What has the EU ever done for us?

It’s now been nearly three and a half years since the British people voted Leave in the EU referendum, and not only have we still not left, the country and its elected representatives remain bitterly divided not only on how we should leave but whether we even will. Meanwhile in Brussels and around the world, frustration and fascination mounts at the slow motion car crash that is Brexit.

And as long as Britain stays in the EU, it must contribute to the EU budget which, as new Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab pointed out, is £1 billion a month. But of course this is Brexit, and nothing is ever as straightforward as it seems. Once you factor in the rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher back in 1984, and various EU grants that come back to Britain, the actual monthly figure is more like £744 million.

£744 million is still a big number, but divide that among the 27.2 million or so households in the country and it equates to around £30 a month each, or approximately £7.50 a week.

So what do you get for your £7.50 a week that you would otherwise no doubt squander on luxury breakfast cereals or avocadoes on toast?

Well, let’s start with your holidays. In 1993 the faceless, grey-suited bureaucrats at the EU implemented the Working Time Directive, which guaranteed workers four weeks of annual paid leave. Up until then, the only paid holidays that many workers enjoyed were a scattering of bank holidays and religious celebrations. The UK government would later enhance that allowance, but the fact remains: without the EU many of us might still not be able to afford to go on holiday. Encounter a British stag group in Amsterdam and you might feel that some of us shouldn’t be allowed to go on holiday ever again, but that’s beside the point.

Schengen Shenanigans
But what good does all that lovely holiday allowance do us, when travelling in Europe is so difficult and expensive? Well it’s not, is it, right now at least. Thanks to the Schengen Agreement (which the UK incidentally chose not to join) British holidaymakers can travel visa-free across European borders with just a flash of their passport.

Then if they want to hire a car wherever they are – Bordeaux, Berlin, the French Alps or the Tuscan countryside - all it takes is a couple of signatures. And let’s be honest, thanks to the EU Open Skies agreement that enables more competition on routes, keeping air fares competitive, and the maddeningly efficient public transport on the mainland, holidaying on the continent is incredibly cheap and easy, all things considered. So thanks to the villainous EU we now have paid holiday allowance set in stone, as well as easy, inexpensive travel across Europe. But apart from that, what else does our £7.50 a week to the EU get for us?

Cars at the Swiss border. Photo by warrenski

Well, how about peace of mind while you’re away? Being a member of the European Economic Area (for the time being of course) ensures that British people can apply, free of charge, for an EHIC card.That means if you should be injured or become unwell on your holidays in a member state – and about 4.4 million of us do have such problems every year – you simply need to produce your card and you’ll receive medical treatment, either free of charge or at a vastly reduced cost.

The EU also introduced compensation for travellers when their flight was delayed or cancelled – up to £530 if you arrive three hours late at your destination – which goes some way to making up for the disappointment of not being able to reserve a sunbed in the best spot. And when you want to call home and let your family know that you have arrived safely, though slightly later than planned, you can currently do so at no extra cost since the EU decided to ban roaming charges in 2017. If we leave the EU without a deal, that will probably all come to an end. Cheers!

Many of us choose to join organised tours when we go away. More often than not you’ll be accompanied by a British tour leader, there to smooth out any wrinkles in the itinerary from the wrong room in your hotel to ensuring you skip the worst of the queues at the Louvre. Because we’re a member of the EU, these professionals can zip from place to place alongside you with ease. If that is no longer possible, we all might need to become a lot more self-sufficient about organising local guides and making sure our alarms go off in time for the airport transfer.

Queuing at the Louvre, Paris. Photo by crabchick

Taking back control of our holidays
But, of course, not all of us would mind no longer being able to holiday in Europe cheaply, conveniently and stress-free if it means being free of the shackles of the EU.

After all, here in the UK we have 65 Blue Flag beaches to choose from (the Blue Flag initiative was funded by the EC) and our incredible national parks (with environmental and wildlife protections enshrined by EU legal principles. Perhaps in future we can find some way to blame the British weather on Juncker and co.

And one last point: this article purely concerns one area, travel, where we receive clear, practical benefits from our EU membership. Obviously there are a million-and-one other advantages, from just-in-time parts for the car industry, to lots of lovely European food on supermarket shelves, and easy flow of medicines across borders, that we get for our contribution as well that we haven’t covered here.

But don’t be glum. Yes, some aspects of our holidays in Europe will inevitably become much more difficult and more expensive whether we leave with a deal or not, but the British spirit will carry us through eventually.

And at least we’ll have that extra £7.50 in our pockets.

Written by Rob Perkins
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