Being half-Greek, half-English, I’ve experienced “Euroscepticism” in one of the weakest and most unstable economies in the EU, as well as one of the most stable and prosperous ones. And no matter where I am, I find it very disheartening that people are wanting to leave EU.
In Greece, anti-European sentiment is strong amongst much of the population, and this has been the case since the beginning of the financial crisis. I remember when Germany won the World Cup, and I was in a beach bar watching the final. When Germany won, most of the men there, regardless of age, were slamming their fists down on the table in anger, calling Merkel a “whore”. Which is perfectly reasonable, when you consider how big her involvement is in the football scene, not to mention the direct relationship between selling your body for money and winning football tournaments. Horrific, I know.
When the Greek referendum on whether we should accept the terms of the new bailout came about, some people, including me, were worried this was very close to being a Yes or No to Europe. Most people on the “No” side were very keen to stress that was not the case, but so much of the rhetoric used by the “No” side, which in the end won the public over, oozed this anti-European bile which I found deeply disturbing. It’s completely irresponsible to convince the public to change their future based on nothing but an urge to stick it to Europe, and that’s exactly what Syriza did.
Zoe Konstantopoulou, who at the time was a member of Syriza, and still a very-well liked politician in Greece, was quoted saying that we should liberate ourselves by saying “No” to the EU’s bailout program. Why? Because “that word has a great historical significance to the Greek public”. She was referring to Metaxas (Prime Minister of Greece in the 1940s) refusing to surrender to Mussolini in WW2 – on the 28th of October every year Greeks celebrate this famous refusal with national “No” day. She also implied we, as self-respecting Greeks, should stick it to the Germans because they occupied Greece in the 1940s.
Any politician or celebrity who then publicly disagreed with her and the rest of her party was accused of being corrupt, paid off or sponsored by the EU. And if you, the average Joe, didn’t support “No”, you were a right-wing, super-rich “Germanotsolias”. I wouldn’t even look it up if I were you, it’s a mind-numbingly stupid slur.
But in Greece, I kind of get this being the case. I don’t agree, or see any rational thought behind it, but I completely understand where it comes from. Whether you’re a corrupt/inept Greek politician looking for a scapegoat, a pensioner with no pension, part of a family with no income, or a student, with no job prospects, there are plenty of political motives as well as genuine reasons to be hostile towards, or at the very least, disillusioned with Europe.
But even the Greeks aren’t saying leave. They’re not even wanting to leave the Eurozone. So what’s Britain’s problem?
Well, Brexiteers might argue that Greece can’t leave since it is dependent on EU money. EU money that has to come out of our taxes and go to Greece and Spain and the likes that are not doing so well. I’d first like to point out, that even if this was straightforwardly the case, which it is simply not, I wonder how the United Kingdom would feel were it to fall into the same situation as some of the poorer countries in the EU. It’s easy to be high and mighty when you’re not the one with the problem, but the point of the Union ensures that everyone is supported. If Britain were to go bust you’d expect someone to help us, so you can’t complain about being an economically privileged country when you’re asked to support someone else. Remember, in the 1970s, it was the UK that was dubbed “the sick man of Europe”.
In any case, the reason it is not that straightforward is this: the EU can’t raise the United Kingdom’s taxes: that’s decided on an individual basis by each country. And the UK is in a privileged position within the Union as far as being charitable to the Greeks is concerned: All of the money the UK tax payer gives indirectly to Greece, is guaranteed to be paid back, whereas this is not the case for Eurozone countries. Plus, it’s not just EU countries contributing to Greece and Spain, it’s also the IMF and the European Central Bank. The entire EU budget is equivalent to only 1% of the combined GNI of its 28 member states. So the flow of money to poorer countries is hardly being felt by the individual in any country within the union.
But even though the UK economy is the fifth largest in the world, it is a sobering fact that approximately 25% of its children live in poverty. This is not the EU’s fault however. It is not the EU that has been slashing working tax credits, child and unemployment benefits, resources that are in place to support the most vulnerable members of society. Britain may not be in Greece’s position, but scapegoating is still very much a thing here too. We have people like Boris Johnson who want to privatise the NHS, saying Europe’s taking all the money from us that could be used for it; and then Michael Gove claiming he is “a man of the people”. The Guardian’s Paul Mason is near the mark when he says the Brexit campaign is led by members of the elite trying to fight another hypothetical “elite”.
Watching Prime Minister’s Question Time this week, I found myself for the first time feeling sorry for David Cameron. He was obviously biting his tongue trying to remain measured when faced with a finger-jabbing audience, most of whom were yelling, not asking questions. But there was one criticism of Cameron on Question Time which was right, and that was that of a lady who asked him this: “Are the issues that Brexiters present as being caused by the EU actually caused by the EU, or did the Conservative Party create many of the problems right-wing Tories are now blaming on Europe?”
And this is what is so frustrating. People claim Brexit isn’t just a product of xenophobia and nationalism, but that is exactly where it springs from. It doesn’t matter how many times the BBC explain that we only pay 161 million pounds, (not 360) to the EU, it doesn’t matter that we receive 88 million back (not including the rebate, university funding or what the private sector receives), because of the “bloody migrants”. UKIP emerged some years ago as the semi-acceptable mouthpiece for racist slurs and attracted a lot of eurosceptic Tories. David Cameron, scared he would lose the general election, then found himself in a position of having to offer up this referendum he doesn’t even want, just so he could keep the votes of those slightly turned on by Nigel Farage and his posse. So, what do they want?
More control of our borders. More jobs and opportunities for British people. More control over the laws that affects us. But this so-called “independence” is something nationalism, however fervent, cannot deliver. Leaving the EU is not independence, it’s isolation. The EU will keep making laws that will keep affecting us even if we do storm out of the room and throw all our toys out of the pram. We just won’t get to be in the room in which they’re negotiated. We won’t get more control over our borders if we want to remain in the Single Market, that’s a given. And as for sorting out trade with countries outside of the Single Market, this is a tired, long, and ineffective process; Canada for example has been negotiating establishing trade with us for 7 years, and it’s still not confirmed. Moving on to jobs and opportunities, how on earth are we increasing either one of those as of the point where we are limiting everyone to Britain and dismissing a seamless work-force flow between ourselves and 27 other nations? How are we increasing opportunities for young people when we’re attempting to cut off over 27 million pounds of funding the EU provides for universities and research?
When it comes down to it, we get a lot from Europe, all 28 nations do. Boris Johnson has tried to dehumanize Europe by saying he’s not attacking our “holidays” or “great food”, but Europe isn’t just about that. It’s about us, as Europeans, as people. We’re years away from when Churchill first enabled us to be part of creating his vision of “the European family”, but surely our goals remain the same: to “dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom”.