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Wolves of Westminster

UK Political News and Opinion

How would young Leavers and Remainers reform the EU?

7 min read
15 July 2019 | PROJECT

Deputy Editor Patrick Timms visited the University of Liverpool shortly before the end of term to ask young Leavers and Remainers how they thought the European Union should be reformed, by kind permission of Politics lecturer David Jeffery.

(They are pictured debating above, with their permission.)

During the 2016 referendum campaign, many voices on both sides of the debate had called for reform. On the Remain side, it was argued that Britain should stay in the European Union in order to help change it from within. The Leave camp argued that the EU was fundamentally unreformable and that therefore Britain should depart – although, interestingly, many of these people also said that they would have voted Remain if they thought that genuine change was possible.

Neither side, however, was particularly good at articulating how they thought the EU should reform. In this project, Wolves asked a number of Liverpool Uni students to set out exactly how they would have liked to reform the European Union. We felt that our youngest generation of adults was the most appropriate to ask this question.

This project was a chance for young Leavers to come along and answer the question: ‘What sort of European project would you have voted to Remain in?’

For young, perhaps ‘cautious’ Remainers, it was a chance to explain what kind of reforms they would have liked to see Britain help engineer, had we voted to stay.

For everyone, the challenge was: ‘Paint us a picture of a Europe that works, with us in it’. Whatever ultimately happens with Brexit, it is clear the debate will not be over.

(Are you a student at another university? Would you like Wolves to come along and run this project there too? Then do get in touch and let us know. This is a chance for you to have your say – and not just by putting a cross in a box! If you are an aspiring political writer or blogger, take note that Wolves author Chris Bradford was recruited via this project!)

The findings from both groups of students have been summarised below. Patrick notes that, in both cases, the overlap is a desire for greater democracy in the EU. While the two visions articulated are clearly very different, they are both shot through with the occasional common element – such as disapproval of an EU army. While by no means unexpected, this was certainly interesting to note…

Comments are, as ever, always welcome!

Leave: A Europe of Equals

Our idealist European project is premised around the idea of a regional free trading arrangement with European states. It prioritises economic integration, as opposed to deep political integration.

Our model would be similar to the framework of the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN). An advanced free trade agreement for goods with standardisation would be the minimum level of economic integration. This economic union is based on fair and free trade in an era where protectionism is rife. Rather than being isolationist, the economic might of the union will be maximised as states with similar, if not the same interests, would be acting collectively. It is perfectly feasible to envisage two distinct regional trading blocs for the respective industrial and agricultural economies with the UK featuring in a northern European alliance.

The current direction of travel within the EU institutions is towards a federalist superstate, further seeking to undermine the role of the nation-state within the international order. If there is a disagreement between the Union and a member state, then supranational law takes precedence. Brexit was synonymous with ‘taking back control’, inferring that national Parliaments were not sovereign. This economic union would address legitimate concerns regarding sovereignty. This institution is intergovernmental, as opposed to supranational. There will not be an arbitrary mechanism to ‘punish’ a member state, but there would be a constitution/code of conduct which would be ratified by each member state and any prospective state would have to adhere to if they wish to seek accession to the bloc. A constitution would seek to restrict the power of individual states which may threaten the integrity of the trading bloc.

Freedom of movement would be reformed. Within the economic unions, there would be visa-free travel for business and leisure purposes. European citizenship would be non-existent and migrants do not have an automatic right to reside in a country. Migration policy would be premised around skilled labour and not discriminatory based on origin.

In order to ensure frictionless trade within the bloc, mutual recognition agreements will be signed in order to secure the free movement of professionals within the bloc. The agreements will be enshrined within domestic law; the relevant sectors include: engineering, finance, health and tourism to name a few. Employment would be an essential condition upon entry and the state would reserve the right to prohibit entry if employment could not be guaranteed. It will be enshrined into domestic law that resident workers who have not being domiciled would not be entitled to social security entitlements until they can provide evidence of national insurance contributions. This would lessen the concern of the pressure of migration on institutions such as the NHS and underfunded communities.

Member states would voluntarily be able to deepen integration – opt-outs are available for any member state who would seek to take advantage. A prospective currency union could form if member states deemed it appropriate. Any currency union would have to consist of solely industrial or agricultural economies, perhaps with two distinct blocs. The euro would not be retained in its current form as it is illogical to have the economies of Greece and Germany in the same bloc since there is disparity between the respective economies. Interest rates determined by unelected bankers in Frankfurt, an institution which symbolises Germany’s political clout, are not beneficial to the economies of Athens, Rome and Lisbon.

This type of union would correspond with former Belgian Prime Minister, Mark Eyskens’ (1991) infamous assertion that the EU was an ‘economic giant, political dwarf and a military worm’. This union would respect the various approaches to foreign policy adopted by member states and there would be no military integration. The EU was not united with regards to the Iraq War as the foreign policy of Berlin and Paris differed from the approach London and Washington adopted. NATO would be the sole Western military alliance.

Remain: A Europe of Democracy

This vision of Europe would seek to address the democratic deficit that, in part, influenced the Brexit vote in June 2016. Instead of being appointed by the member states, the President of the European Commission would be directly elected by the peoples of Europe and receive a popular mandate. Candidates would be selected by the party affiliations within the EU Parliament and the respective lead candidates would participate in televised election debates. These would be broadcasted by national television companies.

There would be four debates in Berlin ahead of the ballot, with questions being live streamed and the participants being scientifically selected by a polling organisation. The results would not be announced until all member states have voted. Voters would be required to rank the candidates according to their preference. In order to maximise turnout and reduce potential voter apathy, the elections would be held simultaneously alongside the EU Parliamentary elections every five years.

It would be the duty of the Commission, Council and Parliament to take a greater duty in championing European values. There needs to be a wider conversation on what it means to be ‘European’, but there doesn’t need to be a conflict between the two identities. A European identity should not subvert the respective different nationalities within the Union; it is the threat to social cohesion within the EU which contributed to the rise in left and right-wing populism, accentuated by the 2008 global financial crisis. Collaboration with our European partners is in both the UK’s and EU’s interests, especially with the pressing challenges of climate change, EU-Russia tensions, human trafficking and terrorism.

The idea of a ‘global Britain’ referred to the ability to forge trade deals with Commonwealth partners, emerging economies such as Brazil, Mexico and Singapore, whilst entrenching the special relationship with the United States. As a bloc of 28, the EU has prided itself on negotiating ambitious free trade arrangements with Canada, Japan and Singapore.  Leverage in international negotiations is determined by the size or clout of a particular organisation or country; it will take several years for the UK to negotiate trade deals that already exist, a result of EU membership.

It took four years for the EU to negotiate the free trade deal with Japan; it took seven years to negotiate the well-documented Canadian-EU trade agreement (CETA) and a bilateral Singapore agreement. Globalisation is an inevitable consequence of an integrated political society; however, there is no shame in admitting that the process has not benefitted all. Regional inequalities can be tackled on a national level through a government willing to rebalance wealth from London and South-East to the so-called forgotten regions in the country.

Despite perceiving that the UK’s best interests are as part of a collective union, the EU is not perfect, but in reality, it is extremely unlikely to find a perfect institution. The desire for a European army, as Chancellor Merkel alluded to, is unrealistic and federalist aspirations will alienate people away from the European project. Not to mention the treaty change required so any prospective policy does not contravene the historic policy on Irish neutrality. There will never be unanimity on a supranational level, primarily due to the different interests of the prospective member states. Whilst Britain sided with the United States, France and Germany opposed the Iraq War. In order to prevent further alienation, supranational and national responsibilities must be clearly defined: a supranational organisation should not decide defence policy for the respective member states.

Europe must react and reform amid the occurrence of the Brexit vote. It was a necessary warning sign if a supranational project can continue to exist. Brexit emphasised that the current project was not suitable for purpose in this political climate. There must be an affiliation with the European project; it is not our enemy or a rival, but a partner. Greater democracy lies at the heart of a reformed Europe.

Patrick has also put together his own Vision for Europe here (two pages):


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