Thursday, 8 July 2010

Good things the EU’s done

With my mild scepticism of the EU, I don't take enough time to appreciate the good the EU does. It's not particularly easy to list positives about the European Union, since much of it is in the eye of the beholder, but there are some things I see as positive, as well as others which I don't necessarily, but am able to see the other side of the coin.

1. Free movement

For this one, I have to look at the other side of the coin a lot to get past my own views on this. Free movement of people within the EU can have two positives: the first being that labour can move into the country when there are jobs to be filled, allowing businesses to grow, thereby putting more money into the economy and increasing tax revenues for the Government. The second positive is that you and I have the same right: we can move to and work in any other country within the EU. Whilst there's tremendous difficulty in being allowed to live and work in such places as Australia, which employs a strict quota system, I can up sticks to live and work in the beautiful French countryside (or anywhere else for that matter) if the fancy takes me.

Part of this generally means no border checks when travelling between EU member states. I vaguely remember the dull coach journey through France to Belgium for a year 10 school trip to Ypres and not having to go through any border control or checks. I do, however, distinctly remember being trapped in a fairly small building - which was  full of detained (and very smelly) what I can only presume were  failed illegal immigrants - whilst queuing to have my passport checked by a grumpy Frenchman. I'm trying to remember whether we were trying to get into France or back to the UK. Since I know that there's  free movement between all Schengen member countries, I can only presume that it was a requirement of the UK that we have to endure said smelly and hot conditions before entering again; it was a good reminder that we were traitors for ever having left in the first place.

Of course, the negative of this lovely-sounding free movement - particularly with the EU's eastward expansion - we risk floods of EU immigrants taking residence here, putting further strain on housing, transport, and public services. I think it would be sensible to allow members to put in place limits for EU migration, as there's always the risk of ending up with a high concentration of people in one country.

2. Life's a beach

Potentially not one of the most important reasons, but I remember some time a year or so ago feeling my anti EU stance being challenged by the fact that it had been responsible for making our beaches cleaner. By introducing tough rules and requirements, the EU has successfully encouraged cleaner beaches, ensuring visitors can continue to swim in the water.

3. Animal testing

Animal testing for cosmetic purposes has been banned throughout the EU. It's a moral issue, but I think most people - except make-up manufacturers, of course - can agree we shouldn't be using animals to test potentially harmful products in the pursuit of beauty (or bright red slapper lip-stick).

4. Cheaper communication

Legislation has been introduced which reduces the cost of making mobile phone calls and sending texts from within the EU. Text costs were capped at 11p, whilst roaming charges and the costs of calls was reduced, and is set to be further reduced in July next year. Furthermore, receiving a voicemail message whilst tramping around Europe is also free. These rules mean cheaper communication for us, with the intention to have the cost of communicating on the Continent being the same as in individual member states.

5. Single currency

Well,  it seems to be failing now and might even collapse, and of course we never joined the Euro, but there are obvious benefits to having a single currency. It means we need to change our beautiful Sterling into Euros once, and then we can gallivant freely throughout Europe without having to keep changing the currency and being concerned about the effects of exchange rates.

Naturally, the downside of this is that almost 30 countries put all their currency eggs in one basket. As we're seeing now, when one of their economies becomes a basket-case, it can bring the others down with it at tremendous cost.

6. The Human Rights Act

Another one where I must try really, really hard to see supporting argument. I would potentially support the Human Rights Act if I didn't think it was abused and plays too much into the hands of criminals whilst restricting the ability of the police.  The positives of it, however, are that we as citizens of a European Union member state, have certain inalienable rights, such as:

  • right to life

  • right to a fair trial

  • right to practice any religion we wish to

  • freedom from torture

  • freedom from slavery

We're seeing increasingly in recent years that the Human Rights Act prevents the Government from infringing upon the rights of British subjects, with British courts more able to rule against the Government due to the Human Rights Act. However, "inalienable" might be the wrong choice of words; the Government could still repeal the Human Rights Act if it so wishes, though I don't think Nick Clegg would ever let that happen.

7. Time off

The Working Time Directive means that you have to be allowed 4 weeks or more paid holiday from work. Can't complain about that one. Similarly, it also dictates that you can't be forced to work more than 48 hours per week, and no more than 13 hours in a 24 hour period. Of course, opposition comes from those who want to work longer, and if they're over 18, they're entitled to opt out of the rules. (Doesn't that defeat the object though?)

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