Sat here at an event about the European Regional Development Fund in London, almost a month into the new job, and looking at my Twitter feed, it occurs to me that there are so many people in the UK who are working on letting people know about opportunities in Europe. Some are very local, some national, some sector specific, some very general. I wonder, though, whether they all know about each other. I had a call from someone in the European Movement the other day who wanted to find out what a Europe Direct Centre was. So I thought it could be an idea to get them all together in one place, get them to talk to each other, maybe develop new partnerships. Any thoughts?
Our monitoring of Parliamentary Questions spat this one up today. Self-explanatory really.
Mr Jenkin: To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs with reference to the letter from the Minister for Europe of 11 November 2010, on the European Union Bill, for what reasons his Department believes that the present terms of UK membership of the EU are in the national interest. 
Mr Lidington: There are many things about the EU we would like to change. However, membership of the EU gives UK business full access to the world’s most important trading zone, comprising 500 million consumers without the barriers of customs or tariffs. This is of great importance to the UK’s prosperity. 10% (3.5 million) of UK jobs are reliant on exports to EU member states, the beneficial effect of EU trade on UK households is estimated at between £1,100 and £3,300 per year, UK exports to member states are worth more than £200 billion, and EU Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) comprises 49% of overall FDI to the UK. Under the present terms of membership the UK plays a strong and active role in influencing and shaping developments within the EU, allowing us to further goals essential to the national interest, such as strengthening and expanding the single market, delivering growth, and promoting a resource efficient, low carbon EU economy. The European economic area (EEA) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) members, in contrast, have to contribute to the EU budget without being able to negotiate the detail and content of EU legislation, and without receiving benefits such as the exemption from customs requirements and costs.
In addition, EU membership gives the UK better leverage and negotiating power on the global stage, allowing us to better achieve our international objectives on issues such as freer international trade, conflict prevention, stabilisation, climate change, human rights and development. There are also wide-ranging benefits for UK individuals, such as the right to study and work within the EU, and to receive free or reduced cost health care on temporary visits within EU member states.
It’s amazing what you find if you read everything in your inbox! An e-mail with the coalition’s reponse to comments on its programme has languished in there all day, and I just got round to reading it. Pretty interesting stuff! Of course my main interest was the Europe section and it’s good to see a pretty straight-down-the-line defense of our EU membership. Also glad to see it wasn’t with foreign affairs, but was a stand-alone issue. I’m looking around to digging about in some of the other sections. Haven’t watched the video yet, I must admit.
Here’s the full set of links (let me know if you have any problems making them work – it may not all have made it with the cut-and-paste!):
The Coalition: Our programme for government
We thank all of you who engaged with this historic Coalition agreement by taking the time to read and comment on our programme. We promised government departments would read and respond to all comments that fall within their policy areas, and they’ve now done so.
Below you can find a response to each section of The Coalition: our programme for government. These responses focus on the main themes raised in each section.
You can also watch a video of Oliver Letwin and Danny Alexander discussing your feedback on the homepage.
Links to responses
These links take you to the websites of different departments, where the responses have been published.
I went to a very interesting event about science journalism in the UK last year at the Royal Institution which I blogged about about the time. One of my conclusions was that many of the issues faced by science journalism reflect very closely issues faced on coverage of European issues. Science isn’t covered well by the general press. Neither is Europe, on the whole. So when you put the two together, as the Daily Mail did this morning, then you can imagine what comes out.
Needless to say, the Daily Mail over-simplified, if not to say ridiculed, the real situation. The project has found ways to improve fruit storage, reduce waste, cut pesticide use and encourage children to eat fruit instead of sweets. These are important things. An interesting fact: The EU produced 7.7 million tonnes of eating apples in 2008. So if research like this can cut costs so that apple prices fall by just one penny per kilo that will mean annual savings for consumers of £64 million – or more than five times the cost of the project. Never mind the health benefits of reduced pesticide use, and the suffering caused by allergies (I know alot about that one!) This was the first project to quantify the cholesterol-reducing properties of apples, which can have a direct effect in reducing medicines taken – saving health services money.
Of course, we could have told the Mail all of this if they had bothered to ask us…
I mentioned the quiz yesterday. Fancy a shot yourself?
1) What is the source of the EU anthem?
2) How many stars does the EU flag have?
3) What do you see on each of the 7 different Euro notes?
4) Which one of the following words originates from the Czech language?
5) The EU has declared 2008 the European Year of…?