I’m writing this at 6:00 am on polling day. The pundits and papers are declaring that it’s too close to call. That’s not the case for UK scientists, however — they’re overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU for many of the compelling reasons (and more) that Peter Coles lays out so well in his recent post on the referendum.
Unlike Peter, I’ve received quite a bit of funding from the European Commission over the years. I’ve focused, in particular, on the Marie Curie programmes (now called Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions) and have coordinated multi-partner, Europe-wide training networks in Framework Programme 6 and 7 (and have been a partner in Marie Curie networks in FP5). I currently coordinate the 11-partner ACRITAS project, which funds two PhD students (one Greek, one Danish) in Nottingham, and supports 12 other PhD students in the various European research groups that comprise the network. Two postdoctoral fellows in our group are also funded by the Marie Sklodowska-Curie (MS-C) funding schemes.
The MS-C actions are particularly interesting to consider in the context of the Brexit debate. Researcher mobility is a founding principle and cornerstone of those actions. I cannot employ a UK national on a MS-C network position. (That agonised wailing you can hear in the distance is the sound of Nigel Farage’s apoplexy hitting the danger zone. Again.) My colleagues in Regensburg/Dublin/Zurich etc… similarly cannot employ a German/Irish/Swiss national for the ACRITAS project. (I mention our Swiss partners (ETH Zurich and IBM Zurich) quite deliberately here. Switzerland is not a member of the EU but can, nonetheless, access EU funding. Brexiters regularly point to Norway and Switzerland to support their arguments, but there are, as usual, many myths (particularly with regard to science funding.)
Our research group has thus benefited immensely from the free mobility of researchers enabled via the European Union. Those MS-C actions, and other major multi-partner projects, have strengthened our research in very many direct and indirect ways, fostering and bolstering collaborations that would have been exceptionally difficult to establish without the EU infrastructure in place, as my friend and colleague (and Head of School) Mike Merrifield describes in this video.
So, I’m going to enthusiastically rush down to the polling booth later today and put my “X” in the Remain box, right? Well, not quite. I’ll be voting Remain but not, it must be said, with unabated enthusiasm.
My reticence has got nothing to do with the under-informed ‘arguments’ from the Leave campaign on the question of sovereignty or “taking back control” (which are thoroughly debunked in this authoritative analysis by Michael Dougan, a Professor of European Law at the University of Liverpool). Unfortunately, and as was pointed out at the weekend by Larry Elliott, the Guardian’s Economics Editor, the progressive, left-of-centre arguments for Brexit have been drowned out by the appalling anti-immigrant rhetoric from the Leave Campaign. As Sadiq Khan passionately highlighted during the debate at Wembley, it’s been less Project Fear and more Project Hate throughout the debate. (Arguments that there isn’t a nasty undercurrent of not-so-latent racism in at least some quarters of the Leave camp aren’t at all convincing).
George Monbiot has consistently and credibly highlighted the shockingly regressive policies that underpin so much of the EU, “a festering cesspit of undue influence and opaque lobbying“. TTIP, the treatment of Greece, the common agricultural policy and farm subsidies, the innate neoliberalism that underpins the EU’s processes…there’s a host of very good reasons to seriously consider Brexit that are far removed from the ignorant bile and vitriol of the Daily Mail and its ilk.
Ultimately, however, here’s why I’m voting Remain later today…
I cannot, in all conscience, cast a vote which would help support and bolster this hateful prejudice. The EU, despite its many problems, is by far the lesser of the evils.