, already, we are finding ourselves recruiting in many parts of Europe with 1 in 10 new nurses at NHS trusts coming from Portugal. Can we really withdraw from a system which is providing a nation with a ready and willing workforce which is happy to put a lot more in than many of us Brits?
However, there are those who argue that this immigration is having a negative influence on our country. These people are focused into one group: UKIP. The argument for Britain’s exit is centered around immigration and how immigrants are stealing British jobs, taking up British housing and breathing British air. This party is completely bigoted against any kind of immigration. They ignore any of the EU’s benefits for Britain and even claim that current immigrants who are settled in the UK should only be allowed to stay for a ‘transitional period’ following a theoretical exit from the EU.
In the last five years, through a campaign of scaremongering and propaganda, UKIP have whipped the British public into a europhobic frenzy. The ‘facts’ that this party spreads about the EU and how it drains our country’s economy are often not true. It is much less noticeable here in the South-East than in many other regions, but the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) has invested billions into everything from infrastructure to keeping museums and galleries open. Maybe not all of this money is invested wisely, but one cannot claim that we don’t see any of the money we put into the EU. The claims put forward by UKIP about a possible escape from EU energy regulations are largely fictional; if British businesses were to begin working without regarding these rules then they would have great difficulties in trading with the EU bloc. The europhobes often point to countries like Norway and Switzerland as examples of survival outside of the EU, but our country has developed in an entirely different way to these countries and there are no case studies to suggest that the UK would fare well out of the EU.
However, Europe has hardly displayed itself as a paradise for its members in the last five years; the Euro is a currency in danger of collapse, with a Greek walkout looking even more likely following the recent election of the anti-austerity left wing party, Syriza. The European sovereign debt crisis, combined with other fundamental issues with the Eurozone, is making it harder for europhiles to argue their case, and has given UKIP a weakness to exploit. The Eurozone is, however, attempting to rekindle its appeal with the huge quantitative easing to the level of around $1 trillion. However, even this has been met with criticism, particularly from the German contingent who will never forgot the hyperinflation in their country in the 1920s. If the EU club wants to make itself more appealing to Britain, then it must advertise the advantages. The last five years of continuous problems and indecision has done nothing to convince the British public of the EU’s credibility.
The desire for the UK to participate in the EU has to be mutual; the British public must not allow itself to be influenced by the fog of propaganda spread by certain political parties, while Europe must endeavour to reach out to the UK and show us that EU membership is worth our while.