On June 23, 2016, the United Kingdom (UK) votes on whether it stays in the European Union (EU); those against a #Brexit offer unconvincing and selfish arguments to stay. This fits the recent narrative to doubt benefits of free trade. Everyone that believes in EU cooperation and free trade must do better.

The increasing critique of free trade agreements applies to the EU too: benefits do not (appear to) trickle down. Many arguments of groups in the Remain camp ignore distribution effects and hence cannot convince anyone outside their own circle. This has to change.

Self-centred arguments

Free trade, and specifically free movement in the EU, is a boon to the most mobile people, services and goods. It is less obvious how low-skilled workers in rich economies benefit. They get to compete with low-skilled workers from, mostly, poorer countries and hence lose out in salary negotiations. They are less likely to travel abroad for leisure too, given budget constraints. Assuming that free movement is, in and of itself, an argument against #Brexit is naive. Only many well-to-do feel so.

More specifically the EU offers programs for students and researchers to study and work across Europe. This is obviously a great experience for those concerned. Maybe it even produces interesting results. However, at face value, it is unclear how this benefits everyone else. It convinces no one that does not benefit from these programs directly.

13 Nobel laureates urge Britain to stay in [the] European Union, too. They worry about British research and scientists. Again, the arguments do not seem to transcend group interests. The laureates do state that “[b]eing part of the EU is good for British science and that is good for Britain.” That latter part needs to be substantiated, and cannot be just assumed.

In sum, Pro-EU (and by analogy free trade) supporters lack empathy for groups that do not benefit (directly) like they do. Many arguments put forward in favour of staying in the EU are actually self-centred.

Teamwork is the way

In the spirit of Euro 2016, Pro-EU must instead show how teamwork leads to better outcomes, for everyone. Just some ideas:

  • Show how EU cross-country medical research leads to better health, for everyone. Spell it out, substantiate it. Else it is just research for the sake of research.
  • Emphasize what business can do on an EU scale, which it cannot without that EU, like Airbus. Show the jobs attached to these European efforts. Not theoretical jobs calculated by a model, but real jobs.
  • Remind the fist the EU made on our behalf against Microsoft. Value ‘single market’ power making medicine more affordable. Show how the EU helps all consumers. Concrete examples; not just theoretical benefits of size.

We must get everyone on board for the EU, and free trade, for it to have a future. We must look beyond specific private interests. Only when everyone wins, can teamwork take us far.

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