Should We Stay or Should We Go Now?

Caroline Lucas Argues For Remaining in the EU

I have a lot of respect for the Green MP Caroline Lucas. The impression I get is that she’s one of the most honest and hard-working MPs in Westminster. She recently declared her allegiance to the pro-EU campaign in the upcoming membership referendum. In support of this position, she published a pro-EU article in the Independent.

Just to declare my views, I’m leaning towards leaving the EU, but I’m open to being convinced otherwise.

For some reason, early in the article, Lucas decides to take a juvenile side-swipe at her pro-EU colleagues. “Britain’s future within Europe is far too important to be left to middle-aged men in suits,” she says. Being middle-aged herself, is it their gender that she finds so disagreeable? Their attire? Or both?

Anyway, throughout the article she offers up various benefits of EU membership. She argues that “The European Union is vital in safeguarding our environment. From protecting some of our most threatened birds, to forcing our Government to act on air pollution.” Along a similar theme she says “it is only through working closely with our neighbours that we stand a chance of tackling climate change” before adding “Britain’s future security relies on a global agreement on climate change – and we’re in a far stronger position to make that happen if we’re part of the EU.”

With regards to economics she says “When it comes to regulating finance the EU is also way ahead of the UK.” And she argues that other benefits include “everything from the labelling that tells us whether food is sugar free to tackling the trafficking of children.”

She later summarises her view by saying “The real value of Europe is about working together to solve the problems we face.”

The flaw with this argument is that EU membership isn’t a necessity for achieving any of those things. The UK government is perfectly capable of introducing laws to allay environmental concerns or enforce greater financial regulation. It’s just that, apparently, the EU is pushing harder in such areas. Is that a sign that our political system is flawed and needs drastic restructuring? Or is it that campaigners need to work harder to push these issues higher up the agenda? Perhaps the campaigning has been sufficient, but our current government is too stubborn and unwilling to listen. If so, we can chuck them out in five years’ time if we want.

And that’s the nub. Surely, if our leaders aren’t behaving as we wish, we have far more clout to change their ways when we can threaten to kick them to the gutter in the next general election. How can you argue that we have more power when we’re just one voice lost amongst the noisy din of twenty-eight? And when it comes to countries pulling together to achieve change, how can you argue that membership of the EU is required for such negotiations when we’re already members of numerous international groups, committees and organisations outside the EU? (UN, NATO, G7, WTO, Council of Europe, Commonwealth of Nations etc).

By Lucas’ own admission “the EU is far from perfect. Too much power is centralised and citizen’s voices are often not heard. It’s not as democratic or accountable as it could be.” She then goes on to say “all too often, it pushes a damaging economic agenda that actively undermines progress towards a social and environmental Europe.” Doesn’t that directly contradict some of her earlier pro-EU arguments? What also contradicts her argument is the claim that “A different kind of EU is possible: one where power is held locally whenever it can be.” If she favours power being held locally, why be in favour of transferring powers away from Westminster towards Brussels?

She tries to address anti-EU sentiment by saying “Let’s build on the fact that the directly-elected Parliament has gradually been granted more powers.” Do we really need to rejoice when a directly-elected Parliament is ‘gradually’ granted more powers? Isn’t a directly-elected Parliament supposed to hold the power? Isn’t that how democracy works? And, before EU membership, isn’t that exactly the position our own Parliament enjoyed? Now we endure a situation whereby two-thirds of our laws are either derived from or influenced by the EU.

The whole premise of her argument seems to be that our government hasn’t been progressive enough, so let’s throw in with the EU and hope they are instead. Firstly, as argued above, we’re able to hold our own government to much more account than a distant and crowded EU. Secondly, can we really trust the EU to behave any better anyway?

During the article Lucas herself highlights “damaging trade treaties like TTIP”. For those unaware, TTIP stands for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. It’s a highly controversial trade agreement being negotiated between the EU and the US. The shady negotiations are being held behind closed doors and could result in all of our services, including the NHS, being opened up for privatisation. It could also allow corporations to sue governments who introduce laws that harm company profits (such as if a company produces a pesticide that’s banned because it damages the environment). You may feel sceptical of such dramatic claims on account of my repeated use of the tentative ‘could,’ but this is unavoidable. Unfortunately, the negotiations are taking place in secret, and we’re not allowed to know what the EU Commissioners are agreeing on our behalf. It could be, for example, that they sign away our basic human right of access to water.

In the last year 3.25 million people have signed a petition against TTIP. There have been thousands of protests. Currently the deal is being negotiated by Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström. When questioned about the concerns of these millions of Europeans she said “I do not take my mandate from the European people.” That’s an astounding admission of the way the EU operates. It’s also worryingly accurate.

The article in the link above references a report from War on Want which explains that Commissioners, like Malmström, aren’t introducing laws solely for the benefit of the people of Europe. Very often they’re introducing laws solely for the benefit of the corporations who lobby them. It’s no secret that thousands of lobbyists swarm around Brussels. It’s also no secret that much of the legislation that pours from the EU is devised during private meetings between the politicians and these corporate lobbyists. To reiterate, many of the laws introduced by the EU are done so solely to benefit private corporations. In her Independent article Lucas labels the EU as an opportunity to “re-imagine what democracy looks like.” Well, that’s certainly one way to put it.

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About lanceleuven


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