Labour of late has linked its commitment to Europe to a strong call for reform in Europe. Although there have been some proposals on what kind of reform, this think-piece aims to bring some of those ideas together and to provide a starting point for further discussion.
We need an EU that enables us and our neighbouring countries to work together in our common interests, no more, no less.
We need access to the European market and a voice at the table where the rules for that market are decided.
We need those rules to provide for fairness, equal opportunities, consumer protection, respect for the environment and fair trade - not an unregulated free-for-all, dominated by the most powerful.
It is in Britain’s national interest to remain in the EU and support its constant reform. Departure would be massively damaging for British businesses, manufacturing and employment. We will make the hard headed, patriotic case, founded on the national interest, both for Britain in Europe, and for change in Europe.
We accept that a common market needs some common rules if it is to work fairly, not least as regards consumer protection and a floor of workplace rights to prevent a “race to the bottom” in terms of employment law or health & safety standards. But in government, we also strengthened safeguards against excessive or over-prescriptive European rules. We are open to discuss new safeguards, and indeed a Labour government would put forward a few of their own.
In some fields the EU should do less, and in others it could do more, for instance in enabling European countries to cooperate on tackling climate change or on fighting trans-national crime and tax evasion. We want the EU to focus on where it brings added value. We want a better approach to the economic challenges facing Europe - its biggest challenge of all. We also want to deepen the European single market in the areas where obstacles still hinder cross-border competition, such as in service industries.
We don’t want UK to be the only one to impose the necessary tough new rules on financial markets, with banks then circumventing the rules through their affiliates in other EU countries: EU-wide rules protect us better. The EU’s Likkanen reforms go in the same direction as the UK’s Vickers reforms and should be supported.
The EU budget should be used for items where spending at EU level can save money at national level, for instance, by avoiding duplications on research and development programmes, or where pooling resources can make them more effective through economies of scale.
With more countries joining the EU, we must avoid its institutions and bureaucracy getting bigger and bigger. In government, we successfully negotiated a ceiling on the size of the European Parliament and of various advisory bodies like the Committee of Regions. With more countries joining, more could be done. The proliferation of specialist agencies should be looked at in view of reducing their number through mergers, and cutting the size of their supervisory bodies. The European Parliament should not need to migrate once a month to Strasbourg.
We remain committed to having a referendum in the cases where there is a proposal to transfer significant new competences to the EU. We are opposed to a referendum that offers a false choice between Cameron’s Europe or no Europe and is held simply to bridge divisions within the Conservative party between its moderates and extremists - and held at a time when the uncertainty it would cause would jeopardise the already weak prospects for Britain’s economic recovery.
© Labour Movement for Europe
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