LABOUR EURO-SAFEGUARDS CAMPAIGN

BULLETIN MAY 2001

 QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ON BRITISH MEMBERSHIP
OF THE EUROPEAN UNION

 

 

1. What sort of country do we want Britain to be?

As we move into the twenty-first century, it is not difficult to detect the kind of future which most people in Britain would like to have. They want peace and prosperity. They put a premium on well run public services, combined with levels of taxation which they regard as reasonable. They want efficient and responsive government. They would like to live in a society which is reasonably at ease with itself. They value highly their ability to live their lives the way they want, while knowing that if they are treated unfairly the legal and regulatory system will come to their aid. Are such views of the future widely shared within the leadership of the European Union? Current opinion polls, showing that 52% of those voting in a referendum on membership would leave the EU altogether if given a chance to do so, suggest that most people in Britain do not think they are. This Bulletin looks at a number of familiar ways in which EU membership is doing ongoing damage to Britain and to our preferred ways of organising our affairs and living our lives.

 

2. What kind of agricultural policy do we want?

Nearly 50% of the EU budget is still spent on the Common Agricultural Policy, despite all efforts to curb its massive cost. The result of keeping food prices artificially far higher than they need to be is that the average family of four people has to pay about £20 a week - £1,000 per year - more for food than is necessary. Meanwhile the "barley barons" rake in subsidies which they do not need while, even before the tragedy of foot and mouth disease, the average farmer was in desperate financial straits. Part of the reason for this is that, as in so many other ways to do with the EU, farming does much worse out of the CAP in this country than it does in other Member States. Irish farmers receive 70% more per head in subsidies than their British equivalents, for example, while the share of CAP funds going to Britain has steadily fallen. In 1999, it was only £2.2bn out of the total of £27.5bn which the EU spent on agriculture. It is also the case that the rapid spread of foot and mouth was at least partly caused by massive animal movements flowing from EU policies. These resulted from a combination of sheep dealers moving animals around the country to fill EU quotas, many of them fraudulent, and the closure of large numbers of local abattoirs unable to afford to comply with endless EU directives and regulations.

 

3. What do most people think of the current controversy over weights and measures?

The recent court case in Sunderland, where Steve Thoburn was prosecuted for selling bananas in pounds and ounces rather than in kilograms, highlights a very different example where EU involvement grates against what most people believe is reasonable. There is, of course, much to be said for the metric measuring system, but its superiority is not overwhelming. It is hardly used in the USA, the world’s most powerful economy. The issue is not, however, whether one way of measuring weights and measures is better than another. It is whether, if people prefer to use one with which they are familiar, and which they prefer, they should be prohibited from doing so. It is whether the state - in this case the EU - should prescribe the way citizens interact with each other. It is also about whether the rule of Brussels or Westminster should prevail.

 

4. What conclusions should we draw about the treatment of EU whistle blowers?

Bernard Connolly was for a considerable number of years a senior bureaucrat in the EU Commission, intimately involved with the development of EU monetary and financial policies and institutions. In 1995 he published a book, The Rotten Heart of Europe, in which he exposed the politicking and the damage done by the inner workings of the Exchange Rate Mechanism, the system which locked the EU currencies together between the late 1970s and the early 1990s. For his pains in blowing the whistle, he was sacked from the Commission. Recently, his claim for wrongful dismissal was turned down by the EU Court in Luxembourg. The judgement implied that the kind of criticism which Bernard Connolly had produced was close to being equivalent to blasphemy. It was not claimed that what he had said was untrue - only that it was highly critical of the European project. Is this the kind of standard we really want to see applied in this country to the administration of justice, as traditional safeguards such as habeas corpus, the presumption of innocence and trial by jury are to be replaced by the continental inquisitorial system?

 

5. What do we make of proposals for the European Rapid Reaction Force?

At present, there is a wide measure of co-operation between the British armed forces and those of other EU Member States. This is arranged through the Atlantic Alliance and NATO. If there is to be a European state, however, it is argued that it will need to have its own armed forces, just as it already has its own currency, passport, flag and anthem. Hence the proposal for the European Rapid Reaction Force, which the Commission President, Romano Prodi, himself described as being nothing if not a European army in embryo. Indeed, the command and reporting structure of the new organisation is to be independent of NATO, which merely has to be kept informed of what the Rapid Reaction Force is doing. The issue here is whether these proposals have anything realistic to do with improving our security, or whether they are primarily designed to reinforce the development of a European superstate, whether or not they destabilise NATO, and add to the risk of another arms race.

 

6. Can we be sure that referendums and elections will be fairly fought in future?

If the citizens of Britain are to be in a position to make their views felt effectively on these and other issues, a prime requirement is that elections - and referendums if they are to take place - are held on as level a playing field as possible. It is because of rising suspicions that money has played too large a part in influencing the public in the run up to recent elections that the Neill Committee has recommended curbs on such expenditure, including a bar on foreign money, most of which the government has accepted. There is, however, one glaring exception - the EU. If there is a referendum on the Single Currency, any EU based company will be able to spend money on trying to persuade the electorate to decide which way to vote. Since it is the rich multinational companies that favour the euro, it is not difficult to see what the impact of this loophole is likely to be. Is this fair?

 

7. What is the impact of the cost of EU membership on the British economy?

If the British people want high quality public services combined with reasonable levels of taxation, it is hard to argue that EU membership is a help. In 1998 alone, Britain paid into the EU a total of £12.5bn. We received back £6.8bn, leaving us £5.7bn worse off. The ratio between the proportion of the EU budget we fund and the amount we receive in return is exceptionally unfavourable. We pay in 13.4% and get 8% back, compared to, for example, Eire, where the average standard of living is now higher than it is in the UK, which contributes 1.3% and gets 4% back. In other words, Ireland, with a population of 3.5m receives nearly half as much in remittances from the EU as the UK with a population of 59m. No wonder a large majority of people in Britain think that we are being fleeced by the EU, and treated exceedingly unfairly.

 

8. Are there other effects which EU membership has on government finances?

Not only does the financing regime in the EU mean that we pay in far too much in relation to what we receive back, but the government is also adversely affected in other ways. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was recently rebuked by the EU Commission for planning to increase public expenditure, despite the healthy state of British public sector finances. Perhaps the biggest influence from the EU, however, has been on a different aspect of the public finances, which is on the proportion of the national income which the government is allowed to borrow, which has been set by the EU at the entirely arbitrary figure of 3%. This ceiling has put pressure on all governments in the EU to get borrowing carried out not by the government but by private sector organisations, even if it is to finance badly needed public investment expenditure, such as building hospitals and schools, or bringing the London underground system up to a reasonable standard. Since the government can always borrow at cheaper rates of interest than private companies, and it does not have to make a profit, it is hardly surprising that the long term cost of offloading public investment on to the private sector is going to be expensive. Why, in addition, should we not have public accountability for running public services such as the underground or air traffic control?

 

9. Where do these considerations leave the average voter?

Looking forward to the future, it is hardly surprising therefore, that average voters in Britain have a highly sceptical view of the EU, and wonder why they should have to put up with much of what it does. They do not believe that major parts of the EU apparatus, such as the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy have been good either for Britain or our farmers and fishermen. They thoroughly dislike the endless interference from Brussels with the way we run our affairs. They do not believe that the standards of efficiency and fairness in the way the EU institutions operate match up to those which have prevailed generally in public life in Britain for a long time. They think - surely rightly - that there is a massive democratic deficit in the EU, with far too much power wielded by unaccountable functionaries, and much too little by politicians whom the ballot box can remove if they are incompetent, or if they feather their own nests. They do not want a European army and the destabilisation which this is likely to bring in train. They think that we have had a raw deal out of the EU budget, and that this is unlikely to change. More and more are coming to understand that one of the major reasons why so much of our public sector infrastructure is in such bad shape is because of EU rules about borrowing which make no sense. It appears, nevertheless, that the government - or at least some members of it - still think that shortly after the general election they can hold a referendum and persuade the British people to vote in favour of joining the euro. If the electorate has so many other reasons for being highly sceptical about the EU, however, is it really realistic to believe that it will vote in favour of taking the biggest single step it could towards locking ourselves into the EU superstate structure - supposedly irrevocably?

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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