What Does Europe Really Mean For The UK?

Helen Dring, 24 March 2011 | 1 Comment

Categories: Politics | European Union | Human Rights |

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Recently, the word 'Europe' has been used in mainstream media as the point of origin for several 'controversial' decisions. The decision that the UK should reconsider their stance on denying prisoners the right to vote, the right of sex offenders to appeal to be taken off the sex offence register if they can prove their rehabilitation, and a new directive that prevents insurance companies from offering discounts based on gender have all been cited as coming from 'Europe'. But isn't this lack of specificity in the mainstream media dangerous in the face of UKIP's recent by-election success? Somewhere, consideration needs to be given to the fact that the unquantified Europe in these instances relates to several different branches of the European Union.

Let's start with the case of the prisoners' right to vote. This case was started by a prisoner who took his case of being denied the vote whilst in prison to the European Court of Human Rights and won. When, in February, MPs voted to maintain this ban in the UK, James Chapman at The Daily Mail online called it 'The Day We Stood Up to Europe' and stated that 'the European Court of Human Rights... is not used to having its diktats challenged'. What was not so widely reported, (apart from by civil rights champion and director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti on Channel 5's The Wright Stuff) was that, in its attempt to appeal this ruling, the UK jeopardises its place in the Council of Europe, an organisation of 46 countries committed to preserving and honouring human rights and diversity. The UK has to uphold decisions taken in the Court of Human Rights or risk being disallowed from being a member of this body. The UK does have a right to appeal but, ultimately, if the appeal is not upheld, must weigh up the advantages of being a member of the Council of Europe, a huge body of countries all working for the good of Human Rights.

When the case emerged of a young man who fought for his right to appeal against his place on the sex offender's register the argument was lumped together with the case of prisoner voting on debate shows such as BBC's The Big Questions and Channel 5's The Wright Stuff. In the case of The Wright Stuff, the programme summary for 8th March 2011 asks "if the European Court is bad for Britain, especially as I know it winds so many of you up. Votes for prisoners, a better deal for paedophiles, even dearer car insurance for women - while thereís no doubt the court defends human rights, hasnít it also robbed us of the right to run our own affairs?" This case, however, did not come from Europe, it came from a case held in a British court. This is because of the UK's ratification of the Human Rights Act, giving British citizens the right to have their case heard in a British court by a British judge. It had nothing to do with a European court or body, and yet has been repeatedly misreported as being another case of Europe dictating to the UK. For shows like The Wright Stuff, which offer news and current affairs debate on a daily basis, misrepresentation such as this can be dangerously misleading for viewers.

The recent decision to prevent insurance companies from offering discounts based on a person's gender, however, did come from Europe. The European Court of Justice exists to ensure that EU legislation is interpreted and applied in the same way in all EU countries, rendering the law equal for everyone. British car insurance policies had been under discussion since as early as 2002. It is this forum that ruled lower car insurance premiums for women and higher health insurance premiums for men unjust, despite insurance companies such as the AA saying they are 'disappointed' by the decision. But it is not just the UK who has been targeted: laws voted on and upheld in the Court of Justice must be carried out in every EU state.

Just relying on the reporting of these issues in mainstream media, it would be easy to see membership of the European Union in a negative light, as something that restricts the UK and forces it to adopt laws that it does not agree with. But since the European Economic Community was established in 1958, it has achieved many valuable and advantageous goals, including a free 'single-market' allowing goods, trade and people to circulate freely within the Union. The European Union itself now has twenty-five members, with more jumping through legal and humanitarian hoops to be allowed to join. Whether or not being part of this community is something which benefits Britain, the media continuously limit the boundaries of debate on the issue, in effect denying the public the freedom to make their own assessment.

Categories in which this article appears: Politics | European Union | Human Rights |

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Comments (1)

1. Lois10 September 2011 17:03

"European Economic Community was established in 1958, it has achieved many valuable and advantageous goals, including a free 'single-market' allowing goods, trade and people to circulate freely within the Union."
According to some articles I've read elsewhere (wish I could remember where) this argument doesn't really hold water and the EU has it's own agenda which is completely separate from the interest's of all the countries it, supposedly, represent's. In view of the fact that so much money has simply 'disappeared' without any accountability for where it went I'm inclined to believe it.

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