In 1951, six European countries agreed to pool their coal and steel with one goal in mind: never again war in Europe. From this beginning, developed the European Economic Community – the Common Market – and then the European Union, but still with the over-riding aim of preserving peace in Europe.
This has also brought a wide range of benefits for individual citizens, as summarised here. Many are now taken for granted as part of being European. Should Brexit occur, these will no longer be available to British citizens as of right; most would be lost for ever.
Stronger in the EU – Better for Everyone
Citizens of EU member states are considered to be European Citizens. This gives a wide range of rights not available to people from outside the EU:
- The right to travel, study, live, work or retire in any country throughout the EU, without the need for visa or work permit.
- Fast-track passport controls without questions on purpose of visit or money; no need for six-months validity of passports.
- Recognition of driving licences across the EU; car insurance cover without a “green card”.
- Reciprocal healthcare throughout the EU, including benefits of the EHIC card.
- Cheaper air fares because of EU competition laws and compensation for flight delays.
- The EU introduced pet passports.
- The EU abolished mobile phone roaming charges.
A wide range of employment rights are guaranteed as a result of EU regulations. As well as protecting the rights of employed people, these also prevent any country under-cutting agreed standards to gain an unfair competitive advantage.
- Freedom of movement provides access to much needed labour including NHS and social care personnel, agricultural, construction and hospitality staff.
- Within the EU there is mutual recognition of professional qualifications.
- Businesses can be established in another EU country without difficulty.
- Transferability of retirement pensions.
- The Working Time Directive provides for a minimum period of paid annual leave.
- Maximum of a 48 hours working week without paid overtime.
- Equal pay enshrined in EU law since 1957.
- Minimum 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, and 18 weeks of parental leave.
- The EU requires defined health and safety standards to be respected in the workplace.
- The EU upholds collective bargaining rights and trade union recognition.
The EU has played a major role in protecting the environment, including in the vital field of combatting climate change. Working on the scale of the EU provides a stronger global influence.
- Leading role in combating climate change (UN Climate Change Conference 2018).
- Set common targets for greenhouse gas emissions.
- Air quality, drinking and bathing water quality have all improved as a result of EU legislation.
- Reduction in sewage emissions.
- Set standards for recycling targets, toxic waste and landfill disposal.
- Regulations on noise pollution.
- Promoted development of off-shore wind farms.
- Tighter safety standards for cars, trucks and buses.
- Protection of endangered species and wildlife habitats.
- Animals may no longer be used for testing cosmetics.
- There is a inter-cultural dialogue between the countries of the EU. Support funding is provided by the EU for a wide range of cultural activities; theatre, music, dance, films and more.
- European Capitals of Culture (Glasgow, Liverpool) gained substantial benefit from the stimulus provided to local economies.
- The EU-wide Erasmus exchange programme enables students to go to other countries to study; 16,000 students from the UK participate each year.
- The European Youth Orchestra has been based in London (now moved to Italy due to the possibility of Brexit).
- EU funding for research and innovation has ensured that British universities have remained at the forefront of academic achievement. In scientific and medical research, the ability to co-operate, and recruit personnel, across national boundaries, is of paramount importance.
- The European Medicines Agency has had strong links with the UK pharmaceutical industry (now moved from London to Amsterdam due to the possibility of Brexit).
- Membership of Euratom, the European agency facilitating the peaceful use of atomic energy, including the use of radioactive materials in medical applications. (Britain will leave Euratom should Brexit occur).
- The European Charter of Fundamental Rights means that basic human rights are protected throughout the EU.
- Minority languages, such as Welsh and Irish, are afforded protection.
- EU citizens can vote in local and EU Parliament elections wherever they live in the EU.
- EU law facilitates property ownership in another EU country.
- The EU brought in anti-discrimination laws about age, religion and sexual orientation.
- Consular support outside the EU may be obtained from another EU country if needed.
The EU provides support to less developed regions of member countries to promote economic growth and social cohesion. Significant areas of the UK are classified as amongst the poorest in the EU, and these receive substantial financial support from the EU.
- EU funding supports regional development. (Cornwall receives up to £750 million a year from the European Social Fund; other areas of industrial decline, including Wales and South Yorkshire, are also helped.)
- EU funding helps agriculture and small businesses.
- In the EU we are a member of the world’s largest trading bloc with over 500 million consumers, accounting for 17% of global GDP.
- The EU is a counter-balance to the USA, Russia and China; as an EU member the UK exerts an influence in world trade above its size.
- The UK currently enjoys tariff-free trade with the other 27 EU countries.
- The UK also benefits from trade agreements which the EU has already made with 36 other countries. Agreements are partly in place with a further 48 countries.
- The EU accounts for 44% of UK exports, and 53% of UK imports.
- 3 million UK jobs are linked to exports to the EU.
- There are no customs or paperwork requirements for UK exports to the EU.
- As an EU member, the UK enjoys duty-free food and drink imports from other EU countries, and hence lower prices.
- EU competition laws control multi-national corporations and protect consumer rights.
- Other advantages for UK citizens include patent and copyright protection, improved food labelling, consumer protection on food product quality and safety, a ban on harmful food additives and consumer rights for purchases bought in another EU country.
- The EU accounts for 47% of Direct Foreign Investment into the UK, doubled since start of the EU Single Market.
- Access to the EU Single Market attracts investment from outside the EU into the UK.
- Currency transactions facilitated within the EU.
- Banks, financial services and insurance companies operate freely across the EU.
- The European Banking Authority, until recently based in London, benefited the UK. (now moved to Paris due to the possibility of Brexit).
- UK net contribution to the EU budget (£7.3 billion) is 0.4 of GDP, less than one eighth of UK defence spending.
- The UK has a highly significant budget rebate, negotiated by Mrs Thatcher, that will be irretrievably lost should Brexit occur.
The question of sovereignty has been seen by many as a key issue in the Brexit debate. What is often less recognised is the sharing of sovereignty implicit in any treaty-based organisation, where rights and obligations are shared with other countries. This has given Britain an important say in how Europe has developed over the years. Leaving the EU will prevent the UK having any influence on future developments in Europe, no matter how much they might affect this country.
Sovereignty and national pride are not diminished by such shared involvement; the most patriotic of EU nations proudly fly their national flag alongside the EU flag as a measure of their commitment.
- As an EU member, we do not have rules imposed on us – we help to make the EU rules.
- We have ‘opt-outs’ on the single currency (the euro) and on the Schengen Agreement (no border controls}.
- The UK benefits from EU-wide co-ordination over terrorists, paedophiles, people traffickers and cyber criminals.
- The EU Common Arrest Warrant is of great value to UK justice.
- The peace process in Northern Ireland, including a frictionless border, has been greatly facilitated by both parts of Ireland being within the EU.
- The position of Gibraltar has been strengthened by EU membership. (96% of the population voted to remain in the EU.)
- Most fundamentally, the development of the EU has made it inconceivable that armed conflict should ever again be contemplated between member states.