What Europe is and what it could be



We trade air and water pollution. We share wildlife and fish, who don’t carry passports

Europe is our geography and its political, security and environmental problems are ours. Voting to leave the EU won’t change that but it will deprive us of a voice in Europe’s future – in our future.

Natalie Bennett may be stepping down as leader of the Green Party, but she isn’t slowing down just yet. She’s on an almost non-stop tour of England and Wales in support of the party’s Greens for Europe Campaign and she visited Loughborough last Thursday and Sheffield last Friday.

Lamenting the poor quality of much of the debate so far in the mainstream media ” a Tory leadership contest masquerading as a referendum campaign ” Natalie contrasted this with the Green Party’s commitment to ” what the EU is and what it can be “. Asserting the general principle that ” we flourish best when we work together to confront the common problems that we face ” Natalie applied this to the UK’s position in the Europe, whose people shared common problems and aspirations.

Workers across Europe had a common interest in protecting their health and safety and employment rights, and to avoid being undercut in a ‘race to the bottom’. Multinational companies sought to avoid paying taxes and there needed to be European wide initiatives to tackle this. We cannot rely on our own government to address this. Indeed George Osborne used UK taxpayers money to make a legal challenge when the EU acted to cap bankers bonuses.

On the issue of immigration Natalie said that we should celebrate the free movement of labour and of people. Over a million UK citizens worked elsewhere in the EU, and others had retired to the Mediterranean, to enjoy the sun and full access to local healthcare. The real concerns that people had about pressures on public services and housing were not the fault of immigration but rather of failed government policies and a failure of ‘ free market’ policies. Pointing out that EU citizens ” are more likely to be treating you as health workers than being treated as patients ” in the NHS, Natalie reminded us that almost twice as much is spent on healthcare in both France and Germany as a proportion of national wealth.

We need to Stay in Europe to change Europe  and this was the best way to defend and enhance the wellbeing of both people in the UK and across the EU. Popular protest against the proposed free trade agreement with the USA ( TTIP) which threatened the higher environmental, consumer and employment standards which applied in Europe and which multinational companies wished to challenge, had already delayed and might permanently prevent implementation of the agreement. European governments had been required to take notice of the three and a half million EU citizens who had signed a petition against TTIP ( perhaps the biggest  petition in history ) and the 250,000 who had marched in Berlin in opposition. Green MEPs , working together from across Europe, had led the opposition to TTIP in the European Parliament.

Natalie welcomed the militancy of French trade unionists who were currently taking action to defend workers rights and the fact that millions of Germans ( 7-8% of the population) had actively helped refugees arriving in their country- donating food, clothing and money, and rooms in their homes. It was encouraging to learn that opinion polls indicated that UK citizens were the most sympathetic to refugees in the whole of Europe, which was in sharp contrast to the picture often painted in the mainstream media. A fair and reasonable formula for distributing refuges across Europe had been proposed by the often demonised European Commission. It had been rejected by ( mostly right wing) national governments, including our own unrepresentative one ( elected by only 24% of eligible voters as Natalie said she was always anxious to remind her audiences )

Natalie concluded by reaffirming that ” we need to improve our quality of life whilst reducing our environmental impact” and that this would not be helped by voting to leave the EU. Rather a Brexit vote would empower racists and reactionaries across Europe. Polls indicated that the result was likely to be close and Greens should do every vote counted equally , there were no ‘ safe seats’ . There were many who were alienated from and angry with our unjust and unequal politics and society and who may be tempted to vote  ‘ Leave’ as an outlet for their frustration. Some could  be persuaded by our positive Greens for Europe  message and activists should make an effort to reach as many of them as possible in the last few weeks of the campaign.

Natalie speaking in Sheffield, 3rd June 2016

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