What being in the EU has meant for my family

What has Europe ever done for me? It’s a question that the impending referendum has caused me to ask myself. I had always been supportive, but throwing myself into the campaign to remain meant I needed to be clear in my mind why I was supportive and what the benefits were. And having helped so far at street stalls in Truro, Plymouth, Taunton, Yeovil, Bristol and Stroud, it has proved a useful exercise as voters have rightly demanded to know what good the EU has done.

And the way I thought about it was to think about the generations of my own family. How have their lives been different because the EU exists and because we’re in?

Take my father, for example. He was a Royal Marine in the Sixties and Seventies. My brother too served in the armed forces, in the Eighties and Nineties, and his daughter – my niece – too. And my brother-in-law is a serviceman today and has been so for about 20 years. All of them have seen active service, but none of them thankfully were thrown into a conflict on the European mainland. Indeed, in the case of my father and brother, they once stood ready to defend our country from communist dictatorships in eastern Europe that are today our democratic friends and allies.

It is true that Nato helped prevent war between the West and the East during the Cold War, and stands ready to defend us today should Putin get a bit too trigger-happy. But there is a difference between an absence of war and a culture of peace. And it has been the European Union that has made it the boring, day-to-day norm that European countries talk with each other and work with each other on the big issues facing our continent. And it was the pull of EU membership, not the defensive military alliance of Nato, that helped embed democratic government and civil liberties in those eastern Europe countries that joined the EU a decade or so ago.

Ever since my father’s generation, the EU has been improving our national security. It’s easy to take it all for granted, as many Brexiteers do, but it has worked.

During the lifetime of my generation, Europe has been transformed. As a child, eastern Europe was closed off, as an adult it is open. For me this has meant a whole host of holiday destinations, stretching right into the former Soviet Union. And thanks to the freedoms that come with membership of the European Union, my partner and I are free to travel where we please across a dozen or so countries that were pretty much off limits to my parents’ generation. Thanks to the EU we can use our mobiles whilst we’re there at reasonable cost, and the European Health Insurance Card gives us extra peace of mind should we need medical care.

For the next generation, I think of my nephew. He’s just finishing his first year studying biomedical sciences in Bristol. Our membership of the EU means he will be free to work in the pharmaceutical industry in any of the 27 other EU Member States. Indeed, he can spend part of his studies in Germany in a process made simple thanks to the EU.

Plus, my mum and sister and nieces have benefited thanks to EU guarantees on things like equal pay for women as well as steps like guaranteed paid leave for antenatal appointments.

Finally I think of my niece still at primary school here in Devon. She has the rest of the century to look forward to. For her sake I dearly hope we stay in and that the EU continues to build the peace, prosperity and opportunity that it has been working on now for several decades.

By thinking about my family it’s easier to think about how the EU has helped each generation. The job of building peace has been going on since the foundation of what is now the EU back in the Fifties, and continues to this day. In my own lifetime, Europe has opened up in a process greatly helped by the EU of western Europe embracing the new democracies of eastern Europe. And today I can see in through nephew’s experience the very real opportunities for British people to work across our continent.

* Stuart Bonar was the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in Plymouth Moor View.

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  • Very good, Stuart. I can`t disagrre with a word of that. And yet….

    I am leaning towards voting Leave – I know I am in a minority inthe Lib Dems on this, but never mind. And people who vote for Leave will have as many reasons as there are heads, so it may be that nobody else will agree with my way of thinking.

    We all know that the referendum is going on only in an attempt by Cameron to paper over the cracks in the Tory Party before the last election. So nothing to do with me (us) really. When it`s over and done with, Cameron will interpret the result assuport for with his own polic ies and objectives – as he did with the AV referendum.

    This referendum is not about the present of the EU, and certainly not about its past. It is about its future. This future, as far as the UK is concerned, is as Cameron has negotiated it. Ummm? Yes….

    I have no idea either. There are undoubtedly nods and winks going on behind the scenes. And when everybody votes for Remain, then Mr Cameron and others come along and say “The British public voted democratically for——” And they fill in their own blanks.

    I am not going to vote for a blank cheque. So I am minded to vote for Leave,not because I am opposed to the EU as a grand idea, but so that somebody afterwards can start renegotiations to make the EU more liberal and more democratic.

    I would have liked the Lib Dem leadership to campaign for Remain, provided that X, Y and Z. Instead, we are landed with campaigning for Remain, however Cameron wants it to shape up.

  • Bill le Breton 18th May '16 - 5:50pm

    JohnFR, you are not alone. There are many Liberal Democrats with grave doubts about voting to remain in THIS referendum which is being held as a convenience to our political opponents, the Conservatives.

    As you write, we are being invited to sign a blank cheque. Clearly a vote to remain will delay the essential reforms necessary for the EU to survive the present state of geo-political affairs.

    There is at least a three paced EU with the EZ run for the benefit, the misguided benefit, of Germany and Austria etc and consigning the PIGS to economic hardship which is straining their social fabric and pushing them dangerously close to the third group which is already in the hands of far right government. These three paces are leading to eventual and disorderly break up.

    There is no doubt that a leave vote will herald change. Necessary change. The EZ will break up, as it should – fixed exchange rates mechanisms are always damaging especially when they include constituents unable to survive at the fixed exchange rate.

    A leave vote will also lead to an EU which is actually closer to free trade.

    It will also lead to changes in the relationships between members which are more in line with the kind of option that Canada has with the EU at present – real subsidiarity.

    It is a tragedy that senior figures in the Lib Dems wd rather grandstand , than, argue a more complex position.

    And Putin? Well at present he wins both ways. He wins if the UK leaves because it means that an unreformed EU persists until a totally disorderly break follows after years of economic strain has sent more and more of its member states into the arms of right wingers.

  • I’m glad your family has had such a good experience over recent decades. That’s fairly common in the UK but much less so in some other countries. A recent EU survey of over 10,00 young people (16 – 30) found high levels of marginalisation, particularly in southern Europe.


    Predictably, Germany comes out the best and Greece the worst but the high AVERAGE level of marginalisation is truly shocking. And, even worse, there is no solution in sight. Of course, not all of this is the EU’s fault; individual countries have to take some responsibility, particularly when it comes to how poorly suited many young people find the education on offer is for their needs. But equally that has to be put in the context of a profound economic crisis with no end in sight which is down to the EU.

    So, if the Lib Dems were a truly internationalist, they would long since have come up with a reform plan to challenge the status quo. If they can’t be bothered or aren’t capable of doing this then what is the point of the Lib Dems?

    One thing is increasingly certain; if someone doesn’t come up with a better plan to address these issues than Farage’s simplistic ‘leave’ agenda then the EU is simply going to blow up. And then we would ALL be worse off and the opportunity to build a better Europe will be lost for several generations.

  • Bill le Breton 18th May '16 - 6:13pm

    Here’s a plan Gordon …

    Tyler Cowen has recently concluded,

    “My own view is this: if the United Kingdom could simply press a button and obtain the current status of Canada, via-a-vis the EU, probably they should do so”

    He goes on to write that they can’t do that. But is he right?

    If the UK voted to leave, it would be impossible to prevent similar referendums taking place across Europe with similar results likely in a number of countries.

    EU enthusiasts would would clearly head this off at the pass by instituting reforms.

    Perhaps one reform might be to allow ‘membership’ to any existing member opting for it based on the Canadian model.

    A second reform would surely be the break-up the the Euro Zone – allowing those who can trade with Germany at the present effective exchange rate to continue to use the Euro … and others free to resume independent currencies free to float against that Euro.

    This would see an immediate boost to economies across the continent – for those in the EZ it would be like leaving the gold standard and for those outside the EZ now, their trade with these newly liberated economies would boom.

    Instead – a vote to remain will see the suppressed economies continue to weigh down the whole Union as one after another countries fell to right wing governments.

    The centre cannot hold – nor should it!

  • Peter Watson 18th May '16 - 7:02pm

    @Bill le Breton “EU enthusiasts would would clearly head this off at the pass by instituting reforms.”
    One of the Remain campaign’s arguments is that those EU enthusiasts would head this off at the pass by treating an exiting UK so badly that no other country would want to go the same way. Although this is part of the Bremain’s overwhelmingly negative campaigning (I like Stuart’s article because it sounds a refreshingly positive note!), how can we be sure it wouldn’t happen?

  • The fact that this referendum is being held for Cameron’s convenience is not the issue. The fact is that we are having one, and we and our children will have to live with the outcome.

    For those who think we are somehow disadvantaged by being in the EU, lets look at some actual hard facts.

    The UK is the world’s 22nd largest country by population, yet has the world’s 5th largest economy. While being a member of the EU.

    We have low unemployment by world standards, at around 5%, almost the same as the US. While being a member of the EU.

    The fact that some EU countries have higher unemployment is irrelevant, just like the fact that Germany’s is lower at 4.5%. There is a wide range of unemployment rates within the EU, ranging from shockingly high to comfortably low. This is a reflection of the various country’s underlying economic strength and competence of Government, rather than a function of EU membership in itself.

    No one can force us to adopt the Euro. There is nothing in the EU’s rules or structure that can make us do so.

  • Bill le Breton 18th May '16 - 8:20pm

    Peter, the EU would not have a chance to treat the UK badly. There would be a queue of countries following suit with referenda. They could risk that. Someone in Europe probably is already working out a solution to an exit vote – if that plan has not already been planned.

    Nick, this is nothing to do with forcing the UK to join the Euro.

    What you need to realise is that the management of the Eurozone by the ECB, but actually by the German central bank, is the most significant deflationary force in the global economy.

    It is acting as the Gold Standard did in the early 1930s. Then it was France buying and hoarding gold that drove the proice of gold up and with that rises prices were driven down.

    The same is going on now through this German friendly management of the Euro.

    You cannot argue on the one hand that the EU (and therfore the EuroZone) is the most important trading bloc for the UK and then dismiss the mismanagement of the Eurozone monetary policy as not of absolutely vital important to the UK.

    It is not sufficient that the UK is outside the Eurozone – its deflationary policies are a huge handicap to recovery across Europe and including the UK.

    Those outside the UK telling us to remain in are actually just defending the existence of the Euro and therefore are playing the same role as those who drove everyone into the Great Depression by defending the Gold Standard.

  • Richard Underhill 18th May '16 - 8:40pm

    Italy will have a referendum to reform the Senate. If voting NO the Prime Minister will resign. Source the Economist.
    De Gaulle did that, and resigned as President.

  • So vague notions about the EU bringing ‘a culture of peace’ – it won’t end well.

  • Paul Murray 19th May '16 - 7:31am

    @Bill Le Breton – almost 4 years ago on this forum I made the (not original) comment that the ECB considers all the options and then does whatever is in the best interests of Germany.


    It is interesting to look back at that thread to see how little the debate has advanced and how events have played out relative to the speculation.

    Given the dreadful conditions in the Italian banks right now, the next phase of the endless crisis is coming up shortly.

  • Peter Watson 19th May '16 - 8:05am

    Paul Murray “It is interesting to look back at that thread to see how little the debate has advanced …”
    Scrolling down that page, it’s also interesting to be reminded that a thread on LDV could generate more than 150 posts in a week. I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen a discussion like that here.

  • Bill le Breton 19th May '16 - 8:18am

    True Paul.

    Why are politicians so deaf to monetary policy? It could be that they think they have handed over monetary policy to the Bank of England. Of course they haven’t the Bank Act 1998 gave operational independence to the Bank, but HMT remains in charge of setting strategic policy – which actually no Chancellor has thought it necessary to change since 1998! The strategy is still an ‘Inflation (forecast) Target of 2%).

    It could also be that they still believe that aggregate demand is set by fiscal policy. It isn’t.

    Try this thought experiement. The Bank of England’s forecast for inflation in 2 years time is 2%. Bang on target. The Government of the day decides to reduce tax revenue or increase Government expenditure by £20 billion.

    This immediately increases the forecast for inflation two years out and the Bank of England tightens monetary policy to bring aggregate demand back on target.

    Note that nothing changes except the size of the deficit and the national debt rises by £20 billion.

    It’s the central banks which today set the level of and future growth path of aggregate demand.

  • Thanks to everyone for reading & commenting.
    – JohnFR: Hi John! What I would say is that if you want to reform the EU (or just our relationship with the EU) the best place to do that is from the inside. I am sure a great many people, including supporters of our continued membership, would see a vote to Leave as a decision that should last for a long period of time.
    – Peter Watson: Thanks for the positive mention about the tone of my piece.
    – Rather than repeating what Nick Baird writes in response to some of the points made, I’ll just say that I agree with him.
    – David: I do not make “vague notions” about the EU bringing peace; it does and has brought peace, demonstrably. I fear your comment reveals the “taking it all for granted” attitude to which I also make reference.
    Thanks again everyone.

  • Stuart, well said! My family has benefitted similarly, and I have the same hopes for the young ones. Pity about some of the comments above. To vote leave tactically in the hope of renegotiation would be folly. The UK is not so important that the other 27 countries would alter their arrangements for us. A more likely consequence of a Leave result is a crisis at home as the pound devalues, Gove, Johnson etc take the Tories into civil war and the SNP hold another referendum for Scottish independence which this time would be won by the nationalists. The borders with the EU will then be land borders in Ireland and on mainland Britain. The migration crisis will continue and the rest of the UK will have to police those borders. It will also have to work out where to put Trident. It will also find that many big manufacturers will close their operations here and relocate. It will realise belatedly that the EU, which is currently in economic growth while most of the BRIC countries are in a bad way, was not such a bad place to be. It will be too preoccupied with its own problems to have much clout renegotiating the EU treaties. But Putin will be chuffed. Short term tactical voting on 23rd June is a really, really bad idea.

  • If only I felt confident politicians had the will and capability to reform the EU, I would vote to Remain.

    But just take this example of EU inefficiency. Every week the European Parliament moves between Strasbourg and Brussels. All personnel pack up and physically move their departments to the relevant week’s base. What a waste of time and money. All countries (except France) acknowledge this ‘travelling circus’ is an outrageous and unnecessary expenditure (c.£180 million a year) but France holds the trump card and repeatedly vetoes any change. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/10565686/The-farce-of-the-EU-travelling-circus.html

    I am definitely what’s known as a swing voter, someone tuning in to debates and still undecided. I think the EU has become unwieldy and dysfunctional. I know the Lib Dems are fully supporting the Remain campaign but it is refreshing to read that some have their doubts. I think I’ll have to be ‘politically neutral’ like the Queen (at least in public!!)

  • Bill le Breton – Tyler Cowen says, “If … “. Such a little word, so many imponderables.

    For myself the ‘Canadian model’ wouldn’t work (for reasons beyond the scope of this comment) plus I actually DO want to see a EU that works for its people and not just some reductionist ‘free trade’ agreement.

    To stand back for a minute, I think there has been a very determined and long standing push to create a super-state exemplified by the “ever-closer union” mantra which the Lib Dem establishment has backed to the hilt despite evidence of mounting problems inside and outside the party. It’s all been done too quickly and is jerry-built with serious objections at each stage just brushed aside and ignored.

    For example, we have seen national referenda advancing the union routinely avoided, rerun or ignored (just as the Lisbon Treaty). This is an ongoing affront to democracy and it should be no surprise if support is ebbing away to the point that many Lib Dems are declaring for ‘Out’. I score that: Farage 1, Lib Dems 0.

    So, if we are to get this back on track we need to enter a long period of reworking the bits that were poorly done, that haven’t stood the test of time and don’t have near-universal public support. Sure, that would mean over a period of years cutting out or rewriting lots of bits but the prize is true subsidiarity – where the EU only does things that Europeans generally agree are best done by the EU. Putting in place a process to achieve this would immediately take a lot of the heat out of the debate while moving the EU in a liberal direction.

  • @ Bill Le Breton

    The Euro is a particular problem and I was against us joining and recognised that being part of a single currency could cause huge problems for large areas within that currency zone. A single currency often benefits a particular geographical area and the central government then has regional policies to alleviate these problems. Therefore the question is can the Euro Zone be run for the benefit of the people across the whole zone rather than Germany and Austria? For me this would mean that the European Central Bank would have to manage the Euro Zone to minimise unemployment across the whole area and not be bothered if this meant a huge inflation rate in Germany. Also the European Central Bank would need to allow national governments to run large deficits if they wish to stimulate their economies. The EU as a whole needs to be run to minimise economic migration by increasing prosperity across the whole area. If these reforms could be made would there be any need for countries to leave the Euro?

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