‘My country is the world. My religion is to do good.’ So wrote Thomas Paine. Well, does the EU do good? At times, it seems that the EU exists solely for economic growth, imposing on all members the model of how to do it.
The original vision of the community was to integrate its economies so that, if it had disputes, it would be able to resolve them by consensus and not by today’s equivalent of sending in a ‘gunboat’. The Ukraine, the Crimea…ask yourself what might this mean today?
By and large, the EU has been successful. That’s why so many countries are in it or want to join. But it is a ‘capitalist club’. It’s main driver is the internal market. Look how Portugal, Ireland and, particularly, Greece have been treated. But it does listen. Despite billions being spent by giant multi-national companies on lobbying Commissioners, MEPs and their assistants, the EU has made substantial progress in areas such as workers’ and social rights and environmental protections, because it is also lobbied and consults with Trade Union and so-called Third Sector representative alliances. Such successes go mainly unreported in the UK TV and press as all we hear about from Europe is ‘toasters and pasties’…for years and years and years.
Laws do take longer to make in Europe compared to national Parliaments (three years on average), because of its size and the consensual rather than adversarial model it uses. This does allow the possibility for the lobbyists to influence decisions along the way and vital that we do so. The UK has done very well out of Europe in terms of its rebate and inward investment, not to mention all the benefits which come from trading in a tarriff-free single market.
In Britain, society is divided between the haves and have nots. Many families have two ir more jobs. Kids get gadgets, not time with their parents. Interest rates are kept low for now. Family debt is large. While the EU promotes the internal market and is often blamed for failings, like corruption, only a relatively small number of areas or competences are binding on all members. It is more often the UK government’s own policies on, for example, wealth creation and redistribution (or the lack of), which affect its subjects/citizens more directly.
We see our civil space shrinking. We notice less and less public funding on education, health, offending and social care. Many believe as UK subjects that we are able to influence the legislative process. Can we? There is a view our MPs are simply ‘lobby fodder’, ordered about by the Whips’ office. As in the lead up to the EU referendum on membership, the issues are complex and layered and take time to understand and work through. Yet the language reported in our press is of red tape and shady deals. In reality, the civil service supporting the EU, the Commission, is tiny and costs a fraction of those of national states. The reporting of Brussels goes in stark, blunt language which obscurs the real position and shuts down dialogue. We need people to talk about these questions in a way that enlightens and encourages informed discussion.
During one session at Solidar, we discussed in small groups how to reform the EU, because it us broadly recognised that it needs to change. But what needs changing? The Commission wants to listen, we’re told. So, we bring forward three proposals for the Commission to consider. Firstly, we espouse hospitality. We’d like to get to know each other better. How can we share our stories? Where do you come from? Let’s reflect on how we see each other then. It may turn out to be be life enhancing.
Secondly, let’s promote and celebrate diversity. This contributes to a prosperous, tolerant and peaceful Europe. The WEA group from the UK was as diverse as you could possibly get. This is so wonderful about Britain in Europe. Brit In…um, BritIn*…like the sound of that. Over 50 of us from the North of England made connections and created friendships which made us think and feel deeply. They also made us laugh and sing together and hear each other’s stories. Soon, there’ll be a film of our study visit.
And thirdly, let’s take advantage of the opportunities being in Europe gives us for working and learning.
These are our proposals. Will you support them? Would you like to amend them? Fine, let’s talk about it more. It may take more time but the deal we reach will be longerlasting.
The founding fathers of the European project were motivated by the experiences of men, women and children, all living creatures to build structures and created processes, which work for peaceful resolution of conflicts between states. How might the UK’s withdrawal from the EU affect this now? If at all…it’s a fair question..? I heard a friend tell this story. A wise woman once said, ‘Good and Bad are in equal measure in this world, but Good has to try at least five times harder to make it balance.’ How hard do we try?
*thanks to Elaine E for BritIn, says so much more than Remain, during a conversation on the bus.
The European Union: A Citizen’s Guide by Chris Bickerton, A Pelican Introduction