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Fifteen minutes to make a decision on Europe

Many of the Eurosceptic Tories would like David Cameron to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. The Eurosceptics feel certain that if the question was put to the British public, the public would vote with a massive majority to withdraw the United Kingdom from the EU. The Eurosceptics are confident they have the support of powerful sections of the popular press behind them, such as The Sun, the Daily Express, and many commentators who write for the Daily Mail.

According to an article by Tom Newton-Dunn published in The Sun on 9th July 2012 entiled ‘EU have to fight NOW, PM’ – see: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/politics/4418185/Sun-poll-blow-to-David-Cameron-over-Europe.html – two thirds of respondents to a YouGov survey wanted a referendum. Of the participants in the survey Newton-Dunn said: “Almost half – 48 per cent – would pull out [of the EU] if given a choice today, versus 31 per cent who want to stay in.”

This survey might give The Sun’s readers the impression that the United Kingdom is a “eurosceptic country”, but the survey can only truly represent the opinions gathered by YouGov, although it is likely that the survey is fairly accurate of public opinion. If the population of a country has an opinion on a subject such as the UK’s membership of the EU, then that opinion is dependent on the information people receive from the media on that subject. If people have no understanding of the workings of the EU, and their only source of information comes from eurosceptic newspapers, then it is obvious that public opinion will be hostile towards the EU.

If the public were given the chance to become better informed about benefits – such as consumer protection which is derived from Brussels – then they might decide it would be in their interest for the UK to remain a member of the EU. The European Commission has been on the side of British consumers when it comes to mobile phone tariffs. Information concerning a recent cap on mobile roaming charges can be seen on the European Commission’s website at http://europa.eu/rapid/pressReleasesAction.do?reference=IP/12/709&format=HTML&aged=0&language=en&guiLanguage=en This press release announces an EU regulation, which caps the amount mobile phone companies can charge their customers while travelling in other EU member states. The maximum rates that mobile phone users can be charged were quoted as follows: “29 cents per minute to make a call plus VAT; 8 cents per minute to receive a call, plus VAT; 9 cents to send a text message, plus VAT; 70 cents per Megabyte (MB) to download data or browse the Internet whilst travelling abroad (charged per Kilobyte used), plus VAT.”

Some Eurosceptics who believe in a Thatcherite free market ideology would argue that regulating the cost of mobile phone calls is an interference in the workings of the market by European government. They would detest such regulation arguing that competition between the mobile phone companies is the only way to bring prices down. These Eurosceptics would say the mobile phone customers should change their mobile phone service providers and move to a cheaper supplier if necessary. However, what the Eurosceptics tend to forget is that fair competition usually only occurs, if there is a referee to watch over the market. There may only be a handful of mobile phone companies with billions of euros of capital at their disposal, operating across the entire geographical area of Europe. These phone companies have it in their power to act as a cartel and fix their charges amongst themselves at an extortionate rate, unless the European Commission has the power to step in and stop them, on behalf of consumers living in the 27 Member States of the European Union. The recent cap on mobile roaming charges is an example of how the European Commission has acted as a referee to prevent EU citizens being ripped off by the mobile phone companies.

Eurosceptics often try to scare the British public with stories of the European Commission being undemocratic, as its Commissioners are unelected. In the sense of being appointed rather than elected: European Commissioners are rather like Peers in the House of Lords in the United Kingdom’s Parliament, which is a weakness in democracy. However, the European Parliament is democratically elected every five years by citizens of the EU’s Member States. The European Parliament does have the power to put pressure on the Commission whenever necessary. This is written into the Lisbon Treaty which can be seen at http://europa.eu/lisbon_treaty/full_text/index_en.htm

It is worth looking at Article 9D(8) of the Lisbon Treaty which states: “The Commission, as a body, shall be responsible to the European Parliament. In accordance with Article 201 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the European Parliament may vote on a motion of censure of the Commission. If such a motion is carried, the members of the Commission shall resign as a body and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall resign from the duties that he carries out in the Commission.”

One of the very positive and democratic movements emanating from the EU – something that the British eurosceptic press might not have told its readers about – is the European Citizens Initiative. More details of the European Citizens Initiative can be seen at http://ec.europa.eu/citizens-initiative/public/welcome The Citizens Initiative is the means by which one million EU citizens from at least seven EU Member States can ask the European Commission to propose legislation. This scheme is open to all British citizens, as it is open to all citizens from any Member State of the European Union. It is a way that citizens from different parts of Europe can be brought together, to deal with common problems affecting many people across Europe. If the United Kingdom pulled out of the EU, then the British people would no longer have the opportunity to participate in this scheme.

Many of The Sun’s readers work hard in low paid service sector jobs. Unfortunately, they don’t have time to become acquainted with the inner workings of the EU. They might only have about 15 minutes a day to read The Sun during their lunch or tea break, and rely on that newspaper to keep them informed. However, The Sun – like other eurosceptic tabloids – often fails to inform its readership of the benefits for working class people of the UK belonging to the EU. If people are kept in the dark about many of the rights the EU has given citizens, then people are liable to vote against their own interests and pull Britain out of the EU at a referendum.

©Jolyon Gumbrell 2012



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