4 diagrams on our relationship with the European Union

I know we are all bored stiff with #EURef chat, but bear with me.

There is little to like about the impending referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. Alas, although “UKIP forced the debate into EU GOOD or EU BAD, and then my backbenchers made me feel awkward about it” doesn’t sound like a good enough reason to have a referendum on a complex international relationship, here we are.

Fear not, I am not going to add my voice to the EU GOOD or EU BAD chorus. There is more than enough uninteresting stuff out there in the national press – most of it misleading or mistaken at best.

Instead, I am just going to share a few interesting diagrams from a talk I went to at the LSE by Simon Hix. People keep saying, “I just want the facts.” There really is no such thing as an impartial fact. All information and statistics can be selected, interpreted and twisted for either EU GOOD or EU BAD. But these diagrams come pretty close.

So here is my contribution to the debate: it’s just some information. Consider the diagrams, add them to your bank of EU knowledge.

  1. We have already opted out of much of the Union
Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 18.15.14
Source: Iain Begg (2015) Could it be ‘Brexpulsion’ rather than ‘Brexit’?, SIEPS

This chart shows that there are many agreements between other EU member states that we have chosen not to be a part of. Aside from being a member of the 28-strong Union, we have opted out of nearly every substantial policy mechanism that ties the other member states closer together.

2. We are an uninformed member state

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 18.18.54
Source: Simon Hix (2015), The Future of Britain and Europe, Harold Laski Chair Inaugural Lecture at the LSE.

The European Parliament is democratically elected, in much the same way as we elect our MPs and local councillors. This graph shows various member states’ public awareness about that election process, and we do not do very well. (The vertical axis shows the percentage of people would could name one or more candidate unaided; the horizontal axis shows the percentage of people who watched any of the TV debates).

3. Our newspapers do not inform us about the EU

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 18.17.53
Source: Simon Hix (2015), The Future of Britain and Europe, Harold Laski Chair Inaugural Lecture at the LSE.

Remember when Jean-Claude Juncker was proposed as President of the European Commission, and we all went mental about it? It seemed to come out of nowhere, because our newspapers do not inform us. This graph shows the number of articles in the British press referring to each Presidential candidate, from the end of April until June. The European Parliament elections took place at the end of May, with Juncker (as the candidate of the largest party in Parliament) the most likely candidate for President. The number of articles mentioning Juncker only spikes after these elections have already taken place.

4. Compare our coverage to the German press

Screen Shot 2016-05-08 at 18.18.07
Source: Simon Hix (2015), The Future of Britain and Europe, Harold Laski Chair Inaugural Lecture at the LSE.

This graph compares the number of articles citing “Juncker” and “Schulz” (the candidate for the second largest group in Parliament) in the run up to the European Parliamentary Elections. Knowledge is key to making the most of any international relationship, and the German public are far better informed than the British.

The good news is that referendum is still over a month away. The bad news is that the next month is likely to be full of the same substandard level of ‘debate’ between EU GOOD and EU BAD we have seen thus far. One thing is for certain, should we decide to remain a member of the European Union, we can only ensure our success within it if we are better informed.


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