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.