So far it’s fair to say that EU referendum debate hasn’t inspired many. Both sides have often been accused of ‘scaremongering’ over the potential impacts on everything from immigration to border controls and increased terror threats to the price of a nice bottle of wine.
Meanwhile many of us across the UK and Ireland have our minds fixed on another great European project, the European Football Championship. The unbridled optimism of plucky fans and the motto “Dare to dream” seem a long way from what’s often labelled “Project Fear”. Although I almost always want to keep politics and sport separate, examining how the two might be related is worth looking at. To many the EU isn’t very good at laying-out grand visions or dreams but its strength lies in making life easier for ordinary people going-about their ordinary business.
Of course, no-one can ever suggest that EU membership was in some way responsible for Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland or any other team, qualifying for this summer’s tournament in France. There have been 10 tournaments since the UK joined in which Northern Ireland have failed to qualify. There is no correlation between being in the EU and international footballing success, as any die-hard Luxembourg fan will tell you.
However, if you’re one of the thousands of fans travelling to see any of the games who will also have to vote on EU membership in the middle of the tournament, it’s worth considering if the EU has made getting there easier as a travelling supporter.
You can certainly get to France without a visa if you travel from the UK and Ireland, but you will need a passport. It’s of course unclear whether or not that would change if the UK left, new agreements would need to be struck. Football fans travelling from the UK to Brazil for the 2014 world cup didn’t face many restrictions either, but wait and see how difficult it’ll be at the World Cup in Russia in 2018!
2.Getting there cheaper:
There’s no doubt about it, the EU has resulted in cheaper flights. The EU Open-Skies Treaty of 1992 blew the lid off the system that had restricted national air-space from competition to ‘flag-carriers’ and since then Ryanair, Easyjet and others have brought European integration of one kind of another to many corners of Europe. Airlines now fly where they wish in the EU without government approval. The EU has also increased passenger safety standards and guaranteed your rights if your flight is cancelled or delayed too long. There are also measures in place to ensure safer travel by ferry and rail.
3.Getting your Match tickets
Given the sponsorship of the tournament by Visa card all 800,000 Euro 2016 tickets have to be bought using a credit card. The EU’s single area payment area has meant that these are all guaranteed, anywhere in the EU (or indeed some participating states outside the EU).
4.Getting somewhere to stay
The EU has also made hotels safer as a directive passed back on 1986 defines minimum safety standards in hotels and serves as a basis for common safety rules throughout the EU.
5.Getting things while you’re there
Thanks to the free movement of goods, you can bring or bring back pretty much anything you want from France, so no excuses for fans not bringing back presents for their Mums! Obviously some restrictions and rules apply for dodgy stuff.
6.Getting help when you’re over there
You can always call the British embassy or consulate for certain kinds of assistance when travelling but the EU has made things easier to get help when abroad. If you have a European Health Insurance Card you can now get access to free medical treatment while you’re in France.
While the mobile phones will undoubtedly be used to take plenty of selfies (some unionist politicians in the crowd are probably thinking about their next election) some fans will probably want to use them to make some calls. The EU has since 2007 been trying to bring down the costs of using your phone when abroad. One of the undoubted benefits of EU membership has been that constant reduction of roaming costs when travelling abroad. To place a call inside the EU is currently no more than €0.05 per minute, as of June 2017 it will be abolished altogether.
Will all these go if we vote to leave? It’s not certain, new agreements would have to be written and enforced. The travel agent body ABTA concluded that
“The UK travelling consumer could be faced with increased costs if an exit vote led to a sustained deterioration in the value of sterling, making foreign currency destinations more expensive in sterling. Consumers would also need to cover any additional health insurance costs, should the UK exit the European Health Insurance Card scheme.”
I sometimes wonder if David Cameron deliberately chose to hold the referendum on 23 June as it’s slap-bang in the middle of the tournament, but a day when there are no matches to be played so as to distract the voting public.
The argument continue over whether the EU, NATO or the US has kept the peace in Europe since 1945, No-one can easily argue that it was the EU alone. But one thing is for sure the EU has made the peace more profitable and easier for the consumer and the holidaymaker, and the travelling football fan whichever ever team they’re following.