Published on March 10th, 2016 | by frances


EU do you think you are kidding Mr Juncker?

By Paul Stewart, Prospect National Trust Branch 

One of the interesting dynamics of the EU debate is the spectacle of the far right and hard left unified in their belief that the EU is a force for ill in Europe.

A capitalist club benefiting the political class and large corporations or a leftist cabal that threatens the sovereignty of the nation state?

A Franco/German economic alliance controlling Europe more effectively that Hitler or Napoleon ever could?

Perhaps it could be seen as protection against a fractured UK that looks increasingly like a one party state?

Or simply refugee ‘swarms’ taking your jobs, benefit tourism, evil Eurocrats forcing all bananas to be straight or worse the ‘euro sausage’ threating the great British banger by being classified as “emulsified high-fat offal tube”

Lets face it the EU is seen by many as a very dry subject and many votes will be cast, if they are cast at all, on the basis of over simplified arguments and empty slogans.

Having spent some time in Brussels recently I was reminded of the founding principles of the EU, peace and partnership in Europe, an end to conflict in all its forms, the free movement of her people for the benefit of all her citizen. We were also reminded of the protections afforded for working people and indeed the recognition and protections of culture, language and identity. All part of Europes social chapter.

The EU was supposed to ensure security and an upward trend in the living standards of her 500 million citizens and I ask myself have the EU political elites forgotten this?

Many business are now bigger and more influential than many nation states but without social or moral obligation to anyone. I learned that for every trade unionist or NGO lobbing in Brussels there are 100 representatives of big business. Has governance of the people by the people, for the people become management of the people by the corporate sponsored political elites in the EU? If so then is it any wonder people are so disinclined to bother voting.

The refugee crisis is indeed a humanitarian disaster. The EU itself was born in the aftermath of World War II, a war that saw the displacement of 15 million people in Europe making the current 4.1 million displacement of Syria’s small in comparison particularly considering that 95% of Syrian refugees are hosted not in Europe but in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. (1)

Refugees coming to the UK and entering the labour market are decried for taking low paid jobs, drive wages downwards but rather than the refuges being to blame is this not the  fault of business that undercuts and exploits people accelerating a race to the bottom and increasing inequality? EU regulation has the potential to reverse this trend if the political will is there or alternatively could EU regulation be seen as more red tape that is anti-business hampering economic growth?

It seems that one persons ‘regulation’ is another’s ‘red tape’.

David Cameron was seeking to curb the 20,400 child benefit awards going abroad, 13,174 of which were going to Poland and instead indexing payments based on the living standard of the member state where the children live. (2)

My experience from those I met in Brussels wasn’t that there was any significant opposition to this proposal more bemusement that since the sums of money are so relatively minuscule that this issue should have such media focus in the UK.

At the same time I can’t help but think of the billions of pounds that leave this country in unpaid taxes.

But perhaps that’s a different conversation.

As for the Eurocrats unhealthy interest in the shape of our bananas:

Commission Regulation (EC) 2257/94 simply classifies bananas into 3 categories according to shape. Nothing was ‘band’ so our bananas are safe!

Prospect Trade Union holds it party political neutrality dearly. We enjoy membership from right across the political spectrum in the UK and even have members sitting on the benches of both sides of the house.

Regardless of our political opinions as individuals, this breadth of membership and our pragmatic, evidence based approach provide us with a reach and level of influence that benefit our membership enormously, something that many other groups with an interest in workers’ rights and social and political reform could learn from.

Our members vote in the EU referendum will be influenced by a wide variety issues and although I believe unions play a broad role in wider civil society the workplace will remain our main focus.

With that in mind it is difficult to remain neutral on the issue of a ‘Brexit’.

EU law underpins so much of employment law

  • Maternity rights
  • Paternity rights
  • Equal pay
  • Paid leave
  • Sick pay
  • Duty of care

I could go on.

Its not just employment rights at stake.

My employer, the National Trust, has a neutral opinion on the issue though my personal  view is that many of the environmental protections the National Trust as an independent charity rely on to help us protect the Great British coast and countryside would be under threat in the event of a Brexit.

To remove the UK from the EU will result in Westminster having carte blanche to rewrite the rule book.

Being completely subject to the vagaries of whatever political party holds the majority in house is not something that makes me comfortable at all.

Whatever your view I for one am thankful we now live in a Europe where we can steer the course of events at the point of a pencil on a ballot paper rather than the point of bayonet on a rifle so will be using my vote.

As regards the crucial issue of the ‘Euro-sausage’:

Rules on better labelling of food simply meant that mechanically recovered contents of animal bones could not be counted as meat content. The term “emulsified high-fat offal tube” did not come from Brussels but in fact made an appearance in spoof television comedy Yes Minister.

Though they do say art imitates life.



  1. New Internationalist, No. 489, January/February 2016
  2. House of Commons Briefing Paper Number CBP 7445, Statistics on Migrants and Benefits, Richard Keen and Ross Turner,  8 February 2016

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3 Responses to EU do you think you are kidding Mr Juncker?

  1. Rob Gregg says:

    There’s a lot of humour to be had out of the straight bananas and euro-sausages at the EU’s expense, and frankly it livens up an otherwise mundane newspaper. But lets not lose sight of the bigger picture as a result of inaccuracies exploited to poke fun at the Eurocrat.
    Harmonisation of law has helped international trade within the EU immensely. If I deliver a network for BT within the EU I face half the regulatory, tax and customs issues that I do when I deliver an equivalent network beyond the EU borders. Without any doubt it has made my ability to deliver networks for BT much easier, to the benefit of BT and its employees.
    Besides, I believe there is still a law that requires black cabs in London to carry some hay in their boot for the benefit of their horse…oh yes, there is endless equivalents in the UK law of preposterous legislation.

  2. ftumolo says:

    Comment from Calvin Allen, Prospect Researcher:

    Paul here refers to the figures that the delegation was presented with concerning the amount of lobbying being done by big business compared to trade unions and NGOs – as indeed did others among our correspondents: see, for example, Andrew Macdonald’s report.

    For further on this issue, see the comments by Christina Colclough, UNI Europa’s Head of EU Affairs, when she addressed the UNI conference yesterday.

  3. JM Capper says:

    As a National Trust employee I am concerned about the environmental protection afforded by the EU that underpin much of our organisations work. I do not accept however the assertion above that immigration is not an issue.
    Unscrupulous businesses avoiding tax and exploitative practices may short change the British tax payer and harm workers rights but this does not mean that uncontrolled immigration is not also a concern. The percentages may be small in comparison to other nations but they are still significant.
    The National Trust rely on not just low paid jobs but also unpaid voluntary labour.
    EU regulation to control immigration is necessary in tandem with addressing the potential for employers to exploit the situation.

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