By now we’ve surely heard all there is to be said about the European Union and the case for Britain’s continued membership.
But even as the decibel count has risen there are three aspects about which there has been little discussion. Yet they have major implications for our prosperity, our security and our democracy.
You may feel the economic angles have been mined to exhaustion. But there has been all too little analysis of the low growth performance of the EU and why it is so poor.
Now there is a recovery of sorts in the 19-strong euro area. But it is nothing to write home about. Quarterly GDP growth running at just 0.3 per cent in the second half of last year.
Indeed, euro-zone GDP in the final quarter of 2015 was still below its pre-crisis peak of early 2008 whereas America’s was almost 10 per cent above its peak of late 2007.
The sluggish pace of the recovery has been especially disappointing given the fact that the euro area has benefited from a double fillip – the fall in energy prices and quantitative easing by the European Central Bank – creating money to buy financial assets—since March 2015.
But the problems are wider and more persistent than the meagre performance of the past few years. Boris Johnson is not alone in pointing out that the EU is a graveyard for economic growth – and that the only continent with lower growth is currently Antarctica.
This problem is far from confined to poor showing in abstract statistics such as GDP. Consider unemployment. The jobless rate in the Euro zone in March was 10.2 per cent – double that for the UK (5.1 per cent).
Greece is by far the economy in the Eurozone with the highest unemployment (24.4 per cent), followed by Spain at 21 per cent and Cyprus at 12 per cent.
Among major economies, Italy has an unemployment rate of 11.4 per cent, followed by France with 10 per cent.
Especially battered states such as Spain and Greece continue to face astronomical levels of unemployment, especially among the young, which threaten the future of their societies. Remember that the chief argument for the single currency was that it would accelerate economic development.
Ironically, only last week UK voters were being told we had a moral obligation to vote Remain. But what is so moral about jobless rates such as these?
Little is heard from the Remain camp as to why the EU has such a poor economic record or what the UK stands to gain by having its economy more closely integrated with the EU. There is no discussion or analysis of the EU’s lacklustre performance.
Another area skimmed over is the EU’s ambitions in defence and security. In recent days we have learnt that plans that could pave way for ‘EU army’ are ‘being held back’ until after the UK referendum.
The plans, which have only been shown to EU diplomats in a sealed room, are understood to include proposals or new European military structures, including a headquarters.
According to The Times, which has seen extracts of the plans from diplomatic notes, the proposals will not be sent to national governments until after the UK referendum vote on 23 June to avoid giving succour to the Leave campaign.
The UK government has repeatedly insisted that Britain will never be part of any EU army. However, it is understood the plans, drawn over 18 months by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, are supported by other leading EU countries, and refer to powers set out in the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, which could allow nine or more member states to embark on their own plans for an EU military headquarters.
Why should the EU be so furtive about these plans if they are designed to enhance our security? Do UK voters not have a right to know the status of these plans and why their military supporters are confident they can get them through (or around) the Lisbon Treaty?
The final concern is over the implications of continued membership on UK sovereignty. What exactly have David Cameron’s negotiations for “fundamental reform” of the EU achieved? How are the institutions of the EU to be made more accountable? A near silence remains on this core concern of UK voters.
The overall impression left by these three omissions is that we are being asked to sign a carte blanche. Because of this, the idea that a ‘Vote
Remain victory on June 23 settles voter concerns for a generation would be a profound misjudgement.