One Nation and the single market
Regional growth within the single market should be the priority this year – 20 years after the launch of the single market and 40 years after the UK joined the common market.
A strong European Union regional policy can help deliver a balanced economy in the UK and is needed more than ever after the coalition government cuts have disproportionately affected the north. However, David Cameron has shown in recent negotiations over the EU budget that he is not in the least bit concerned over regional growth funds. They have played a hugely important part in regenerating cities and towns in the north-west – and while we should certainly not rely too much on EU-funded support, now is not the time to disinvest in local economies that have suffered more than most from the credit crunch.
The European Commission has this week set out its plans for jobs and growth in 2013. The centrepiece for this is the single market. It would help us pro-Europeans to make the case for the EU if the Commission puts growth areas right at the heart of its single market agenda.
This will help regions like the north-west become more economically active because – and we should not underestimate this – we need the single market more than ever if we are going to compete in an increasingly globalised world. Not only does it mean that we are better placed to compete with China and other large economies but also we attract a level of investment from the United States and elsewhere that we would not do if we left the EU.
So the single market is important – but not at any cost. William Hague has launched an ‘audit of competences’ to identify what EU powers could be repatriated. It is a smokescreen. At the top of his list is employment protection measures. Many sceptics say that they didn’t sign up to a ‘social Europe’ when we joined the common market. But this misses the point. ‘Social Europe’ is a fundamental part of the single market. Without it, there would be a race to the bottom.
Europe needs to demonstrate that it can improve living standards. Even though I would prioritise regional growth, we need to take a One Nation approach to the EU. Making the case for membership means identifying the benefits to consumers who are increasingly buying cross-border because of internet shopping. We are all consumers and most of us are workers– whether in the north or in the south. Our One Nation approach would be a hard-headed assessment of what would be in the national interest – and not only in the interest of big business and bankers.
The single market has improved living standards both for the consumer and the worker – and can continue to do so. This is not an easy message to get across, but at a time when ordinary families are suffering from severe austerity measures, I believe that they would be responsive to what us pro-Europeans have to say. This year is the Year of the Citizen and the Commission will be making a special effort to reach out to the public. Hopefully, this will help make the positive case for the single market.
If we are going to prioritise growth areas, then we should also radically reduce the subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy. Cameron missed a golden opportunity to do this. The subsidies are still going to wealthy large landowners. Yes, there are many small farmers that still need it but only because they are being squeezed by powerful supermarkets. We should replace CAP with a European Food Policy that sets out a fairer deal through the supply chain from farm to fork.
Kevin Doran is editor of NorthWestinEurope.org
CAP, David Cameron, EU, Europe, farming, north-west England, single market, William Hague