In recent days we have seen Great Britain vote to withdraw from the European Union. While it is a significant event in itself, it perhaps points to a global trend of fragmentation, with large countries or unions splitting into smaller countries. These smaller countries are often ethnically different from other component countries that made up the original country.
The European Union (EU) started in 1951 as the European Coal and Steel Community which gradually extended its remit to cover almost every aspect of community in Europe. The UK was not part of the original member states but partially joined in 1973. In 1975 there was a referendum on whether or not the UK should leave the EEC or (then) Common Market. The vote was to remain part of the EEC.
It’s fair to say that the 1975 referendum was a non event. People of course did not know what the future would bring and the aims and purposes of the EU were, I believe, not understood. I saw no particular benefit and I was proved correct by events. (I’ve just realised the pun hidden in that – in fact the vote was not ‘non’ but ‘oui’).
Would trade between member countries have suffered if the UK had not voted in 1975 to continue to be part of the EEC? It’s impossible to say. Looking through the list, there is nothing there that really strongly calls out to me, and most of the items could have been achieved regardless of whether or not the UK remained or not.
From the perspective of countries outside of the EU, the EU is a disadvantage. The EU has a big hand in all trade agreements, and countries like Australia and New Zealand can’t target their traditional markets in the UK.
One of the big advantages of the EU is supposed to be the freer travel between member countries. This sounds great on paper, but passports are mostly still needed when people travel between countries, even though visa are not needed. While there is closer cooperation between member states on matters like drug trafficking, this will be offset to some extent by the freer travel between states.
Some people claim that the freedom of travel between member countries means that immigrants find it easier to travel between member countries and from the UK’s point of view this is all bad. An immigrant could obtain a passport in one country and immediately be able to travel to the UK for example.
It’s difficult to quantify some of the so-called advantages. For instance, being part of the EU supposedly provides greater influence in world affairs. However the leaders of countries outside the EU do not in practise seem to meet with the leaders of the EU, instead meeting with representatives of the individual countries, and to outside countries, the EU typically appears to be a barrier to trade because of the huge amount of bureaucracy that surrounds anything to do with the EU.
When the UK removes itself from the EU, it will be able to deal directly with non-EU countries once more. Since the UK is one of the largest economies in the world, ranking sixth in GDP, it should have no difficulty forging favourable trade links with other countries. Even trade with EU countries should not be affected too much – as someone said, Mercedes Benz will still want to sell their cars into the UK.
If the split of the UK from the EU goes ahead as it seems likely to do, this may result in other countries deciding to exit. This is not surprising of course, but this referendum may ultimately result in the dissolution of the EU back into member states.
This follows a trend which seems to be gathering pace. In 1991 the former Soviet Union dissolved into its constituent states. In 1993 Czechoslovakia spilt into two states. In 2014 Scotland narrowly voted against independence from the United Kingdom. Potentially the USA could split into separate countries, with the biggest state, Texas, being the most likely to secede from the union. China, is a huge country and is another candidate for potential division.
The EU is a huge bureaucracy and even the Pope has warned that the rules and regulations are onerous. While there are many euro-myths, it can’t be denied that the EU rules and regulations tend to be wordy and overbearing, and it seems that they do not replace local rules and regulations but add to them.
For instance, I was looking at Directive 2000/13/EC which relates to the labelling of foodstuffs. It runs to 36 pages and there are 9 amendments and one correction to the document. It is full of references and cross-reference and exceptions and special cases. One of the paragraph reads, in full, “Ingredients shall be listed in accordance with this Article and Annexes I, II, III and IIIa”.
Much of this verbiage is designed to protect the end consumer of course, and this is good, but I can’t imagine that the local butcher, or even a supermarket butcher, has read all the regulations relating to the way he labels his merchandise. Yet a provider can be in trouble if he/she doesn’t comply with these regulations as enforced and possibly modified by member governments.
So, I think that Britain has done the right thing to start its withdrawal from the EU. It will cost a lot. Billions, over a number of years, but the price will be worth it. Scotland may decamp, but there were signs that that alliance was under strain anyway.
It’s a miracle though, that they decided to leave, as many people seem to be having second thoughts, even calling for a new referendum on the subject, with more than 2.5 million people signing a petition to hold one. I can foresee a time when the 14th referendum on the subject is held and the question will be “Come on people! Make up your minds! Do we really, really want to exit the EU, or not? Please let’s make this the last time, OK?”
There is a distinct note of concern in the comments of the man in the street about the result of the referendum. One guy admits to have voted “Leave”, but says that he didn’t think his vote would matter, and that he is now very worried. I think that this is mere nerves and the burden of having made a scary decision, but I believe that they got it right. Others are happy with their decision.