It’s not about Europe
When we first sketched out the idea for this referendum website we titled it “The European referendum”.
Pretty quickly we realised this was a complete nonsense title, so we immediately corrected it to “The EU referendum” – and pretended it had never happened.
This is a referendum about the UK’s membership of the EU, not about a membership of Europe, or whether the UK is part of Europe – or even the UK’s relationship with Europe.
Europe is a continent.
According to Wikipedia:
“Europe is a continent that comprises the westernmost part of Eurasia. Europe is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south.” (Wikipedia)
Yes, “European integration” has led to the formation of the European Union; the majority of countries in Europe are indeed members of the European Union, and the Euro is its most commonly used currency. But the European Union is not Europe.
Not wishing to labour the point, but there are around 50 countries in Europe and 28 of those are members of the European Union – i.e. just over half.
All of those campaigning in one direction or the other knows this. So why do both sides talk about leaving or remaining in Europe?
Is it laziness, ignorance, or a purposeful and calculated deception? Perhaps talk of being “in or out of Europe” has become the norm and people “just know what you mean”, and any correction amounts to nitpicking?
Whilst “Europe” in the context of the EU Referendum means the EU – if you’re not immersed in the debate (as many are not), then to represent this as a referendum on remaining in or leaving Europe is genuinely misleading.
Now as many will be aware, the lead remain campaign is called “Stronger In Europe”. I would say this is a little iffy, but is just about ok. The campaign name implies that “By remaining in the EU, Britain will be stronger in Europe” – and that’s fair enough – they are arguing that Britain will be stronger or exert more influence within the continent of Europe if it’s an EU member. They might also argue fairly that Britain would be “stronger in the world” by remaining a member of the EU.
However the same campaign will also tell you that “Leaving Europe would be a leap in the dark” and that “Your family is better off with Britain in Europe” – and that’s wrong. A vote to leave the EU is not a vote to leave Europe. It would be a vote to leave the predominant form of European political and economic integration, but it’s not a vote to leave Europe.
“A vote to leave the EU … would be a vote to leave the predominant form of European political and economic integration, but it’s not a vote to leave Europe.”
Before you say we’re picking on the Remain campaign, those supporting leaving the EU also make this error – here’s the Daily Express and their “Get Britain out of Europe” campaign.
Interestingly one of the worst offenders is David Cameron. The Prime Minister consistently and constantly refers to it as “leaving Europe” or “remaining in Europe”. Is this a slip of the tongue? Unlikely.
So does it matter?
Well clearly the #Remain campaign has decided it serves their purposes to refer to the EU as Europe, and the #Leave campaign has decided largely that it doesn’t.
I would argue that to tell someone who isn’t immersed in the nuances of the debate that we are “leaving Europe” would be a scarier prospect than we are “leaving the European Union”.
One creates the impression we are leaving the 50 or so countries of Europe, to go off and do our own thing – sink or swim. Whereas the other suggests we are leaving a group of 28 countries to become one of the other 22 European countries who aren’t EU members, and 167 other countries in the rest of the world.
Whether it will influence the vote or not – who knows? Blurring the lines between Europe and the EU may encourage us to reflect how European we feel. And that – like the referendum itself – is all down to the individual.