#EUDebateNI Energy security, cross-border health & transport investment, FE opportunities

EUDebateNIEUDebateNI ran the first of six events this morning. Over the coming weeks they’ll be travelling around NI, with each event focussing on a different sector affected by a potential exit from the EU.

The format was interactive, with seven or eight people around each table in Belfast City Hall listening to a quick pitch from a contributor before fifteen minutes of discussion. And like a giant game of civic speed-dating, the process was repeated with another two contributors. Views were shared from Centre for Cross Border Studies, CBI, NI Prison Service, Leave.EU, NI Science Park, Diamond Recruitment, Community Foundation and Young Influencers. The audience at this first event – you could apply online to attend – were mostly drawn from business and voluntary sectors, NGOs and public bodies (including Belfast City Council).

EUDebateNI Belfast City Hall from backAside from the very basic arguments …

  • NI is a net beneficiary
  • UK is a net contributor
  • Freedom of movement for people, capital and services is a good thing
  • UK should control its own borders
  • We cannot afford to be insular and cut ties with Europe
  • EU is a democratically unaccountable superstate and the UK should be freed from its shackles
  • Switzerland has better trade deals with US and Canada than the EU
  • EU has more clout when it negotiates trade deals than a single country could manage

… there was more nuanced debate and discussion. When was the last time energy security came up in an EU referendum conversation? Some thoughts from Table 9 …

EUDebateNI leafletsThe EU currently provides a common framework that facilitates cooperation between the two jurisdictions. For example, common regulations make health collaboration practicable between the north and south of Ireland.

Cross-border cooperation becomes more complicated when the systems and rules are different. Would cross-border funding for transport and health continue to be supported by the UK Government? And without the EU funding, would Ireland be able to find the funds internally?

EUDebateNI fisheyeEU funding for transport infrastructure has eased access between the two jurisdictions (though there’s more work to do in the north west). The UK can currently avail of support from Trans-European Network for Transport. Would the impetus to improve business links to make commerce viable remain in a post-EU UK?

Energy security – particularly with Europe’s reliance on Russian gas – is a risk that is not often discussed. The EU would lose the UK’s diplomatic expertise and the UK would lose EU’s ability to threaten/impose sanctions. As an island off an island off the European mainland [Ed – the ‘Continent’ as we used to call it] would that leave NI exposed to the vagaries of international politics over which the UK would have less leverage?

Wikipedia - Structural evolution of the European UnionWhile leaving the EU would see the UK depart from the seven EU institutions (European Parliament, European Council, Council of the European Union, European Commission, Court of Justice of the European Union, European Central Bank and Court of Auditors), which – if any – of the forty or more agencies associated with the EU would the UK leave (many of which have members and observers outside the EU)? Would we remain in the European Environment Agency? The European Aviation Safety Agency? And what about the European Atomic Energy Community which wasn’t folded into the EU as part of the Lisbon Treaty? (Tim Peake can sleep easy on the International Space Station knowing that the European Space Agency isn’t an agency or body of the EU.)

The community sector see the level of regulation and paperwork around accessing EU money as considerably substantially more onerous than the arrangements around funding from UK or Irish governments. Organisations often ask whether applying for EU Peace money is worth the effort required to access funding.

A small but growing number of UK students are taking advantage of the courses taught in English that are popping up across European universities. Lower fees, reasonable accommodation and international expertise are attractive. Local FE institutions benefit from the fees of European students coming to study in the UK. European universities can collectively market themselves to international students (outside the EU). Would separate recruitment activity be as effective?

EUDebateNI before and afterLucidTalk polled the audience before, during and after the table discussions.

(Everyone had a handset so the statistics reflect the full audience rather than just being a sample … though a few folk left before the final poll.)

EUDebateNI remainThe top reason for staying in the EU was NI’s gains from the EU.

Remaining in the same trading block as the Republic of Ireland was more important to the City Hall audience than staying in the EU to retain the cohesion of the UK (ie, avoiding Scotland leaving UK).

EUDebateNI leaveThe top reason for leaving the EU was immigration – wanting the UK to control its own borders – closely followed by the EU’s democratic unaccountability. Free trade and having full control of the UK’s benefit payments scored the lowest.

This morning’s event was organised by the Centre for Democracy and Peace-building with support from Belfast City Council, NI Environment Link and Diamond Recruitment Group. Look out for details of the other EUDebateNI events on the programme’s website and social media channels.

[EU graphic credit – Wikipedia]

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