The difficult economic situation in mainland Europe gives Eurosceptic voices from UKIP and the Tory right ample opportunity to spread their negative sentiment. Yet theirs is not a voice of patriotism and, contrary to their claims, they do not in fact speak for British interests.
A true patriot would be at the table, rolling their sleeves up and negotiating for a better deal for Britain (and Wales). However, Cameron has taken an obstructive and isolationist approach on trade and finance decisions, which is in complete contrast with the constructive, collegiate approach taken by the Welsh Government so that Wales maximises the benefit of EU Structural and Agricultural funds.
While the Tories and UKIP have made full use of the Eurosceptic press to exaggerate and embellish anti-European rhetoric, pro-European voices have been rather silent and have not shouted from the rooftops that our nation’s true interests are being at the heart of Europe. However, from my numerous meetings with organisations across Wales since being elected in 2009, I know that schools, universities and businesses have seen real benefits from EU membership. This article sets out the patriotic case for Europe as seen from Wales, in terms of trade, the economy, legislation, peace and stability.
More than half UK overseas trade is with the EU, supporting 3 million jobs (150 thousand in Wales) and our corporate sector has access to a vast market of over 500 million people in 28 member states.
While the Eurosceptics see the advantages of access to the Single Market, they want all the benefits without complying with the rules, a sort of rights without responsibilities approach. They mention Norway and Switzerland and say we could be like them. But even as a member of the European Economic Area (EEA) Norway still has to pay and meet Single Market rules, yet it can’t be at the negotiating table to influence rule changes.
Why pay the club subscription if you can’t have a say?
Britain needs to be at the negotiating table to influence change in areas like energy and telecoms. Just look how our people get a raw deal at the hands of the big energy suppliers.
We see how inter-dependent the global economy is today when we consider how in 2007 financial sector problems in the USA spread like wildfire to affect all nations. The fallout from those events is still playing out today, and we need co-operation rather than protectionism and isolationism in order to overcome the crisis.
Getting our economies onto a sustainable path requires collaboration, so we deal with the debt overhang while at the same time supporting a return to growth and job creation.
Our financial sector became tangled in a web of complex derivative instruments across the world, so when one bank was on the brink of insolvency there was a high risk of a domino-like collapse affecting other institutions.
This shows why Europe is right to move forward towards an EU-wide Banking Union with common regulations to cut out risk taking and introduce measures to reduce volatility which can spill over to the real economy.
Europe is still struggling with weak growth and high unemployment. But in Britain the Tory-led government is too ready to blame Europe, and still denies that EU co-operation between member states is part of the solution. Meanwhile, the rest of Europe co-operates and looks forward to recovery.
What is the rest of Europe doing to achieve a revival in growth? One area is making use of the range of EU Structural funds to boost training, apprenticeships and infrastructure investment. Securing funds from the European Investment Bank could also help to boost the small business sector.
Bringing forward a Robin Hood tax on EU-wide financial sector transactions would potentially raise billions of Euros to support a revival in economic growth. Yet the Eurosceptics are against these measures because they are EU driven, despite the potential for driving growth and job opportunities for young people.
In contrast, the Welsh Labour Government is taking a pro-active approach which aims to maximise the advantages of EU structural, research and agricultural funds. Being in Europe enables Wales to use these resources to tackle the long term embedded weaknesses in our society, by regenerating disadvantaged communities and empowering people with new skills.
Eurosceptics often say if we did not pay into Europe the UK could redirect its contribution to our regions. This is wrong because we will always make a contribution while we remain in and benefit from the Single Market. And can you imagine a Westminster government giving Wales an extra £1 billion each year?
So the best way for Wales and other regions to be secure and avoid uncertainty is for the UK to remain at the heart of Europe with access to these funds.
Power and Influence
The Eurosceptic mindset is against decisions made outside the UK, so they oppose the EU in a knee-jerk fashion. This inward-looking, island attitude will cause long term damage to UK interests in Europe and the world. This, in turn, will have a damaging affect on Wales.
For sure Eurosceptics play to the tabloid media gallery for short-term gain, but sadly this is at the cost of further loss of influence on the global stage. How can one state possibly deal with major global issues such as climate change and trade, where collaboration and pooling sovereignty are essential?
Just consider the many humanitarian and security issues which we now face across the world. The most effective action is taken when there is collaboration of member states at the EU level. My discussions with senior Chinese politicians showed me there is strong support for the EU within a multi-polar world.
A single market needs common rules to prevent potential anti-competitive action by member states and large companies, and yet legislation is probably the area which most agitates the Eurosceptics. Yet their calls for less Europe would hit workers and consumers who have gained some hard won rights over recent years.
After new laws are proposed they must secure agreement both of the Council of Ministers, where the UK (and sometimes Wales) is represented, and the European Parliament. While the EU legislation is often broad and general, it is only when it gets to each member state that the detail is made into specific law and implemented by the national Parliament.
When problems occur it is usually a failure at nation state level, for example, when the UK Parliament tries to put welfare rights into law. Anti-Europe politicians such as UKIP and many Tories use the Europe argument as cover to stop new laws on human rights and social and consumer matters. Yet they forget that it was from Europe we got laws on toy safety, mobile phone charges and health and safety at work. So the Tory coalition attacks workers, while Europe protects them.
Peace and Security
We only have to look back over the last 100 years to see how two World Wars had a devastating impact on Europe and its peoples. These disasters motivated the founding fathers of the EU to build a new lasting settlement of “an ever closer Europe” for peace and stability.
This new vision has a deep respect for human rights and social justice at its core, with the aim of inter-dependence and an end to wars over land and resources. It is a testimony to this ideal that we have not had any wars since the EU was founded. Sadly, the Eurosceptics vision would see us return to a more volatile age where competition between states could risk spilling over into military confrontation.
Let us turn away from the dangers of nationalism and xenophobia, and in its worst form, racism. A true patriot wants a stable, co-operative and prosperous Europe, where mutual respect for human rights and freedom are our core and lasting European values.
Derek Vaughan is Member of the European Parliament for Wales. He is a member of the Committee on Budgets and a substitute member on the Budgetary Control Committee and Regional Development Committee