The Monty Python sketch ‘What have the Romans ever done for us’ is a great satire on the popular suspicion of any authority. You can view it here on the official Monty Python Youtube channel. https://youtu.be/Qc7HmhrgTuQ. I always think of this when the subject of the European Union is raised. What has the European Union ever done for us?
The answer is a very complicated one. It’s also a very political one which is a part of the General Election debate, much as it has been in every election I can remember. I have a love hate relationship with the EU and its institutions.
I do believe that it’s been a force which has prevented European-scale wars. The EU’s environmental policies have been very progressive. I quite understand the need to take an EU-wide approach to issues like migration, world trade, international development and climate change.
But after 25 years professionally involved with the Common Agricultural Policy, I am as frustrated as ever at how little reform has been achieved in a production-subsidy-based policy which is a thumping waste of £3Bn of tax-payers money every year.
The CAP still swallows up £3Billion pounds in the UK alone and its harmful effects are even greater when you add the impacts on poor consumers, industry, the countryside and poor farmers elsewhere in the world.
And I find it surprising that in the 21st Century that the EU has such a closed door policy to trade and engagement with the developing world in Africa and the main emerging economic powers of the world, China and India.
The main challenges with the EU in my mind are a) how to develop trade rules which create a level playing field and b) why are we only focusing on the EU when the UK economy and environment is increasingly global?
To illustrate my first point, suppose I manufacture excellent British lawnmowers. Suppose they are pedigree quality and there’s demand for them overseas. And I want to sell them. Lawnmowers are regulated to ensure they aren’t too noisy, don’t emit pollution from engines and so that they are safe. No-one would argue with that.
No-one would argue that as a British manufacturer, I should be able to sell my lawnmowers into overseas markets with the minimum of cost and complexity, so long as I stay within reasonable rules. So, who sets the rules for all the countries I want to sell too? And who enforces them? Of course, it’s the European Union.
Without the EU’s environment, safety and trade rules, how could I sell into those markets without the fear that my lawnmowers will be turned back at a border because they don’t meet national standards?
My second concern is why are we only focusing on the EU? If my fictional lawnmowers are great, why shouldn’t I want to export them to Switzerland, Russia, the US and China? And if I do export them, is relying on the European Union the right policy for my business and the country?
If I’m pleased with what a good job the EU does on the European environment, why don’t I want that to apply to North Africa, Asia and the US? If the EU has been great at stooping wars, then it’s not had a very positive effect in Africa or parts of the former Soviet Union?
So, my concern about the EU is why stop there? Why not have a wider Atlantic, African and Asian view of a better world? Many great British businesses, our Universities, media and environmental organisations think globally. So why do we only look to the EU as the guardians of workers’ rights, the environment and free trade?
If a Parliamentary candidate came to my door and wanted my vote, I would ask the following questions about the EU (note, this is probably why I never get a visit from politicians touting for my vote).
1. If you as a candidate want to stay in the EU, why has it taken so long for the EU to achieve so little to reform the Common Agricultural Policy and other wasteful policies? Why am I not asked periodically about this, why is it rarely discussed in Parliament and the media?
2. If your policy is to ‘trade with the EU but not have all the rules that go alongside this’ how will you ensure that trade rules within the EU are fair? How will I know other nations won’t stop me from trading on technical or ‘trade barrier’ grounds? Will we make our own separate environmental, safety and trade rules?
3. If you want to leave the European Union, what’s your alternative plan? Will we expand our embassies in Africa, Asia and the US and will we pursue more global partnerships to aid business, encourage our universities, stamp out slavery and prejudice and support free trade?
If you’ve enjoyed this Blog and would like to know more about my work with the European Union, pleased download my brochure here Jim Dixon EU.pdf. If you’d like me to speak to your organisation, students or society or group, please contact me here http://bit.ly/1DbD1qr .