Who understands the EU?

It’s easy to get wrapped up in Euro-fear. Cologne. Paris. The dubious question of Trojan Horse asylum seekers and immigrants. If it’s not these concerns, then it’s the fear of a leaching of national sovereignty to powers that appear unelected and unaccountable.

The national press is wrapped up in the European Union in a way that it has never been before. Seldom do you get an opportunity to see such purely dichotomous interpretations of events. The left-leaning papers offer reciprocal kindness to those that flee persecution and a stalwart condemnation of brutal acts of terror disguised in the name of Islam. The right-wing press, if never quite deserving of the heartless caricature that it seems to provoke, are the standard bearers of warning that enemies could be anywhere and they see the EU as a front door left open in the middle of a storm.

The world is encircling and literally bringing the fight to Europe’s doorstep at a time when Britain’s understanding, awareness and attitude towards the continent next door is at its lowest ebb. A referendum looms by 2017 at the latest (as promised by David Cameron) but the battleground is unfair. Renegotiation on Britain’s terms or we walk is the offer, but it is a fatally flawed method when it would seem few members of the public actually have a complete understanding of the operation of the European Union.

How many people beyond those with a business or professional interest, stakeholders and politics students understand the minutia of the EU? Its processes are derided as intrusive but the relationship to the UK is never defined in the national press by politicians or even pundits. It is a behemoth in size but any discussion is most often about what is to gain by being in it, what will be lost if we go (or vis versa) and seldom ever an articulation of what the status quo is.

For those with an interest in politics and history Google is a five-minute lesson in finding out or refreshing what the exact situation is. For those with little interest and those who are more inclined to listen to the media than their own research, it becomes apparent there is a severe deficit in understanding in a populace that is soon about to make the largest constitutional decision it has undertaken in decades.

UK pundits and politicians have not learnt the lesson that the Scottish referendum so amply afforded. The great failure, on both sides, was education. Both campaigns utilised countless independent studies, figures and analyses but no individual in a strong enough public position took it upon themselves to drive home how the status quo worked. Consequences of change are, of course, important but it’s only part of the story if you can’t compare it to what it is that someone is proposing, or opposing, changing in the first place.

Polls are conducted on leaving the EU every week. Will someone conduct a poll on whether or not people understand, completely, the operation of the European Union?

The question works both ways. Those that want to leave and those that want to stay have a responsibility to their constituents and their country to articulate their view by reference to the structures and processes we have now.

Occam’s razor would seem to apply. The philosophical disposition puts that the theory with the fewest assumptions is the one that should be selected. Beyond the sweepingly general statements of bureaucracy, immigration and health tourism that people think of when they consider the EU it might seem wise to replace assumptions with practical information to inform as much as possible.

No one has spent a moment explaining to the British people what it actually is that they are participating in just now and how it works. How then can we expect to have a plebiscite that is conducted in reason and analysis and not idle fear or sanguine hope?

The best resources to understand the EU:

How the European Union works

EUROPA: United Kingdom in the European Union

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