Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The EU referendum

Ah good old Dave has said he'll give the country a referendum on whether we should leave the EU or not. Yay everyone get ready to vote... or not because this referendum isn't going to be held now or even in the near future it's going to be held sometime in the next Parliament in 2017 only after the discussions have taken place as to the UK's role in the EU and, of course, only if the Conservatives win the next election. Oh and presumably only if Cameron remains Prime Minster and nothing has happened in the four years between his promise and the event itself; or if they just decide not to bother.

This announcement is also likely to be the cue for multiple 'The first time the UK has voted on EU membership in nearly 40 years' statements. All of which would be wrong as we've never voted to join the EU. In 1975 we voted to join the European Economic Community (Common Market) which, as the name explicitly makes clear, was an economic organisation not a political one. We were signed up for the European Union in 1992 by a Conservative government under John Major which added the UK to the other two pillars of the EU structure (Justice and Home Affairs, and the Common Foreign and Security Policy).

I think it's important to make this distinction as I was watching the BBC this morning discussing the ramifications of the UK leaving the EU and every single point they made regarded trade. You know the thing we actually signed up for before the Conservatives handed over a whole bunch of powers to a barely accountable body.

Now I'm not saying membership is wrong; a lot of good has come out of the rules, and I'm not saying it's good as if you think the UK Parliament has been getting away with profligate spending the EU system makes them look like amateurs given that the auditors have failed to give the EU a clean bill of health since it first formed in 1992!

If we look at the EU as a business proposition the choice is simple - run! Run as fast as we can from an organisation that we would pump money into with zero profit; that seems to be haemorrhaging money, and can't keep track of its finances. But that would be a simplistic view.

The EU to an extent is a progressive organisation and as such various laws, rights etc. have been codified that our more conservative Parties would still be umming and arring over. They're not perfect and they have so many loopholes in them they're more akin to a string vest, but it's a start.

As such any renegotiations that are carried out should not be based along the lines of "We want more power/money" which appears to be the blinkered view of many on the right, but more accountability. The EU spreads money around in the same way that the UK does in terms of health care and welfare, but we have far more systems in place to ensure that it's not being funnelled off into someone's pockets - that's what the EU requires; that's what the current government needs to be championing. If we're going to keep handing over money and getting little in return we need to know that money is being spent where it's supposed to be spent.