Britain and Europe are stronger together. Although this may very much emulate the “Remain” campaign punch line, I argue that the latter do not usually emphasize on the benefits that the European Union (EU) has from having a Member State such as Britain, in its core membership. At the same time, there are many reasons for why the UK is better off in the EU. This post outlines and briefly discusses these issues.
In the last four years I have worked and lived in the UK. Prior to that I have worked in Brussels for two years outside and within EU institutions acquiring knowledge on how the EU policy-making processes function. Being financed by a British university to undertake doctoral research on why countries like Bulgaria and Romania have problems in using European funds, I have lived in Loughborough, Southampton, Glasgow, and currently in Edinburgh. Therefore, I have had the opportunity to see different areas of the UK, meet fellow students and locals, and, hopefully, get a glimpse of real Britain. After a first few difficult months of accommodating to life in the UK, I have now come to appreciate this country and its people. Therefore, as a continental Eastern European and as a junior academic currently living and working from Scotland, I would be highly disappointed if British citizens choose to leave the EU.
There are other reasons as well why I think, first of all, that the UK is better off in the EU, and secondly, that the EU needs the UK as its member. These are now briefly outlined below.
Five reasons why Britain would be better off in the EU
- Fighting social inequality and the effects of climate change. The latter do not only affect the UK, but are global challenges that require coordinated responses. Britain still has much to prove in terms of fighting economic and educational inequalities. Secluding itself and choosing a more solitary path may not be the wisest step to take. For instance, as shown by the Panama Papers leaks and as emphasized by a criticized David Cameron, the UK still needs to take robust measures as to fight tax evasion, chase down multinationals who don’t pay taxes and contribute to a fairer society.
- The British economy benefits from EU membership. Britain has largely benefited from the EU Single Market. Many British businesses seem to thrive due to the immense economic opportunities and the trade undertaken with other EU countries. This trade will not disappear overnight, however, the structural principles underpinning it will have to be renegotiated in the context of a potential Brexit. Moreover, wider European policies such as Cohesion Policy and Common Agricultural Policy have had a good, although difficult to measure, impact on less developed regions within the UK and have strengthened British farms and produce.
- Human capital from Europe supports the UK. European economic immigrants, either from Spain or from Romania, contribute greatly to the British economy. The vast majority of migrants pay taxes to the HMRC. Moreover, instead of working in the country were they were prepared, thousands of doctors and nurses choose to supply the NHS with a much needed workforce. Immigration has a devastating economic and social impact on the migrants’ countries of origin and affects the economies of those countries. This is an aspect very much neglected by British politicians and the media when they deal with this topic.
- Common European laws and rules crafted in Brussels are beneficial to Britain. Britain profits from common European rules be them in terms of roaming charges, workers’ rights or environmental protection. The UK can develop such legal frameworks on its own. However, in doing so, it will not benefit from the expertise amassed by 27 other countries and the different circumstances that contribute to developing and enforcing these laws. Moreover, to argue that Britain doesn’t have a say on how these rules are designed and applied is nonsensical. British influence in Brussels is and can be even higher in the near future. Nevertheless, the question should be not about its influence but more on the ability of the EU as a whole to craft rules for the common good with input from the UK.
- British universities benefit widely from EU funding. This strengthens the capacity of universities and enables them to invest more in research useful for society. A potential Brexit will not only reduce the level of funding towards research being carried out in British universities, but may generally affect the education sector in this country. It must be stressed that nowadays obtaining a job in a British university is a very difficult endeavour. Fewer funds from the EU for research related purposes will not only make things worse for academics struggling to stay afloat, in a more and more corporatized university environment, but may affect the quality of education delivered to British students.
Five reasons for why the EU needs the UK
- Europe is stronger with the UK as its member. The UK belongs to Europe not only from a socio-economic point of view but equally from a cultural and historical point of view. Without equating the EU to Europe as a whole, one must stress that both the former and the latter would be incomplete without Britain as its member. In this respect, a Brexit will constitute a historical event of no contemporary precedent which will be a blow not only to the EU project but to Europe in the wider sense.
- Britain can hold the balance of power in the EU. Britain is a country very much respected in Europe and is an economic, social and cultural powerhouse which has always inspired other countries whether on the development political institutions, social progress and human and minority rights. By leaving the EU, Britain will allow the German-French duo to dominate the European project. Britain’s political and socio-economic model, as well as its unquestionable soft power, provides a counter-balance and an alternative model for the EU as whole.
- Brussels may and can be reformed with Britain at its helm. The EU is a complicated political and institutional beast whose policy-making processes are indeed opaque and difficult to understand and follow. However, the idea that Britain is not influential in Brussels is absurd. By attending more than forty Council of the EU and EU Parliament sessions, I could witness first-hand the strong interest of other Member States in UK’s official positions and opinions. In this respect, Westminster can contribute to a more accountable Brussels and arguably to a less elitist and more democratic European project, which may manage to overcome the shock sustained from the current rise of nationalist and populist movements.
- European integration doesn’t have to be a British remit. The European integration project cannot progress without the unanimous decision of all its Member States. Technically, that is a fact. However, the UK has always benefited from opt-outs and a special “status”, as the current British Prime Minister likes to argue. Although that often raises eyebrows among other EU members, the UK could retain its peculiar status if it decides not to leave “the compound”.
- The UK has to contribute to a Europe of the 21st century. The UK can contribute to a modern European project. In this respect, British insularity and isolation are not feasible options, especially if it wants to find solutions in order to tackle the above mentioned challenges and to collectively address the contemporary social, political and economic diseases affecting our societies.
Having said that, the popular decision following the referendum on the 23rd of June can pave the way not only for a consistent and stable United Kingdom but to a potentially reformed European Union (irrespective of the fact that this sentence indeed emulates David Cameron’s rhetoric). However, a vote to stay in doesn’t necessarily mean that the referendum will solve the British question once and for all and its future relationship with Europe. However, as argued above, there are many reasons for why the relationship between the two is mutually reinforcing.