Previous blog comments are to be found at: EU in or Out? (2)
David Cameron's attempts at improving the UK membership terms of the EU are now apparently coming to conclusion as the EU countries' leaders are to meet in a few days to give their blessing to the adjustments or as the case may be.
My own view remains undecided but veering towards voting for leaving the European group. Relevant thoughts are as follows.
1. Health Services and the UK's NHS: The latest junior doctors' industrial action is being blamed on politicians in the current (Conservative) UK government. Much the same local blame game was played during the last doctors strike in 1975 when the then Labour government and their relevant minister Barbara Castle (R.I.P.) suffered similar critical comments. The current position goes far beyond UK politics however partially because of the EU.
On the one hand anyone from other countries of the EU may secure free NHS medical treatment in the UK with little if any bureaucracy but on the other UK citizens seeking medical assistance elsewhere in the EU not only have to pay but have to undertake heaps of form filling for the privilege. The simple changes needed to this important aspect are either for the rest of the EU to come in line with the UK NHS so that basic health treatment is free throughout Europe or for Europeans to pay the same sums for health treatment in the UK as they would in their home countries. Failure to implement such changes or to leave the EU seems bound to cause fundamental change to the NHS.
2. Fishing: Following the UK's accession to the then Common Market the British fishing industry suffered an huge decline as a result of free for all fishing, by Spanish and other European fishermen. Of course the need to conserve fishing stocks also played a large part though how much of the latter in UK waters at least was caused by the former is open to argument. Dropping its bid to join the EC the EC enabled Iceland to control its own fishing. If the UK is to remain a member more powers over local fishing rights should be restored to the UK.
3. Farming: Following the UK's accession to the Common Market the huge bias in favour of small mostly French farmers which essentially penalised more efficient large UK farmers was supposed to be addressed during the following 7 years or so of UK membership. In fact some 40% of the EU budget still seems to support farmers. As the UK has such a comparatively small farm sector it receives little EU support in that area hence Mrs Thatcher successfully negotiated a rebate towards the UK's budgetary payments to the EU. However a subsequent Labour government (Tony Blair) sadly allowed that rebate to be reduced. Hopefully the position will be restored through Cameron's current renegotiation process.
4. Defence: The UK is a member of NATO and will remain so. Its Trident weapons are hugely expensive so there is a temptation to cancel those. They are expected to cost according to the BBC
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said it will cost £17.5bn to £23.4bn to procure the replacement system. That is the estimate at 2013-14 prices.
The annual trade deficit between the EU and the UK is c. £56m in favour of the EU so if we still need Trident halving that deficit would be a way of paying for it.
As for Trident; the effect of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 was terrifying (I was only about 13 years old at the time and well recall the Jesuits saying the "De Profundis" with us all at boarding school (Beaumont) lights out time as there was a real risk of Nuclear war that night.
Happily the nuclear deterrent seemed to fulfill its purpose as life went on as normal the next day and subsequently. The position in 2016 with North Korea testing its missiles ever further and the Russians again looking uneasy makes an arguable case for retaining the UK deterrent today. The £17bn trade surplus that Germany has with the UK may signify one way of paying for it - do we really need so many Mercedez Benz and BMW cars?
5. Immigration and Housing: The cost of homes in London has risen so fast that it is said that many young people will never be able to buy their own homes in Town. Again local politics is argued but given the headlines in this area, with the Labour party saying the Tories have failed to build sufficient cheap housing and the Tories arguing that the problem has not been attended to for many years covering Labour governments as well as Tory ones the position goes far beyond local party politics.
Perhaps local political parties need to look for other reasons. There have been a number of wealthy internationals not exclusively Russian buying expensive properties and 'buy to let' smaller flats at least in London but the root cause of the housing problem goes far beyond this as so huge a number of people are now needing homes.
The stats. show that the net annual population immigration to the UK from the EU is approaching 200,000 people per year. Clearly those people have to be housed hence the housing problem. Can the EU in its present form assist the UK in addressing very difficult issue of trying to balance huge EU immigration numbers with the cost of housing everyone reasonably? For David Cameron's negotiations with EU partners to achieve something in those areas will be difficult.
6. Syrian refugees. If the UK did not have so many immigrants already coming to the country from the EU then more refugees should be accepted here. Meanwhile this country is funding refugees in the Middle East. According to stats the position appears to be:
Britain's £600 million makes it the second largest national donor to date after the United States, which has contributed just over £1 billion. It is by far the biggest donor in the EU, having pledged almost three times that of Germany, the second-largest donor, which has donated £204 million to date.
The need arises for the EU countries together to adopt a fair policy both as regards immigration of refugees and their funding. The German approach at least initially of accepting all who arrived and then seeking to impose financial penalties on EU countries who essentially did not follow suit was anti democratic and raised questions about who is actually in charge in the EU.
7 EU government: The significant waste of costs in having Strasbourg and Brussels HQs for the EU should be scrapped. There should be a European-wide referendum about the location of one HQ with the other being closed. The other costs issue which hopefully will now be addressed is why the auditors will not sign off the £100bn EU accounts. Huge reformation in the financial spending and accounting areas is required and again hopefully this is a matter which if the UK is to remain part of the EU Cameron can insist is reviewed urgently.
8. The Americans: At least the USA seem to want the UK to remain in the EU. That makes me cautious as their argument is essentially that the UK punches above its weight in the world and needs to remain an EU member to continue to do so. But should not the UK now actually stand back from punching above its weight?