LABOUR EURO-SAFEGUARDS CAMPAIGN

BULLETIN MARCH 2001

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON THE

EUROPEAN UNION AND THE GENERAL ELECTION

 

1. How do EU developments impact on the forthcoming General Election?

This will probably be the last Bulletin we publish before the next general election. During the following four or five years momentous decisions may be taken on whether Britain should join the Single Currency, and whether further major steps towards creating a European state should be taken. Those likely to be elected as MPs, and those considering voting for them, need to think carefully about the way Britain may look by the end of the next parliamentary term. They might, at the same time, reflect on how much real power of any kind the British parliament will then have if those favouring integration, too often at almost any price, have their way. By then, will Jacques Delors’ prediction a few years ago that 80% of effective decision taking will move to Brussels be fulfilled? If so, will Parliament go the same way that many institutions have gone before - to a state of decorum and ritual, a wonderful club, but devoid of any real significance? Accordingly, it is worth taking stock at this stage of where EU membership has taken us, and at what cost.

 

2. How much has the EU cost us in direct contributions?

Since we joined what was then called the Common Market in 1973, except for one year - 1975, perhaps not entirely coincidentally the year of the referendum on membership - we have always paid into the EU coffers much more than we have had back. By the end of 2001, our 28 years of EU membership will have cost the UK at current prices an estimated £45bn in net contributions to the EU budget. In 1998 alone, Britain paid £12,534m to the EU, and received back total receipts of £6,848m. We thus paid a direct subsidy of £5,686m to the EU that year, greater than that of any other Member State except Germany. The scale of this imposition is seen by comparing it with the government's current £3,100m programme for building 29 new hospitals. Nor are these contributions likely to be reduced in the foreseeable future. Indeed they may increase, as the costs of enlargement start to fall in.

 

3. What has happened to reform of the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies?

For years, every UK government has promised to try to get the CAP reformed, so that one of the most wasteful agricultural production systems in the world can be brought under control. Little has been done. The CAP still consumes almost half of the EU budget, but massive subsidies - plagued with fraud - have done much more to distort the market, degrade the countryside, generate surpluses and ruin third world farmers as a result of dumping than they have to help achieve a prosperous and stable farming industry. Agribusinesses, which never needed subsidies in the first place, have bloomed, while most farmers are now worse off than they have ever been. Consumers, meanwhile, have been fleeced, with the average family still paying some £20 per week more for food than it would if the CAP regime were abolished. Even worse is the position on fisheries - once one of Britain’s proudest industries. The Common Fisheries Policy has deprived us of the exclusive fishing rights over British waters, containing two thirds of the entire fish stocks within the EU, as inept and laxly administered policies have allowed our rich grounds to be fished almost to extinction. Meanwhile our fishing fleet and communities have been decimated, as millions of dead fish are dumped back into the sea every year as a result of the current quota system.

 

4. What is the position on our trade with the rest of the EU?

Over the whole period of our EU membership, our trade with the EU has been another disaster. Despite many promises at the time of the 1975 referendum that the Common Market, as it then was, would help British exports, the facts show that we have had a trade deficit with the other EU Member States almost every year since 1973. In 2001 money, the total cumulative deficit comes to £140bn, accounting for a very significant proportion of the run down of British industry which has taken place over the period, and the associated unemployment which has been generated. Recent figures show small monthly surpluses with the EU, but these are unlikely to last. They have been caused by high oil prices and the differing positions of Britain and the rest of the EU in the trade cycle.

 

5. Who governs Britain nowadays?

If a prominent example is required of the waning of the power of the British parliament vis à vis Brussels, the flood of regulations and directives from the EU, most of which are never considered properly - if at all - by parliament, though binding in British law, provide a telling case. No-one denies that international co-operation makes sense when it is in everyone’s mutual interest, but this is a far cry from the EU regulatory strait jacket into which we are now bound. From closing down abattoirs where there is no evidence of health hazards to forcing people to sell produce in metric measures, from imposing regulations on the trade in fine art which have made an important British activity uncompetitive to making us charge VAT on fuel, we have example after example of regulations which the British would never have introduced themselves. Just recently, the Irish government has been reprimanded because they prefer a more expansionist policy than other EU Member States, and our own Chancellor has been criticised for allowing too much public expenditure! This sort of interference is intolerable, and has nothing to do with sensible international co-operation, and everything to do with determination in Brussels to get rid of exactly the diversity which has always been Europe’s great strength.

 

6. How has so much power been transferred to Brussels?

We are often told by British leaders that EU integration has now gone as far as most people want it to go, that many senior politicians in Europe want to retain the pre-eminence of the nation state, and that talk of a European super-state is just scare talk, without substance. Those who believe this should look carefully at the history of the last half century. They should observe both the consistency with which British leaders have said they opposed further integration, only to concede it when the time came. They should also note the relentless process by which the strengthening of the supra-national institutions in the EU takes place. A combination of Inter-Governmental Conferences, led by politicians who want to create a European nation, and the powerful and well financed EU bureaucracy, supported by all the other EU institutions, each with a strong interest in further integration, not to mention footloose multi-national companies, has proved irresistible.

 

7. What is in prospect over the next four years?

The period of the next parliament is going to be crucial, as the issues considered at the Nice Summit work their way through to the next Inter-Governmental Conference in 2004. Are we going to move to a continental system of justice, giving up the Common Law, trial by jury and habeas corpus? Are we going to allow the European Rapid Reaction Force concept to develop in a way which could destabilise NATO and our relationship with the USA, and which may well encourage another arms race? How are we going to handle "Enhanced Co-operation" - the right agreed at Nice for some Member States to integrate their activities faster than others? More significant still are going to be the mounting pressures on us to agree to give up the veto on taxation, social security and border control policies. How, too, are we going to react to proposals for an EU constitution, which it was agreed at Nice should be on the agenda for the next summit in 2004? The reality is that there is a huge agenda in train, designed to move power from the nation states to Brussels. Much of it will come to a head over the period of the next Parliament, though neither British politicians nor the public are prepared for dealing with it, and there is minimal support here for moves in this direction.

 

8. What will be decided about Britain joining the Single Currency?

The most crucial issue of all to be faced during the coming parliament is whether Britain is to join the euro. This is still portrayed in Britain as being largely a matter of economics, but this is completely incorrect. The Single Currency is almost entirely a political conception, recognised as such by all the leading politicians in other EU Member States, and specifically intended to be a major building block in the creation of a European state. It is a high risk strategy, because many currency unions have failed in the past. The calculation among its proponents, however, is that when the Single Currency comes under strain, as all of history tells us it will, the political response will be sufficiently robust and determined to keep the euro from breaking up. It is not difficult to predict what will then be required. No single currency area has ever worked for any length of time without there being massive transfer payments from more prosperous to poorer areas. The way for these to be achieved is to concentrate powers of taxation and expenditure at the centre, which, for the EU, means within the Brussels power structure. This is, perhaps, the most significant prospect of all in terms of the redistribution of power which the EU Member States are going to face over the coming years.

 

9. Where does this leave democracy in Britain?

The key issue for the next parliament, therefore, is not economic but political. It is about democracy and accountability. Who is going to take the major decisions which affect our lives? Is it going to be our MPs, who, at least, can be voted out if we do not like what they or their parties do, or are more and more of the key choices to be made within the EU institutions? Do they really care enough about Britain’s interests, which tend to conflict more than most with those of other Member States? Are they sufficiently accountable for us to feel confident that we have any real control over what they do? Do we feel confident that they have the vision of the future which most people in Britain share, which involves friendship with other countries in Europe, peace, free trade and travel, and co-operation wherever this makes sense, yet with decisions being made as close as possible to those affected by them? These are troubling questions, with even more troubling answers. The fear among British people, reflected in all the opinion polls, is that the future which Euro-integrationists want is very different from the aspirations of most people in Britain. We do not want to lose our power to govern ourselves as we see fit, with decisions which affect our daily lives being taken by our elected representatives. We want our MPs to keep Britain as a self-governing democracy, not to allows us to be submerged in a United States of Europe.

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Published by the Labour Euro-Safeguards Campaign

72 Albert Street, London, NW1 7NR

Tel: 020 7691 3800 * Fax: 020 7691 3834

E-mail: lesc@johnmillsltd.co.uk * Website: http://www.lesc.org.uk