The UK being ‘in Europe’ is a geographical fact but it feels that to be pro-European is to take on the status of the underdog as the media is awash with anti-European feeling. It is surprising although reassuring that the majority of people in the UK believe that we should stay within the European Union (EU). The majority of businesses want us to remain in the EU too and a survey of bosses revealed that the threat of a referendum was one of the biggest risks facing their business.
As individuals we are also becoming increasingly European. We seek out German markets, Belgian beer and chocolates and Italian fashion. Indeed you can even have a croissant for your breakfast in Greggs these days. The proof of how European we are is that there an estimated two million UK citizens living in the EU, roughly the number of EU citizens living in the UK. You just need to look at all the British pubs on the Costa del Sol.
The core of the EU is the single market and it allows North East businesses to trade and grow. Being part of the single market is a real boost for business in our region and helps create growth. There are major international businesses which are based in the North East because we are part of the EU and if we weren’t they may consider being located elsewhere. There are also local businesses of all sizes who have access to 500 million consumers under a single set of trading rules. It is estimated that up to 160,000 jobs in the region rely on trade with the EU.
The EU also invests in major projects across the North East. The region has received billions of pounds of investment from the EU. There are lots of projects that rely on EU funding now such as the Hartlepool Growth Hub, the Teesside Advanced Manufacturing Park, the Consett Business Park, the Vaux site redevelopment in Sunderland, The Core Building at Science Central in Newcastle. As a region we are a net recipient of EU funds meaning that we get more out than we put in. With more cuts to come from Westminster EU funds are an increasingly important part of the investment in jobs and growth in the region. Over the next five years the North East will get £724m in EU funds
The EU also helps keeps us safe at work and protects our consumer rights. The EU protects paid leave, maternity rights and equal rights for agency workers. The EU has also banned excessive credit and debit card surcharges and expensive customer phone lines. Although some people had paid holidays as part of their terms and conditions before the UK was a member of the EU workers did not have the right to have paid holidays.
The European Union has brought peace, stability and freedom to Europe, a continent which was devastated by war twice in the last century. Peace has not come by accident and it should not be taken for granted. The EU is helping to tackle international threats in a way the UK couldn’t do if it was acting alone. The EU also helps police tackle crime, human trafficking and terrorism which is increasingly international in nature.
The EU helps to protect the environment and tackles climate change. Environmental issues don’t stop at borders and only by working together can we protect our environment. For example North East beaches and air quality have improved because of European regulation. Environmental protection can also bring jobs to the region through new technology such as carbon capture and storage.
We are not unquestioning pro-Europeans. We know there are things that need to change but that could be said of our Westminster system too. However, the best way to get change is to be at the heart of it building alliances, not standing on the edge alienating people. The UK is a powerful part of the EU and when we choose to use our influence we can and do get things done.
The North East benefits greatly from UK membership of the EU and there are real risks of leaving. Once those risks become more widely known we think that making the case for Europe will become less of a minority sport.