By Vexen Crabtree 2016
The European Union actively engages in commercial politics in order to bring benefits to all EU citizens. It argues with large multinational companies in order to improve the user experience of many goods. The UK Reasons to Stay campaign lists a few of the most prominent victories that the EU has had in its consumer-benefits programmes: "British families enjoy lower mobile phone roaming charges, lower credit card fees, cheaper flights and proper compensation when flights are delayed or cancelled. These sorts of benefits could not be achieved by Britain alone"1. As of 2017, EU legislation means the abolition of mobile phone roaming charges throughout the EU, saving us up to 38p per minute for calls2 - something that no individual member state could have enforced upon multinational phone companies. The Independent also mentions the cap on mobile roaming charges, and adds the enforcement of a 2-year guarantee on all products3.
Because large commercial companies are multinational, and in competition with each other, there is rarely any incentive for them to co-operate. But with pressure from bodies such as the EU, they can be made to co-operate. An example is the humble mobile phone charger. A proliferation of devices and chargers has led to a "charger clutter", contributing to electronic waste, and making life difficult for many. There is no incentive for companies to make their devices compatible with competitors' chargers. Companies like Apple make a lot of money from selling bespoke mobile chargers. As a result of EU direction, 2016 will see it become law in member states that companies use a common micro-USB connector.4
This kind of work has been going on, largely behind the scenes, for decades. For example in 2009 a review of EU member states' telecoms meant that customers had a right to be able to change their telephone service provider and keep their original number (and for the switch to happen in one day)5. Because sensationalist news sources tend to report only the bad stuff, it is easy to take for granted the little improvements to our lives that can be made as a result of EU-wide legislation and which could not occur if member-states tried to act on their own.
Some argue that the UK could pass similar legislation on its own, without being a member of the EU. But that's not the case. The legislation would be passed by the EU with regards to mobile chargers, international trade rules, etc, and the UK would find itself having to comply (if it wants the markets), but being unable to influence what direction EU legislation takes. The closer we are to the decision-making process, the better it comes out for us on average.