Callum Gurr is a 19 year old student at the University of Birmingham studying History and Political Science, and a member of the Liberal Democrats. He wrote the below article to highlight specific examples of how the EU helps ordinary people.
1. Workers’ and Women’s Rights
As recently as 1990, the European Union’s Equal Treatment Directive of 1976 was successfully utilised to end discriminatory practices against British women in the workplace based upon her gender. British Gas plc was forcing women to retire from the company at the age of 60 – 5 years younger than their male colleagues had to retire. The British government failed to this discrimination from happening at one of its own state-controlled companies, so several employees took it up with to the European Court of Justice on the basis that it broke the European Union’s Equal Treatment Directive. The court ruled in their favour.
This was not an isolated event: the case of Marshall v Southampton and South-West Hampshire Area Health Authority can is a further example. However most of the discrimination this EU directive prevents goes unrecorded as not all anti-discrimination cases go all the way to the European Court of Justice before they are settled. It is clear from these cases that when our national government fails to prevent discrimination the EU is able to step in to protect ordinary citizens.
Greater ability for competition between companies selling goods across Europe has made the things you buy cheaper. Wine is a great example. Thanks to the European Court of Justice Case 170/78 excise duty on wine has been cut, making wine comparatively cheaper to buy in the supermarket in the last 30 years. This ruling has helped British ale producers too, with excise duties on British beer trade to the continent being cut thanks to the ruling, making British beer more competitive across the continent. There are many more examples of how our membership of the EU is bringing down living costs. Another one is air travel, which is now up to 40% cheaper thanks to a 1992 EU ruling.
A huge amount of legislation has been enacted by the EU to protect your health both within the UK and when travelling across the continent. One of the lesser known rulings of the EU is that of the European Blood Safety Directives (known as cases 2002/98/EC and 2004/33/EC). These set the standards for quality and safety for the collection, testing, processing, storage and distribution of blood in the UK and across the EU. Should you require something as simple as a blood test or even a transfusion in the UK or when travelling in EU you can be safe in the knowledge that it will be performed safely and cleanly. Prior to the EU every country had their own safety standard, meaning you could never be sure if foreign healthcare was as good as the healthcare you got back home.
The EU Bathing Water Directive of 1991 regulates bathing water quality and safety on British beaches. When you visit the Margate Sands or Watergate Bay you can now be sure the bathing water is safe. Between 1990 and 2008 bathing water quality problems have become far less common in the United Kingdom: 95.5% of coastal bathing areas met the mandatory requirements in 2008 – an 18.4% percentage increase from before. This has not been exclusive to the UK either; the Bathing Water Directive has made bathing waters across Europe cleaner and safer, making it easier and safer to holiday across Europe.
The UK received more money back as science and research grants from the EU than it pays into the EU’s science budget. One example of where this funding goes is the work of Professor Xavier Salvatella, which has received funding from the European Research Council to research a longer-lasting treatment for those suffering with prostate cancer, which kills approximately 70,000 European men a year. One day Salvatella’s research could save thousands of these lives a year. Funding for scientific innovations like this in the UK could be put in serious jeopardy should we leave the EU and the UK government does not replace the funds.
I won’t claim these benefits would vanish overnight if we left the EU. But the good work that the EU has done in protecting our welfare, income and health means that it seems ludicrous to suddenly leave when improvements continue to be made. The EU has done well to protect or fund everything mentioned above, and these are only a few examples. But given past UK governments have shown these sorts of benefits are not always their priority, surely staying in the EU is the best way for us to preserve and further these areas for ourselves and future generations?
Foster vs British Gas plc
Griffin vs South West Water
ECJ Case 170/78
Air Travel Liberalisation
Blood Safety Directive 2002/98/EC
Blood Safety Directive 2004/33/EC
Bathing Water Directive
Professor Xavier Salvatella’s research]