Sunday, 26 July 2009

EU Myths

I'm fed up of hearing horror stories about the EU - tales of how the EU is ruining our lives here in the UK.

Take migration, I've heard numerous people protesting against the free movement of people across EU member states, bemoaning the fact that thousands have come from the poorer, Eastern states to sponge of the British benefits system. Well from everything I have read on this, once I've got passed the spin and to the actual facts, I can say that it is simply not true. Okay, it is true that many thousands came here - I'm not denying that. My issue is merely with the claim of freeloading.

Academics at University College London have released a report detailing this. They have analysed the impact to the British economy from the arrivals of many Eastern Europeans and found that it has been beneficial. The people who came here from the "A8 countries" (the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Hungary) are, in fact, less likely to claim benefits and pay higher rates of tax than our native born population.

Every encounter I have had with workers from Eastern Europe over the last few years has been wonderful. I have found them, without exception, very friendly, extremely hardworking and reliable. but I guess that doesn't make good press.

What seems to make good headlines in our newspapers are the bizarre and usual completely fictitious stories that concern "barmy Brussels bureaucrats" trying to ban just about everything about the British way of life.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a page on their website detailing a few of them. But I don't feel there is enough effort being made to confront these rumours. I'm not against free speech (quite the opposite), nor against people being able to air their opinions in an open discussion. But such arguments need to be made on facts not made up nonsense horror stories.

If I was to post a story detailing how the EU wanted to ban picnicking, prevent car boot sales, introduce legislations banning white bread, or require football referees to wear hard-hats because fo the obvious health risks (no, I'm not saying there are any) then people may well believe me.

I'm not going over the top - I read one story about the EU banning lollipop ladies lollipop sticks on the grounds that non-English speakers would not be able to read the words and so might not stop. This is despite the fact that I've seen STOP signs all over Europe - it seems to have become a standard.

If, as a nation, we are going to stay in this union we should stop the unfair scaremongering. Yes, being in the European Union means we have to compromise, and many people might not like some of the compromises. That's fair. And discussing their effect is right and proper, but the discussion should be rational and based on facts.

And at the end of the day for me it's simple - if the Union is so bad, how come 27 countries have joined already? Add to that Iceland, Turkey, Croatia, FYR Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Montenegro already in the process of applying/negotiating/joining and many other countries, including Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

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