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28 March 2014

The Great European Union Debate

EU - Deputy Prime Minister Clegg (left) v UKIP Leader Farage (right)

At last, thanks to the challenge laid down by Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg on LBC the other week for UKIP Leader Nigel Farage to enter into a public debate on whether or not the UK should stay in the EU, we can begin to discuss some of the facts. I look forward to the second debate to take place soon on BBC2.

I am an enthusiastic European, but I'll say this about the EU: it is riddled with faults, top-heavy bureaucracy, money-wasting procedures, and a set of accounts that have not been signed off by auditors for years.

UKIP's solution is to leave it. The pro-Europeans' solution is to stay in and do something about the faults.

Both solutions are fraught with difficulties.

There is a balance to be made, and pro-Europeans like myself say that the benefits of membership outweigh the dis-benefits. Perhaps that judgement is subjective, and the only way to be objective is to be presented with facts. Which is why I'm glad these debates are taking place.

The next problem, when presented with “facts”, is resisting the temptation to say that facts we don’t want to hear are either lies or fear-mongering.

Putting millions of jobs at risk can either be a fact, or fear-mongering, or both. If you don’t like the statement you can say that the leaders of businesses like Siemens, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hitachi etc. are lying when they say they are investing in Britain because we are in the EU.

Stating that 480 million people have the right to enter Britain is a fact, but since it is somewhat irrelevant, it is also fear-mongering.  If a French politician was to say, “70 million British people have the right to enter France” he would be factually correct, but what would be the point of him saying it?

Anti-Europeans ask what's so special about the The European Arrest Warrant. It is favoured by senior police officers because pre-EAW the average time to execute a successful extradition was one year; under EAWs the average time is under 50 days.

Then they say we have criminals walking the streets because of failures in deportation proceedings. Deportation failures are often caused by rulings handed down by the European Court of Human Rights. This has nothing to do with the EU, and if we left the EU we would still be bound by the ECHR until or unless we legislated our way out compliance with any of those Court rulings.

UKIP are not against immigration, but are in favour of controlled immigration. I don’t have any quarrel with that. Under the free movement of jobs and people in the EU, it is clearly not possible to control migrants from EU countries. If that causes a problem, then it should be reviewed.

Like it or not, the kind of world we live in now makes membership of a powerful group more useful than being a little man on your own.

The EU is arguably big on bureaucracy and small on Democracy. I do feel that democracy is on life-support but then in my view we never have had democracy before or after membership of the EU. Coming out of the EU is not going to make us any more democratic until or unless politicians bite the voting system bullet.

The one thing to be said about the European Elections is that they won’t be based on “first past the post”. The (predicted) big win by UKIP next month is largely thanks to the use of a system of proportional representation. Come the General Election, both Clegg and Farage will be victims of a voting system that takes little account of their true support.

The hectoring practice of the EU to get the right answer to any referendum on a treaty change is a weapon in the armoury of those who want to withdraw. The practice of calling a referendum and then calling another one until the right answer is achieved is a huge puzzle to me. Firstly, if a government is prepared to call a second one because they didn’t like the answer, then that government is at fault. But then again, how does the right answer come about? How or why do people vote one way in the first referendum, and another way in a second referendum? Which of the two is democratic? They both involved people voting.

At UK General Elections about half the people bother to vote, and in European Elections the figure is more like one third. It’s a disgrace. Voting should be a compulsory element of being a member of civilized society. Education of children is compulsory, paying our taxes is compulsory; why not voting? Ballot papers should have a “None of the above” or “Abstention” box.

By the way, I have no objection in principle to a (democratic) United States of Europe.