The EU referendum

Your opinion at the start - stage 1/6


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How it works

Open Up has six stages. The first four ask you what you think about the issue (1 – give your initial opinion; 2 – rate a dozen key arguments; 3 – put your top arguments in order of importance; 4 – give your opinion again now that you have reviewed the arguments).

The last two stages ask you for your feedback and give you your results, compared to everyone else’s.

You can do this in ten minutes or less – or longer: it’s up to you.

Read background

Written by Perry Walker

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1.Some basic facts

How Europe has changed since the last EU referendum in 1975

Then it was the European Economic Community, with 9 member states and a total population of 256 million. Now it is the European Union (EU), with 28 countries, 508 million people anda combined economy almost as large as the US.

The cost of EU membership

In 2015 the UK government paid £13 billion to the EU budget. EU spending in the UK was £4.5 billion. That implies that the UK’s net contribution was around £8.5 billion.

What areas does the EU control?

The EU does not control policy on foreign affairs, defence or most direct taxation. But it does now set the rules in a wide range of areas, including the environment, transport and consumer rights.

What proportion of UK laws are influenced by the EU?

“It is possible to justify any measure between 15% and 50% or thereabouts”, according to the House of Commons library. The figures depend on which UK laws are included, and how you define 'EU influence'.

The UK’s trade with the EU

The EU is by far the UK’s biggest trading partner, accounting for 44% of UK exports of goods and services in 2014. In 2008 it was 50%.

2. Euro-speak and what it means

The Euro

The Euro, introduced between 1999 and 2002, is the single currency used by 17 of the member states of the EU. The economic region consisting of all these countries is known as the Eurozone. Britain chose not to join and to retain sterling as its currency.

The European Arrest Warrant (EAW)

When one EU country issues an EAW, all other EU members are requiredto arrest a criminal suspect or sentenced person named on the warrant and transfer them to the state which issued the EAW.

The European Court of Human Rights

If Britain left the EU it would still have to deal with the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg. The court was set up by the Council of Europe, which is entirely separate from the EU.

The European Economic Area (EEA)

The EEA includes EU countries and also Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. It allows them to be part of the EU’s single market. Switzerland is neither an EU nor EEA member but is part of the single market.

Qualified Majority Voting

The Council of Ministers has two ways of taking decisions:

  • unanimity, when everyone has to agree
  • qualified majority voting (QMV). This is used for most issues, but it is more complicated than unanimity. It has two stages:

1.Each member state is given a certain number of votes, weighted according to its size and population. For example, Germany, the EU's largest state, has 10 votes, while Portugal has five and Finland three. QMV is used in all but the most sensitive issues.

2.About three quarters of the votes have to be in favour to pass a proposal.

The Schengen Area

This is the area comprising 26 European countries that have abolished passport and any other type of border control at their common borders. The UK and Ireland have opt-outs and so are not part of the Schengen Area.

As a result of the migration crisis and the terrorist attacks in Paris, some countries have temporarily reintroduced controls on some or all of their borders with other Schengen states. These countries are currently (February 2016) Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, and Sweden.

The Single Market

The 28 member states of the EU form the Single Market, based on the free movement of capital, goods, services and labour.The aim is to make it as easy for these to move between states as it is within states.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)

This is a proposed trade agreement between the EU and the US aimed at creating the world’s biggest free trade zone.

The Working Time Directive, 2003

This requires EU countries to guarantee the following rights for all workers:

  1. weekly working hours, includingovertime, must not exceed 48 hours on average.
  2. a minimum daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours in every 24.

Main sources









Understanding the EU

For a straightforward guide to the institutions of the EU, try And for another way of presenting the arguments for and against Britain's membership, try