For too long the UK has been a rightwards drag on the EU. Watering down decent legislation, opting out of areas that would have given us better protection at work and pushing forwards a free market agenda at odds with the general consensus of our European cousins.
I think we should press for a social Europe that brings everyone's quality of life up rather than trying to revive the zombie policies of the failed Bush and Blair years. Being an enthusiast for Europe certainly doesn't mean you can't be a long time critic of the EU institutions and it's no surprise people are frustrated by the bureaucratic, wasteful and arcane nature of the beast.
However, whilse there is no shortage of anti-European parties at this coming election we need voices that are both critical of the overcentralised, undemocratic structures of the EU and that act to democratise them. The current dynamic that is undermining workers' rights and seeks to break up public services is taking Europe in entirely the wrong direction, but we can resist this drive if we engage with it in a critical way.
The Greens have found that critical engagement has led to important victories on the working time directive, migrants' rights and, of course, environmental protection and climate change measures, even though our voices are all too often in the minority. Because our two MEPs have been passionate fighters against the tide they have been able to make some headway.
In the coming period, who we send to the EU will determine what kind of response we make at a European level to the economic crisis. Will our MEPs demand a Tory style slash and burn approach to the economy? Will they try to combine stabilising the job market with the urgent need to address climate change (what we're calling The Green New Deal).
Despite all its faults Caroline Lucas has shown that MEPs can serve as advocates for local decision making, forward thinking legislation and social inclusion as long as we don't use the institutions' faults as an excuse to turn our backs on that important work. The European Parliament wont stop turning just because we send MEPs whose main objective appears to be to sit sulking in the corner whilst still drawing their paychecks.
Those with an unremittingly miserable and negative approach to the "European gravy train" have ironically proved to be the MEPs who are the least value for money. They have no problem taking their wages and expenses but then they abstain from the real work to democratise the undemocratic and propose legislation that makes Europe a better place. If they wont even try to do this then they are simply a waste of space.
For instance, I'm all for opposing the militarisation of the EU as long as we recognise that the UK doesn't need any help in finding new and exciting adventures to send our troops on. When it comes to the war machine the EU is only the main problem for a few eccentrics without a grasp on reality, and yet some parties still feel the need to make this a key part of their electoral platform.
If only the UK sent a few more positive representatives willing to work to reform the EU's institutions and a few less that sought to shift it to the right, or who simply don't do anything at all. By ensuring there are strong voices for democratic change in the European Parliament we can transform our relationship with our EU partners. Working together with others, like Plaid Cyrmu's excellent MEP Jill Evans, the Greens have shown that you don't have to be a EU-enthusiast or in the biggest voting block to make a real difference.