James Max - James Max is a broadcaster, columnist and business expert

Europe: In? Out? Or shake it all about?

Our politicians are out of touch. The leaders of our three main parties want us to stay in Europe. They don’t want a referendum and have done everything they can to stifle debate. Putting their own political careers and parties ahead of the demands and concerns of the British people. Without allowing a proper debate, they are storing up bigger problems.

In general terms, I am pro Europe. The peace it has brought, the harmonisation of trade rules, the movement of people and capital and a more collegiate approach to international relations are all benefits we in Britain receive as a result of our membership. The biggest benefit is that of trade.

Indeed many of the scare stories about the loss of sovereignty, layering of extra bureaucracy, straight bananas and the red tape are bogus. However with Herman van Rompuy as the distinctly underwhelming president and Baroness Ashton as its head of foreign affairs and security policy, we have two politicians who are out of their depth, unqualified and worst of all have never been elected by their people for the posts they hold. They have been parachuted into office and now benefit from extraordinary trappings and power. No wonder we are cross.

The Euro was a massive mistake. When first mooted, those against said that you couldn’t have a single currency without political and financial union. They were right. We are fortunate that we are not part of it. For those who have any doubts about the importance of being able to control our interest rates, fiscal policy and currency just have a look at international bond rates. 2.5% for the UK whereas across Europe they are significantly higher. That’s partly why austerity measures will help our nation in the long run. Yet whilst we put our own finances back in order, here we are contributing to save a currency over which we have no control.

There are some who suggest that the Euro crisis is being allowed to fester to achieve that political union some have argued for, for so long. Others (notably the French) want the UK to keep out of discussions because we are not part of the currency. Fine, if we don’t have to pick up the bill for their incompetence. However with Christine Lagarde and Michel Barnier in charge of the IMF and EU financial posts respectively, they are trying to plunder the UK’s economy by stealth and taxation. Non!

At the heart this, there is a battle to save the Euro. German and French reserves will have to prop up the currency if it is to survive. Weaker economies will either have to leave, leading to a partial collapse, or the stronger nations will have to cough up. The prevarication continues as the politicians fail to grasp the nettle. It’s also the most significant cause of our current economic malaise.

I don’t think the UK should pull out of the EU, tempting as that might be. Similarly, I don’t believe that the route being pursued at the moment is right either. The decisions made by the last government to sign away concessions achieved by Margaret Thatcher combined with their signing of the Lisbon Treaty changed the EU and soured our relations with it. Indeed in the dying moments of the last government the blank cheque, signed by Alisdair Darling has cost our country billions of pounds.

These measures combined with a lack of focus when dealing with European matters has left us on the fringe with a weighty bill to pay.

One of the reasons there is so much mistrust of the EU is that it costs so much money to run. There is little accountability for what it spends, how it spends, why it spends and who ends up having lined their pockets. What little we do know leads to a conclusion that the bureaucracy is wasteful and expensive and to a large extent pointless. The negatives outweigh all the benefits of the EU. People across Europe, not only in the UK, are frustrated. Frustrated that the voting system has allowed the fringes of our society to receive representation. Frustrated at the lack of openness and accountability. Frustrated at the waste and frustrated at the interference in our daily lives and our businesses.

From my knowledge of the EU, here are some changes I propose. I’d welcome your views:

1) An EU parliament located either in Strasbourg or Brussels

2) Annual audit of the EU accounts that must be signed off before new monies can be raised

3) Transparency over expenses

4) Scrap the Common Agricultural Policy

5) An end to any laws that are not directly involved with trade across the EU area

6) Removal of EU directives for the workplace

7) A reduction of the EU budget by 20%

8) An audit of all EU activities and a removal of 40% of quangos

9) A reduction of EU support staff of 20%

10) Reintroduction of work visas with certain quotas

11) Revisiting the way benefits can be claimed across the EU area

12) Ability for any member state to intervene in business located on its shores, if required

13) Full elections for key officials

14) A restoration of the British rebate

Whilst some of these requests may seem a little nebulous, in effect there are some benefits to the EU. By withdrawing altogether, the impact upon the UK economy would be significant. And not in a good way. However, the imposition of taxation from the EU on financial services or the controls over the workplace is completely unacceptable.

Rightly or wrongly the British people feel they contribute more than they receive. In addition they feel some European laws have negatively impacted upon their lives and that their sovereignty has been eroded. The current political class is ignoring its people. There is only one solution to this mess. It’s not “in”. It’s not “out” either. It’s “shake it all about”. Then and only then will the British people be happy to call themselves Europeans.

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