Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Won't somebody think of the children?
I attended a Youth Parliament back in the UK last Friday; it was a day of group discussions and debates on the EU in general, including such topics as "Integration and Expansion", "What has the EU done for us?", "The Constitution" and an afternoon debate on the Euro (which, incidentally, the No vote won by 78% - good stuff). I was invited along in an advisory capacity (well, my boss was - but he sent me!).
It was great fun, I have to say. Working with idealistic 13-18 year olds made an enthusing change from working with embittered, cynical political hacks, and I really enjoyed the day - not to mention crushing the poor pro-Euro kiddies, and, far more amusingly, the local Labour MP, with my unfairly superior knowledge and experience (well, I have got a degree in European Law and European Public Policy, AND I work in the god-damned place...). I was delighted at how sound most of the kids were - the vast majority were anti-EU, for various reasons.
Two things became quickly clear, however. Firstly, despite the healthy anti-EU attitudes on display, young people are utterly clueless about the EU and what it really stands for. Some of the misunderstandings and misapprehensions about the EU and the Constitution were baffling - "I want EU expansion as it means we'll have a bigger Army," and "Just because a one-size-fits-all interest rate hasn't worked for the Eurozone countries doesn't mean it won't work for us", amongst others. And comprehension as to what the Constitution would actually mean (legal personality, etc) was nil.
Secondly, the way in which the pro-Europeans have insidiously spread their propaganda really hit home to me. I blame, again, the BBC - for example, on the Breakfast News this morning they had a vile 4 minute piece on the Constitution, and completely airbrushed out the deeper implications of loss of national sovereignty).
In Friday's "What has the EU done for us?" debate, it seemed accepted without question that "Trade" was an automatic benefit of EU membership. Oh really? I'm glad I was able to put that particular myth to bed, anyway.
Yes, we have more than 50% of our trade with the EU, but most of it is in imports: ergo, they need us to buy from them far more than we need the EU to sell to. Furthermore, the UK Treasury's own import/export Balance of Trade figures since 1973 show that we're actually operating at a massive trade deficit with the EU - equivalent to £30 million per day since we joined. Last year alone, we were £28 billion in deficit. We have been in net surplus in only one year since joining. For most of the past 30 years, the UK has been in surplus with every continent in the world except Europe.
So let us hear no more of this "the EU improves our trade" argument. If nothing else, I'm glad that last Friday gave me the opportunity to put across to young people the other side of the EU argument.