The benefits of EU Membership
Copyright Claire Bradley
At some point the British public will need to decide whether to leave or remain in the EU. In this article we will be explaining how EU law affects people and the general benefits of EU Membership.
First off, in what ways are you affected by EU laws? Many people think that the EU is nothing to do with them, whereas in fact the reverse is true.
The variety of food from other EU countries that we see stacked in our local supermarkets is there thanks to the EU free movement of goods rules. So next time you buy your pasta for your spag bol, remember that that is made in Italy and comes in thanks to EU rules on the free movement of goods. The same is true of lots of other goods, particularly fresh foods like fruit and vegetables, which at this time of year usually has to be imported from countries, like Spain or Portugal, which are warmer than the UK. Next time you are in the supermarket, or unpacking the shopping at home, have a look and see what countries the food you buy come from, and work out how much of it comes from other EU countries. Oil of Olay, for example, is actually made in Poland! If goods are imported in from outside the EU (tomatoes from Chile for example) then this is usually as a result of an EU trade agreement with the country concerned.
Another area where people are substantially affected by EU law is employment rights . Most employment law comes from the EU, so thanks to EU law you are entitled to
- A written contract when you start work
- Maternity rights
- Paternity rights
- Have your working hours capped (under EU law you can’t be forced to work more than 48 hours per week)
- Right to at least four weeks paid holidays
- Breaks whilst you are at work
- Legal protection against being sacked whilst you are pregnant
- Equal pay for equal work
- Protection from discrimination on the grounds of disability, age, religion, belief, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity
- Protection for workers who are on part time contracts, agency contracts, or fixed term contracts.
- Compensation when you are injured at work
- Be consulted on any changes to your work
- Health and safety protection whilst you are at work
Another area where EU law benefits ordinary people is consumer protection. A lot of the law that exists to protect consumers actually comes from the EU, including
- Protection from unfair contract terms
- Protection from unfair commercial practices
- Protection from misleading commercial practices
- Protection from aggressive commercial practices
- The right to not incur excessive roaming charges when you are travelling in other EU countries
- Right to withdraw from timeshare agreements
- Protection whilst you are on a package holiday
- Compensation if your plane is delayed or cancelled
- Very high safety standards for toys, food, electrical goods, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, lighters, personal protective equipment, machinery and recreational boats, and the obligation for manufacturers to recall them if they are faulty.
- Price indicators and labelling of goods so you can understand what you are buying
- Protection if you buy goods online or through distance selling, including a right to a cooling off period and protection against online fraud
- Protection from aggressive doorstep salesmen
- Rights when you are travelling abroad on business or on holiday, to get free medical healthcare if you have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
Another area that the EU does well is environmental protection. Thanks to EU Environmental legislation, people in the UK have
- Safe drinking water
- Safe bathing water
- Legal standards relating to air quality
- Protection from harmful chemicals
- Birds are protected
- Habitats in the UK and other European countries are protected
- Important environmental areas in the UK are protected under the Natura 2000 programme
The EU has also been very proactive about combating climate change, and has been a major player in setting up international trade agreements, as well as supporting renewable energy measures. The EU is a strong supporter of data protection, and under EU law you have the right to have your personal data protected, and you also have the “right to be forgotten” which means you can apply to have online information about you removed, particularly if it is untrue.
Finally, as members of the EU we have the right to travel across the EU for holidays or business, without having to get a visa, as a result of our free movement rights. Tourists can also come to the UK, and inbound tourism (from other countries) increased by 30% since 2008, which means tourism is now the UKs fifth largest export earner, generating £24 billion in 2014. In the UK, a third of all jobs created between 2010 to 2013 were linked to the tourism sector. Furthermore, a number of people enjoy travelling to other EU countries for their holidays, which they can currently do thanks to EU Membership.
From the quality of the air you breathe, to the water you drink, the types of food you eat, your employment and consumer rights, and the safety standards that apply to the toys your kids play with, you are affected significantly by EU law, and you gain significant benefits from EU membership. We’ll be looking at this in more detail in subsequent articles.
Editors note: Claire Bradley has specialised in European law since 2002. She currently holds a Masters in European law, and is the director and founder of European Law Monitor.