Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The UK should stop dragging the EU to the right

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 answer to undemocratic structures is to democratise them

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. 

When Open Europe compiled their list of best and worst performing MEPs on  reforming and democratising the institutions they found that of the ten worst performers six were from UKIP despite the fact that the EU's failings were a key part, sorry, only part of their platform. Caroline Lucas topped the league because if it is broke you need to fix it. 

The EU, like the UK, is another bosses club

People are right to be critical of the European Union. The EU is too distant, too unaccountable and too arrogant. There is a lot of work to do to make the European Union an institution we can be proud of, almost certainly it's a never-ending task. However, those who are only critical have absolutely failed to bring forward positive changes.

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.

Electing left field voices isn't a protest vote - it makes a difference

To complain of a lack of democratic structures but then refuse to take part in the Herculean task of reforming them is sophistry at best and cynical posturing at worst. However, the elephant in the room has always been that it is the UK that is dragging the EU down to its level rather than the other way round. Instead of us lifting the rights of the UK citizen to European levels we are eroding their rights and their protections. We should do what we can to reverse this trend.

Whilst most European Green Parties regard the GPEW as a Euro-sceptic party it hasn't stopped us promoting progressive legislation and fighting for reform. You can oppose neo-liberalism by sulking but that's just what so many of the anti-EU from the UK seem to want to do.

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.


ModernityBlog said...

fair enough, but I didn't realize that the Greens were against stem cell research, as suggested below? If that isn't the case, maybe someone could clarify?

"Scott Redding, the Green Party:

The Green Party believes that experiments on human embryos could have unforeseen outcomes harmful both to individuals and to society. We would work for an immediate international ban on all cloning and genetic manipulation of embryos, whether for research, therapeutic or reproductive purposes. We do think that the use of 'adult' (or 'mature') stem-cells has promise for both research and therapeutic purposes and does not involve the same risks and ethical issues as embryonic stem-calls. The Green Party would work to allow the use across the EU of adult stem-cells, subject to the precautionary principle."

Jim Jay said...

Once I've recovered I'm going to do a proper post on this I've been fielding questions about this on the hoof for the last couple of days and it will be nice to sit down and read through things properly and give a better, considered response.

Might be today but more likely tomorrow

ModernityBlog said...

no problem Jim, take your time

I wasn't being too pointed I was more surprised than anything else.