What is the EU good for and British InfluenceWatch
Sovereignty – what are all these laws and who makes them?
Despite frequent exaggerations, it's true that there is an important role played in the making of EU legislation by "unelected bureaucrats"- The European Commission – people appointed by our elected national governments and approved and scrutinised by our elected MEPs. The legislative job of the Commission is to develop concrete proposals for laws to implement the policy directions and priorities set by the national governments. But these are just proposals - no EU legislation can pass without being voted through by the elected politicians, who can also amend them and request further proposals for legislation. The job of the European Court is to enable the agreed treaties of the European Union to be enforced when we or other countries are alleged to infringe the treaties we have signed up to.
When you look at lists of EU directives, you can see that they cover areas that are best tackled by our countries working together. By pooling some sovereignty in these areas, we have a net gain in control over many things that matter to us. A stronger economy also gives us more influence on the world. These directives can be put into a few categories, some into more than one:
Cross border issues like airlines, fighting international crime, anti-fraud, anti-money laundering, tax evasion, intellectual property.
There are single market rules like harmonising product standards to ease trade and improve safety and energy efficiency standards for consumers, and other rules to make the single market function more effectively to boost trade and economic growth.
Many things are aimed at preventing a race to the bottom by setting minimum standards in areas like environmental protections, employment protections, health and safety, pollution. Developed nations around the world face the issue of multinational corporations playing one country off against another for weaker regulation. There have been many high profile cases recently where the EU has stood up against monopoly abuses by American firms in particular.
There are also some miscellaneous directives such as implementing sanctions we all agreed to take against Iran and were very effective in bringing that country out from the cold.
Despite these mostly worthwhile measures, Britain is widely acknowledged as one of the most lightly regulated developed economies.
Britain opted out of the Euro, as well as the Schengen passport free area on the continent, so our EU interests primarily concern the single market. We have various other opt outs such as in the areas of justice and home affairs (including asylum policy – and the Dublin rules allow us to return asylum seekers to their first safe EU country of arrival). We are also opted out of Eurozone bailouts – the Leave campaign tell a half truth to deceive the public into believing that we bailed out Greece last year. We have a very customised relationship with the EU, and everyone accepts that differing levels of integration is the only sustainable future for the European Union.
A major reason that the USA and other allies are so keen on us staying in the EU is because we are so influential in shaping policies there. We have been the main drivers of EU environmental legislation, and led the EU negotiating bloc at the UN climate talks last year. British MEPs have chaired the powerful Internal Market Committee for the past 12 years. Many improvements to the single market that Britain has pushed for many years are in progress now including:
Completing the single market in services – overall we are net importers from the EU. We import more goods, but are net exporters of services to the EU. Non-tariff barriers to trade in services are still a big hindrance, so we stand to gain substantially if the European market in services is liberalised, as well as in the external free trade agreements that the EU is using its clout to negotiate, such as with America, Japan, Mercosur (the South American trade bloc), and India.
Digital single market – will help us sell our world leading creative services and telecoms.
Internal Energy market - increasing competition and improving efficiency, as well as better resilience against any future winter gas crisis triggered by Russia
Reducing regulatory burden - especially for small businesses, as well as the 2014-20 real terms reduction in the EU's budget, both of which we persuaded the rest of the EU to support
Capital Markets Union - to ease the movement of capital across the EU and increase investment in businesses and infrastructure to boost growth. Britain's EU Commissioner has responsibility for this area as well as financial services issues.
Trade deals with the rest of the world
We've heard a lot of stuff that we'll leave the EU and make free trade agreements with the rest of the world, but there's been virtually no discussion in the media about what's being done now.
Here's a map of current and work in progress trade deals.
Through the EU we already we've recently agreed free trade deals with Canada and South Korea, removing 99% of their import tariffs (removing the non-tarrif barriers to trade even more important, and the more recent deals have more priority on removing services protectionism). We have trade deals agreed with most Commonwealth countries. Others are in progress, including with India, though that one is currently stalled with some outstanding issues.
A free trade agreement with Japan, the world's 3rd largest economy, is targeted for completion this year. A free trade agreement with the United States is at an advanced stage. Mercosur (the South American trade bloc) is a work in progress.
China is an important exception at present, but is a longer term ambition after the current EU-China Investment Agreement negotiations are complete.
It's not just quantity of trade deals that matters – it's quality. EU trade deals are far more ambitious than individual nations achieve. They take longer, are less certain to complete, though when they are completed, open up overseas markets faster and more comprehensively. Our combined economic clout with our neighbours in the European Union gets us better deals, opening up much deeper access to world markets and increased investment opportunities.
A bigger picture
It's easy to take for granted the influence and economic clout that the West has on the world stage, but in the 21st century with the rise of China and other large countries and trade blocs, Asia and other regions are growing much faster than us, both economically and in population terms (Europe, unlike other continents, is projected to have a falling population this century). The key players in international negotiations in recent times are the USA, China, and the European Union.
With so many common values and interests with our neighbours, the whole point of European legislation is that there are benefits to be gained and problems that are best solved at a European level. A negotiating bloc like the EU also gives us a stronger voice to further our common interests on a global stage. We would be leaving the EU just as many of the things Britain has been pushing for are coming to fruition.
A British exit from the European Union would be a massive step backwards from the progress we've made and will make this century, particularly for an outward looking country that has a long tradition of maximising its influence on the world. Let's listen to our friends and allies, the great majority of businesses, economic and other experts and vote to continue and build on our role in improving this great European collaboration.