What does the EU do for us? Three (holiday) benefits

The EU referendum debate is being fought on a number of big issues (not the magazine – I now have visions of David Cameron and Boris Johnson fighting with rolled up Big Issues). The examples are numerous: economics, democracy, sovereignty, security, and of course immigration. I’ve dealt with some of these issues already, and over the next week I will do my best to deal with some of the others.

With the debate raging on such big issues, it is easy to lose sight of other points. One point I think is often overlooked is answering the question: what does the EU do for me? This is a shame, because one of the criticisms of the EU is that it feels too distant, and I think at least some of the anti-EU rhetoric is based on the fact that people don’t really understand what it does, and how it affects them.

Part of the aim of this blog is to provide some of the answers to this question. Here is a summary of the benefits I have identified so far:[i]

  1. Around 3.3 million jobs are linked to trade with the EU;
  2. The UK receives around £14 million per day in investment from EU countries;
  3. The competition created by the UK’s participation in the internal market results in lower prices and/or increased choice for consumers;
  4. The UK benefits from the fact that the EU has negotiated preferential trade details with over 50 countries, and continues to negotiate further deals on our behalf. This is good for businesses in terms of being able to import and export to those countries, and indirectly benefits us as consumers. I have highlighted in an earlier post that it is now estimated that 58% of our exports are in some way connected with these trade agreements and our membership of the EU;
  5. The UK receives money from the EU in the form of grants from various EU funds (examples are the European Agricultural Guarantee, the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, and other Social and Regional Development funds).[ii] In 2014, the UK government received £4.4 billion from the EU.[iii] This money is spent in areas such as regional aid, funding research in UK universities, and supporting research and development projects taking place in UK businesses; and
  6. EU rules have, for example, provided important protections for UK industry and workers rights; sought to reduce CO2 emissions in cars; ensured safer car seats for children; and regulated the quality of toys to ensure they are safe for children.

I will aim to point out more benefits in future posts, but in this post I want to focus on three examples of how the EU benefits us in our lives. More specifically, with our summer holidays coming up, here are some benefits the EU provides you with when you are on holiday within the EU.

[Just to reiterate the disclaimer in this post – nothing in this or any of my posts should be relied upon as legal advice. They are based on my research, and the aim of my posts is to give an overview of various provisions of EU law rather than going through them in lots of detail, as this would be likely to send you to sleep…]

The EU reduces the costs of using our mobile phones in the EU

Mobile phone roaming charges are really annoying – I am sure a number of you have become victim to what is known as “bill shock” – the feeling when you realise you’ve got to pay a fortune because you used your phone abroad. When I was a student (well, I suppose I still am in a way – what I mean is when I was an undergraduate student) I worked in a mobile phone shop, and dealt with my fair share of shocked and angry customers.

Thanks to EU Regulation 2015/2120 (what a lovely name), from June 2017 it will be unlawful to impose any surcharge on consumers roaming within the EU.[iv]

What happens before that date? As of last month there has been a cap on roaming prices – mobile phone operators cannot charge more than the following for roaming:

€0.05 + VAT per minute of call;
€0.02 + VAT for 1 text message; and
€0.05 + VAT per MB of data used.

In fact, if you don’t want to read this part of the post – look at this poster instead.

The EU ensures provides you with certain rights if your flight is cancelled or delayed

Have you ever been in the airport and heard the dreaded phrase “This is a message for all passengers travelling on Airline Flight 1234. I’m sorry to inform you that your flight has been delayed/cancelled/held up because of birds”? Yes? Horrible feeling isn’t it?

[Incidentally – you might think I was joking with the birds reference above. It’s actually true! I watched a programme about Heathrow Airport this week, and apparently they have to send people to clear birds off the runway because they can disrupt flights!]

EU Regulation No. 261/2004 (again, another great name) provides minimum rights for passengers whose flight departs or arrives in an airport in the EU (provided, in the case of a flight arriving in the EU, the airline is licensed by an EU country). The exact details of a passenger’s rights will often vary depending on things such as the length and distance of the flight, so here is a very broad overview…[v]

If you are denied boarding on a flight or it is cancelled[vi]

 The Regulation provides for:

  1. A refund of the flight within seven days and a return flight to the point of departure, or to be rerouted to your final destination at the earliest possible opportunity.
  2. Meals and refreshments in reasonable relation to your waiting time.
  3. Hotel accommodation in certain circumstances.
  4. If hotel accommodation is given, transport between the airport and the hotel.
  5. Two free telephone calls, telex (does anyone still use telex?!), fax messages or emails.
  6. Compensation of:
    1. €250 for all flights of 1,500km or less;
    2. €400 for all flights within the EU of more than 1,500km, and all other flights between 1,500-3,500km; or
    3. €600 for all other flights.

There are some exceptions to these rights. For example, if your flight is cancelled, you won’t receive compensation if:[vii]

  1. The cancellation was due to exceptional circumstances;
  2. You were informed two weeks before the flight date; or
  3. You were offered an alternative flight for the same route with a similar schedule to your original flight.

Also, rights in relation to denied boarding do not apply if the airline had reasonable grounds for denying a passenger boarding, such as for reasons of health, safety, security or inadequate travel documentation.[viii]

If your flight is delayed:

The rights vary depending on the length of delay and the length of flight, so again here is a (simplified) overview:[ix]

  1. If the flight is delayed by two hours or more, passengers should be offered meals and refreshments in reasonable relation to their waiting time, and the calls/fax/emails as listed above (the exact time of delay required to get this is longer depending on the distance of the flight).
  2. If departure is deferred until the next day, passengers should be offered hotel accommodation and transport in the same way listed above.
  3. If the flight is more than three hours late, passengers should receive compensation as listed in point 6 in the section on denied boarding/cancellation above, unless the delay is due to exceptional circumstances.
  4. Where the flight delay is over five hours, passengers can choose to receive a refund of their ticket together with a return flight to the point of departure at the earliest available opportunity.

EU rules provide you with important healthcare rights whilst you are on holiday

When I was on holiday last summer I was ill all the way through it. As you can imagine, I was great company! I just took some over-the-counter medication and got on with it, but what is the position if something serious happens when you’re abroad?

The best approach is always to have medical insurance whilst you are on holiday. However, EU law states that provided you have a European Health Insurance Card (which you can obtain free of charge), you will be able to access state-provided medical treatment in any country in the European Economic Area (EEA) that is medically necessary until your planned return home. You will receive this treatment under the same conditions and at the same cost as nationals of the country where you are staying.[x] This means, for example, that if public healthcare in the country where you are staying is free to its citizens, it will be free to you. Similarly, if that country provides that its citizens will pay for healthcare when received and then have it reimbursed, that would be available to you as well.[xi] If the country provides that its citizens have to pay for medical treatment, it will be available to you at the same cost.

What about the argument that we could retain all of these benefits if we were to leave the EU?

The Leave campaign’s argument is that we could somehow retain all of these benefits if we were to leave and negotiate a different relationship with the EU. However, as I’ve argued here, this overlooks the numerous problems involved in leaving the EU and re-joining in a different form.

There are also two more fundamental points to be made in response: i) the Leave campaign cannot guarantee that we will maintain these benefits; and ii) they have not articulated a plan as to when and how this would be achieved (I have written more on what a UK exit from the EU may look like here). Without such a plan, and any explanation of how long it would take to negotiate a different relationship with the EU and how much it would cost, the best case scenario is that by leaving the EU, the UK puts all of these (and other) benefits at risk whilst it works out such a plan, and the worst case scenario is that we lose some, or all of them, completely.


Footnotes (AKA things for the super keen)

[i] Points 1, 2, 3 and 4 are covered here; 5 is covered here; and 6 is covered here.

[ii] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/483344/EU_finances_2015_final_web_09122015.pdf at p.15.

[iii] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/483344/EU_finances_2015_final_web_09122015.pdf

[iv] http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=uriserv%3AOJ.L_.2015.310.01.0001.01.ENG

[v] There are further conditions on passengers’ rights under the Regulation – they must have a confirmed reservation on the flight concerned and (unless the claim is for cancellation of the flight) present themselves for check-in at the time indicated in advance, or if this is not indicated, no later than 45 minutes in advance of the published departure time. See Article 3(2) of the Regulation.

[vi] Articles 4, 5 and 8 of the Regulation. See also summaries here: http://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/passenger-rights/air/index_en.htm and  http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1429251850306&uri=URISERV:l24173.

[vii] http://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/passenger-rights/air/index_en.htm

[viii] Article 2(j) of the Regulation.

[ix] Articles 6, 8 and 9 of the Regulation. See the summaries in http://europa.eu/youreurope/citizens/travel/passenger-rights/air/index_en.htm and  http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?qid=1429251850306&uri=URISERV:l24173.

[x] http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcareabroad/EHIC/Pages/about-the-ehic.aspx

[xi] An example of this is the Netherlands see here – http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcareabroad/countryguide/Pages/healthcareintheNetherlands.aspx.

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