Green Policy #5 – the EU right or wrong?

A lot of people are concerned at the EU, some over corruption, some over the amount Britain gives but doesn’t seem to get back, others over the number of laws and apparent attack on British sovereignty. I share these concerns, but rather than run a mile from the EU, I still value battling away for the things Greens really stand for, both here and there.

Europe isn’t, primarily, one of those values. Yes, Greens are an internationalist party and, yes, we’re also represented across the EU but the things the the European Green Party fights for are very similar to the things we find ourselves fighting for in our nation states: greater equality, of wealth, of gender, of different lifestyles, fewer wars and a lessening of the arms trade, a refusal to accept Israel’s persecution of Palestinians and the way the EU (and a number of member states, foremostly the UK) help keep that apartheid going, fairness of EU trade rules viz. the rest of the world, much of whom we collectively (and singly as the UK) exploit.

The number of laws is an interesting question. I’ve heard 70% of our laws originating in the EU before but I don’t know how this is calculated. And, of course, it matters what these laws are about rather than the number of them. By the same token there have been cases that have gone to the EU where a better decision has been obtained (from a Green POV) compared to the ruling from British courts. I’m thinking of human rights cases in particular. I tend to appreciate the health and safety rules, for example, although there are still too many deaths and injuries in the British workplace.

There is an extent to which the EU has an improving effect on aspects of British life. However, I don’t appreciate the possible minutiae of control such as the postal directive of 1997 which appears to be behind the “bringing into harmony” of the EU states’ postal services and, as we’ve seen, the privatisation and closure of many post offices.
Many of our politicians are ignorant of the extent of the directives or of EU laws, or of British laws for that matter. Blair is often credited with bringing in 3000 new laws – most of which none of us would be able to name, and most of which probably weren’t read by the politicians who voted for them!

I don’t want a Parliament of functionaries rubber stamping government decisions – or of MEPs doing the same with laws presented in Strasbourg.

Also Britain is both close to the EU and close to America. Given the ease with which Blair maintained murderous sanctions on Iraq and then went to war I remain grateful to various EU member states who fought against that, and regard them as closer to my position – for good reasons – than my own government was or is.
However, we also believe in the principle of subsidiarity – where decisions, and law, is made at the lowest possible levels. Why on earth do laws on post offices, or any number of other things, have to be made across the EU?? And as for the Lisbon Treaty, rejected in a number of countries, and going untried in many more, surely it shows that the rule of the people, even within a more democratic EU, is only a flag of convenience.

But the EU is no more “evil” than Britain is. In fact, given the greater Green-left representation in the EU there’s probably more chance of calling the EU to account than of people here calling the British government to account, over the war, over sanctions, over inequality across Britain, over throwing tax money at the banks, over human rights issues, over working conditions.

However, won’t we also see what we have left of democracy here – when the Labservatives get in, yet again, in May?
And what say do we the people have in our laws here either? It’s all very well banging on about sovereignty, but if we have bureaucrats making laws here that are unaccountable, let alone unasked for, why is that any better than having them made in Brussels? Surely it’s the quality of whichever laws that matters – and how much they reflect the aspirations of the people.

Both these types of government are unacceptable to me.

But perhaps two chances at democracy are better than one.

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2 thoughts on “Green Policy #5 – the EU right or wrong?

  1. I personally am of the opinion that the EU is one of the greatest things since sliced bread and most of the concerns that you mention tend to be ill-founded ones that have somehow become engrained on the British psyche through various mean but generally through lack of understanding and miss-information. This of course being the major problem the EU faces nowadays in its aim to become a legitimate body in the eyes of the European people.
    When I have chatted to Green members and activists in the past they have always tended to be pro-European and this is only a good thing after all the major environmental problems we face do not adhere to nation borders and it is only logical that this should be tackled at a supranational level, much the same with another Green party favourite, immigration. Of course as you say there are many issues that are national problems and need to be fought at the national level but in an ever increasingly globalised world we have to banish the British perception that “we’ve still got it” and realise that we are a small cog in a much larger machine and the best way to tackle this is to group together in blocs which give us a stronger voice internationally on issues such as poverty, climate change and trade etc.
    Im not saying that the EU is whiter than white, far from it but it is still the best option we have and should embrace it with arms wide open. On the points made about war I accept that it should be doing more on Palestine as this is one of my main issues I care about but the EU has been the most critical of the Israeli government out of all the western nations/organisations. On the point of war we have to remember that the majority of the EU did not commit troops to Iraq and rightly so. It is also worth remembering that it was a Green foreign minister in Germany, Joschka Fischer that sent German troops to Kosovo and Afghanistan. He was the most popular German politician at the time too.
    On the subject of laws I have always come across the 70% figure too but in all I’ve ever written on the EU and parliamentary legislation ive never been able to pin the source of it too. There are a lot of directives that come out of Europe but many of them are small yet beneficial in their own little way ranging from pubs having to provide free tap water to major ones like opening up telephone exchanges, which I think was proposed by a Finnish Green MEP, which have revolutionised the telecommunications industry for the better. With Human Rights I definitely agree with you and the ECHR falls in my best thing since sliced bread category.
    Yet there is still this big myth about European laws like straight bananas and renaming British chocolate which is frankly a load of neo-lib media bollocks. With regards to British law the amount of new labour legislation is ridiculous; I think more was passed in their first term than under the whole of the Thatcher years and as a former parliamentary researcher I understand how impossible it is to keep track of them. I took a bill through parliament in a process that lasted six months but for the life of me I could only give you the main bullet points and not the intricate details. I have always been more impressed with the MEPs personal knowledge of laws as they all have to sit on committees and therefore develop a more detailed understanding of the legislation and will make more informed decision rather than being whipped by their party as they wrestle with both party and national interest. It’s a shame that British politicians only seem to deal with party rather than constituency interests.
    Subsidiarity is one of the core beliefs of the European project and through the committee of the regions allows local interests to bypass national parliaments in order to achieve their aims. The problem comes when local interests are not will ing to take up the fight. Many regions benefit from subsidiarity with many of the stronger ones such as Catalonia even conducting their own negotiations with the EU. I do agree that harmonisation has its flaws and am firmly of the opinion that the Post Office as a “state good” providing a state service such remain under the auspice of the national government (and be nationalised).
    Sorry this rant is going on but its good to get it out every so often. The Lisbon Treaty is a great document for the first time it give the nation state the ability to leave the EU and place more power witht eh nation-state through various veto processes. My undergraduate dissertation was largely based on the Lisbon Treaty and I believe it is a progression for the better in the evolution of the EU. Of course there are issues with the way it was ratified but the fact is we elected people to make these decisions and ifwe don’t like it we vote them out. At the European level I am in the Moravscak, leading academic, camp and believe there is no democratic deficit as all members of the “European bureaucracy “ are either elected by us or appointed by people we elected. European citizens also have the right to present petitions to a committee directly to call for changes in the law. The EU probably does more to engage citizens than our own politicians at home do.

    Unfortunately as always Europe will not be on the agenda at the general election as it never is but if that fight ever comes I will be there fighting for Europe. Tory or Labour they will complain about Europe but the fact is once there in power they will embrace it as always but the fact is I prefer the quality we get from Europe than the current quality we get Westminster in both our laws and our representatives.
    Hope you enjoy I certainly feel better for getting it out! Now back to my PhD proposal and article in support of the Tobin Tax

  2. Hi Pete,

    thank you for your extended remarks! It certainly is better out than in! It would have been fabulous to have you in debate earlier last year before the Euros. I generally agree but my beef is with the elitist nature of politics as well as corruption and cronyism. The £65k salary we pay MPs (and MEPs) immediately puts them in the top 1% of earners. I have problems with this. The expenses scandal merely underscores it. The money buys a lot of brand loyalty, no matter what the dear old electorate may actually want.

    Meanwhile UK inequality is at a record for a generation. Power corrupts. A lot of people in 1997 didn’t realise they were electing another Tory government just with a different label. I admire the religious faith in our types of democracy but if votes were really counted then the Green Party with 10% of the vote would have 65 MPs and 8 MEPs, instead of zero and two. I complain because it’s not fair. And I campaign because the ensuing society enshrines serious social injustice and a murderous global injustice.

    Hope to meet sometime.
    Best wishes,
    Martin Deane

    Green Party candidate
    Hull North

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