Brexit: A Conundrum for UK Science

Here in the South West we are blessed with some incredible research organisations doing exciting and cutting edge research that has far reaching benefits for the wider population and the world more generally.

For its size, the UK punches well above its weight with funding, with us securing a disproportionately high amount from the EU. The UK benefits from the European Research Council’s Horizon 2020 programme, and in these first years of the programme have had the largest share of participations in signed grant agreements. We are second only to Germany in the financial contributions received from these grant agreements. And this same pattern is seen in earlier EU grant rounds.

Access to research funding

A recent House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report provided figures showing that between 2007 and 2013 the UK contributed about €5.4bn earmarked for the EU research budget, and received about €8.8bn for research and innovation activities. EU government funding now makes up about 10% of the income of higher education institutions.

At a time when long term planning and investment are needed more than ever, the longevity and stability of the EU research programmes is beneficial to those running research organisations and labs looking at issues that extend beyond the 5 year parliamentary time frame.

Our own government has reduced the amount of money available to fund research, and with just 1.63% of our GDP spent on research and development we are falling behind other EU nations in the priority we place upon research. While winning EU funding is a good thing, some regions of the UK, are much more dependent upon this money than others. A recent report from Digital Science showed the South West receives a greater proportion of its funding from the EU than the rest of the UK on average, with Dorset and Somerset receiving 60% of its publicly funded research money from the EU. There is obviously the potential for significant cuts in the event we leave.

But access to funding is not the only way that our membership of the EU benefits the science and research that feeds into our economy, there are other benefits too.

People flows

In an industry that relies upon accessing highly skilled individuals, the ability of people to move freely around Europe is paramount – this enables researchers to work with a wide range of other people and facilitates best practice and skills sharing, exposure to new ideas and ways of thinking and provides cultural enrichment.

Long term collaborations arise from this movement of people around different countries and there is a rich flow of knowledge running alongside them. Nearly 50% of the UK’s scientific publications in 2012 had non-UK co-authors, these publications typically have a higher impact than those published solely by UK researchers.

Specialist infrastructure and facilities

Another area where our own government has reduced the money available is through ‘capital’ expenditure – typically used for buildings and infrastructure, facilities and specialist equipment. Reduced funding and increasing costs can put infrastructure out of the financial reach of one country alone can be problematic for today’s research. However, membership of the EU enables sharing of such infrastructure and facilities across member countries, spreads the overall cost and opens up access to researchers.

Some of these EU funded facilities are located here in the UK, carry out internationally recognised research, and attract additional funding from outside the EU too.

Access to patients

For medical researcher on rare diseases, getting the required numbers of people for studies and clinical trials from one country alone can be problematic when the percentage of population affected is very low. Collaboration supported by EU clinical trials regulation across multiple countries, is critical for sharing information and facilitates the recruitment of patients from many countries for trials. Common EU standards also support this process.

And the benefit of a single market can be seen with medicines and medical devices. Authorisation for use across the single market only need happen once, rather than going through the lengthy procedure for each country it is to be used in, keeping the cost down. For a patient with a rare disease in a country where there is only a small population affected, this may be the difference between accessing a medicine and not.

Harmonisation of standards

EU bureaucracy and directives are frequently cited as reasons for why we should leave the EU, but this neglects to recognise when harmonisation is a real benefit. For example, the EU directive on Clinical Trials upholds the highest levels of patient safety through regulation of the conduct of clinical trials. Not only does this require all member countries to adhere to standards of legality, transparency and quality but it also means all data from clinical trials are captured and recorded in an EU-wide database.

And in areas such as patents and drugs licencing, which takes scientific research to the next step, the harmonisation of the approval process across all EU member countries means it is faster and simpler.But don’t just take our word for it, a massive 77% of researchers polled by Nature said we’re better of remaining in the EU, and Scientists for EU have a wide reaching campaign that you should also check out.

It is possible to find flaws, and problems with all these issues, after all when is anything ever perfect? But by being part of the EU we are able to be a leading part of the conversation to shape and improve things. We contribute to developing policy and advising on scientific issues through the Scientific Advice Mechanism, ensure that the UK’s voice on science is heard, and are able to propose changes when things don’t work so well, all because of our current position within the EU.

Another Fishy case for Brexit

With the South West home to two of the three largest fish landing ports in England and Wales, this week I spoke on the radio about EU fisheries policies and how they ensure long term sustainability for the industry, both in terms of fish stocks and jobs for our region.

For a while now, Brexiteers have been manipulating the concerns of those in the fishing industry and misleadingly championing the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) as a reason to abandon the EU and “take back control” of our waters. Aside from the obvious fact that fish do not respect the borders of national waters (which means even Norway has to negotiate fishing quotas with the EU), let’s look at what these fishing policies mean in practical terms for fishermen: how fishing quotas are really allocated, and why these demonstrate that if anything, fisheries policies are a great reason to remain.

Part of the misleading tactics rightly focuses on the fact that, despite the UK fishing fleet being made up primarily of small inshore fishing vessels, just a tiny amount of the UK fishing quota (~6%) is shared between them. However, what they fail to mention is that whilst each Member State negotiates a national quota, the dividing up of these allocated national quotas is decided by the Member States, not the EU. It was George Eustice himself and the Conservative government that chose last year to give just one vessel nearly a quarter of the English quota, not the EU. In fact, some member states already even use the allocation method for dividing their quota called for by some Brexiteers.

The CFP, and the negotiations of national quotas called Total Allowable Catch (TACs), are based around scientific data that show the maximum sustainable yields based on current fish stocks. It’s true that before serious reform in 2013, the CFP was destructive to fish stocks in European waters, with scientists and NGOs rightly raising concerns over the unsustainable practices it facilitated. However a recent analysis of 118 years of statistics revealed the vast majority of the decline occurred prior to the Common Fisheries Policy’s implementation in 1983. In fact, the policy is now overall helping, not harming UK fisheries and would be doing even better if member states didn’t repeatedly ignore scientific advice when allocating TACs, with the UK being one of the worst.

The health of our marine ecosystems depends upon them being protected, and today EU policies seek to do exactly that. The much revered Habitats Directive protects key habitats and species like the Atlantic salmon, and the Water and Marine Strategy Framework Directives commit EU Member States to restore and protect their marine environments. There’s also the successful discard ban that fishermen wanted and the UK fought for. This was a campaign that you won’t have heard about from Nigel Farage despite him sitting on the European Parliament fisheries committee, but from people like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and it’s success demonstrated how people pressure really can change EU policy for the better.

In summary, fish don’t respect borders and collaborative managing of fish stocks is essential for the fishing industry, as much as it is for the environment, in the long term. We’ve come a long way since the days of mass overfishing and illegal fishing, and as a result UK quotas are even on the up. George Eustice himself said not so long ago, “By fighting for the fishing industry, and making a clear case for the need for more sustainable fishing, we have got a good deal and shown we can get what we need in Europe.”
So why would we want to jump ship now?

 

 

See our EU and Fisheries Briefing for more.

Standing Up to Fracking in the EU

The UK government remains set on “going all out for shale”, offering the industry favourable tax treatment, and allowing for fracking to take place under national parks and people’s homes, despite growing public concern. At the European level, the UK government has found some support from Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to make the case for shale gas, as they view fracking as a way to create energy security independence from Russia. But there is a huge and growing anti-fracking movement across Europe, and this is increasingly translating into political opposition too.

Environmental and public health concerns, including air pollution and gas leaks, water contamination and scarcity, increased radioactive and seismic activity, and biodiversity loss, are just some of the reasons for this. Not to mention climate change obligations, which are incompatible with a new dash for gas. The European Environmental Impact Assessment Directive already covers shale gas, and the European Commission has recently launched infringement procedures against Poland for not following these rules correctly, showing it is prepared to take action.

Fracking demoIn 2013, as the European Commission prepared proposals for the 2030 climate change targets, there were plans to introduce specific EU legislation covering the shale gas industry. But the UK government led lobbying efforts for no new environmental or public health safeguards, saying the Commission should just clarify the existing legal framework for the industry and help with the exchange of best practice among member states. Following these lobbying efforts, the European Commission came forward with a non-binding Recommendation rather than a Directive on fracking. It also published a Communication and an Impact Assessment, and has been drawing up a reference document on the exchange of best available techniques and risk management for the hydrocarbons sector (BREF).

The UK government has even lobbied, alongside fossil fuel giants including BP, Chevron, Shell and ExxonMobil, for the withdrawal of this BREF document, having previously claimed it was in favour of exchanging best practice. Despite this, the Commission still plans to publish the document by May 2018. While the European Commission’s Recommendation on Fracking is non-binding, and the Communication takes note that there are gaps in EU law when it comes to unconventional hydrocarbons, the Commission has made clear in a previous legal assessment that existing EU environmental legislation does apply to fracking practices from planning to cessation.

The fracking industry is also covered by EU rules when it comes to the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals under the REACH Regulation. And in 2015, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) added a new use category for “oil and gas field fracturing products” to chemical registrations to help increase transparency in the disclosure of the composition of fracking fluid. The UK has made every effort to water down EU legislation on fracking, while also pursuing deregulation at home, cutting environmental, planning and public health safeguards. In this context, existing safeguards from Europe remain an important check on the fracking industry. If the UK leaves the EU, it will be left to this Government to regulate the industry without European oversight.

In a 2015 Eurobarometer, which surveyed 12 EU regions where shale gas exploitation has been permitted or planned, the European public made clear that they were not satisfied with non-binding recommendations, with respondents declaring that the least preferred approach. As Green MEPs we will continue to lobby alongside our colleagues in the Greens / European Free Alliance group for the EU to do more. In February, we supported a successful amendment to a report in plenary that urged Member States to follow the precautionary principle and not authorise any new hydraulic fracturing operations in the EU.

This demonstrates clearly that as a part the EU we can work with the growing movement across Europe that is opposing the corporate interests of the shale gas industry, retain the existing safeguards of EU legislation while pushing for more protection, and work together in the European Parliament to stand up for our environment, public health, and climate. I posed the question this week on the radio: why would we throw that away?

Holidaying in the EU

Sometimes, it’s the little things in life that matter. Over 29 million holidays are made by UK tourists to other EU countries each year, a whopping 76% of holidays taken. Meanwhile, 68% of business trips from the UK are to EU countries and 44% of UK inbound tourism spending is by EU nationals.

ABTA recently published a new report outlining what a vote to leave the EU might mean for the UK travel industry and consumers. They say continued EU membership benefits UK travellers in many ways…

Bournemouth

Cleaner Beaches. The 1976 Bathing Water Directive, required member states to designate bathing waters and ensure they were clean for public use. The UK was slow to respond, but by 1993 the EU had won a legal battle that forced the UK to ensure it keeps its beaches safe. By 2014 there were 632 designated bathing waters in the UK, and 98.9 per cent met the standards detailed in the EU’s Directive, which had been further strengthened by that time. The same rules apply across Europe, meaning safer beaches wherever we go in the EU.

Compensation for delays. The EU has ensured that a range of passenger rights regulations across all modes of travel have made it into law in member-states. The best-known of these is regulation 261/2004 for compensation in cases of denied boarding or significant delays for air travel.

Free Health Cover. The European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is available to all EU residents and guarantees the holder access to local health services in any EU country on the same terms as available to local people. EHIC arrangements currently apply to all EU and European Economic Area countries. In the event of Brexit, ongoing involvement would be subject to negotiation. If UK travellers’ access to local health care was limited this would have an impact on travel insurance premiums.

Cheaper roaming fees. The European Parliament recently agreed a cap on mobile phone roaming charges, harmonising the maximum charges applicable to consumers for using their phones in other EU countries. This will be extended to a complete ban on additional roaming fees across the EU in April 2017. As an EU Regulation (531/2012), the law applying these rules would be removed by a British exit.

Financial Protection. The Package Travel Directive ensures that when you book a package tour within the EU, you have consumer protection in cases of insolvency or where there is a failure to perform contracted services. Negotiations would be required to ensure such reciprocal arrangements could remain in place if the UK was to leave the EU.

More routes and airline competition. The EU’s aviation industry is one of the most liberalised in the world, and while this is not good news for climate change, it has resulted in more routes, more airlines, greater competition and lower fares for consumers. The EU has also negotiated ‘Open Skies’ agreements, which are bilateral agreements with EU countries acting together to agree rules with countries outside the EU. The best known is the EU-US Open Skies agreement (2007).

Border Free Travel. While the UK retains control of its own borders and sits outside the border-free Schengen zone, UK consumers are able to travel freely within much of continental Europe and EU citizens only experience simple border checks when entering the UK. For travel outside of the EU, the UK would be able to seek new bilateral visa agreements with non-EU countries but these would take time to negotiate.

Freedom to work. Under current arrangements, UK citizens have the right to work in any country in the European Economic Area (EEA) without a permit. This includes all countries in the EU as well as in Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Under EU rules, UK workers have the same rights as nationals of the country they are working in when it comes to conditions at work, pay and social security. In 2014, 27% of UK emigrants who migrated to another EU country did so for work-related reasons.Molly Language School

Freedom to Study. The Erasmus+ programme allows more than 10,000 British students to study abroad each year. Since the scheme started, more than 200,000 British students have spent time at another European university, learning about another culture and expanding their horizons through exchange travel.

Bringing home unlimited goods. Currently you are not required to pay duty on goods you bring into the UK from the EU as long as you transport them and will use them yourself, or plan to give them as a gift, and have paid any relevant duty in the country where you bought them. If the UK leaves the EU the days of the booze cruise to France could be well and truly over!

And don’t forget, your UK driving licence is also valid across the European Union. People often say the EU is out of touch, but it’s things that make everyday life easier that typically go unnoticed.

Peace and Nation building through the EU

“The Union’s aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples.” This is the first point in Article 3 of the Lisbon Treaty, setting out the aims of the European Union. Those in favour of Brexit suggest that democracies simply do not go to war with each other, but they don’t recognise that the EU has been central to ensuring the peaceful transition to those democracies across our continent.

This week we celebrated Europe Day (9th), marking the famous Schuman declaration in 1950 that set out a vision for Europe that would make war on our continent “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.” Since then, and with the UK playing an important role since joining in 1973, the EU has been performing a vital purpose that other organisations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) cannot – democratic nation building.

To be considered for EU membership, European countries must meet certain criteria. The EU accession process is completely different from NATO requirements for membership, with candidate countries wishing to join the EU requiring progressive democratic reform of the constitution, public administration, and much more. The impact and following through of these reforms are monitored by experts in the candidate countries, as well as in Brussels and elsewhere. Today, we take for granted the successes of this process. We’ve seen countries under previous dictatorships or authoritarian rule transitioning to democracies that enshrine human rights, the rule of law, and the right of every citizen to vote. With its enlargement in the 1980s to Greece, Spain and Portugal; the European Union consolidated democracy in these former fascist dictatorships. The later enlargements in 2004 and 2007 also saw us secure democracy in 10 former communist countries following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“Arguably one of the greatest recent successes has been the brokering of peace between Kosovo and Serbia. In 2013, the EU brokered the Brussels Agreement on the normalisation of relations between the two countries, which had previously had a tense relationship ever since the Kosovo war in 1999, with Serbia up until this agreement failing to respect Kosovo’s independence. Both nations see the EU as a common focal point to work towards, allowing the EU to bring them together and reconcile their differences that had existed since the Yugoslav wars. And since 2008 the EU has also maintained a Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, further helping this young country’s democratic transition. In recognition of our recent history, the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012, and the Norwegian Nobel Committee said its decision was based on the stabilising role the EU has played in transforming most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace. In a time when far right populism is increasing in some states, and with climate change predicted to exacerbate future crises across the globe, pulling out of arguably the world’s most successful peace project would put Britain on the wrong side of history.

Twenty-eight countries sharing sovereignty for the betterment of all their citizens – that’s what we can use as the best weapon against todays creeping Nationalism. That’s part of the European Union winning the Nobel Peace Prize, and that’s what we’re fighting for on 23rd June.

Beware of Etonians Bearing Pasties

This week we have witnessed the worst kind of political theatre with the arrival of the Boris Battle Bus in Cornwall. Boris wasted no time in adopting the symbols of the holidaymaker: the pasty and the ice cream. Only the knotted handkerchief and rolled up trousers were absent. This is not patriotism, it is patronising; using the people of Cornwall as a backdrop for political opportunism. As has been pointed out, Boris was able to brandish his Cornish Cornish pasty because the EU offers this product protected status. Given the fact most Brexiteers favour a market free-for-all, we could end up with fake pasties from the US filled with hormone fed beef, or from Asia with horsemeat.

But tourists to Cornwall and the many businesses serving them have benefited from EU regulations. In the 1970s we used to pump our untreated sewage straight into the sea. EU regulations – in particular the Bathing Water Directive – have forced the UK to clean up its act. Now over 95% of our beaches have sea water that is clean enough to swim in [1]. It will escape few that coastal and marine litter is also a huge environmental problem. Here again EU regulations are helping. Campaign group Surfers against Sewage say the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive is currently the strongest and potentially the most effective legal tool to help reduce levels of marine litter.
Before Boris stepped off the bus or uttered a word, his grand Brexit deception had already begun. Daubed across his shiny red vehicle is the slogan: We send £350 million a week to the EU, lets fund our NHS instead. This is deceptive in two senses. Firstly, the actual net figure, when the rebate the EU sends to UK is taken into account, is around £120 million a week [2]. This works out at roughly £236 per household per year, or £4.50 a week. When you consider that most of this rebate is spent on farming and regional aid – helping regions like Cornwall in particular – what we pay the EU actually looks like money well spent. Cornwall is also scheduled to receive over half a billion pounds from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and European Social Fund (ESF) between 2014 and 2020. These funds aim to reduce regional disparities in income, wealth and increase economic opportunities.

As to claims about funding the NHS instead of sending money to the EU, Arron Banks, Leave campaigner, has stated publically that he wants to privatise the NHS. I would also urge people to listen to the views of junior doctors, nurses and others working in the NHS about the Tories commitment to the NHS rather than to Boris.

Meanwhile Boris’ government is destroying Cornwall’s economic opportunities through its attacks on renewables. A report I commissioned last year concluded that through a combination of wind, solar, wave and geothermal energy, Cornwall has the potential to generate 161% of its energy needs [3]. The region has the greatest potential for renewables energy of any region in the UK and could become a powerhouse for the South West. All that holds us back is a lack of political will and a pro nuclear and pro fossil fuels ideological obsession. This is having a hugely damaging effect on investment in the clean green industries which we need for a sustainable future.

I hope the good people of Cornwall will realise they have been thoroughly exploited by Boris’ whirlwind visit. Ultimately, the Boris Battle Bus has only one destination in mind. Boris is hoping to use Brexit as a route to becoming the next Prime Minister. Don’t be fooled. Don’t be used as a backdrop for somebody else’s electioneering. On 23rd June, make the choice that works best for Cornwall.

[1] https://www.foe.co.uk/blog/what-has-eu-done-uk-beaches
[2] http://infacts.org/uk-doesnt-send-eu-350m-a-week-or-55m-a-day/
[3] http://mollymep.org.uk/publications/reports/