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Oxford Union believes the EU has a bright future

On Thursday night, the Oxford Union voted in support of the motion ‘This House Believes the EU has a Bright Future.’ The final count had 105 members voting for the motion and 71 members voting against. 

Speakers in favour of the motion included Ambassadors Ferenc Kumin and Karel Van Oosterom: the Hungarian and Dutch ambassadors to the UK respectively. They were joined by Union Librarian Isabelle Horrocks-Taylor (Balliol). 

Speaking last for the opposition was MP Mark Francois; former Shadow Minister for Europe and the current Chair of the eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG). Francois was a part of the Vote Leave campaign in 2016 and during the following years, he called for the UK to leave the EU’s single market and customs union. He was joined by Union Treasurer Robert McGlone (St John’s) and Director of Strategy Santiago Bedoya-Pardo (Regent’s Park). 

Speaking first for the proposition, Horrocks-Taylor considered how the EU has evolved with time, beginning “I am here to take you on a journey.” She explained that the EU was formed in response to times of crisis and argued that the EU has continually brought “stability” and “security” during these times. She cited the financial crisis by developing financial security; the refugee crisis with improved border security; and the COVID-19 pandemic with a combined vaccine development as examples. 

Horrocks-Taylor concluded her speech by looking more directly at the future and arguing that similar resolve would result in effective responses to issues such as the climate crisis, ageing continental populations and the digital revolution.

She argued that likely expansion of the EU would integrate more perspectives to help mould its future, sustainable growth and economic collaboration would continue, and a potential labour government could strengthen ties between the UK and the EU. She wrapped up by concluding that the EU has a “future that is full of potential,” considering that “to be an optimist is not to be naive.”

Opening the case for the opposition, McGlone argued that “the EU has become a time-capsule for a bygone age.” He said that the EU had gradually become an outdated institution since its conception, citing how the share of global GDP made up by EU member states had dropped from 30% in 1995 to just 17% in 2020. He also pointed out how the EU currently contains under 6% of the world’s population, an ever decreasing figure. 

McGlone continued with an affront on the “structural deficiencies” of the EU. He underlined how an opaque governance structure led to a lack of accountability for citizens of the EU, and pointed out that “a quarter of MEPs are currently implicated in judicial issues or scandals”, citing this as a consequence of this apparent lack of accountability. 

McGlone then disputed the notion that the EU had successfully combated issues such as the migrant crisis, Brexit or the eurozone crisis, citing these as further reasons to lack confidence in the future of the EU. Drawing these points together, McGlone reasoned that “such a project cannot have its most prosperous times ahead of it.” 

Furthering the case for the proposition, Van Oosterom underlined how the EU is the “biggest consumer market in the world [with] 450 million people and growing.” He argued that the size of this market led to plenty of opportunities for further economic growth. 

Here, he stressed the importance that the EU fundamentally reconnects with the UK. This stemmed from his belief that one of the key strengths of the EU is that it “offers safety in numbers”, citing the response to the Ukraine war as an example of successful collaboration. 

He also argued that the EU provides ease of access for young people to travel across the continent because of the lack of borders within the EU. After considering how freedom of movement within the EU has led to improved youth mobility, he concluded by declaring that the “EU is a catalyst for opportunities for today’s youth.” 

Speaking next for the opposition, Bedoya-Pardo centred on the idea that the EU is plagued by internal bureaucracy. He argued that so-called EU elites in Brussels – home to the European parliament – have ignored the common man, leading to policy failures and protests across the continent. 

EU agricultural policy, for example, had a detrimental impact on European farmers and jeopardised food security. “Europe herself is sick,” he said, “And her ailment is terminal” to underline his bleak prognosis regarding the future of the EU. 

He further said that the EU runs in authoritarian manner. He referenced Article 7 as an enforcer of this apparently authoritarian governance, saying that nation states face “political exclusion unless they align ideologically with [central EU] values.” 

He said that leaders of the EU “blackmail” democratically elected governments into obeying the demands of the commission. He concluded by blaming EU leaders for the institution’s failure, repeating the phrase “the rot comes from within.”

Speaking last for the proposition, Kumin pored over the semantics of the motion, noting that it considers the future instead of the current state of the EU. He argued that future enlargement of the EU would bring increased stability to the continent and told the house “it is our duty to believe in the bright future of the EU.” He also considered the democratic foundations of the EU and argued that voters have a voice: “member states have internal democracies” he said, which can be used to express discontentment with the EU. 

He also argued that the EU was likely to have a prosperous future, provided greater control of illegal migration, a crack down on criminal gangs and “competition between the nation states.” Summarising three key concepts that the EU was founded on: peace, democracy, and prosperity, Kumin concluded saying “if we stay true to these ideals … then the EU has a bright future.”  

Speaking last in opposition, Francois expressed concern with three areas where the EU had failed: economically, socially, and military. Economically, he believed that the EU is not competing successfully with the Asian market, highlighting how its “share of world trade is shrinking, not growing.” Socially, he emphasised the problem of ageing populations and falling birth rates in most European countries. Militarily, he argued that NATO has kept the peace, not the EU and how key EU member states such as France and Germany invest only a tiny proportion of their GDP into defence spending. 

Francois also refused the idea that the EU is democratic. He expressed a concern with an over-centralisation of power, arguing that the EU had become a “supranational state” that lacked “affinity” from the “demos” of its member states. 

He cited a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty as an example of the undemocratic decision-making nature of the EU, emphasising that although the “EU could have a bright future”, this will not be the case “if it keeps going the way it’s going.” He finished his speech by declaring “vote for freedom, vote for prosperity … oppose the motion.” 

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