EU Referendum: Like Me You Probably Don’t Have a Clue?
At the moment I really don’t know enough about the EU to make an informed choice in the referendum. And it isn’t just me, in fact Britons are among the least knowledgeable people on the subject of the EU. With only just over a quarter of us able to answer the following three simple questions:
For each of the following statements about the EU, could you please tell me whether you think it is true or false:
1. The EU currently consists of 28 member states.
2. The members of the European parliament are directly elected by the citizens of each member state.
3. Switzerland is a member state of the EU.
True, true and false in case you were wondering.
But the EU isn’t simple. It has many, many political parties and bureaucrats working within several massive institutions. Most of us are not aware of them and what influence they have on our lives. For instance, only 9% of Europeans are able to recall the name of an EU level party. In case you are not in the 9% the largest are: The Party of European Socialists (PES), the European Green Party (EGP) and the European People‘s Party (EPP) .
And not to mention that some of the information we may wish to know to make an informed choice is unknowable. The House of Commons Library has recently warned that:
there is no totally accurate, rational or useful way of calculating the percentage of national laws based on or influenced by the EU.
All of this is a worry because the media are currently suggesting that David Cameron intends to hold the vote this June. Compare this to the Scottish referendum which had equally complex information to weigh up. The Yes campaign was set up in May 2012 and the No campaign shortly after. For a good 18 months the debate was out there. While it didn’t reach everyone, an uncanny percentage of the population were arguing about the intricacies of the Shengen agreement or whether Scotland could use the pound.
As someone who takes an interest in politics I have no doubt I and many others will be able to cram and be informed enough to vote. However, I worry about people with less time and inclination to do so. The Scottish referedum was marked by people rising above the scare stories of either side and looking for more convincing evidence themselves. One factor in this was the timeframe involved and the momentum the campaigns built at grassroot level.
I fear that due to a lack of knowledge the debate will be fought on a select number of emotive issues like immigration, jobs and finance, with each side trying to out-scare the other. It has been suggested that there has been a lack of a push to educate us on the functions of the EU as no side is sure who will be helped by more knowledge. There is evidence that people who know a lot about the EU are just as likely to want out than people who know very little, and vice versa.
For instance with regards to our three questions above.
86% of British people who have a “very positive EU image” answered at least one question correctly, compared with 92% of people who have a “very negative EU image”. Also, 41% who have a “very positive EU image” answered all three questions correctly, compared with 33% who have a “very negative EU image”.
Knowledge in itself could sway the vote either way. But surely, the more informed we are the more valid the eventual result? Would rushing it through for June without time for a proper debate not be an insult to democracy?
Here is a link to a quiz about the EU. I got a measly 65 percent and it isn’t even that complex. See if you can beat me.
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