Confirmation bias and the EU

Do Europhiles tend to hedge their bets with a ‘better the Devil you know’ approach to the coming referendum?

Having inclined over the years towards a sceptical view of the EU, it has often struck me how little awareness people tended to have of the costs of EU membership, although they could often enumerate enough purported benefits to justify taking a pro-EU stance. More recently, the perpetual crisis in the Eurozone has certainly been a clearer negative, but of course the UK is not part of that. Immigration was probably the first big issue to start grabbing people’s attention. Now security is starting to be seen increasingly as a problem despite the best efforts of Big Dave and his friends in high places to try and persuade us that the EU is the solution rather than the cause of our apparent inability to monitor and control the free movement of Islamic terrorists. I have noticed how the new fashion is (following Nick Clegg?) to be in favour of a “reformed EU”, but after the failed negotiation (you haven’t forgotten about it already, have you?), that is starting to be exposed as the oxymoron it always was.

But whatever subject you turn to you find the EU has staked its claim, convincingly it would seem for many, as being the author of all progress. Protecting workers rights? We have the so-called Social Chapter and EU working time directive to thank for that. The consequent shortage of qualified doctors with the requisite English skills and endangering of patient health? Blame the Tory cuts to the NHS budget. Likewise the prevalence of zero-hours and temporary contracts. Reducing carbon emissions? Why of course that has happened (in the UK at least) because of EU legislation. The consequent spike in energy prices and the desperate rush to secure a nuclear deal with the French and the Chinese at whatever cost? And fuel poverty among the most vulnerable in our society? Blame that on UK government incompetence and stinginess. UK steel plants facing closure while similar plants across Europe continue to thrive? Put that down to the failing of the UK government to prevent cheap Chinese imports. But wait a minute, didn’t we cede all power to control import tariffs and international trade restrictions to the EU when we joined? Yes, we hear, but why didn’t the UK government offer support to the steel industry when it could and bail it out like they did the banks? Good try, but unfortunately that would have fallen foul of EU rules against state aid. But at least the government could have sought to buy British steel for infrastructure projects, rather than French or German, couldn’t it? Wrong again: that would have fallen foul of EU competition laws.

Of course people will find fault where they look for it. But perhaps with the EU we should listen less to what its advocates say it is achieving and look a little harder at the track record. The evidence of its many failings is not hard to come by.

By Colin Turfus

Colin Turfus is a quantitative risk manager with 16 years experience in investment banking. He has a PhD in applied mathematics from Cambridge University and has published research in fluid dynamics, astronomy and quantitative finance.

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