The Referendum on whether the UK should remain in the EU is fast approaching. There will be a maelstrom of arguments for and against before the vote is held. Now is the time to try to identify the main considerations that should influence our decision.
The Economic Argument
At present the economic argument seems to attract most publicity. As economic experts are divided on the issue, it is difficult for the rest of us to make an informed decision on this point. Countries outside the EU continue to trade effectively with EU states, so it is difficult to understand why we would not be able to do the same.
Europe: In or Out?
This week on Click on Wales we are debating whether Wales should remain in Europe ahead of the referendum on June 23rd.
Indeed, membership of the EU sometimes seems to constrain us from taking effective action on issues such as safeguarding a vital industry such as steel. While countries outside the EU take action to prevent the dumping of cheap Chinese steel in their market, EU rules apparently prevent us from doing so. In addition, under EU rules, public bodies have to open up contracts to competition from bidders across the EU and make it difficult for them to award the contract to any but the lowest bidder. This inhibits their ability to help stimulate the local economy by awarding contracts in a way which will help support the local community.
Perhaps the strongest economic argument in favour of staying in the EU is that foreign investors with an eye on the European market will be more likely to invest in an EU country than in the UK. That is quite true and some foreign companies with existing investments in the UK might be tempted to up sticks and move to an EU country. In the long term, however, should attracting foreign investors be a major consideration? Much of the UK is already owned by foreign investors. Many public services and utilities, for example, are already controlled by non-UK companies, many of them with significant levels of influence or control by German, French, Spanish or other foreign governments.
Worst of all, perhaps, is that the UK Government seems happy to hand over a very significant degree of control over our nuclear energy industry to the Chinese government. Is this a sensible way to proceed with all the economic, political and military uncertainties that abound these days? Surely our priority should be to encourage, facilitate and support the development of home-grown industries. In the long term we would be in a much better position to do that effectively outside the EU than inside.
The Social Argument
Those more concerned with social arguments, especially with regard to enhancing and safeguarding the rights of employees, argue that the EU safeguards a number of employee rights that some of those arguing for the UK to leave the EU are likely to want to jettison. They also point to the recognition and encouragement that has been given to national and regional identities and languages not represented by the EU states themselves.
These are powerful arguments for those who believe for example that the unique position of the minority nations in the UK – Wales in particular perhaps because of our language situation – can be safeguarded better within the EU than outside. On the other hand, however, these aspects of the EU appear to have little traction with the main players in the EU. One of the main intentions of the originators of the European Common Market was to build an economic trading bloc that could rival the USA. From Common Market to European Union, the interests of big business have always been paramount. The central tenets of the free movement of goods and labour are specifically framed to help big business irrespective of the effect on local communities. The move to include more and more eastern European countries in the EU is precisely to provide big business with cheap labour – at home or abroad – and to force those countries to open up their public services to competition from private companies.
A few sweeteners have been allowed at the edges now and again to keep the people of Europe happy, but the central intention and primary purpose of serving the needs of big business has never wavered. The EU has enthusiastically endorsed austerity measures to safeguard financial interests with little concern for their effect on ordinary people and their communities. Their treatment of Greece last year surely proves the point. The insidious creep towards an ever more centralised political structure is basically to enable them to serve the interests of finance and big business more effectively, irrespective of the implications for the peoples of Europe or the principles of democracy.
The best example of this are the secret negotiations which have been undertaken with regard to the proposed trade partnership agreement with the USA – even elected Members of the European Parliament have not only been excluded from these discussions but even denied access to relevant papers. From what one can glean from the information which has become available, the EU system of opening up tendering rights to all and sundry would be extended to the US as well. Big, well-established companies with the most clout could easily win a large portion of the public contracts let in Wales, making life much more difficult for local companies – especially new and emerging ones, which are precisely the ones we should encourage to ensure our long term economic well-being.
If reports are true, the worst feature of the current proposals is that if any future government wanted to nationalise any of our basic industries — steel, rail, basic utilities etc. – private companies would be able to sue them for depriving them of the potential income they might have lost by not being able to tender for the right to run those industries. And worst of all, it is apparently proposed that such issues would be decided by an arbitration panel composed of the representatives of big business – not democratically elected representatives at all! Democracy, it seems, must truly be subservient to big business.
The International Dimension
The second major impetus leading to the formation of the European Common Market we are told was the need to ensure peace between the nations of Europe following the trauma of two world wars. The fact that no major European war has broken out since is hailed as a victory for the Common Market and its successors the European Community and the EU, and improving European and indeed wider international relationships is trumpeted as one of the main reasons to support the EU today.
This is a very facile argument which does not really stand up to scrutiny. There is no evidence of any movement or development in Europe since the Second Word War that might have triggered another war if it had not been for the existence of the EU.
The absence of war and the existence of the EU in its various guises have been purely co-incidental.
I would go further and argue that the EU and more especially its NATO partner have actually fomented international unrest that might well have resulted in war. Initially there was no formal link between the two – in fact, 4 of the 28 member states of the EU are not members of NATO. By today, however, any state wishing the join the EU has to ensure that its policies are aligned with NATO. In affect, all new EU members are expected to join NATO as well.
It was NATO, of course, that triggered the 1962 Missile Crisis by planning to establish nuclear weapon bases close to the frontiers of the USSR – a crisis that was resolved only when Kennedy eventually agreed to withdraw these proposals. When the USSR collapsed the Warsaw Pact (the east’s answer to NATO) was ended as a gesture of a willingness to end the Cold War. The hope was that NATO would be dissolved too but instead it insisted on maintaining its offensive attitude, thus scuppering the search for a more permanent international peace settlement.
Indeed, NATO has recently followed a path not dissimilar to that which led to the 1962 crisis. Not only has it maintained a hostile attitude, it has sought to recruit not only former members of the Warsaw Pact but most of the former USSR states bordering Russia itself. This was inevitably seen as a grossly provocative act by Russia. Members of NATO, most notably the USA, actively promoted unrest by the investment of millions of dollars in anti government groups, especially in Ukraine. Some of these groups were fascist in nature and included prominent wartime Nazi collaborators. The west tried to blame the unrest on President Putin but even a well-known hawk like Henry Kissinger has dismissed this idea as laughable. The unrest in eastern Europe has clearly been caused by EU and NATO trying to expand their sphere of influence eastwards to the Russian boundary.
International unrest and the rise of extremist ideologies are the main problems facing the world today. In considering whether or not to remain a member of the EU our main concern should be whether it is a force for peace in the world or not. And we need to look much deeper rather than be taken in by the notion that because the EU is an international body it must necessarily be good.
The great tragedy in the world today is the ineffectiveness of the United Nations Organisation. This is the body which should arbitrate in all international disputes. All the world’s armed forces should come under its control and it alone should be trusted with international peace-keeping duties. This is the kind of vision which first motivated the Merthyr MP Henry Richard to promote the idea of a League of Nations in the 19th century and his vision is still valid today.
The United Nations is largely ineffective for three reasons. Firstly it does not represent the nations or peoples of the world at all – if it did Wales would be directly represented there: it represents state governments instead. Secondly, the member states insist on keeping their own armed forces instead of placing them under the control of the UN. Thirdly, and perhaps most important of all, many of the member states are so powerful they can brazenly ignore the wishes of the UN unless it suits them to do otherwise. The most glaring examples of this are the fifty year old US imposed trade embargo on Cuba (which the United Nations condemns year after year by absolutely overwhelming majorities which the US completely ignore) and the way Israel extends illegal settlements in Palestine against UN decisions..
The peoples of the world urgently need to make the UN a truly representative and effective body. The biggest impediment to this are the big powers and power blocs
that do not regard the views of the UN as important and certainly not binding. These power blocs include NATO and the EU. They are like Mafia or city gangs who wish to retain the power to do whatever they think is in their own best interests irrespective of how that might affect everyone else. Our continued membership of such a gang will do nothing to further the cause of world peace. Our biggest contribution to that goal would be to assume responsibility for our own internal affairs and promote true internationalism through an effective United Nations.
So, how to vote in the forthcoming referendum? If you want to promote the interests of financiers and big business – vote yes. But if you are concerned about the future of local and national communities, about abiding by democratic principles and the need to begin the task of building a truly peaceful international future, the choice is really a “NO” brainer!