We need to re-assess our approach to Europe


by Helen Goodman MP    
8:30 am - December 2nd 2011

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In the past you were either a Europhile and constantly uncritical of the European institutions- or a Europhobe and unable to acknowledge any virtues in the European project.

So perhaps the crisis we now face will enable us to adopt a more balanced attitude in re-assessing the European project.

We need to this from at least three perspectives; the policies, the EU institutions and the relation with our citizens and national institutions.

Free movement of Labour
First the policies- what are the gains and losses? What have been the successes and failures?

There is a consensus that the single market has worked well. Europe is our largest market and the shared legal framework has improved scope for trade from which we continue to benefit. Indeed the social chapter has protected people and improved their quality of life.

However we need to acknowledge the problems- the decision of the UK in 2001 to open our Labour market and extend many social security entitlements to people from A2 and A* led to the arrival, not of 30,000 as forecast, but of 300,000 for which we were unprepared. This has been a major change which turned many Labour voters off Europe.

The credibility of the current rules with British voters has sunk to an all time low and their interests and views must be taken into account.

Democratic Deficit
The second major flaw with the way the EU operates is the “democratic deficit”. The resolution of the Euro zone crisis, through the appointment of “technocratic” prime ministers in Greece and Spain and the proposal for fiscal union has made this clearer in the past few weeks.

The Commission is unaccountable and too powerful. The role of initiating legislation under Treaty arrangements should be moved to the democratically controlled institutions- the Council of Minister and the European Parliament. We could split the secretariat for the Council of Minister from the implementation executive.

Beefing up Westminster
Finally, we come to our national accountability mechanisms. Being a member of the European Parliament must be one of the worst jobs in the world. Constituencies are vast, with upwards of two million voters to interact with, listen to and represent. Consequently, turnout in European elections is low: recognition and understanding amongst the public is limited.

Meanwhile Parliament’s scrutiny is limited. The European Scrutiny Committee (ESC) examines every document coming from the EU. Far from being the most important committee in the House, it is regarded as an obscurity. Indeed its handover by Tory euro-sceptics discourages engagement and hinders its effectiveness.

Conclusion
People in Britain are disillusioned with Europe, and we will soon see whether austerity can be carried through by unelected leaders. This doesn’t mean that the EU is a bad idea, or that a major part of our national interest isn’t shared with our European partners. But it does suggest a rethink is needed.

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About the author
Helen Goodman is Labour Member of Parliament for Bishop Auckland, and Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport.
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Reader comments


“the decision of the UK in 2001 to open our Labour market” Surely “by” not “of”, not to mention “the Labour party” not “the UK”. Personally I’m in favour of the free movement of labour but how anyone believed Labour’s projected numbers is something of a mystery to me.

“Democratic Deficit” – this is for reasons both good and bad, a feature not a bug. Nor would this be such a problem if the EU had confined itself to matters that truly are best done at a European level rather than coming up with jam making regulations. Not being hopelessly corrupt would be a good start as well.

“Being a member of the European Parliament must be one of the worst jobs in the world.”

Every day I get up and pray hard for those tragically unfortunate MEPs. Truly, they suffer like no other on this earth those poor, poor little lambs.

“The European Scrutiny Committee (ESC) examines every document coming from the EU. Far from being the most important committee in the House, it is regarded as an obscurity.”

Yes the ESC needs to do it’s job properly and for that it needs teeth that it currently lacks, (although how to give national parliaments teeth and not immediately gridlock the EU is an interesting question).

“Indeed its handover by Tory euro-sceptics discourages engagement and hinders its effectiveness.”

Euro scepticism is just what is required here and I think you mean’t ‘handover “to” Tory euro-sceptics’.

“People in Britain are disillusioned with Europe”

Any chance that any of the 3 major parties might give us that oft promised referendum then? *crickets*

Helen @OP:

If this article is reflective of a more general shift in thinking amongst the Parliamentary Labour Party, and is followed up by more concrete thinking about how the British Labour party might work with the PES on campaigning for reform of the EU in a non-Merkel/Sarkozy way, then the shift is to be broadly welcomed, even if the analysis of the free movement of labour issue remains unbalanced (I appreciate the confines of a short piece, however).

However, it looks a little bit arrogant suddenly to be revealing that there is a nuanced socialist position on the EU, and that we’ve all been a bit stupid so far.

In March 2010, Liberal Conspiracy carried an article covering much the same ground, but with more detail than you offer. It said, inter alia:

“The issue for here is that a process of technocratic economic management signed into law under the Maastricht treaty, under a particular set of economic conditions which the then policy makers assumed would last for ever, is now adding to an already considerable burden on people who did not make the crisis, and did not gain from the booms that caused it.

As a result there is a real possibility of major social unrest in many European countries, including explosions of racial hatred as workers take it out on themselves; this is the antithesis of what the European Union is supposed to be about.

That, fundamentally, is the stupidity at the heart of the European Union, and reflects the key problem with it.

The European Union is wholly based on the entrenchment of neoliberal norms of which the validity is now widely questioned, but which are set out in permanent form in the Lisbon Treaty and the treaties which proceeded it.”

Perhaps the PLP is only now waking up to the need for a socialist critique of the EU, but perhaps that’s because the PLP has allowed itself to be strait-jacketed in its thinking. It’s good then, that you agree “a rethink is needed”, though perhaps you might put a little less focus on people moving to get work, and a bit more on developing an ecomomic environment in which the don’t have to.

The clock is ticking. The PLP needs to work with European partners to develop a coherent (Keynesian, employment-focused) alternative to the further entrenchment of the worst bits of the Lisbon Treaty/European Stability & Growth Pact (the 3% deficit terms of which were broken by Germany in 2002, you might want to remind Merkelians). The knowledge of how to do all this already exists in abundance, and the UK the Labour Party needs to catch up quick.

“There is a consensus that the single market has worked well. Europe is our largest market and the shared legal framework has improved scope for trade from which we continue to benefit.

No it hasn’t ! Read the EU’s own findings

http://www.openeurope.org.uk/media-centre/bulletin.aspx?bulletinid=42

“EU Commissioner admits EU regulation costs businesses €600 billion a year; warns that powerful EU civil servants have blocked attempts to reduce regulation”

The EU’s Enterprise Commissioner Gunther Verheugen said in an interview with the FT this week that EU legislation now costs European business €600 billon (£405 billion) a year, on the basis of a new evaluation of the administrative costs of red tape.

This is a further indication that the benefits of the Single Market are being outweighed by the costs of the extra regulation intended to create it. The Commission’s own estimate of the benefit of the Single Market is that between 1986 and 2002 it increased EU GDP by €165 billion. So potentially the costs of the extra EU regulation are now more than thee times the benefits.”

“There is a consensus that the single market has worked well. Europe is our largest market and the shared legal framework has improved scope for trade from which we continue to benefit.”

The facts say otherwise, Helen …..

“Between 2000-2009 the UK has ran up a colossal trade deficit of over £260 Billion with the EU. ” (Independent Labour peer, Lord Stoddart of Swindon)

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201011/ldhansrd/text/101125w0001.htm#

http://globalbritain.org/BNN/BN67PropUKeconomyExptoEU1.pdf

“Less than ten per cent of the British economy

is involved in exporting to the EU Yet EU regulation is imposed on the more than ninety per cent of the economy which is NOT involved in exporting to the EU”

“EU ‘costs Britain £118bn a year’

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/6198708/EU-costs-Britain-118bn-a-year.html

“estimate of the the total cost to Britain of the EU, once the harmful impacts of its numerous policies and regulations have been taken into account, to be £118 billion a year. That is equal to £1,968 for every man, woman and child – a life-changing amount of money for millions who are currently struggling to make ends meet.”

Britain does not need to be in a political union with the EU when its share of world trade is in long term decline.

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielhannan/100045697/why-europe-rose-and-why-it-is-now-declining/

Dan Hannan MEP : “Why Europe rose, and why it is now declining”

“At the moment that the Asian powers are discovering the benefits of decentralisation, the EU is going in the opposite direction. In consequence, the 15 nations of “Old Europe” (that is, the EU as it stood prior to the 2004 enlargement round) have seen their share of world GDP decline from 36 per cent in 1980 to 24 per cent today, with a forecast drop to 15 per cent in 2020. The USA, over the same period, has kept its share of world GDP steady.”

” Indeed the social chapter has protected people and improved their quality of life.”

What’s that got to do with the EU ? Norway has the same rights and has consistently voted no to EU membership in referendums.

The latest polls show that 70% of Norweigans are against EU membership and most of the opposition in Norway comes from the left. Are they “euro phobic ” too ?

http://www.newsinenglish.no/2011/11/01/eu-support-falls-to-record-low-2/

If social legislation is desirable, pass it in the British Parliament not in the un democratic institutions of the EU. Norway has managed to do this, why can’t Britain ?

http://www.norway.org.uk/aboutnorway/society/welfare/benefits/

“Parental benefits and paternity leave

Did you know that Norwegian parents have the right to a paid leave of absence during the first year of a child’s life? To encourage more men to assume a greater share of care-giving responsibilities, 10 weeks of parental leave are reserved for fathers.

The aim of the parental benefit scheme is to help parents to combine working life and family life. Thanks to the scheme, Norway tops European statistics on birth rates and participation of women in the workforce.

Norwegian parents may choose to take a total of 46 weeks of leave at 100 per cent pay or 56 weeks at 80 per cent pay.”

@3: What you quote is an Open Europe think tank press release more than five years old.

Let’s be a bit more up to date with the Open Europe press releases, focusing in on the UK/

“Open Europe finds that regulation has cost the UK economy £176 billion since 1998 – roughly equivalent to the country’s entire budget deficit. Of this amount, £124 billion, or 71%, had its origin in EU legislation.” (March 2010).

Ooh, that’s terrible! Until you read at page 1 of OE’s own report (http://openeurope.org.uk/research/stilloutofcontrol.pdf):

“We estimate the benefit/cost ratio of the regulations we studied at 1.58. In other words, for every £1 of cost introduced by a regulation since 1998, it has delivered £1.58 of benefits. However, the benefit/cost ratio of EU regulations is 1.02, while the ratio of UK regulations is 2.35.”

So even OE acknowledges that there is an overall benefit, albeit marginal in its calculations (in fact BIS gives another ratio later in the report).

It’s dishonest to give only the cost figure from cost-benefit analyses.

Being a member of the European Parliament must be one of the worst jobs in the world.

Hilarious. Are you serious?

Switzerland has twice voted no to EU membership and still has an effective social welfare system, as do may other countries around the world outside of Europe

http://www.thelocal.ch/1738/20111111/

“Swiss men in line for paternity leave boost”

10. Man on Clapham Omnibus

The pontifications of the writer pretty much assume that although the EU isnt working that well at the moment with a bit of tinkering it can all bemade right.A bit like a visit to the dentist.
However I believe the continual failure of the EU stems ultimately from the seeds of its creation,ie the fear of European disunity and ultimately war and the belief in that a large capitalist block could in some way compete withthe USA. The EU is neither democratic or with its agricultural subsidies anything to do with free trade.This has been made worse through the Euro and the consequent loss of exchange rate mechanisms.
The big question is, if we returned to a soverign nation having a right of political and economic self determination and which traded freely with the rest of the world would we be worse off than we are now.

People’s Pledge to let the voters decide

A referendum on Britain staying in the EU is long overdue and now essential, writes Kelvin Hopkins

http://www.tribunemagazine.co.uk/2011/04/people%E2%80%99s-pledge-to-let-the-voters-decide/

“I am among those on the left who believe that Europe can and should in future comprise a free association of independent democratic states working together for mutual agreement on specific matters, but not governed by a supranational structure taking power to itself and away from national parliaments. Norway and Switzerland have good relations with the EU, but are not members of it. Britain could happily enjoy a similar relationship and after a possible “No” vote in our own referendum, other member states might choose to follow that example and promote a happier, more comradely and democratic Europe for the future.”

“Britain Beyond the EU: Kelvin Hopkins MP speaks to the Bruges Group”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaInAnXUrD8

The second major flaw with the way the EU operates is the “democratic deficit”. The resolution of the Euro zone crisis, through the appointment of “technocratic” prime ministers in Greece and Spain and the proposal for fiscal union has made this clearer in the past few weeks.

Enhhh… the appointment of ‘technocrats’ was not done by the EU. In this context, the ‘democratic deficit’ – if there is one – is in the constitutions of Greece and Spain. In Greece, for example, the Parliament elects a President, the President appoints a Prime Minister and, advised by the Prime Minister, a Cabinet.

13. Chaise Guevara

“In the past you were either a Europhile and constantly uncritical of the European institutions- or a Europhobe and unable to acknowledge any virtues in the European project.”

Um, who is “you” in this sentence? I wasn’t aware that we’d been through a historic period where nobody was capable of holding a complex opinion on the EU.

14. Alex Macfie

@chaise: Indeed, that is simply the way the tabloid press and anti-European movement portray the issue. Certainly the (Europhile) Lib Dems are often highly critical of European institutions where appropriate.

@Chaise: Precisely (and what I said longer @2). I’m sure Helen means well, but it is quite an insult to suggest that no-one’s thought about stuff until she has.

I’ve taken this apart piece by piece <a href="http://www.jonworth.eu/another-labour-mp-has-a-go-at-the-eu-and-once-more-its-disappointing/"here. It’s a poor piece.

I love how the figure about an expected 30k turning into 300k horrifies people. The same people who have holiday villas in Spain, and use up their health care money there. Also – let us give thanks for a brilliant European institution: The European Court of Human Rights. Would we have the Supreme Court without it…

18. Leon Wolfson

Really? Show me one STUDY, not poll, showing this. One.

The UK government has, by it’s hostility, alienated pretty much everyone else in the EU…the Conservative position isn’t far from Labour’s.

The free market would be the FIRST thing to go should Labour throw in with the isolationists, and the SNP would receive a massive boost to their campaign for independence.

@3-6 – So… a link splodge from a bunch of press releases from isolationist anti-EU nonsense spouters. And?

Moreover, the “people’s” pledge is not about the people deciding, it’s about CASH deciding. Who funded the “No” AV campaign? It makes it plain that “democracy” in this country is bought and sold in referendums…your HATRED for democracy is plain.

We have a working system of democracy…elections and parliament. Referendums are massively anti-democratic.

@17 – ARGH! The ECHR is the court of the Council of Europe, NOT the EU!

I’ve never been sure why there there is so much affection for the EU within the labour movement. Especially given that it enshrines the free movement of labour and capital, goods and services – a right which has more benefit for capital than for labour. And its state aid rules allow popular policies – like the remutualisation of Northern Rock, for example – to be frustrated.

I’ve found pro-EU sentiment to be more prominent amongst MPs, MEPs (obviously!), and people employed by trades unions – than amongst Labour voters, Labour members, or trades union activists. I guess what I’m saying is that the higher up you go, the closer you are to approving of the institution. And gee whizz, don’t you know the same goes for the notion that citizens should have the right to decide issues of great importance…

I couldn’t believe the stupidity of the shadow cabinet’s decision to pour cold water on the flames of a Tory backbench rebellion by lining up with the government to ensure there would be no progress towards a referendum on EU membership. FFS, we supported the vote on electoral reform at a time when there were bigger fish to fry – and we didn’t even support AV whole-heartedly. So why did the PLP help Cameron discipline his troops?

@ Leon Wolfson. I know the original system of democracy in ancient Athens emerged from a society based on slavery and exluded both slaves and women, but they were at least on to something. In the struggle for democracy in the modern era, arguments for representation rather than citizen participation were precisely to PREVENT the kratos of the demos – the power of the people. At the last election, the result for parliament wasn’t exactly clear – it was hung. I imagine you’d get a better turnout and more apparent answers if citizens could actually vote on the laws they must obey.

20. Leon Wolfson

@19 – Fine, but don’t pretend that system has anything to do with the system of democracy we have in this country. Moreover, don’t pretend the referendum was democratic, given the lies repeated en-mass in the media. The situation where the “No” campaign has secret backers (some almost certainly foreign) is massively problematical!

Before we even consider another, we need strong restrictions on finance and media influence on referendums. (For that matter, those around our general elections are too weak!)

Leon @ 18:

“Moreover, the “people’s” pledge is not about the people deciding, it’s about CASH deciding. Who funded the “No” AV campaign? It makes it plain that “democracy” in this country is bought and sold in referendums…your HATRED for democracy is plain.”

Yeah, those bloody Swiss eh, always being manipulated into supporting big business over ordinary people. That must be why the Swiss are on average so much poorer and less well-off than we are.

22. Leon Wolfson

@21 – The Swiss control the funding for referendums. The UK does not.

Keep up the assualt on democracy!


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    We need to re-assess our approach to Europe http://t.co/nH5Oa2PV

  2. sunny hundal

    EXCL: Labour shadow minister Helen Goodman says we need to "re-assess the European project" http://t.co/vq8g0y7m

  3. sunny hundal

    Following Douglas Alexander, other Labour MPs also urging a change in UK's approach to Europe http://t.co/vq8g0y7m

  4. Craig Owen

    RT @sunny_hundal Following Douglas Alexander, other Labour MPs also urging a change in UK's approach to Europe http://t.co/Gx86Z5P6 Agree!

  5. House Of Twits

    RT @sunny_hundal Following Douglas Alexander, other Labour MPs also urging a change in UK's approach to Europe http://t.co/3K1qKQ16

  6. Paul Cotterill

    Is Labour finally starting to get to grips with a leftist critique of the EU http://t.co/CcUl6iSP About time, certainly.

  7. How Labour should respond to the Merkel disaster « Though Cowards Flinch

    [...] Minister Helen Goodman tells us this morning, with a nice line in both condescension and ignorant understatement,  that we’ve all been [...]





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