In these European elections Labour is clear that walking away from our biggest market – the European Union – would be bad for our economy. We are much better placed to shape Europe’s future, fight for our national interest and back businesses and jobs if we are fully engaged rather than having one foot out of the door.
But, as I argued in a speech in Manchester last night, the status quo is not good enough. We need to see real change in Europe to respond to public concerns, deliver better value for money for taxpayers and secure rising prosperity.
Labour is setting out a clear agenda for reform to make the EU work better for Britain. First, we need the EU to be better focused on creating jobs and growth. A European commissioner focused on growth and an independent audit of the impact of any new piece of EU legislation on growth would be key to helping refocus the EU on this key task.
Second, our reforms will help ensure that EU citizens seeking work here contribute to our economy and society. As I argued four years ago, we should extend the period of time that people from new member states have to wait before being able to come to the United Kingdom to look for work.
We will work to stop the payment of benefits to those not resident in this country, consult on changing the rules on deporting someone who receives a custodial sentence shortly after arriving in the UK, and have called on the government to double the time that an EU migrant has to wait before being able to claim the basic jobseeker’s allowance.
And third, any agenda for change in Europe must also address people’s concerns about how power is exercised at a European level. So we have called for national parliaments to have a greater role in EU decision-making by being able to ‘red card’ any new EU legislation before it comes into force; for serious reform of the European commission.
We led the calls for a cut in the EU budget and reform of the common agricultural policy and have urged a zero-based review of spending on EU agencies to help ensure that any overlap, duplication or waste is addressed and tackled.
As Douglas Alexander has said, Labour does not support a drive towards an ‘ever-closer union’. We would hold an in-out referendum if there was a further transfer of powers – a prospect we believe is possible, but unlikely in the next parliament.
David Cameron’s arbitrary timetable for a referendum, which puts Tory party politics before the national economic interest, is creating huge uncertainty for business right now. Walking away from our EU membership would be reckless, foolish and deeply damaging. It would be anti-investment, anti-jobs and anti-business.
But we do need to see change in Europe and we must reform the European Union to make it work better for Britain. That is our message ahead of next week’s European elections and it is what a Labour government will deliver.
Ed Balls MP is shadow chancellor of the exchequer
Photo: Rock Cohen
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