Published on March 10th, 2016 | by frances2
What has the EU ever done for us?
By Graham Stewart, Prospect Parliamentary and Campaigns Officer
The future peace and security of Europe, the challenge presented by the digitalisation of the European economy and protecting citizens from powerful international companies were all discussed as part of a Prospect fact-finding trip to Brussels in February.
The aim of the trip was to equip the participants with the knowledge and experience to act as Prospect advocates for the duration of the UK EU referendum campaign, communicating information to members about the Prospect view on the issues raised by the referendum.
The Prospect party included reps from all UK nations, sectors and professions travelled to Brussels to learn more about Europe, its institutions and what the implications for members would be if the UK voted to stay or leave the EU.
Armed with a national campaign priority around the EU referendum and conference resolutions on keeping members informed about how EU membership affects their working lives, the Prospect group were in Brussels during the leaders summit that thrashed out the renegotiation David Cameron was desperate to return to London with.
The atmosphere in Brussels was politically charged: VIP convoys on the streets and at Prospect meetings colleagues from the European TUC, and sister union UNI-Global were clear the summit was a pivotal European moment.
Equally clear from the same colleagues was that the UK should remain in the EU.
The Prospect party began their Brussels trip with a visit to the European parliament, hosted by Judith Kirton Darling MEP for north-east England and a former ETUC confederal secretary with a UK trade union background.
Judith met us in the parliament chamber and then in a session gave the Prospect group a run through of political groupings in the parliament and an overview of her own work. Judith sits on the EU committees on international trade and petitions.
She told the Prospect group that on the question of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) it is was a myth that the TTIP agreement when it happens will allow large US companies to sue governments when they think their freedom to operate has been infringed upon by a government – like imposing tariffs or taxes. In fact the agreement will tighten up the existing system for settling disputes.
She also warned that the UK trade union bill currently in the House of Lords would face a challenge from Europe if and when it was enacted by the UK.
In the evening, the Prospect party still had time to meet Judy McKnight, a former general secretary of NAPO, now a pensions trustee of the European Economic and Social Committee and Sarah King, from the EESC workers’ group secretariat.
Next day, the Prospect group had meetings with Peter Scherrer, deputy general secretary of the European TUC and Esther Lynch, ETUC confederal secretary. This was followed by a meeting with TUC Brussels officer, Elena Crasta and Christina Colclough, UNI Global union’s head of EU affairs.
Collectively they gave a fascinating account of the forthcoming UK referendum and the implications for the UK and its workers and citizens.
Interesting but unreported facts flowed: that the UK negotiations were a separate, interpretative international treaty and not an amendment to the EU Treaty and will require approval from the European commission which then will take forward recommendations to the European parliament to agree or otherwise.
Likewise, the process by which the UK would leave the EU is complicated and not simply a wave goodbye should the vote be to leave. The process will take a minimum of two years and may be extended. Some of the questions that would need to be resolved include the status of UK workers in Europe, UK pensioners in Europe, the position of legal cases already under way in Europe.
Then there is the process and cost to the UK of re-joining the European Economic Area; the position of Northern Ireland for instance, which would share a border with an EU member in the event of a Brexit.
Big questions in themselves but not as big as some of the issues that are as yet un-debated in the UK like peace and security in Europe in an era of relative insecurity in eastern Europe.
The Prospect group’s final appointment was with Sarah King and the President of the EESC workers’ group, Gabriele Bischoff in the workers’ group debating chamber. Views on the issues facing Europe, the role of the workers’ group in building bridges between European institutions and democratic and civil society groups across the EU to make what can seem remote institutions and decisions more in touch with popular opinion were all discussed.
Gabriele referenced article 3 of the EU treaty which includes a commitment to: ‘work for the sustainable development of Europe based on balanced economic growth and price stability, a highly competitive social market economy, aiming at full employment and social progress, and a high level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment. It shall promote scientific and technological advance. It shall combat social exclusion and discrimination, and shall promote social justice and protection, equality between women and men, solidarity between generations and protection of the rights of the child.’