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By Jane Watkinson
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Highlighting misconceptions with the EU In-Out Debate…

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Cameron has finally given into the demands from his backbenchers and the growth of UKIP alongside feeding Euroscepticism ignorance within the UK by promising an in-out European referendum if the Tories get re-elected.

I’m not against referendums but voting on membership to the EU is stupid on two counts:1) There is so much ignorance, lies and misconceptions regarding the European Union and the Eurozone, which would only be intensified through right-wing media monopoly 2) The benefits far outweigh the negatives, and gambling with this through a vote is like a game of Russian Roulette.

Both of these points relate to the differences between the European Union politically and the Eurozone and the related Stability and Growth Pact and the recent Fiscal Compact. The UK are not in the Eurozone and so are not really effected by the Stability and Growth Pact and the recent tightening of these measures by the Fiscal Compact, given that we have opted out of the Euro and probably will never join.

The measures shaping the Eurozone include:

  • The Stability and Growth Pact (1998) was key to setting a debt limit of 60% of GDP and a deficit limit of 3% of GDP: “in general, the debt must be reduced by one twentieth each year. Countries which are already in the Excessive Deficit Procedure because of not meeting the 3% criterion are expected to work towards reducing their debt as well. They have a further three years to meet the 60% criterion after they have achieved the 3% criterion. At present, 23 of the 27 member states of the EU, including Ireland, are in the Excessive Deficit Procedure. Ireland has until 2015 to meet the deficit requirement of 3% of GDP. (In 2012, the target is 8.6% of GDP.) Ireland has until 2018 to meet the debt requirement.”
  • Stability and Growth Pact was reformed in 2011 through the ‘Six Pact’ extending surveillance to macroeconomic imbalances where the potential for intervention to promotion liberalisation was intensified through supposed indicators of imbalance used to justify ‘reform’. The 2011 reform also increased pressure of financial sanctions on Eurozone countries.
  • The root cause of the current Eurozone austerity measures is the Stability and Growth Pact, not the Fiscal Compact.
  • The Fiscal Compact extends these conditions so “they further commit to pass a national law or an amendment of the national constitution that limits the structural budget deficit to 0.5% of GDP…For countries with a debt-to-GDP ratio “significantly below 60% of GDP”, the structural budget deficit may be as high as 1% of GDP.” The European Court of Justice can fine offending countries

This is also related to the European Banking Union proposals and development to regulate Eurozone banks and again the UK is not directly effected given its formal opt out from the Euro. However, despite the differences between the European Union and the Eurozone, Cameron utilises the Eurozone crisis and associated fiscal restraints as a way to support his move towards potential European exit for the UK:

Other parties, including the Greens, have supported the referendum with a similar conflation of the EU and the Eurozone, as shown by the following quote from Natalie Bennett’s recent article on the matter:

It isn’t Europe as an institution, it is specifically the Eurozone with the related Stability and Growth Pact and the Fiscal Compact effecting countries such as Greece, which this referendum will have nothing to do with given we are not a part of the Eurozone or these related conditions.

The UK has only contributed relatively little to the IMF led European bailouts and has nothing to do with the European Stability Mechanism which is the new permanent rescue fund for the Eurozone countries and future Eurozone bailouts. If the UK cared so much about their money being used to promote austerity why are they committing so much of their own funds to austerity within the UK? Let’s also remember that Cameron’s problem is with legislation such as the Working Time Directive – which we already have a partial opt-out from – that “imposes employment rules such as limiting the working week and giving EU workers a minimum number of holidays each year.” Hardly caring about living standards.

Again, this is another victory for a government that is becoming an ever-increasing specialist in PR. If it isn’t turning a private debt and financial sector crisis into a public debt ‘crisis’ where the public sector, welfare claimants and social services pay for risky and speculative behaviours of the financial crooks, then it is the utilisation of the democratic deficit within the Eurozone – that the UK are not members of – to justify potential exit from the European political union.

Even if we were members of the Eurozone, given the UK’s commitment to austerity and neoliberal measures, we would hardly be able to criticise the austerity measures as Cameron has. Even the IMF have warned the UK about its austerity approach and its need to consider Plan B. The government isn’t listening though, as it harks on about the ‘global race‘. Sure, we should be very critical of it happening in countries such as Greece and Spain, but it can hardly be referred to as a justification for having a vote on European membership given how engrained austerity is within our own country because of them.

So what benefits does Europe bring for the UK?

Many. Yes, there is need for democratic reform to European structures, as there is reform needed to local democracy in the UK, parliamentary structures and electoral systems. But even contemplating leaving Europe with ever-increasing regionalisation doesn’t make logistic sense, and will see the UK become increasingly isolated.

For information regarding the benefits of EU membership have a look at the following links:

Crucial benefits include:

  • “Critically, being a member of the EU, the UK is part of the procedure for making the rules and regulations of the single market.  Britain’s seat on the Council of Ministers is essential to enable the UK to put its case on proposed regulations and to argue for reform of existing rules.  Our MEPs in the European Parliament are also important because most of the decisions of the EU require the Parliament’s involvement.  Were the UK to leave the EU but join the European Economic Area (assuming we were admitted to the EEA), we would be bound by most single market rules but have no part in the decision-making process.”
  • “The EU Health Insurance Card is a free card which enables EU citizens to receive emergency healthcare on the same terms as the citizens of the EU country they are visiting (often free).”
  • “In addition to being able to live where they choose in the EU, pensioners can receive their UK state pension wherever they live in the EU.”
  • “The European Arrest Warrant (EAW) has been very important in bringing criminals to justice across Member State borders, preventing the long delays and sometimes politicised extradition processes seen in the recent past.”
  • “One of the EU’s most popular programmes is the university mobility scheme ERASMUS, which enables students and staff to study or work at another higher education institution in the EU.  Over 7,000 British students went universities elsewhere in the EU in 2008/09 and 16,000 students from other EU countries came to the UK in the same year”
  • “Research and development is a growing area of EU activity with substantial sums now spent on collaborative and cross-border research projects.  The UK has been particularly successful in winning research grants from the EU – €2.3 billion between 2002 and 2006.”
  • “Only 6.8% of UK primary legislation and 14.1% of secondary legislation have anything to do with implementing EU obligations – not EU diktats – agreed to, approved of and signed off by UK officials.”
  • Laws such as the European Convention on Human Rights.

If an EU referendum does present itself, we have to highlight the misconceptions, lies and myths circulated regarding the EU and the differences to the Eurozone alongside the real benefits being a member of the EU brings. There already is a sovereignty lock in place where any more transfer of ‘power’ from the UK to the EU will be voted on, taking things to a new level of whether we are even a member of the EU is ill-conceived and not based on logic of the real benefits such membership brings.

What we need to do is campaign against the increasingly neoliberal Eurozone but given we are not a member and given our own austerity measures, this isn’t easy. This is where the real work needs to take place. It is dealing with the Eurozone crisis, something we are not engaged in, that threatens the UK.

David Cameron has even boasted that a two-tier European Union will not undermine the UK after opting out of the banking union, saying:

Similarly, Osborne said that it was “a good deal for Britain and a good deal for Europe.” With the expected treaty change required for increased Eurozone integration, this is where David Cameron hopes to change things. He doesn’t intend to attack the Eurozone, rather he hopes to claw back progressive environment, social and employment legislation. So even if people argue that leaving the EU helps against the creation of a two-tier system, this is something the Tories have claimed to have prevented already. Importantly, the issues have to be clear and conflation of key terms and debates have to stop whatever happens.


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