Prosperity isn’t just about GDP – it’s about the balance of power between people and corporations, and our rights as citizens and workers. The EU ensures many benefits to us as individuals – employment rights like paid holiday and maternity leave – and also takes action on our behalf against corporations who seek to act uncompetitively and avoid paying tax. Our national prosperity relies on corporations paying their fair share of tax to fund our public services, and on fair business practices, ensuring smaller businesses can flourish – and this can only be achieved at an international level. Here in the South West, we also benefit particularly from the EU’s support for farming and rural development.
Controlling corporate power
With corporations operating across borders, and attempting to drive down wages and environmental protections in the process, it is clear that we need international cooperation to curtail their power. It is only possible to stand up to corporations at a trans-national level where they operate. So if we did not have the EU we would have to invent a body like it to resist corporate power.
The EU single market only works if companies can compete fairly. It is the job of Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager to make sure that companies do not operate as monopolies, keeping other companies out of the market, do not make unfair profits, and do not receive an unfair level of support from their national governments. She has shown that she takes this role very seriously. She has launched a range of investigations into corporations including Apple, Google, McDonalds, Facebook, Microsoft, Mitsubishi, Hitachi, Fiat and Starbucks. These have resulted in significant fines: Mitsubishi Electric Corp. and Hitachi Ltd. fined $150 million for fixing the prices of alternators and starters sold to car manufacturers in January 2016, while Fiat and Starbucks are both required to pay additional taxes of around €30 million.
As it turns out, one of the people labelled as a faceless, unelected bureaucrat is playing a leading role in challenging corporate power! [TODO: Link to video on this topic]
Our rights at work
Our rights at work – from paid holidays, to maternity pay and the right to strike – are guaranteed by our membership of the EU. It is the UK government that is seeking to restrict many of those rights, with legislation such as the (Anti-)Trade Union bill.
From protection for part time and temporary workers to protection from discrimination; from rights for working parents to the right to paid holidays and a regular lunch break; from health and safety to promoting employee voice; the EU has been fundamental in making the British workplace a fairer and more equal place.
You only have to look at the Tories’ approach to workers’ rights to see the clear risk of leaving the EU. European rules are a safeguard against the Tories’ love of deregulation and their attacks on trade unions.
The Working Time Directive introduced a maximum 48-hour working week, a daily rest period of 11 consecutive hours, a weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours and rest breaks during the working day. There are now 700,000 fewer employees working more than 48 hours a week compared to 1998 before the introduction of the Working Time Directive.
Fighting corporate tax avoidance
It’s clear that we need international rules to keep corporations in check and cross-border action to tackle their tax-dodging.
Following the revelations about industrial scale tax avoidance being encouraged in Luxembourg, Green MEPs launched a campaign to have a special investigation. Through this route we have held corporations and the accountants who aid and abet their tax avoidance to account. While we still have a long way to go, we are making significant headway which would not be possible if this were to be tackled at the national level where corporations can convince governments to engage in a race to the bottom.
The UK government has argued for the benefits of tax competition rather than co-operation and has cut corporate tax rates so that they are now one of the lowest in the EU. This encourages the race to the bottom on tax so that we cannot pay for our public services.
Fiat and Starbucks must each pay up to €30m in tax repayments after action by Margrethe Vestager, EU competition commissioner in October 2015
You can find out more about the Greens’ action against corporate tax avoidance in Europe here: www.act-or-go.eu/en/
Farming and rural development
Farmers are much better protected inside the EU than they would be if we were to leave. The SW is characterised by small farms that would really struggle outside the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy): it is estimated that only 10% of largest UK farms could cope without subsidy. Annually the UK receives more than £3bn from the EU in CAP subsidies. In 2012, 68% of the UK’s total farming income was attributed to CAP, compared to 39% in the late 1980s. Many British farmers are also exporters and their access to markets would be likely to be affected by a decision to leave the EU.
Most South West farmers are entirely dependent on European subsidies to survive and there is no guarantee that these would continue outside the EU, particularly under a government that favours free markets. Farmers are better protected by our continued membership because EU policy is set in cooperation with countries where politicians pay much more regard to the agricultural community than UK politicians do.
Of course, many other jobs in rural areas are dependent on having a flourishing farming sector. Overall, the agri-food sector contributes £97.1bn to the UK economy each year, and supports the jobs of more than 3.6 million people.
The South West receives around £729.3 million of public investment of EU money every year, particularly Cornwall, which qualifies for European Structural and Investment Fund money as a former industrial area with a GDP at less than 75% of the EU average. This round of funding for Cornwall is worth €603,706,863. In a time of national austerity when Westminster governments are slashing budgets it is highly unlikely this would be replaced with national funding if we were to leave the EU
- Leaving the EU: the View from Green Business
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The story of Port Talbot is a classic example of government deceit and incompetence. Sajid Javid has had the gall to blame the EU for not introducing tariffs on Chinese steel, which is being dumped on world markets and destroying higher-quality European production facilities. But it was the British government that blocked these higher tariffs […]