EU Referendum: Myth Busting

Commentary by Louis VIS

On Sunday morning, I went to attend the recording of BBC Points West’s EU Referendum debate in Bristol. By the end of the debate, I was left deeply disappointed by the fact that the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign had managed to make so many inaccurate claims, that the ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ campaign did not have the time to respond to all of them. As explained in a previous article, if voters are to make an informed decision on 23rd June, it is vital they are given accurate information. This article will therefore challenge three of the main Brexit myths.

Democratic Deficit:

Voters are constantly told that the European Union is made up of unelected bureaucrats and politicians. This is a deeply flawed argument. Whilst the European Commission is made up of unelected civil servants from all European Member States, the Commission’s role is to propose laws and legislations, which then have to be approved by both the European Parliament and the European Council.

MOTORAL1987 - CC BY-SA 4.0
Voters will have to make up their minds on 23rd June 2016 – by MOTORAL1987, licensed under OGL

The Parliament is made up of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), which are democratically elected by citizens from across the European Union every five years. Furthermore, the President of the European Commission is actually elected by the party having won the majority of seats in the elections. Thus although Jean-Claude Juncker (the current President of the European Commission) was not directly elected by citizens, the European’s People Party (EPP) had made it clear that if they were to win the election, they would choose Mr. Juncker as their candidate. This does not just apply to the President of the European Commission. Indeed, all European Commissioners have to pass a Parliamentary hearing before being appointed. Ultimately, the Parliament has the authority to prevent Commissioners from being appointed (a right they have already used several times) and/or force the Commission as a whole to resign (which was done in 1999).

The European Council, is made up of the Heads of States from all 28 Member States, which themselves have been democratically elected at a national level. One should therefore understand that without the approval of both the Parliament and the Council, proposals from the Commission cannot become law.

Ultimately, the EU’s democratic structure is very similar to the United Kingdom’s. In the UK, laws are proposed by civil servants (unelected) but have to be approved by both the House of Commons (democratically elected every 5 years) and the House of Lords (unelected). Thus if anything, the EU is actually more democratic than the UK, where only one of the Houses of Parliament is democratically elected by its citizens.

Trade Deals:

The UK is the 5th largest economy in the world and will therefore not have any problems in negotiating its own trade deals with other countries. Unfortunately, this argument ignores the fact that the UK became the world’s 5th largest economy as a Member of the world’s largest trade bloc, not as an outsider. Even though Norway, Switzerland and Iceland all managed to negotiate an access to the EU’s single market, that access remains limited and is tied to a vast number of rules and regulations set by EU Member States rather than themselves. In the words of Nikolai Astrup a Norwegian Conservative MP: ‘If you want to run Europe, you must be in Europe. If you want to be run by Europe, feel free to join Norway in the European Economic Area’.

The ‘Leave’ campaign also claims (albeit wrongly) that the UK’s voice is not being heard in the EU (a group of 28 countries). Even if it were true, how on earth would the UK’s voice be better heard when left to its own device in a world of around 200 countries? Similarily, Brexiteers blame (once again wrongly) Mr. Cameron and his negotiators for bringing back a worthless deal from Brussels. Yet, it is difficult to see how Brexit would suddenly make those very same negotiators any more competent, when having to negotiate trade deals with powerful countries such as China, Canada or the USA. Ultimately, once out of the single market, cities like London would lose out to other English-speaking cities within the EU like Dublin.

Immigration:

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Voters expressing their support for the ‘Remain’ campaign befor the UK’s referendum on EU membership – by Louis Vis

Many believe that voting to leave on 23rd June would magically reduce migration to the UK. This ignores the fact that half of the UK’s migration comes from outside the EU or that migration also brings huge benefits. During the EU Referendum debate on BBC Points West, a farmer and pie-maker explained to the audience that they had to employ workers from other EU Member States because of the shortage of local manual labour. Although Mr. Farage claims that adopting an Australian point-style system would be the only way to ensure that skilled rather unskilled migrants entered the UK, one does not need to employ an aero-space engineer to fill pies or pick asparagus. The reality is that the vast majority of British citizens do not want to do unskilled manual work for a low pay and long hours. These same citizens should therefore not prevent others from doing the jobs they neglect. Furthermore, as Alan Johnson (a Former Labour Home Secretary) told an audience in Glasgow, to control migration one would have to distinguish between tourists and workers. The only way to do so would be to impose visas, a theory which the ‘Leave’ campaign rejects without providing alternatives.

 

Although referendums are often seen as an expression of democracy, in reality some political decisions are simply too complex for citizens to make on their own. Teachers are expected to teach and lawyers are expected to maintain the rule of law. The same applies to politicians. They are expected to lead a country, not ask us to do it for them. It is therefore disappointing to see that Mr. Cameron and his colleagues have failed at their job. With the exception of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), every other political party in the country supports the UK’s EU membership. Unfortunately, because Mr. Cameron did not have the courage to stand up to his backbenchers, the country is now on the verge of making the biggest mistake in its history.

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16 thoughts on “EU Referendum: Myth Busting

  1. Laws in the UK are NOT proposed by civil servants. In general a minister in the UK will ask his civil servants to draft a law, on the basis of what he/ she wants the law to do.

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  2. do you think this campaign is about reason only? how is that side of things (the non-reason) dealt with by the Remainers? do you make sure normal people (that will vote remain) speak up too? because sometimes I’ve the impression only Cameron speaks and he speaks mostly/only like “I do not like the EU myself but the alternative is worse and very much to be feared” or he seems to…

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    1. I would have to agree with you that the Remain campaign’s biggest problem is the fact that most of it supporters fail to make the positive case for the UK’s EU membership. Indeed, since the UK joined the EU none of its politicans have been capable of talking about the EU in a positive way. It’s hardly surprising we have ended up where we are now and it is highly regretable.

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      1. Why should one make “a positive case” if the case is NOT positive?

        There are only a few things to talk about positively as for the EU. The Common Market was good but the whole project should have stopped there. The last decades were a real disaster: enlargement, euro, economic & migration policy. The people of Europe ( … and not ONLY the British!) do NOT want to live in the United States of Europe. Brussels does not want to accept it so now now the well-deserved earthquake is coming by Brexit.

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      1. Louis, you should have a look an the chart BEFORE you say that it is a fact.

        GREECE: 71 %
        FRANCE: 61 %
        SPAIN: 49%
        GB: 48 %

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      2. You could just as well have made up these facts yourself. I wrote two dissertations analysing European public opinion using data from both the Eurobarometer and the European Elections Survey. The results from both suggest that although Euroscepticism has increased (albeit at different speeds) in other European countries it remains far far lower than levels found in the UK.

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  3. I wrote the following comment to your link above:

    “How strange, Erna Solberg! I thought, a democratically elected prime minister’s role is to represent the majority of the country that voted for her. The great majority of the Norwegians does NOT want to join the EU and Erna Solberg knows it. What on earth is she doing as prime minister if she can’t accept the preferences of her nation? I think the Norwegians should kick her out of politics for ever.

    Or is she hoping for a well-paid job in Brussels, in the court of Schultz’s and Juncker’s at any price and is ready to abandon also her electors? I believed, the loyalty of a prime minister was firstly with people who elected her. Erna Solberg does NOT seem to understand this. And she is unfortunately NOT alone …”

    I think Erna Solberg should ask herself why she was democratically (!) elected for by the Norwegian people. She must not represent any other ideas than that of the people who elected her and they had their say on the EU-question several times and said a clear NO. Or: she can leave politics and can have any opinion she would like. Piece of cake! There are dozens of Norwegian commenters to your link who have a very similar opinion to mine. Read them, even if you do not like them.

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      1. They will not: PM Erna Solberg will not be reelected stressing such untrue things about Norway.You should read today’s & yesterday’s Norwegian press … The Norwegians will remember this at the next elections, be sure!

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  4. “Although referendums are often seen as an expression of democracy, in reality some political decisions are simply too complex for citizens to make on their own”

    I have neither myself asked, nor known anyone who had asked politicians to create “complex” systems or structures for us. They did it on their own so please eat the cake now. The “complex” issues can only come into being if the politicians do not take a “NO” from the citizens and try to trick them in the background. Let’s get back to basics. When politicians are in doubt they should ALWAYS ask the people and take a “NO” for a “NO” without trying tricks in the background like in Brussels. That IS democracy!

    Louis! Maybe you want to get a well-paid job in Brussels via this propaganda-blog? (There are more than 10,000 eurocrats earning more than the German Chancellor Merkel.) You would give the Schulz’s and Juncker’s the power to form YOUR future. That is YOUR problem but please keep the REST OF US out of this madness. And believe me the Norwegians do not need your help and KNOW better what they do. And so do the British, too, and if they are ready to pay the “terrible price” outside the EU, then it is their problem, not yours.

    I hope for BREXIT also for the rest of us and a profound reform of the union thereafter will be inevitable. We should send home 80-90 % of the eurocrats and get back to the status of the Common Market and stay there. The huge majority of the people of Europe do NOT want more “union” than that.

    ” … migration also brings huge benefits …”

    I hope you did not mean the victims at the Maelbeek station or at the Zaventem airport.

    The economic development of the EU during the last decades has been rather poor compared to other areas of the world and there are no signs of improvement though Barrosso said otherwise. And then there is also the euro, the great “EU-solution” for Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and etc…? Empty words do not make a great world, not even from Brussels.

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    1. I did not say that referendums are a bad idea. Simply that whilst in some cases the general public should have a say in politics (ie: the Irish referendum on gay marriage) in other cases it would make more sense for politicians to do their jobs on their own. Indeed, you cannot expect every citizen voting in this referendum to have an in-depth knowledge in how the European Union works. Politicians, who actually are the ones working with their collegues in the EU, know better than anyone how these insitutions work. It therefore only makes sense for them to take those decisions. Not to mention that if the turnout is around 50%, a quarter of the population will end up deciding the fate of a whole country. Whatever way this referendum goes, this is simply not good enough. Either everyone has a say or we should leave politicans to make those decision by themselves since we actually elect them for that very purpose.

      Furthermore, I am not talking on behave of Norway. Being a Brit living in the UK, I would be wrong to do so. Rather I am simply reiterating what they have said. You can see for yourself here: http://www.politico.eu/article/eu-referendum-look-before-you-leap-norways-pm-tells-brexiteers/.

      As for migration, it actually does bring numerous benefits to our economy and would bring even more if people accepted this and stopped discriminating against them. Just read the article in the hyperlink and see for yourself.

      Finally, I find it terribly ironic to hear people tell me that Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy are a perfect example of why the EU does not work, when the people living in those very countries believe the EU should be stronger not weaker.

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