We need the European Union for three main reasons.
So we need an EU that enables us and our neighbouring countries to work together in our common interests. And we need common rules for our common market to provide for fairness, equal opportunities, environmental protection and consumer protection — not an unregulated free-for-all, dominated by powerful market interests.
For all these reasons, we need the UK to be in the EU, and to improve it.
Europe-wide laws have improved all our lives.
The bulk of European Union laws are rules for what is now the world’s largest free market. And many of those rules are intended to make life easier for business, cutting red tape and bureaucracy. This is done by adopting common standards and rules so that businesses face a single set, rather than 28 different ones. For instance, it’s now possible for a British business to register a trademark once, valid across Europe, instead of facing 28 different registration procedures, each with their own forms and fees.
Other EU laws are there to protect people. For instance, having a common system across Europe for labelling foodstuffs — the famous ‘E-numbers’ on our jars and packets — enables people with allergies to see easily what to avoid. Common Europe-wide laws to protect the environment are more effective than separate national policies, as pollution doesn’t stop at boundaries. And a common competition policy has protected consumers from national monopolies and multi-national companies alike. This is perhaps most visible in the airline market, where cheaper flights have enabled millions to enjoy European travel.
But the EU is not perfect.
Of course, the European Union gets some things wrong. Like local government and national government, mistakes can be made, or bad policies followed, and when this happens, they must be rectified. The Common Agricultural Policy, set up before Britain joined, is an example of a policy needing reform. But it is being reformed. Until recently, agriculture accounted for 70 per cent of the EU budget — now it is only 38 per cent, and due to fall to 27 per cent by the end of the decade. The ‘butter mountain’ and the ‘beef mountain’ are distant memories. Export subsidies are going. More must be done, but reform is underway.
As your MEP, I’m fighting to change those policies that need reform, especially to make the EU single market operate fairly for workers and consumers, and to be more effective in protecting the environment. I want the EU budget to focus more on those areas where spending jointly saves money at national level (by avoiding duplication or gaining economies of scale).
Who makes EU laws?
It’s worth underlining that EU laws are not “diktats from Brussels”. The European Commission in Brussels (which, by the way, has fewer employees than a medium-sized city council) only has the right to put forward proposals (and to implement what has been agreed). The actual adoption of legislation is done by the elected governments of European countries through their ministers meeting in the EU Council of Ministers. The Ministers are scrutinised by Scrutiny Committees in both the Commons and the Lords.
EU laws also require the approval of the directly elected MEPs in the European Parliament. Compared to any other international structure (think of the World Trade Organisation, the IMF, the World Bank), EU actions are subject to far more democratic accountability.
So, when somebody blames “Brussels” for something, remember that it’s elected politicians who made the decision — and if you don’t like it, blame them!