The EU has been good for us.
For the UK, being part of the EU means that we are part of the world’s largest single market creating 20 per cent of the world’s GDP; an economic zone larger than that of the USA and Japan combined, with a total GDP of around £11 tn. The EU is the world’s largest trade bloc, capable of effectively negotiating with the political heavy weights of Russia, China and the United States.
Working together at EU level has given us improved employment rights. Thanks to the Working Time Directive employees are no longer obliged to work more than 48 hours per week, are guaranteed breaks and night shifts are restricted to eight hours. Part-time workers are guaranteed the same basic conditions of work as full-time colleagues if they have been doing the same job for 12 weeks or more. Workers have been given the automatic right to 28 days annual paid holiday and a guarantee of at least one day off each week.
For women, EU laws means that mothers have a minimum of 14 weeks of maternity leave and their job must be held open so they can return without loss of status or pay. And the European Protection Order means that women who have suffered abuse, and who have already been granted protection in one EU Member State, will be able to get similar protection if they move to another EU Member State.
For young people, the EU’s Erasmus Plus programme brings together young people from across Europe. It provides opportunities for more than four million young Europeans to study, train, gain work experience and volunteer in Europe. The European Parliament’s Youth Employment Initiative, is a €6 bn fund to use in regions where youth unemployment rate is 25 per cent or higher.
All from legislation born in the European Parliament.
As a Labour MEP, I want to make sure that Britain feels the full benefit of our membership in the EU. I want to make sure that we concentrate on the issues that really matter: jobs, a competitive and sustainable economy, the environment, crime and consumer protection. I believe that the biggest challenge facing Britain today is making sure that our economy works for everyone, not just the privileged few at the top.
Over the last few years Labour MEPs have proved that they can make a real difference on the issues that matter to our community. Labour MEPs have:
• Stood up to the banking sector, backing new laws to curb bankers’ bonuses;
• Opposed unfair roaming charges and forced phone companies to reduce them;
• Protected consumers against sky-high credit card transaction fees; and
• Stood up to big tobacco companies, banning products that encourage children to smoke.
Even with all of these benefits, we can’t, and shouldn’t, pretend that the EU is perfect. Britain’s national interest certainly lies in remaining at the heart of the EU, but it must be a reformed EU – and we must be critical friends.
For far too long Europe’s course has been set by parties of the right, so rather than defending this status quo we need to be working for a Labour agenda. We need to be making Europe more relevant to people’s lives once again and selling our vision of how it can be, rather than how it is now.
As Europeans and Europhiles we will fight to change those things that need reform. Just a few changes and we could ensure that we stop exploitation and a race to the bottom for workers by properly enforcing existing legislation and tying up loopholes, that we promote growth and complete the single market, that we change the way the EU budget is spent – less for the Common Agricultural Policy and more on public goods, that we protect the NHS from EU competition law, that we cut down on the bureaucracy and use of intermediaries for EU funding – which should go directly to those who need it, and that we get rid of the wasteful second seat in Strasbourg.
Against a backdrop of growing apathy in the UK – fuelled by discontent with politicians and a disengagement from the democratic process we need to make sure that every person understands the significance of their vote. We must not forget that whilst in the latest European elections, 10 per cent of eligible voters voted for UKIP, the biggest winner was apathy as 60 per cent of people did not vote at all!
Under David Cameron, the UK’s influence in Brussels, and even in the ECR Group he created, has been eroded. This has put our national interest, and the reforms and progress we need, on hold, leaving us sleepwalking to exit and causing great economic uncertainty and damaging investment in our country. This is unacceptable.
The vast challenge ahead to reform the EU will be difficult, but is completely worthwhile when consider the benefits that we get from these institutions. We need to be singing the benefits of EU membership, dispelling the myths put forwards by others and making these very necessary reforms.
With 3.5 million jobs, a trading bloc of over 500,000,000 citizens, where we do 50 per cent of our trade and crucially with peace across Europe – the European Union is a force for good in the world. We need to be central to that, and central to improving it.
Theresa Griffin is a Labour Member of the European Parliament for the North West England region