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There has been much talk in the UK about leaving the European Union (EU), some parties offering a simple exit as soon as possible while others promise a referendum to give people a chance to have a say. Whilst leaving it to the public is a good thing from a democratic point of view, the idea is in principle wrong.

From abroad the EU projects itself as a political unity with similar interests and threats, and the group of countries have increased their political and economic cloud a result. Improvements in the structures supporting the EU should be implemented, such as creating a central bank as a way of allowing proper management of the EU economies and finances – whose economic failures caused by mismanagement and corruption have prompted the latest wave of discontent and cynicism around the EU as a political project.

However the most worrying trend underlying the desire to leave the EU has been one linked to xenophobia and racism, which is simply unacceptable. Some comments are just irrational and have no weight behind them other than being based on negative stereotypes and a general dislike for foreigners. For example in a recent political campaign for the European Parliament, the leader of the party UKIP Nigel Farage is currently facing a watchdog probe over remarks towards the new wave of immigrants, Romanians. He said “people in London would be right to be concerned if Romanians moved next door” and when asked to give arguments to justify such comment he simply said: “you know what I mean”. I personally don’t know what he meant but he has been reported to the Equality and human Rights Commission, which is a good move even if it was politically motivated.

Others are more eloquent: they see their jobs and benefits ‘stolen away’ by foreigners, although many would argue than in reality EU migrants do not enjoy the same benefits as nationals. Moreover the focus should be on ensuring the population is highly educated and skilled to reduce this risk, which is a more long-term view and an appropriate strategy if we acknowledge that in the future global labour mobility will only increase. Overall, constructive criticism with the aim of improvement and shared learning is very much welcomed but we should furiously push back on criticisms based on xenophobia and racism.

Ultimately the EU is the only supranational entity in the world with certain legislative powers over its members. Robert Schuman, regarded as one of the founders of the EU, the Council of Europe and NATO, described the supranational unions as a new stage in human development. Moreover the EU is set against a global context that is pushing towards further fragmentation – examples include the many separatist movements around the world, with South Sudan and Syria being some of the latest and still very latent civil wars to date. Acknowledging this context and that the EU represents an innovative political project based – at least originally – on a shared understanding of goals, one could argue that it’s survival is of uttermost importance for human development indeed.

Yes it is a beast to manage – politically and economically mainly – but that is not a good enough argument to shy away from it, on the contrary, it is a unique opportunity that we should continue to pursue relentlessly. Via the EU we can also increase social cohesion on a supranational level and offer a unique experience of identity as a result – this could represent a positive counterforce to visions that divide and isolate based on nationality, ethic, race or particular beliefs.

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