THE BIG QUESTION: Should Britain leave the EU?

As Spain becomes the recipient of yet another mammoth bailout from the European Union, a poll has shown that half of UK citizens want to leave the EU immediately. Are they right?

With Greece locked in a desperate struggle to remain in the Eurozone, a growing movement in the UK is mounting pressure in the opposite direction. Eight out of ten British citizens want a referendum on membership of the European Union; half would vote to leave immediately.

Under current circumstances, it is not hard to see why: the Eurozone crisis shows no sign of easing. Yesterday, Spain became the fourth country to receive an enormous injection of emergency cash from the EU. It is the largest country yet to receive aid and, at €100 billion, close to the largest bailout.

Britain, of course, has its own currency. But it still relies heavily on Eurozone countries – so much so, according to Chancellor George Osborne, that the crisis is single-handedly keeping the UK in recession.

But ‘Euroscepticism’ goes back far beyond the current crisis. Even in 2007, when the Eurozone seemed healthy, almost 70 percent of British voters were calling for a referendum.

The first reason for this is a simple matter of cash. The EU spreads money from Europe’s richer countries to less developed areas, and Britain gives more than it receives. EU membership costs the UK around £6.4 billion per year.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, many in Britain dislike following rules imposed from abroad. Some EU laws have become infamous in Britain, such as the (now abandoned) regulation banning the sale of misshapen fruit. Those most furiously opposed to the EU see these rules as tyranny: the EU is only partly democratic, and few fully understand the decision-making processes involved.

But the EU still has its supporters. Many of these regulations, they point out, are good for people across Europe, such as rules to prevent mobile phone companies from fixing high prices and food companies from spreading infections. EU treaties allow police forces to arrest those who have committed crimes in other countries.

Then there is the benefit of unrestricted travel. An EU citizen can move abroad to any country in the zone with almost no fuss, and stay there for as long as they can support themselves. If Britain left the EU, working and studying abroad would become suddenly far more difficult.

Above all, though, the EU is about trade: all member states are part of a ‘single market’ that allows goods to be freely exchanged. A car manufacturer in Britain can import parts from Poland, build a line of cars, then export the finished product to Spain – all without having to deal with taxes and border agencies. The EU itself estimates that 2.5 million British jobs rely on the single market.

Like the Eurosceptics, however, EU enthusiasts are driven by principles as much as particulars. For them, the EU represents a new spirit of international cooperation and harmony.

This is the reason why the debate is so complex: it is a mixture of gritty economic and administrative detail and high-minded visions for the future of a continent.

State of the nation

Eurosceptics believe passionately in a Europe of ‘nation states’: independent countries with total control of their own laws and economies. National pride and freedom urgently depend on national independence, they say; otherwise ancient countries will be overrun by distant bureaucrats.

What a small-minded and reactionary attitude, say EU enthusiasts. In a globalised world, we need as much international cooperation as possible. And in any case, surely it is better to build bridges than barriers. If global peace and harmony is ever to prevail, projects like the EU are essential.

You Decide

  1. Which – if any – is your favourite country in Europe? Why?
  2. Which is more important: an international alliance, or national independence?

Activities

  1. In groups or as a class, try to list as many EU members as you can from memory. How many can you get right?
  2. Research the character, history and makeup of the EU, and design a quiz for your classmates. Who can score the highest?

Some People Say...

“There are no nations! There is only humanity.’ Isaac Asimov, 1920-1992”

What do you think?

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