Peter Bye

In the EU referendum campaign in the UK, those in favour of remaining (Britain Stronger in Europe) issue warnings of the dire consequences of leaving, primarily economic. A number of economic forecasts are used as evidence[1]. The Brexit people (Vote Leave) assert that staying is a risk and a better world is available outside, a view based on little evidence and much wishful thinking[2].

The most obvious characteristic is the negativity of these approaches, or at least the way they are presented: what will go wrong if the UK leaves or stays. However, it is not hard to think of positive reasons for staying in the EU. As a strong supporter of remaining, the following are what I consider to be ten positive reasons for being in the EU.

1 Peace. Today, the 28 member states of the EU resolve their differences through discussion, negotiation and compromise rather than war. The EU has been a major contributor in creating this peace, as has been recognised by the Norwegian Nobel Committee in awarding the EU the 2012 Peace Prize[3]. The citation for the prize was ‘for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe’.

2 Security. As the UK is not in Schengen, and has border controls, it is able to intercept potential terrorists and other criminals when they try to enter the country. Security in the face of these threats requires co-operation on intelligence, which membership of the EU helps to provide. The European Arrest Warrant[4] is valid throughout all member states. Once issued, it requires another member state to arrest and transfer a criminal suspect or sentenced person to the issuing state so that the person can be put on trial or complete a detention period.

3 Environment. 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. However, resources such as wind and solar are unpredictable. The collaboration of nations in the EU can increase the scope for unpredictable renewables because it spreads the area in which electricity can be generated and shared.

4 Trade. The UK is in a market of around 500 million people, free from tariffs and other barriers. Non-tariff barriers can be very restrictive and have been used to impede imports where other barriers, such as tariffs, have failed.

5 Ease of doing business. Along with free access, just doing business is much easier. Here are two simple examples, based on personal experience.

  1. Before Maastricht, just taking products to an exhibition was complicated, requiring a carnet and declaration of the route to be taken. Each border crossing had to be identified and required a stop on each side. Now, it’s just load and go[5].
  2. Getting a patent in the EU is simpler than, for example, in China or the USA[6]. Further, it applies EU wide, avoiding the need for a patent in each member state.

6 Standards. Common standards across the EU facilitate trade, as products can be developed and exported to all member states. An additional benefit is that they reduce the potential for member states to erect non-tariff barriers.

7 Science. EU programmes benefit scientific research across the EU, and particularly in the UK. For example, between 2007 and 2015, the European Research Council awarded about 20% of its grants to the UK, a higher proportion than Germany or France.

8 Welfare. Many of the regulations have brought improvements in people’s lives, helping to prevent exploitation. Social goods such as equality, disability and parental leave provision have benefited.

9 Travel cost. Travel costs have fallen due to changes in airline regulation. There could be further potential for cost reduction based on more agreement about rail travel.

10 Leisure travel. Easy movement around Europe on vacations and the absence of restrictions such as customs limits on buying goods, for example wine, makes life simpler. All EU citizens benefit from this.

Notes and sources

[1] See for example the PwC report. http://news.cbi.org.uk/news/leaving-eu-would-cause-a-serious-shock-to-uk-economy-new-pwc-analysis/ . The page contains a link to the full text. The UK Treasury has also published an economic analysis. Vote Leave has not been able so far to cite any analysis from a recognised source on beneficial or even neutral consequences of leaving the EU.

[2] The remarks made by President Obama during his recent visit to the UK have revealed just how wishful the thinking has been.

[3] See http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2012/

[4] See http://ec.europa.eu/justice/criminal/recognition-decision/european-arrest-warrant/index_en.htm

[5] I described the pre-Maastricht process in a blog ‘EU membership – a personal view’, posted in Blogactiv in July 2015.

[6] A letter from the owner of an SME, published in the FT Weekend on Saturday 23 April 2016, shows a significant difference in time, scope and cost to register a patent. The EU was cheaper, faster and more comprehensive. The most expensive was the USA and the patent was turned down! The writer ends the letter with the following sentence. ‘For a small company with a good idea the EU is by far the most supportive.’

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