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What did the Romans ever do for us (EU section)?

Posted on 12 January 2013 | 10:01am

As David Cameron seemingly spends another weekend deciding whether, where and when to make his much vaunted speech on Europe … as the rest of us ponder the remarkable failure of leadership that has got him into a mess of his own making … as Ed Miliband rightly signals no truck with the idea of an unnecessary referendum … as Michael Heseltine talks sense about the issue in an interview in the FT … as elsewhere in the paper commentators point out that Cameron has got himself into a much more sceptic position than Thatcher … as the Germans appear to backtrack on their commitment to help Cameron out of his hole … as the Americans reflect on a job well done in injecting a dose of diplomatic reality into a debate otherwise dominated by lying right-wing newspapers, eccentrics like Farage and boneheads like Bone, I am indebted to the Guardian letters page for selecting the following as its lead letter today. Worth reflecting upon as a combination of anti-European propaganda and weak leadership allow a sleepwalk to disaster.

‘At last we may get a debate on Britain’s relationship with Europe(Leader, 11 January). What did the EEC/EU ever do for us? Not much, apart from: providing 57% of our trade; structural funding to areas hit by industrial decline; clean beaches and rivers; cleaner air; lead free petrol; restrictions on landfill dumping; a recycling culture; cheaper mobile charges; cheaper air travel; improved consumer protection and food labelling; a ban on growth hormones and other harmful food additives; better product safety; single market competition bringing quality improvements and better industrial performance; break up of monopolies; Europe-wide patent and copyright protection; no paperwork or customs for exports throughout the single market; price transparency and removal of commission on currency exchanges across the eurozone; freedom to travel, live and work across Europe; funded opportunities for young people to undertake study or work placements abroad; access to European health services; labour protection and enhanced social welfare; smoke-free workplaces; equal pay legislation; holiday entitlement; the right not to work more than a 48-hour week without overtime; strongest wildlife protection in the world; improved animal welfare in food production; EU-funded research and industrial collaboration; EU representation in international forums; bloc EEA negotiation at the WTO; EU diplomatic efforts to uphold the nuclear non-proliferation treaty; European arrest warrant; cross border policing to combat human trafficking, arms and drug smuggling; counter terrorism intelligence; European civil and military co-operation in post-conflict zones in Europe and Africa; support for democracy and human rights across Europe and beyond; investment across Europe contributing to better living standards and educational, social and cultural capital.

All of this is nothing compared with its greatest achievements: the EU has for 60 years been the foundation of peace between European neighbours after centuries of bloodshed. It furthermore assisted the extraordinary political, social and economic transformation of 13 former dictatorships, now EU members, since 1980. Now the union faces major challenges brought on by neoliberal economic globalisation, and worsened by its own systemic weaknesses. It is taking measures to overcome these. We in the UK should reflect on whether our net contribution of £7bn out of total government expenditure of £695bn is good value. We must play a full part in enabling the union to be a force for good in a multipolar global future.
Simon Sweeney
Lecturer in international political economy, University of York’

  • The trouble is of course that all the good listed in the letter is anathema to the bulk of the Tories who seek to replicate the aspirations of the US Tea Party here – consumer protection – bah humbug!

  • The only thing we seem capable of teaching our fellow Europeans is the art of black propaganda. Talk of ‘renegotiating’ or ‘repatriating’ powers is clearly bullshit. Article 50 of the Treaty of Rome states that in order to renegotiate the terms of membership for the EU, a nation state must first declare its intention to leave the Union. If Cameron actually proposes such a path, then kudos will be due for his honesty. I won’t, however, be holding my breath. The man is a charlatan, and deserves his eventual fate at the hands of the British electorate.

  • Anonymous

    What a complete load of pro-EU tosh!

    ‘Ed rightly no referendum’ and why would that be Alastair, perhaps the voting public might give the unwanted answer?

    And where to start with the Guardian nonsense, the EU does not provide 57% of our trade, a lot of that actually exits the EU via Rotterdam. Structural funding, oh you mean some of our ‘contributions’ are returned to us? And so on and so on.

    This juggernaut for the peace movement might also have taken into account the contribution of NATO but on second thoughts perhaps best ignored hey?

    And of course what about the recognition of the global warming phenomenon well, it wasn’t even mentioned in this extensive list of positives, wonder why that was?

    The EU latterly of course has contributed extensively to mass unemployment in all member countries apart from a few, another feather in its cap no doubt!

  • Leaving the EU has much to commend it: de-regulated, self regulating banks could flock to a low corporation tax City of London bringing much needed jobs – an additional attraction being that such jobs would be almost entirely free from the rigours of the criminal law. Outmoded practices like the minimum wage, employment protection and the maximum working week could be abolished ‘freeing up’ the labour market – imagine how good family life would become! No pesky EU environmental laws which might act as a brake on fracking. Utopia! What are we waiting for?

  • Thanks for the citation – the perfect foil to what I fear is likely to be a lot of nonsense talked about repatriation/renegotiation then letting the people decide. For ease of reference chapter and verse on Article 50 can be found here:

  • ”a multipolar global future”. A global future has no future if is multipolar.
    Des Currie

  • Dave Simons

    Margaret Thatcher was fond of lecturing us on how the nuclear deterrent had kept peace in Europe for more than forty years. You can neither prove nor disprove statements like that because you can’t re-run an alternative scenario. How do we know whether or not there would have been peace in Europe without the nuclear deterrent? It’s the same with NATO and the EEC/EU. Both may have been forces for peace but we can’t prove it, only surmise it. I suspect that Simon Sweeney is surmising the point about the EU because that is what he is talking about. NATO is another topic.
    The USA has suffered unemployment in the last few years, so I don’t think it’s accurate to say that the EU has contributed extensively to mass unemployment in all member countries. I think the financial crisis, global or part-global, may have made a major contribution to unemployment in both the EU and the USA.
    We can argue about the 57% figure but surely not about the fact that a substantial and significant percentage of the UK’s trade is with the EU? And yes, the UK has received a lot of benefits from being in the EU, not least a cushion against some of the excesses of Thatcherism and its successors.
    I’m not sure what point you’re making abut global warming.
    I’m all for having a referendum on Europe, as in 1975, so long as the issues are properly debated and people know what they’re voting for. I’ve little confidence that that’s the case at present. There’s too much of the ‘pro-EU tosh’ about.

  • Anonymous

    For some it seems, the channel is two thousand miles wide at it’s narrowest point, in mind. Without the stability giving EU, would the channel tunnels have been built? Would the Wall have fallen in 1989? Would the subsequent collapse of the Iron Curtain have occurred? Somehow, maybe not.

    And during the later, old West Germany did well to integrate East Germany to itself thereafter, and at a great financial cost to themselves.

    All Cameron and his friends come out with is provincial smallminded toytown politics, it seems, to keep little home counties englanders happy, as if the USSR/CCCP didn’t really win the war in Europe.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t you think the list of superlatives is slightly Gordon Brownish? It simply goes on and on about how good the whole thing has been for everyone without mentioning any of the downsides. He conveniently forgets when mentioning this force for democracy just how it has manipulated countries to avoid democratic processes e.g. Lisbon Treaty. Latterly, it has been instrumental in undemocratic regime change in Greece and Italy and implemented financial processes breaking their own rules.

    Unemployment in the UK looks positively rosy in comparison with much of the eurozone which of course represents the bulk of the EU.

    I’m not too sure that the EU generated any direct benefits for us during Labour’s time in power, in fact probably the opposite is the case. I agree over some of the Tories excesses.

    The global warming comment was tongue in cheek as it seemed the only ‘hot’ topic that he left out!

    I’m all for having a referendum too but not like in 1975; I want us to be told the truth. I want a cost benefit exercise with the pros and cons fully explained and not hidden away by some conniving politician or spinmeister.

  • Anonymous

    All nuclear bombs did for us was to prevent extremism in Europe, including this country, for us to tax our brain for us to preempt if anyone possibly nutty was getting close to the button.

    But the main result of the bomb was the rise of US wealth and it’s rather unhealthy influence on the whole World, via the CIA as it’s agency.

    And the whole of Europe was quite saddened towards us that we had to suffer that political loon Thatcher, where the problems in our country lied not with the workers, but with the remnants of the British Empire-stuck minded, trying to hold onto some sort of power by their fingernails, by any warped means. And of course, that story still goes on, as we are experiencing these days today.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, the World is bipolar – North and South Pole.

  • Anonymous

    The US has had as an objective for a very long time the displacement of British influence; ok, when we had some!

    Much of Europe couldn’t give a flying whatever about us in reality; Thatcher was no more than a pain in the proverbial to them. At least on Europe she did attempt to fight our corner; sadly TB and GB singularly failed on this count. It looks like Cameron is following in their footsteps.

    For some apparently unknown reason, this country seems to just accept everything EU good, everything else bad. I don’t see the French behaving in such a manner. I don’t see the Germans wanting anything more than a market for their manufacturers. The Germans might have had a ‘guilty’ conscience when it all started but it hasn’t prevented them from telling the Greeks, Irish, Portuguese etc. what to do!

    Why won’t our political ‘masters’ accept that we have valid points to make? The Tories, Labour and the LibDems are all pro EU and wilfully ignore the electorate. They have deceived the public ever since the start of our membership and it continues.

  • Anonymous

    Yes Prime Minister,

    Victor Victor, you seem to forget I am from Wales, and the EU and Europe saved us from destitution, imposed by Thatcher onto us.

    Where in this World exactly do you live Victor, and then I can start to “feel” for your arguements. You could be from Rockall as far as I am concerned at the moment.

  • Christian Lawrence

    As Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung today puts it, the UK government is in a real dilemma. Either the government goes into the offensive and makes the country join the EU without exceptions, including the EURO currency. This step would enable the UK to fully deploy its influence and enable it to shape the EU. Clearly, no government can survive such a step right now as the british people will not accept it. The alternative would be to exit the EU entirely, which will not only be opposed by many members of parliament but also by the majority of business leaders. The third option – trying to “repatriate” some sovereign rights but stay in the EU is a very dangerous course to take, because it will most likely not be accepted by the majority of member states. The EU cannot accept “cherry picking”, as this will encourage others to do the same. Germany and France are committed to “deepen” the EU and enhance the rights of the Brussels institutions, not just because the state debt crisis asks for this, but also to avoid marginalization of the EU vis-a-vis the emerging economic superpowers in Asia. Hopes for Germany’s and France’s willingness to accept material exceptions from the EU-treaties should not be too high, because these countries might prefer to protect the integrity of the rules of the Union versus having a member on board whose membership is so far away from what was originally intended that having it on board is only detracting, not supporting. The situation can only be solved by a courageous act of leadership based on what is right for the country, versus giving in to the voices on the street which are sometimes right, but not always.

  • Dave Simons

    Simon Sweeney doesn’t have to mention the downsides – their name is legion. Read the ‘Daily Mail’ and listen to UKIP. Or listen to ‘White Van Man’ who doesn’t mind his sons working over in Europe but hates foreigners and immigrants who are taking the jobs that we don’t want to do. Simon’s comments are an attempt to counter the downsides, so it’s hardly surprising that all his points should be positive. His letter needs to be put in context.
    By the way a European Union – the Holy Alliance – was suggested in the early nineteenth century. Castlereagh dismissed it as ‘a sublime piece of mysticism and nonsense’ and his alternative was ‘every nation for itself and God for us all’. Castlereagh did not have our benefit of hindsight, for as we survey the history of the twentieth century we can perhaps see what ‘every nation for itself and God for us all’ led to.

  • Anonymous

    Can the EU do some things? Has it done some things? Yes.
    Did it stop France and Germany going to war? Oh behave. It has served as a haven for former Soviet countries and former dictatorships like Spain and Portugal, they were told either liberalise, democratise, recognise human rights, or you can’t enjoy EU benefits.
    As a free trade and military partnership it could have been one of the greatest ever political inventions. However if it is done at the expense of rights, growth and democracy, is it worth it?
    If the fictional EU of free trade, protection and growth existed, I’d want in!
    But that option isn’t open to us, only the undemocratic EU which seeks to meddle in our laws, something it should have nothing to do with.
    People talk about the benefits of the fictional EU but not the downsides of the reality EU. I would sign up for the fictional EU ahead of leaving, but I would sign up for leaving over the reality EU.

  • Anonymous

    At least Cameron has recognised that those who say we would collapse outside the EU are talking nonsense. We run trade deficits with the EU. If the trade ended, we’d be better off, for one thing. For a second thing, if we sell 20 billion of good to germany and they sell 60 billion to us, then why would they endanger that just because we are outside the EU.
    This is the issue the unscientific europhiles must be hit with relentlessly till referendum day. If I was prime minister I would insist on leaving as a 5 year experiment, so that we could have the referendum in 5 years time having seen that trade did not collapse, that we got richer without having to pay our net contribution to the EU, and escaping its bailout mechanisms too. Then the non existant benefits would be dead and buried and we could narrow the conversation down to any supposed benefits.
    By the way, we could be outside the EU and it could still “preserve peace” between France, German, Ukraine etc, its not like we’ll attack any of them.

  • Anonymous

    Ehtch, try Spain and then you’ll understand destitution. Ok, you can argue that it’s all the banks’ fault and in reality it is here but the EU has hardly helped.

    And what’s wrong with being from Rockall, kidding!

  • Anonymous

    Rockall as an excuse to go to war with Iceland, of all places, with their few hundreds of thousands of people, in the 1970’s, over fish!

    A right PR disaster that was too, as Falklands, where the whole of Europe could not stop laughing at us.

    As in the Cod Wars, that is, for those in Whitehall with short-term memory loss.

  • Anonymous

    Prefer not to resort to either reading the Mail or listening to UKIP although I must admit I am partial to listening to Nigel Farage when he’s lambasting the others in the EP.

    Didn’t know about Castlereagh’s option, can’t imagine it was made by the Prussians, maybe before Bismark’s time? Perhaps more along Metternich’s line of thinking?

    Military excesses haven’t been the preserve of the 20th century. They have been a constant, and still are albeit not in western Europe.

    Now, you’d better explain who exactly is this ‘White Van Man’?

  • Anonymous

    Might as well post a clip from Threads, 1984 was it? With Sheffield councillors shitting their underwear,

    Yes, just checked, 1984 was it, in fiction telly.

    And if any you see “Yes, Prime Minister” on paid telly at nine tonight, tell me what it was like, please.

  • Anonymous

    See above Victor of my recent posts.

    Spain is used to siesta maniana life over times, aren’t they? And they have the cheek to cheat EU fishing rights around our isle, so what goes around, comes around.

    They should have been like us Welsh – live within their means.

    Makes me laugh with the UK that we plant a man/lady physically on Rockall now and then, just to tell Icelanders and Danes that we are there, inhabiting it. Kebabed Puffins and all.

  • Anonymous

    Furthermore, where are you from Victor, as I have already asked you? A county will do, let alone a country. But an agency too, if you have given up your life to it. Or just a simple political party, like Pickles from Bradford, originally.

  • Dave Simons

    I remember the Cod War. After the Cod War came the Cod Peace.

  • Anonymous

    Ehtch, I know you’re from Wales like many of my ancestors but keep up, I’m in Spain. Ok, ok it’s holiday but nonetheless Spain. If you insist how about Murcia?

  • Anonymous

    Now don’t be nasty about my Spanish friends Ehtch. The fishing licences are bought fair and square so, no cheating there. The siesta and mañana life still exist due to the fact that unemployment is about 26%. When you come to places like this it really hits home how apart from krautland it’s all gone pear-shaped!

  • Anonymous

    Yes Dave, but the rest of europe still Haddock laugh. But they try and not Hake a point of it, diplomatically.

  • Anonymous

    White Van Man? He is a Polish plumber from Essex, I think the latest definition is, Victor.

    And UKIP and Farage? He’s strangely charismatic to the brit inner-consciousness, isn’t he? Like a polite man’s Nick Grffin. Yes?

  • Anonymous

    A ‘Polish plumber from Essex’, excellent analogy Ehtch!

    I think they’d probably both feel insulted likening these 2 protagonists. I don’t think even you believe UKIP is racist, or do you?

    Tell me, how do you feel about the EU and Strasbourg?

  • Anonymous

    Me nasty? Moi? god forbid!

    Too busy being nasty to the tory english.

    Us in Wales don’t spend any money we have not got, butty – we have the lowest personal debt of any region in England and Wales, Victor. Check it up.

    Los Espania went a bit stupid, like the rest of the poor regions of Europe, unlike us.

    by the way Victor, above vid and song is by a well welsh group, in appreciation of the welsh that went to help defend Northern Spain against the fascists.

  • Anonymous

    Near the sun? Always been a Costa Brava man myself, Catalonia,

  • Anonymous

    Nearer the sun Victor?

    Always been a Costa Brava man myself, Catalonia and Tossa de Marr and Blanes and all that. Got good friends there… need to know and all that… Victor

  • Dave Simons

    Definitely not Polish! WVM is a stereotype, probably from about twenty years ago, usually a self-employed plumber, builder, painter and decorator or window cleaner. He hides his face in ‘The Sun’ at Greasy Joe’s (50,000 flies CAN’T be wrong) and usually agrees with most of what Kelvin Mackenzie feeds him. He’s a bit like another stereotype – Essex Man. He’s never said a ‘politically correct’ word in his life!

  • Anonymous

    Gorky’s was a bit like watching a Blue Peter production Ehtch, not to my taste sorry but Catatonia is a different kettle of fish!

    I think Spain is a fab place but the bankers have ruined the place, more empty property than even the Irish Republic!

  • Anonymous

    It’s called art Victor, but ok, on the simplistic side on the scale of it – bit like L.S. Lowry stuff that sells for millions these days.

    And baffles me how Ireland don’t seem to care much how much debt they are in – it is supposed to be phenominal, much much worse than Greece, let alone the rest of the PIGS countries.

    And yes, Spain has developer ghost property estates, as in Ireland, but much worse. Any advice to anyone buying property in Spain these days, is to buy second hand I suppose, never new, and take a magnifying glass to the small print, especially with any leases, but also local authority rules on freeholds.

  • Anonymous

    Keep up Dave – old Essex WVM now runs around in Volvo estates these days, as with Smiffy from Gavin and Stacey. Yes, silver volvo estate man. SVEM – no, not Sven, Svem.

  • Anonymous

    Farage makes me laugh. And UKIP have their points, but really don’t know what is under the surface. But seems to me UKIP is more middle of the road than the Tories, when you scratch their surface.

    And EU and Strasbourg is no better nor worse in shenanigans than our Whitehall, really. But at least the EU gave the poorer regions of the UK Options funding to try and pick those areas up, while Whitehall witheld it from those regions by political machinations and dogma. Ther is a deep story in that, not often realised nor brought up. I am talking about the late ’80’s and the first half of the ’90’s here. Only have to ask Kinnock/Hain/Kim Howells etc. about it.

  • Anonymous

    as per SVEM…

    ok. it’s finished now, so stop reaching for the sick bucket, Victor and Dave S.