Ahead of our ‘Social Europe: Worth Fighting For?’ conference on 25th February the Fabian Society conducted a membership survey on the EU to find out if the views of our traditionally pro-European membership have shifted.
The results, in many ways, were as expected. Our membership remains overwhelmingly pro-European but, in tune with the country at large, our members are also starting to move further towards the Eurosceptic side of the argument. This is especially the case when questions about widening the UK’s involvement with the project and of democratic accountability are asked. This is underlined by eight out of ten Fabian members believing the EU lacks democratic integrity and only one in five being able to name all their MEPs.
First the good news for our pro-Europeans, a North Korean-esque 94 percent believes that the UK should not only remain part of the EU, but that we as a people benefit from continued membership. EU-led changes such as relaxed border controls, free trade and even the single currency were all cited as reasons for optimism about what the project has accomplished.
When asked about which policy areas should see deeper integration with our EU partners the picture becomes more mixed. There is clear support for deepening our ties when it comes to tackling climate change (78 percent), employment rights (70 percent) – surely a victory for Trade Union campaigning there - and security and defence (64 percent).
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The real Achilles heel for the European project continues to be what anti-EU campaigners call the ‘democratic deficit’ in its institutions. When asked if it was thought voters had enough power over the EU an astounding 78 percent said no. As if to underline this point we asked how many of our members knew who all their MEPs were and only a paltry 22 percent could name them all (56 percent said some and 22 percent said none).
Given that Fabian members are both very engaged politically and overwhelmingly pro-European these are shocking numbers and questions about Brussels democratic element have to be seriously asked.
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Without a recognisable public face the charge of ‘faceless Brussels bureaucrat’ becomes impossible to refute, and easy shorthand for any anti-EU campaigner looking to score cheap points in a debate. The EU can’t dissolve the electorate and elect a new one so it needs to look at itself and work out the fairest (and most engaging) ways of making decisions in future. Without it even our Fabian pro-Europeans will continue their drift towards Euroscepticism.
You can view the full survey results here
There are still a few tickets available for "Social Europe: Worth Fighting For?" on Saturday 25th February. Visit the Fabian Society website to get yours today.
Olly Parker is head of Partnerships and Events at the Fabian Society