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If the UK leaves the European Union it will be a tragedy and we will be poorer and less influential internationally, argues Graeme Overall, St Peter’s ward. 

David Cameron’s “Project fear” is hardly an inspiration to remain in the EU, but the risks “Brexit” poses to the wealth and cohesion of the UK, and to the interests of British workers and their families, are real and serious. Public debate, drowned-out by Tory in- fighting, rarely strays beyond narrow discussion of British interests, but the EU’s successes are an important part of Labour’s case for Europe.

The EU emerged from the wreckage of totalitarianism and war that had characterised the first half of the 20th century. Determined to make armed conflict unthinkable and to reinforce democracy, the original six members – France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Belgium and The Netherlands – signed The Treaty of Rome in 1958 to form the European Economic Community.

Britain missed this opportunity to play a leading role in Europe, but joined the EEC in 1973. There are now 28 member states, with a combined population of 500 million. Europe has been prosperous and for the most part peaceful for 71 years. This, with the entrenchment of democracy in southern and, more recently, eastern Europe is a tribute to the founders’ ideals.

The EU has adapted – albeit too slowly at times – but its failings in the early-1990s Balkans war led to its Common Foreign and Security Policy, and to successes including a key role in bringing Iran back into the international community. While flawed execution of the common currency and the Schengen free-travel area has brought problems, the EU’s record suggests that the problems will be resolved.

Tory and UKIP critics’ real concern is the increasing success of European Socialists and Trade Unionists in delivering the benefits of a “social Europe” – such as four weeks’ paid holiday a year, maternity and parental leave, equal treatment for agency workers, rights to return unwanted goods, and an end to mobile roaming charges – to workers and consumers.

Critics point also to the EU’s “democratic deficit”, where there is scope to continue reforms that started in 1979 with direct elections to the European Parliament. EU legislation requires the agreement of the Parliament and of the Council of Ministers, through which – together with the European Council – member states propose and appoint the EU’s executive Commission every five years.

One view argues that the democratic deficit requires greater involvement of national parliaments (David Cameron’s “red card”), another argues for stronger democratic reforms, such as approval of the Commission President by the Parliament, now formalised, or even direct election by European voters.

The success of Europe’s socialist parties, including our own, in building “social Europe” points to the value of democracy at the European level.

Whatever the result of the UK referendum, the EU will continue to develop. It will not be a mortal blow to the EU if the UK leaves, but for the UK it will be a tragedy. We will be poorer and less influential internationally. Indeed, if Europhile Scotland insists on independence, what remains of the UK will be the dominion of a triumphant Conservative hard right.

The EU success story

If the UK leaves the European Union it will be a tragedy and we will be poorer and less influential internationally, argues Graeme Overall, St Peter’s ward. 

John Sauven, Greenpeace Executive Director, gives his top three reasons why remaining in the European Union is the right thing to do for the environment.

They say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone but in reality you do...You just didn’t think you could lose it. We last had an EU referendum in 1975. The vote to stay in was overwhelming. There are dozens of reasons why we all know the UK should stay in the EU – here are my top three.

1. Many things we care about have been improved and protected by the EU. We have the EU to thank for higher standards on air and water pollution, waste and recycling, biodiversity conservation, regulation of chemicals, energy conservation and marine protection to name just a few!

Whether you care about wildlife protection or sewage in our oceans and on our beaches – the EU has played a leading role in making sure that the UK keeps to a high standard of environmental protection.

2. Birds, bees and marine life in our oceans don’t understand borders. There are countless creatures that come and go into the British Isles. Whether we like it or not, we all have a shared environment in Europe. It applies to the air we breathe and the seas we swim in, and we need to govern them together.

Take bees for example. The EU, in 2013, voted to restrict the use of three pesticides (called neonicotinoids) that are strongly linked to the decline of bees. At the time, the UK was lobbying against the restrictions. So if the EU hadn’t stepped in, our bees would be in even more danger.

Of course all EU standards aren’t perfect. The EU’s agriculture and fisheries policies have historically been poor for wildlife. But two things are certain: we are in a much better position to lobby for better standards from the inside and second, if we were not part of the EU it is very unlikely that UK standards would be any better.

3. The UK is a key player both in setting EU standards and in EU-led international negotiations. That means that we, as a powerful group of countries with over 500 million people, can hold each other and multinational corporations to account.

A good example of this is air pollution. Recently a UK Supreme Court judgement ordered our government to do more on air pollution to bring it in line with EU standards. Without that judgement – the direct result of EU legislation – we wouldn’t have had any recourse to challenge our government for breaching air pollution standards, which causes the premature death of thousands of people a year.

But EU agreements don’t just hold European countries to account; they also play a big part internationally. For example at international climate negotiations, the EU acts as a powerful collective voice in getting agreement on cutting polluting emissions.

If we can’t work together as Europeans to tackle climate change, what does that say about our chances of working together globally? Climate change will not solve itself. As we turn away from the fossil fuel age and look to new and exciting innovations, like electric vehicles, clean energy and a new circular economy that eliminates waste, only the EU with its size and scale can set the right framework. The EU, the world’s largest trading bloc, drives these opportunities for green investment through laws that create standards for all businesses. Let’s not lose it.

This is an edited version of an article originally written for The Guardian newspaper, reproduced with permission from Greenpeace. 

Why staying in is right for the environment

John Sauven, Greenpeace Executive Director, gives his top three reasons why remaining in the European Union is the right thing to do for the environment.

Lucy Anderson, MEP, warns of the dangers that leaving the EU would bring in the areas of employment, consumer and individual rights that are underpinned by, or derived from, EU law.

Of all the uncertainties that leaving the European Union would bring, one of the most critical is what would happen to employment, consumer and individual rights that are underpinned by, or derived from, EU law.

Since the 1970s, EU-level laws and decisions of the European Court of Justice have strengthened these rights: in some cases by extending existing UK law – such as to include the right to equal pay for work of equal value – in others by new legislation that has had a major impact, such as in the right to adequate time off, paid leave and limitation on working hours.

Many of the basic rights we rely on, exist in UK law only through acts or regulations that implement EU directives. If we leave the EU, these laws would have to be reviewed. Some would be immediately inapplicable and highly unlikely to be re-enacted by a Tory Government committed to deregulation. Newer rights, such as protection against discrimination for agency staff and older workers, seem particularly vulnerable.

The EU-level extension of workplace rights in the 1990s and 2000s brought huge benefits. The TUC estimated that 400,000 people benefited from equal treatment for part-time workers alone, and that 300,000 of those were low-paid women. Since Margaret Thatcher’s time, the Tories have campaigned against extending workplace rights for women and atypical workers, an area that is a clear example of where EU decisions have forced the hand of the UK government.

While some justified criticism can be made of the slowing down of the social agenda in Europe post-2004, there is much to be positive about over the next few years. After campaigns by Labour and its allies, the European Parliament is looking at improving rights for workers posted abroad who are exploited by employers. In addition, there is a push for a comprehensive European Accessibility Act to give added protection to disabled people.

The Left’s case for staying in the EU is increasingly clear and well set out. Of course we need to continue to fight for more solidarity and political progress, both here in the UK and internationally, but trades unions and all campaigners for fairness and social justice are increasingly united in urging a Vote to Remain on 23 June. 

Why staying in the EU is right for people

Lucy Anderson, MEP, warns of the dangers that leaving the EU would bring in the areas of employment, consumer and individual rights that are underpinned by, or derived from, EU law....

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