Why I’ll be voting Remain tomorrow

The Green Party and I strongly believe in participatory democracy, and a commitment to a public referendum was included in our manifesto at last year’s General Election. We stand for Three Yeses to Europe – Yes to a referendum, Yes to EU reform, and Yes to staying in a reformed Europe. 

I will be voting to remain tomorrow. As I outlined  in plenary of the European Parliament, I want Britain to remain a part of the EU because I believe that we need to work together on shared solutions to the collective challenges we face. Climate change, the pollution of our oceans, terrorism and the refugee crisis shows no respect for borders and require collaborative and cooperative solutions. Isolationist politics can play no part in today’s globalised world.

Through this campaign it’s become clear there are concerns of some that the European project has been running ahead of what the people of the UK and Europe as a whole are comfortable with. I share these but I think a significant part of this is driven by poor coverage in the UK media of just what goes on at the EU level and how decisions are made. I still believe the European story should be celebrated; countries with different histories and cultures, benefitting from unprecedented peace and stability and working together for the common good.

It’s clear that the EU is strong when it works together: Whilst the Out campaign are unsure about whether they would like Britain to have a relationship like Norway or Switzerland or neither, it is important to note that these are both small countries with specialised ‘niche’ economies: Switzerland with its often-criticised banking system, and Norway with its massive oil reserves. Both countries’ industries have to follow EU rules as that is their main market and as non-members, they have no say over the adoption of those EU rules. They cannot defend their interests. They have, effectively, lost sovereignty through their isolation — as the Norwegian government itself admits. Nor does staying out save money — the Norwegian contribution per capita to the European budget is about the same as that of the UK.

There are many fundamental reasons myself, the Green Party, and my colleagues, (other elected MEPs from across Europe) in the Greens-EFA group of the European Parliament want the UK to stay in the EU as I’ve covered on this blog before.

  • Peace and democracy – The EU has helped secure peace among previously warring Western European nations. It helped to consolidate democracy in former Soviet bloc countries and has helped preserve peace in the Balkans since the end of the Balkans War. With the UN it now plays a leading role in conflict prevention, Peacekeeping, and democracy building.
  • Equal pay and non-discrimination – Equal pay for men and women is enshrined in EU law, as are bans on discrimination by age, race or sexual orientation. This benefits Britain, and the many British people who live across Europe.
  • Environmental protection – Pollution and climate change don’t respect national borders, so we need cross-border solutions to these challenges. Europe was a key player in the COP 21 negotiations in Paris, and sets the bar high globally for environmental legislation. For example in the South West, the bathing waters scheme has drastically improved the quality of our beaches.
  • Influence in the world – As a group of democracies, and as the world’s biggest market, the EU is strong when it works together. Britain is represented in many international organisations in joint EU delegations, and drives a strong human rights agenda across the world, recently calling for an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia for example. The EU plays a major role in climate, world trade and development.
  • Fighting crime – The European Arrest Warrant replaced long extradition procedures and enables the UK to extradite criminals wanted in other EU countries, and bring to justice criminals wanted in the UK who are hiding in other EU countries. Eurojust helps UK authorities work with other EU countries’ to tackle international organised crime such as drug smuggling, people trafficking and money laundering.
  • Research funding – The UK is the second largest beneficiary of EU research funds, and the British Government alongside our academics expect future EU research funding to constitute a vital source of income for our world-leading universities and companies. Exeter University just this February received€700,000 EU funding to study our future food, water and energy security.

We recognise that the European Union isn’t perfect; it would be idyllic to think so. However, being at the table means that we are able to push for real progressive reform – something the Greens continue to do. Following a vote in Parliament to protect the EU’s world leading Nature Directives, I spoke in plenary about my commitment to a Europe of peace and unity, and later that day about how I will be using European powers to investigate the Google tax scandal in the UK.

It’s evident that those who fantasise about Brexit are driven by ideologies that impact the worst off in our society the hardest, through their contempt for our high social and environmental standards. It’s also certain the markets will be equally as unforgiving, and again, they will shoulder the burden. But my commitment to our European project isn’t through fear, it’s through celebrating all we’ve achieved in strength and unity. We shouldn’t be thinking of leaving Europe, we should be leading it loud and proud.

Tomorrow we’ll be asked a question bigger than any single one of us. Whatever the outcome Friday morning, the result will impact our entire society. 

Brexit on the environment and Green Economy

While my life as an MEP continues with the busy round of committee meetings and visits to scythe fairs (ok, that was something of a one-off!) it is hard not to be distracted by the referendum campaign. It is especially hard to overlook the comments from George Eustice, the environment minister who is fighting for us to leave the EU, about the impact of the EU’s environmental legislation.

The EU has been widely praised as a global beacon of strong protection for species, habitats, and the cleanliness of our air, water and beaches. This has led to a raft of the UK’s environmental pressure groups coming down clearly in support for our continued membership of the EU; even risking their charitable status in the process. From Friends of the Earth and RSPB to the Wildlife Trusts and Bug Life, the organisations that do the most to restrain the destructive impacts of unsustainable business have joined in common voice to make clear the importance of our remaining inside the EU.

However, there is less unity at DEFRA.  To Eustice this legislation is ‘spirit crushing’. He gleefully foresees the end of the Birds and Habitats Directives. Greening and cross-compliance measures included in the Common Agricultural Policy would, in a post-Brexit world, be replaced with insurance schemes and non-statutory accreditation.

The hostility to climate change action is also a feature shared by many in the Leave camp. Former Chair of Vote Leave, Nigel Lawson, was the founder of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which dedicated itself to delaying government action on climate change, while leading Brexiteer Michael Gove tried to remove a study of climate change from the school curriculum during his disasterous stint as Minister of Education.

We have already seen from this Tory government the impact of their close ties with the fossil fuel industry and their hostility to renewables. However, the prevalence of ideological opponents of climate change suggests an even more troubled future for the UK’s hugely promising renewables industry outside the EU, where we would no longer have the current mandatory targets on renewable capacity.

While in many EU member states the Green transition has been seen as an economic opportunity, to the British Conservative party it is always portrayed as a burden on business. No wonder, then, that we have no capacity for the manufacture of either solar panels or large-scale wind turbines (and full credit to Dale Vince for developing micro turbines in my home town of Stroud). Small wonder also that the Tory government has shown such inordinate enthusiasm for the toxic white elephant at Hinkley Point, but has always been lukewarm about the proposed tidal lagoons in the Severn Estuary which would represent a huge engineering advance for the country.

This distorted view of EU policy to support green industry has been typified by the banal and ill-informed debate around energy-efficient products. While other European manufacturers are watching energy standards tighten and upgrading their products to match, British businessmen are forced to read the Daily Express nonsense about floppy toast and the theft of the Great British roast. The higher-efficiency products will limit energy in, not energy out, meaning they work better and reduce consumers’ energy bills. But given the deliberate misunderstanding of this policy in the UK, we are unlikely to see them manufactured here, as foreign competitors with support from their forward-thinking, future-proofing governments have a huge industrial advantage.

The absence of the environment from the referendum campaign has been noted by Green commentators, but I think the environment is highly present as a ‘hidden’ issue. When Brexiteers talk about cutting red tape, what they have in mind is a full-scale assault on the legislation that protects our special places and ensures climate responsibility from businesses. This foreshadows a Dickensian world where the profit motive is allowed to let rip, heralding a chilly future indeed for Green Business.

 

This blog was originally posted on Business Green.

EU Action on Tax Avoidance: Ramped Up a Gear

So many of the problems facing us today are international in scale. Even issues that might appear local, such as the independent bookshop on your high-street closing down, have an international dimension. Tax avoidance is when wealthy individuals or global corporations hide their earnings and profits in order to escape paying tax in the countries where they work. Multinational corporations can afford the expensive lawyers and accountants that are needed to exploit loopholes and shift profits between different countries. This means that companies, such as Amazon, end up paying far fewer taxes than your local book shop, and this impacts at the local level in terms of what your high-street looks like, and what your day to day experiences are. 

International problems require international solutions, and the EU is best placed to tackle tax avoidance. In the European Parliament, following  a successful call from the Greens, we have just established the Panama Papers Inquiry Committee, to investigate the recent scandals coming out of Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca. It showed how just one law firm helped clients launder money, dodge sanctions and evade taxes. Our committee, of which I am to be a full member, will assess whether member states failed to enforce EU rules on anti-money laundering or failed to alert each other and share information when they suspected tax evasion. We will identify the loopholes which exist, and make steps to close them. Ultimately we need to see all tax havens shut down and for the states and jurisdictions which make their money this way to have support transitioning to ethically sound local industries.

Meanwhile the European Commission is very active in the area of enforcing competition law to tackle tax avoiders. Commissioner Vestager, the Commissioner for Competition, has recently taken three very important decisions on unfair competition in Europe. Her and her team have published their decision on Belgium’s excess profit scheme, and have also published their decision to open investigation into transfer pricing arrangements on corporate taxation of McDonalds (Luxembourg).  The latter follows on from some a huge investigation led by trade unions campaigning at EU level to expose the tax loopholes used by the fast-food giant. They will also soon publish their decisions on Starbucks (Netherlands) and Fiat (Luxembourg). In May they also clarified the Commission’s application of State aid rules to tax rulings on the basis of decisions taken in the Notion of Aid Notice, and have also produced a working paper on state aid and tax rulings. State aid – when a government gives a company favourable rates, taxation, subsidies, or benefits – has gone hand in hand with tax rulings – aka sweetheart deals – in Europe. This working paper offers a summary of the different types of tax rulings that she has investigated, in order to ensure that all actors are treated the same.

Earlier this year my colleagues and I wrote to Commissioner Vestager to ask her to investigate the tax deal struck between George Osborne and Google, which was exposed in January. I was delighted that several constituents wrote to me at this time, asking me to do this. This agreement, which was for a paltry £130 million tax out of £6.5bn revenue, provided an economic advantage for Google and we believe that this could constitute illegal state aid. We received a prompt response from the Commissioner, and sent a further letter outlining where we judged EU competition laws to have been breached. She has replied that, ‘the European Commission has launched an inquiry into the tax ruling practice of all Member States including the UK under EU State aid rules’, and this is very encouraging. Her team of experts are currently assessing the information that we provided, and they will follow up if they have indications that EU State aid rules are not being complied with.

Far from being a faceless bureaucrat, Commissioner Vestager will come to the Economics committee, of which I am a member, at the end of June, for one of her regular discussions. She will further explain how she is directly and publicly going after companies who are dodging taxes. I hope at that stage the UK will still have its place at the EU table because without a doubt this is the best place to be to tackle tax avoidance and corporate power.

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.

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.

Leaving the EU: the View from Green Business

We are delighted to share this guest post from Juliet Davenport, founder and chief executive of Good Energy.

Like all businesses, green businesses need a stable legal framework within which to operate. There is no question that leaving the EU would introduce a lot of regulatory change and legal instability, at least in the short term. We would also be likely to see changes in exchange rates between sterling and the euro, with a decline in the value of the pound making imports for our production processes more expensive. This could lead to an increase in the perceived risk of lending to sterling-based businesses and hence higher cost of finance.

All of these economic effects, combined with new trade tariffs that we may face as a result of leaving the single market, will increase the costs of business and make life more difficult for businesses in the UK. Resilient and adaptable businesses would of course find a way to flourish, but it is important to note that it will probably be harder to find investment in the post-Brexit scenario. Households will experience the indirect consequences of these economic changes. If the cost of doing business goes up, this will be passed on to customers in the form of higher prices. In the energy sector this is likely to mean higher energy bills for electricity, for example, and since we import 60% of our energy from abroad – including 11% of our electricity from Europe – a price hike would be on the cards for businesses and households.

It is undeniable that the quality of the environment in the UK is protected by EU legislation. The EU has a good record of positive action on environmental issues as diverse as the quality of our beaches, climate change, mandatory targets for renewable energy, and clean air. While most of this legislation would continue to be in place immediately after the vote to leave the EU, the tendency to deny the reality of climate change and view environmental protection law as “red tape” does seem more prevalent in the Brexiteer camp. It is also worth making the point that any national government is less likely to pass strong environmental law than a club of nations.

One of the benefits of EU policy is that it can be made with a longer term perspective and is not driven by the five-year domestic electoral cycle. The indirect nature of EU democracy allows politicians and policy-makers to rise above the narrow interests of a political party and work better for the common good of both citizens and the environment. A decision to leave the EU would lead to a protracted period of negotiation over the exit terms and then a period of rewriting British law. This would be followed by the lengthy period of negotiating new bilateral agreements with a large number of countries to allow us to continue to trade. Not only would this undermine our ability to trade in the short term, and risk the loss of export markets, but it would also require an army of civil servants simply to undertake these negotiations. Government departments which have already been cut to the bone would see resources diverted from existing work, such as enforcing environmental law.

Many of the issues that would confront business if we left that EU are common to all businesses. But from the perspective of a green business we are facing particular threats and it seems clear that green businesses would be better supported by remaining part of the EU.

Student Exchange Programme at Risk

Across Europe young people are campaigning to draw attention to the benefits they have received from the Erasmus+ programme. Like many of the twinning and exchange activities that have helped to cement peace in Europe, as well as providing life-changing experiences for young people, Erasmus+ is under threat is the UK votes to leave the EU on 23rd June.

According to the campaign group Students for Europe, ‘ choosing to leave the EU at the June 23 referendum would threaten the academic futures and employment opportunities of an entire generation of students’.  To defend these advantages that the EU brings students will be demonstrating across the country.

Charlotte Martin speaks on behalf of Students for Europe and said:

“Coming from a predominantly working-class background, the Erasmus+ programme offered me an opportunity I would never have thought possible. As a British student I started learning a new language, and saw the wealth of job opportunities there are in Europe.

Leaving the EU risks the fantastic freedom of movement – to study, work and travel – that myself and others have today. In Nottingham we’ll be talking to students about why it’s so important to register to vote for the EU referendum.”

The Erasmus+ programme allows more than 10,000 British students to study abroad every year and since it was started more than 200,000 British students have been able to spend time at another European University, learning about other cultures and expanding their horizons. This programme is not just about travel and adventure but is vital in building the relationships that underpin peace in our continent.

Research for Universities UK indicates that the programme also brings economic benefits to individual students. Those who have completed an Erasmus placement have been shown to be 50% less likely to experience long-term unemployment.

EU Funded Projects in the South West

Earlier this week, we looked at EU funding to the most deprived areas of the South West. What about EU funding and the other end of the spectrum?

Horizon 2020 is the EU Research and Innovation programme for 2014 – 2020 following on from the FP7 programme. In the South West, Bristol and Swindon are amongst the largest UK recipients of Horizon 2020 research grants currently allocated, both at around €60 million so far for this period.

During the FP7 period (2007-2013) Bristol University received a whopping €142,263,470 in research funding, making it the 8th highest recipient of EU research funding in the UK higher education sector! Across the West Country, a total of 1,155 proposals were retained for funding (25.4% of total applicants from the region) involving 1,310 successful applicants and requesting €393,95m of EC financial contribution. This made the South West the 7th most successful individual region of all those in the EU 28 member states for research grant applications. The region received just under €600 million during the FP7 period, with a further €44 million to SMEs during that time too!

RNLI

There are great examples of  EU-funded projects right across our region. For example a North Dorset based company was awarded funds under the LIFE programme to develop an environment-friendly repair system for leaking sewage and rainwater/surface drainage pipes, while Dorset County Council received funding for a collaborative project focused on coastal zone management and the development of a strategy for an open coast. Poole-based charity the RNLI received funding to develop a system for decommissioning lifeboats and reducing carbon footprint of the organisation.

In Devon, there have been a whole series of funded projects. For example, Exeter City Council received a grant to undertake a housing refurbishment for a number of hard-to-treat, unoccupied properties in poor structural condition. The funding improved the energy efficiency, reducing the predicted annual energy costs by over £500 and saving over 3 tons of CO2/year per property.

Another great EU-funded project is based on the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus near Falmouth. The Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) is a £30 million interdisciplinary centre leading cutting-edge research into solutions to problems of environmental change.

And in Bristol, the National Composite Centre (NCC), based at Bristol and Bath Science Park, was developed with ERDF funding of £9 million to put the UK at the forefront of composites technology. The NCC is a purpose-built research and development facility which brings together dynamic companies and academics to develop technologies supporting the design and rapid manufacture of composite products. Advanced composites are lightweight, high-performance materials which are transforming the design and manufacture of products – from those used in the aerospace and automotive industries, to marine and renewable technologies. By reducing the weight of products, there can be significant reductions in carbon emissions and manufacturing costs, offering huge commercial opportunities and technological advantages.Not only is this ERDF investment expected to generate over 150 additional jobs, but the South West is now seen as a leader in this field, and the NCC is being expanded to attract ideas and research that will result in new products, businesses and jobs.

EU Funds

Here in the South West we are so often leading the way towards a more sustainable future, despite the challenges, and we must continue to make best use of the opportunity that EU Funding Programmes represent to our region.

In the European Parliament, the Greens/European Free Alliance MEPs group have produced this helpful guide to accessing EU funding opportunities, which we would encourage businesses and other organisations across the South West to read and share. With the current government hell bent on cutting spending, there’s no guarantee these streams will be replaced in the event we leave the EU or what their priorities might be.

You can find a comprehensive breakdown of EU funds to the South West on our Resources page.

South West Leads the Way Thanks to EU Funding

Last week, we went to see EU funds in action through a visit The Genesis Centre at Somerset College for a tour of their facility.

For anyone who is not familiar with the centre, Genesis is a £2.5m sustainable construction resource and learning centre for the South West; an idea which originally grew out of a student project. The centre demonstrates that traditional construction methods can work hand in hand with recycled materials and innovative technologies to create contemporary buildings that are more energy and water-efficient, create less waste, and

Genesis

perform to a high standard for the comfort of building users.

The centre houses a range of renewable energy systems which are used for demonstrations and training purposes, ensuring students and construction industry professionals receive hands on experience of working with low carbon technologies.

The centre was funded by the South West Regional Development Agency and the Learning & Skills Council, with funds from the European Regional Development Fund, and is one of many examples of forward-thinking projects that have benefitted from EU funding across the South West.

The South West has in fact been a major beneficiary of EU Funding, with Cornwall most notably receiving significant sums of money from various EU programmes.

Cornwall has received over €450 million in Regional Development funds along with nearly €140 million from the Social Fund. In cash terms, EU membership is worth over half a billion euros in funding to the most deprived county in our region.

For example, just over £7.5 million of ERDF has supported two key projects – the Pendennis Building & Redevelopment of the Yacht Basin. The extensive redevelopment of the Pendennis Building has seen the previous shore-side facility almost completely rebuilt, replaced by larger modernised construction halls, workshops and office space.

Pendennis has become one of Cornwall’s most important employers, thanks to EU Funding they significantly improved the facilities and 315 existing jobs have been safeguarded, with 60 permanent skilled jobs created to date in the Falmouth Docks area. This work builds on the historic maritime tradition of the town and has helped to deliver the Port of Falmouth masterplan.

Genesis 2
The European Social Fund (ESF) Raising Aspirations project (RAP) also helps low-skilled people and particularly women, develop their careers through learning and training. Plymouth University runs the project with partners, including Cornwall College. For example, at the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust, 22 lower-paid employees successfully completed a higher education module through Cornwall College.

It is fair to say that many of our partners in the EU are more sympathetic to the needs of rural areas than our government is, hence these supportive funding schemes. It is highly unlikely that such funding would continue if decisions were made at Westminster, leaving communities in the West Country vulnerable.

What Has the EU Done for Women?

It’s easy to point to examples of things that the EU has done to make life fairer for women.

Because we’re in Europe the UK has to abide by rules which were put in place by the EU to protect and promote equality and women’s rights in the workplace. Not only that, but the EU has helped tackle gender discrimination and fight against income inequality.

It has given us maternity leave and work protections during pregnancy as well as rules preventing harassment and unequal treatment at work, which means women in Britain benefit from the EU every day. We are guaranteed a minimum of 14 weeks maternity leave when we give birth, four months to care for children aged under eight months and the right to go back to our jobs after taking maternity leave.

The EU also introduced rules which protect us from being discriminated against or harassed at work, something which was sadly once commonplace.

But it does much more than just protect women’s rights at work. The EU is also the driving force behind ending violence against women and preventing sexual exploitation, both in the UK and around the continent. It offers opportunity to young women to learn and develop in the shape of educational programmes and does so much more.

It probably isn’t a coincidence that some of the leading campaigners for us to leave the EU also turn out to be dinosaurs when it comes to women’s rights. UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said working mothers are worth less than men, London Mayor Boris Johnson said women only go to university “to find men to marry” and leave campaigner George Galloway was named Sexist of the Year for describing sexual assault as “bad manners”.

Every woman who has taken maternity leave, benefited from anti-discrimination laws, or got a job created by doing business on the continent has the EU to thank, at least in part. This is something to bear in mind as you weigh up your decision about how to vote on 23 June.