The EU: TFT asks the Internet
26 June 2004
'People in World War II fought, and died so that Britain would be free from Europe! Would you disgrace their names now by giving up what they fought for, what they gave their lives for?' - Contributor to BBC Talking Points
This comment perfectly illustrates why it's hard to take anti-EU arguments seriously. For every Eurosceptic making a sensible point about the shortcomings of the EU, there are ten more who sincerely believe the EU is a sinister German conspiracy to enslave us in their sausage mines.
But the underlying problem with the EU debate is that very few people understand the issues. There's no shame in this - it's a hideously complicated subject in which economics, nationalism, sovereignty and culture have become conflated by eurosceptics and europhiles alike.
The media tends not to be much help either - TV and newspapers usually report the EU in terms of juicy political rows between Westminster politicians, rather than the broader issues. For those of us who'd like to understand the issues properly, it's tricky. And further evidence that ignorance isn't bliss - it's frustrating.
However, help is at hand. As is well known, the Internet knows everything, so TFT set off on...
THE TFT INTERNET SEARCH FOR THE TRUTH ABOUT THE EU
If you want to join our quest, just follow these simple instructions:
1) Fire up your search engine and head for Europa, the web portal of the European Union.
Now desperately try and work up some enthusiasm for the innumerable dull topics on offer. These include: Economic and Monetary Affairs, Food Safety, The European Investment Bank and, most off-puttingly, a section simply called 'Statistics'. (We suspect that some very boring, very earnest Scandinavian is responsible for this part of the website.)
Since the Common Agricultural Policy remains one of the most controversial EU policies, decide to read the latest press release by the Agriculture/Fisheries Council. Discover it's about:
'promoting more environmentally-friendly fishing methods based on a Commission communication calling for an integrated management approach to help maintain healthy fish stocks in a balanced environment.'
Realise this could be the most boring document ever written. Stop reading. Instead...
2) ...go to Google and search for 'EU pros and cons'
Get back a load of rubbish, including a city guide to Riga and the news that 'Pope John Paul II himself has told his countrymen that Poland's place is at the heart of Europe.' Now worry that this piece of information might have forced a more valuable piece of information out of your brain.
Head for the world's best news service: the BBC. Discover a piece of actual information. According to the business editor for BBC Wales:
'According to independent estimates, European Union enlargement will deliver a £1.75bn boost to the UK economy every year.'
At last, a quasi-factoid! Unfortunately, it's an estimate. Trawl through BBC links for a bit, find little that sways your opinion one way or the other, then...
3) get the opposing view from UKIP...
Fortunately, UKIP is 'the only Party telling you the truth about the European Union'. Surprisingly, UKIP is 'not opposed to the EU as such'. What's the problem, then? Oh, hang on, there's a caveat: UKIP is 'not opposed to the EU as such - simply to Britain being part of it.' Which is a bit like saying you don't not like Marmite, you just wouldn't consider eating it under any circumstances.
So why is UKIP against us being a part of the EU? Because...
'The EU is essentially a political institution that has created a Franco-German power axis. It's a far cry from the trading community the British thought they were voting for in 1975!
The corrupt and wasteful way in which it operates reflects how the individual countries manipulate it for their own ends. Yet it's money from Britain's taxpayers that helps keep the whole shambles afloat.'
Study the first sentence. Swap a couple of words around and
you've got the phrase 'German axis power'. Yup, it's WW2 all over
Now realise that a hit on UKIP's website could be regarded as
tacit support for Kilroy and rapidly...
4) Go back to Google and search for 'EU membership +benefits'
Check out the Foreign and Commonwealth Office page, 'Why is Britain in the EU?' Immediately begin to wonder how objective this page is thanks to the marketing-speak intro:
'Membership of the EU is good for Britain. Good for business, good for the environment, good for our people and good for the country.'
Well, good. However, the Foreign and Commonwealth office does give some concrete facts about the EU and the UK:
'Over 50 per cent of our trade in goods and services is with the rest of the EU. Eight of our top 10 trading partners are in Europe.
Over 3 million British jobs, and one seventh of all UK income and production, are linked to trade with other EU member states.
The EU forms the largest single market in the world: It contains 372 million consumers and accounts for 38% of world trade.
100,000 Britons work in other EU countries; another 350,000 live there. In 1997 there were 34 million visits made by UK citizens to other EU countries.
Single Market competition has halved the price of air travel to Europe and cut the price of international phone calls by up to 80 per cent since 1984.'
Now wonder if we need closer European integration to reap any of these benefits. Still, the good news is that it's cheaper to phone people in other countries thanks to the EU. This would be even better news if any Brit could actually speak a foreign language.
Mull over these facts, get confused, and then...
5) Search for entertainingly rabid opinions with the words: 'the French are filthy bastards'.
Discover http://www.littlegreenfootballs.com, YET ANOTHER website full of shit-for-brains Americans posting up messages like:
'Liberating France was a huge mistake.'
'I'm sorry, but they will all have to die. The world just doesn't seem big enough for muslims and the rest of us.'
Despair at humanity, log off and do something less boring instead.
So that's what the Internet has to say about the benefits of EU membership.
Supporters of the EU say that the information is there for all to see, and they're not lying. Unfortunately it's all completely fucking incomprehensible unless you've got the patience of a Buddhist monk, a degree in economics and a very fast Internet connection.
Even if you spend hours searching for digestible, reliable, unbiased information about the pros and cons of Europe, it's hard to come by. After hours of fruitless searching, you can only hope that our politicians have access to better quality information on which to base their decisions.
They do, don't they?
(If anyone DOES know of any decent site or publication about the EU, please let us know, because it would be nice to make a decision about the EU that isn't based on 'it'll be raw onions for breakfast, you mark my words!' and other such nonsense.)