Sunday, 2 November 2014

What's Nigel Farage's Beef with the European Union?


One of Britain's biggest political victors of 2014 have certainly been UKIP. Farage's men have risen from sharing the BNP's status as the nation's political laughing stock, to... well, still laughing stock (as any casual viewer of BBC's Mock The Week will certainly have observed), but a party that is now genuinely feared by the 'Big Three'- Cameron's Conservatives, Milliband's Labour and Clegg's Liberal Democrats. It's difficult to believe, but a recent Observer/Opinium poll suggested that presented with a genuine chance of a UKIP victory in their constituency, 31% of British voters would vote UKIP.
Their spectacular rise in popularity has been no accident- if Farage was a surfer, he'd be a darn talented one. He has ridden the massive waves of Euroscepticism, Immigrascepticism, Welfarescepticism, many of the scepticisms you could think about that have grown in the frustrated hearts of many voters not just on the right, but much of the centre also. Oh, and perhaps we have the BBC to thank as well for their rise.

Anyway, back to UKIP policy- perhaps their most significant manifesto promise is the swift exit of Britain from the European Union, the EU.
The EU is both a politically and economically binding union that, according to the organisers itself, "has delivered half a century of peace, stability and prosperity, helped raise living standards, and launched a single European currency, the euro". If the EU could be considered a single economy, which it often is, it would be the largest economy in the world- perhaps unsurprising however when one considers it is an amalgamation of 28 economies.
The Euro currency is perhaps the most prominent factors binding European nations- but it affects the British public little in a direct sense- for Britain is outside of this 'Eurozone', the union of nations sharing the Euro as its currency. Of course, we have the pound.

But what does directly affect Britain with regards to the EU are unifying policies such as free inter-EU movement of labour, inter-EU tariff-free trade, and the power to implement these measures in itself. Let's discuss these three and see just what UKIP and its supporters see as the problem.


Free Inter-EU Movement of Labour 

Ah, well this has been a controversial issue for sure. Immigration has been constantly featured in the news outlets of Britain for the past decade- debates have erupted over whether there should be more, whether there should be less, whether there shouldn't be any at all. Farage and his crew have frequently blasted the 'unconditional open door' to EU immigrants that is enforced upon Britain, like all EU states, by the Union. Article 45 of the EU treaty entitles EU citizens to rights such as that to seek employment in an EU country with no need for a work permit, enjoy equal treatment with nationals in access to employment, working conditions and all other social and tax advantages. It also rules that EU countries must acknowledge an EU citizen's qualifications- so if a doctor has achieved his qualifications in Britain, he must be also acknowledged as a doctor if he wants to move to Belgium for example, without having to take further education.

UKIP's line has been very clear on this issue- that immigrants are coming to Britain seeking better pay (Britain's minimum wage is nine times that of Bulgaria's for example) and standard of living (the NHS, better education, better infrastructure). These are surely natural desires- a father will naturally do his best to provide a better life for his family.
But Farage and co. believe this is bleeding Britain economically. UKIP have frequently criticised immigrants for coming to leech off Britain's divisive social welfare system, that can provide residents with benefits such as free healthcare and unemployment allowance. UKIP argue this is draining the economy as EU citizens from Eastern Europe in particular take residence in the UK, and benefit from social welfare 'without contributing a fair amount' to the economy. They are certainly correct that many people have chosen to move to Britain from Eastern Europe- Polish is the most commonly-spoken non-native language in Britain - but whether they are not contributing a fair amount is not so certain. Chef Jamie Oliver, owner of over 30 branches of his Jamie's Italian restaurants throughout the UK, claims "if we didn’t have any (European immigrants), all of my restaurants would close tomorrow. There wouldn’t be any Brits to replace them"- he cites the improved work ethic of many immigrants, suggesting strongly that they do contribute a fair amount. Perhaps what he forgot to note was also that many immigrants from Eastern Europe demand lower salaries than their British equivalents- the building industry has been particularly indicative of this- you can see via a quick google search of 'Polish builders' that they are in high demand due to their cheap rates and work ethic.

UKIP's solution? Farage has suggested that he upon victory in an election, he would enforce a five-year ban on immigration- he strangely admits he would even pursue this policy if it would have a negative impact on Britain's economy; telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme "If you said to me do you want to see another five million people come to Britain, and if that happened we would all be slightly richer, I would say, do you know what, I would rather we were not slightly richer." He believes this ban would return employment back to the 'British youth' rather than immigrants, and thus boost employment rates among the natives. Hmm, this may perhaps slightly smell of racism.
Farage believes a work permit system should also be enforced, via which checks would be made about a potential immigrant's suitability to work in Britain.


Inter-EU Tariff Free Trade

This is an interesting issue because it is one that UKIP have not really vocally opposed- in fact it is seen as the best bit of EU membership, allowing Britain to trade with other countries such as France and Germany without many of the extra trans-national fees that non-EU countries like the USA or Brazil may have to cough up. 
This is perhaps where UKIP's proposal to leave the EU falls, however. This free trade agreement benefits British businesses and if we were to leave the Union the tariffs would return- harming not only British businesses wishing to trade outwards but also European businesses looking to invest in Britain, who would similarly be faced by non-EU tariffs. 
A solution proposed by some would be the formation of treaties with EU nations to restore free trade, simply on an individual nation basis. However, as well as the time and diplomatic issues this would entail, it may just be impossible. Some EU member states may see Britain as betraying the Union (Angela Merkel has already suggested Britain is doing so within it) and may as a result refuse to sign agreements, resulting in real losses for Britain's economy.


EU Legislation

A widespread worry over the European Union is its undemocratic, centralised nature.
What is called the 'democratic deficit' has become frustrating to many EU citizens- a Pew Research poll found the majorities of seven major European countries believe their votes for EU representatives have no effect- including a staggering 81% of Italians. As a result of voter disenchantment at the complex, bureaucratic nature of EU decision making, voter turnout has falling dramatically in recent decades- by almost 20% between 1979 and 2009.
The EU lacks the very democratic values that it has set as a prerequisite for its member nations. According to The Atlantic, the European Parliament is the only one of seven EU institutions that is directly elected by EU citizens- and clearly even that is not satisfying much of the public.
The EU have meddled in national affairs- for example as a result of the recent Eurocrisis they took control of Greece's financial policy (though at the cost of a huge financial bailout), and more recently they have slapped a £1.7 billion bill on Britain for underestimating its economic growth. 
Eurosceptics believe leaving the EU would remove the EU's power over Britain in terms of policy and also discipline. They say too many decisions are being made in Brussels (a phrase you'll often hear in the EU debate, Brussels being the EU's base city) rather than in Westminster- and they argue more powers would be transferred to the British government, and therefore the British people, who hold the government responsible.

The EU debate will certainly continue to be a major talking point for the forthcoming 2015 UK General Election. The major parties have all promised referendums on EU membership should they come to power, and they have certainly been shaken by UKIP's growth from a protest vote into a potential candidate for power in Downing St- David Cameron and more shockingly Labour's Ed Milliband have set immigration at the top of their agendas in search to sway potential UKIP voters towards them. The high-profile defections of two Tory MPs earlier this year to Farage's party, and rumours of even Labour MPs following suit show truly how close in policy the political parties in Britain have become. 

The next decade is key for Britain- whoever wins the next General Election, membership of the EU will be a primary focus and whether the disenchanted among the public will sway government policy, we shall see. 

Mohammad Lone Editor