With the date of the in-out referendum announced I'm bracing myself for the long campaign and all the contradictory information that will assail us over the coming months. Already we've had Michael Gove saying Europe gets in the way of his being able to do his job day to day (some might suggest there are other reasons) and Michael Fallon saying it's not quite so.
Being part of a wider european community will undoubtedly have an impact on how we do things. Any form of coalition does. Some have been positive some negative, often dependent upon your perspective. For example, most of our environmental legislation comes from Europe. If you're an organisation or company that would rather not have to contribute to clean air or water, then you might consider the regulations an interference. Similarly you might consider some of the regulations about working hours and conditions an unwelcome hurdle, blaming Europe for the red tape that you feel restricts your business.
The question we have to ask is whether we would have these regulations and rights, whether environmental or in other areas, were it not for our memberships of the European Union. Perhaps, as Stanley Johnson said on the news this morning, there will always be a price to pay for being part of a european community, but there is also great benefit too.
There's no doubt that the EU has morphed into something other than the free trade area that it was back in the 70's when we first joined and first had an in-out vote. There's also little doubt that there are many things about the present organisational structure of the community that need to be addressed and some questions about the overall destination of the process that need answers. Are we ultimately headed towards a United States of Europe? Is that what we want as Europeans not just as the UK?
I also wonder why there are not some simple principles about entitlements to things like benefits and health care that are either pan-european, i.e. a basic level of both applied across the community, or some structure that means your entitlement is based on your country of origin. Perhaps this already exists, perhaps these issues only actually exist in the minds of those who want us out. Perhaps the benefits and health questions are actually just red herrings in the debate.
I hope that over the next few months we get some real data and some real facts that make it possible to make a thoughtful decision rather than one based upon headlines and fear-driven speculations.