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Complicated European issues

Yesterday I watched a Channel Four interview with an Italian member of an UN (or equivalent) human rights organisation complaining that EU countries were not doing enough to take refugees risking their lives fleeing from Syria/Libya or wherever to get to Europe and a new life. He didn’t mention it, but undoubted Britain was being fingered as a stand-out culprit. He was putting up a proposal for systematic help to be provided and so on.

I also heard on radio this morning an interview with an EU commissioner or grandee pouring scorn on the Prime Minister’s attempts to re-negotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU. He did his best to sound sympathetic but simultaneously made clear his view that we were going about it completely the wrong way.

Britain should have its referendum to decide whether it wanted to be in or out of the EU and then – if it had decided ‘in’ – then help with the ongoing process of evolving the EU project, which was based upon strength through unity,  a common market, free movement of goods, services and people and (effectively) further integration. Seeking to provide a shopping list (whatever it contained and at the moment this was not clear) and give the EU an ultimatum “Give us this lot, or else” was a cack-handed manner of going about things, i.e. not cricket.

Let’s deal with these in turn.

migrantsIt seems to me that, with the Mediterranean ‘refugee boats’ crisis, the key issue lies in the difference between what constitutes a refugee and what constitutes an economic migrant.

I say that because there ought to be a distinction between the one and the other. If someone – or a group – is being persecuted (sometimes to the point of death) in its home country, human decency requires that some help and sanctuary should be forthcoming. However, it is also obvious – as night follows day – that [and let’s leave Greece out of this for the sake of the example] generally-speaking, countries in the EU offer a far better standard of life than that which can be obtained anywhere in the chaotic Middle East and/or Third World.

My assumption is that economic migrants are not stupid. If they hear, or know, that ‘refugee’ status will get them quicker/easier access to all the benefits of living somewhere within the EU, they’ll present themselves as refugees. Why wouldn’t anyone?

I don’t have an objection in principle to economic migrants per se, provided that they meet whatever qualifying requirements the ‘receiving’ country (even the EU) has set. Everyone has the right to try and better themselves and provide a good life for their families and descendants.

One might form the view – as I have, based only upon hearsay – that the reason so many migrants seek to move to Britain is because of the comprehensively generous benefits and work opportunities that are available here.

(You might even suggest to those Brits who delight in pointing out how supposedly badly the UK deals with its child poverty and welfare issues that in fact the UK population is relatively well off compared to most other places in the world – after all, why else would so many foreigners go through hell and high water to try and get here?).

To repeat myself, the EU (including the UK) is a comparatively wealthy entity. It’s totally understandable that those elsewhere would want to come here for a better life. Plus, some might argue, by its actions on the international stage the EU (and/or some of its members, not least the UK and/or NATO countries) has caused or contributed to a significant amount of the chaos in the world and therefore cannot wash its hands of the resulting human fallout.

Food for thought there, I feel.

EU-ExitAs regards the EU and the UK’s membership, now brought to focus via the UK’s decision to hold an ‘in/out’ referendum by 2017, I haven’t formed a view as to whether we’d be better in than out. Instinctively, I do not like the concept that ‘Johnny Foreigner’ can insist upon us pursuing Plan A, especially when the UK population has decided via an election or plebiscite had decided that it would like to adopt Plan B.

History is full of examples where EU countries have had – or tried to have – referenda on aspects of the EU project and been discouraged by the central EU power base. Or, if not discouraged, when and if – as Ireland once did – they produce an ‘inconvenient’ result, being sent back to try again … presumably until they come back with the ‘correct’ result, i.e. the one that suits the EU commission, bureaucracy and federalists.

It’s the lack of ‘democratic’ rights and non-elected control/power involved that fundamentally irritates me about the EU. That … and the fact that I’m attracted to being a maverick. Thus, when someone says I cannot do something and/or tells me that I don’t have a say in the matter, I tend to adopt a “Sod you!” approach and automatically vote the opposite way, just to mess up their quiet, ordered, lives.

I mention that despite the fact that, as already mentioned, I haven’t a clue whether the UK would thrive or sink if it opted to quit the EU. It’s damned difficult to find anyone independent who can provide a believable comparative assessment one way or the other.  In one sense, it’s irrelevant anyway. When I get in an ‘anti-EU’ mood, I wouldn’t even care if it was proved conclusively that the UK would be economically worse off outside the EU. It’s the fun of being able to put two fingers up to the EU and go our own way that attracts.


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About Simon Campion-Brown

A former lecturer in politics at Keele University, Simon now lives in Oxfordshire. Married with two children, in 2007 he decided to monitor the Westminster village via newspaper and television and has never looked back. More Posts