David Cameron claims widespread public support for his ‘repatriation’ pledge. Polls suggest that, when people are asked the question, they agree that powers should be repatriated from Brussels. I don’t think these are quite the same thing, but in any case there is no doubt that there is an appetite in this country for reform in Europe. As pro-Europeans we can’t have our heads in the sand on this one.
What we need to be careful of is thinking that the public support the kind of reforms that David Cameron would like to see. He’s very carefully not laid out which powers he wants repatriated. Thankfully for us his backbenchers have been less coy: an opt out of the working time directive, restrictions on the free movement of people (which we should remember works both ways), opt outs on home affairs legislation – making it more difficult to catch and bring British paedophiles to justice, for example – and pulling out of most if not all of the social charter, which enshrines in law a series of basic rights and protections for working people.
I suspect that when Cameron is forced to clarify which powers he wants back, public support for his endeavour will plummet.
Labour mustn’t be distracted by the Tory sideshow. We need to make the case now for the kind of reforms that will bring about jobs and growth in Europe and have a real benefit to people in the UK. Here are five things we could start with:
Cameron’s blathering about staffing costs at the European Commission is a distraction from the real concerns with the EU budget. Birmingham city council has more staff than the European Commission and administration accounts for less than six per cent of the budget. What we should be talking about is a budget that puts job creation and infrastructure investment at its core. We need to invest more in renewables and green jobs, transport infrastructure, research and development. Everything the EU does should have the dual aim of boosting ailing growth and getting growing numbers of unemployed people back to work.
Reforming the common agricultural policy
The CAP is still the largest slice of the EU budget, coming in at 50 billion euros in the last budget. The EU cannot continue to provide subsidies which largely go into the pockets of wealthy landowners and big farming corporations. CAP funding should be cut and refocused on rural development and tackling rural poverty.
Tackling youth unemployment
For me this is the single biggest issue we face in Europe right now and something I have already written extensively about. 5.5 million young people across the EU are currently out of work, at a cost of 150 billion euros to member states. Putting just 20 billion euros from unused EU social funds into the creation of a European youth guarantee would get 2 million young people back to work over the next couple of years.
A single seat for the European parliament
The monthly travelling circus of 700+ MEPs plus several thousand support staff to Strasbourg to vote is completely unnecessary and a huge waste of money. The European parliament should have a single seat, based in Brussels. This would save 200 million euros a year and would go some way to restoring public credibility in the parliament as an institution.
I recently wrote a detailed piece for LabourList about this. In a nutshell: the powers of MEPs should be strengthened, we need to look at new ways of creating better accountability to the electorate, the president of the European Commission – arguably the most powerful role in the EU – should be directly elected by the people and the European Central Bank should be subject to democratic scrutiny.
These are practical and necessary reforms that would create jobs, boost growth and build public trust in the European Union. A recent surge in support for our membership of the EU particularly among Labour voters, which was attributed to the positive case beginning to be made by Labour’s top brass, shows that we can lead the debate on this and change public opinion. Ahead of elections to the European parliament next year we must make that case more clearly and win public support for reforms that will get Europe working.
Kevin Peel is a councillor on Manchester city council and tweets @kevpeel
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