July 27, 2015
Distorted information regarding immigration and other subjects creates Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt about the EU. To counter some of the FUD, we thought it might be useful to state the views on EU membership of two UK citizens. For any statements of fact, we provide sources and, where we are simply expressing our own opinion, we make that clear.
Who are we? Peter has worked in IT since 1965. He worked for a major multi-national company for many years before retiring in 2007, continuing as an independent consultant. Alison also had a long career in IT. She then worked for the CBI as a policy advisor for SMEs and then as head of corporate affairs (effectively, chief of staff). Since 2005, she has been consulting on business and IT. We have lived and worked in other countries in Europe, notably in the Nordic area. At the time, the countries were not in the EU or one of its earlier forms.
We consider the effects of membership from three viewpoints:
1) The personal as it affects us as citizens, with remarks on individuals in general;
2) The viewpoint of business; and
3) Our thoughts on the general effects on the nation.
A PERSONAL VIEW
At a purely private level, we have noticed only benefits from EU membership. Easy movement around Europe on vacations and the absence of restrictions on buying goods, for example wine, makes life simpler than before Maastricht. We cannot think of any drawbacks.
Our experience of working overseas was before the other countries were in the EU. While the regulations were not that oppressive, it would be easier today.
A more general observation is that social goods such as equality, disability and parental leave provision have benefitted from EU activity although some might argue that excessive regulation is a problem. However, Sweden, for example, has long had good provisions for parental leave and other social benefits, and has survived very well.
THE BUSINESS PERSPECTIVE
Peter has never found the EU to be any kind of problem, either when working for a multi-national or as an independent consultant. In contrast, activities in the USA and other places can present problems, depending on the country’s definition of work. For example, teaching a course in some countries can be seen as work, requiring a work visa, even though the person doing the teaching may not be resident or paid there.
Here’s an SME perspective. In 1979, Alison co-founded an IT company that built hardware and software for the printing industry. The systems handled long publications in multiple languages, and European languages were the first they tackled. So they needed to find and meet their European customers.
The printing industry’s most important trade fairs take place in Germany. Before the single market (Maastricht) arrived, to take a system to Dusseldorf by road/ferry required:
• Identifying the precise route to be travelled, the border crossing points and the dates.
• Several visits to the London Chamber of Commerce (and a payment) to acquire a carnet allowing transport and repatriation of goods without having to pay duty. The carnet consisted of 20+ pages of documentation, depending on the route to be travelled.
• Stops at customs on both sides of each border crossing to queue for inspection and obtain the necessary stamp on the correct sheet of the carnet – on both the outward and return journey. The road to Dusseldorf went via the channel to France, then through Belgium to Germany – a total of six stops at customs in each direction. This could add several hours to the journey.
• Return of the carnet to the London Chamber of Commerce for them to check that all the right stamps were on the right pages – and confirm that no duty had to be paid.
In later years, they just loaded up the kit and drove without stopping (apart from the ferry!).
That’s just one small reason to support continued membership of the EU. And it does not inhibit doing business elsewhere, contrary to some claims that the UK would be better placed for trade with other countries if it left the EU. Alison’s company sold systems in countries as diverse as Australia, Brunei, Indonesia, Kuwait, Mongolia and Sri Lanka without any problems caused by EU membership. If you have something that people want, you can sell it anywhere.
One possible concern is excessive regulation caused by EU directives. However, there is evidence of ‘gold-plating’ of EU directives when implemented in UK law (The Institute of Directors has commented on gold-plating. See the IoD website at: http://www.iod.com/influencing/press-office/press-releases/gold-plating). In any event, Alison’s company as an SME did not find that the EU caused excessive regulation.
EFFECTS ON THE NATION
In an uncertain world, the need for international collaboration has never been more important. The EU and earlier versions of it have helped to keep the peace in Western Europe since 1945. Many of the problems we currently face cannot be solved by each nation individually but require joint action. Here are three examples:
• Environmental pollution;
• Energy; and
• Scientific research.
The first two are obviously related; the third may offer some answers to the problems.
Meeting environmental targets for reducing pollution, particularly but not exclusively carbon dioxide emissions, requires international collaboration. Electricity generation is one industry which generates carbon dioxide emissions if hydrocarbons are used as the energy source.
Renewables are frequently proposed as emission-free sources of energy. However, power sources such as wind and solar are unpredictable. The lights must stay on if the wind is not blowing or the sun shining. There must therefore be alternatives to ensure a consistent supply. Providing a back-up is expensive if unpredictable renewables are responsible for meeting a significant part of the demand: the back-up is idle when the renewable source is being used. A collaboration of nations such as the EU can increase the scope for unpredictable renewables because it spreads the area in which energy can be generated and shared. The idea is that it is more likely that it is windy or sunny somewhere in a large area than a small one. (For an exhaustive treatment of energy, see Sustainable Energy: without the hot air. Prof David J C MacKay. The book can be downloaded free from http://www.withouthotair.com/).
Finally, scientific research, which may well help to solve our energy and other problems, is very much an international affair. The EU provides research funds that benefit the UK, which is a centre of scientific excellence. Leaving the EU would put these funds in jeopardy. A group of eminent scientists (Scientists for EU. See http://scientistsforeu.uk/) has recently been formed to address these concerns.
Nature Nanotechnology recently contained an editorial which stated:
‘The UK has, until now, fared well in accessing this EU funding. For example, the country ranked second only to Germany in funding received during Framework Programme 7 (2007–2013), with €6.9 billion of a total budget of €58.8 billion. Out of just under 5,000 individual grants awarded by the European Research Council since 2007, about 1,100 have gone to scientists working in the UK, which is impressive especially when compared with countries such as Germany and France who were awarded around 750 and 650 grants, respectively.’
On 27th July 2015, Universities UK issued a press release on its support of EU membership. See: http://www.universitiesuk.ac.uk/highereducation/Pages/UniversitiesbackstayinginEurope.aspx#.VbYwgbWFnh0pbye