My vision – an independent Wales at the heart of a reformed EU
On the 22nd of May electors will vote in the European elections. With over 50 per cent of UK legislation emanating from the European Union, these elections are very important for businesses and individuals in the UK.
In the weeks running up to these important elections, Endeavour Public Affairs will be publishing a series of exclusive articles from the leaders of the UK groups setting out their vision for the future of the EU and what specific policies they and their colleagues are fighting for in the European elections. The fifth article is from Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans.
To follow Jill Evans on Twitter – @JillEvansMEP
I have been a Member of the European Parliament for Wales since 1999. Much has changed since that time but many opportunities for real reform have been missed too. At a time when people feel the EU is more distant than ever, it is essential that we have a rational and open debate about its future. In the current political climate in the UK, that has proved impossible to date. But we have to try to replace the scaremongering and misunderstanding with real analysis of what is in our best interests.
Wales benefits from EU membership and the EU benefits from having Wales within its borders. Plaid Cymru’s aim is for Wales to become a member state in its own right. As an independent member, Wales would have nine or 10 MEPs rather than the current four. We would have a Commissioner and the opportunity to hold the presidency of the Council which would allow us to have more control over the agenda and priorities of the Council and increased influence in negotiations on legislation. Above all, Wales’s vote in the Council would be cast in Wales’s interests by a Welsh minister, rather than a UK minister.
Because the Welsh national interest is different to the UK interest. We are a unique nation with our own culture and languages. Successive UK governments failed to adopt a regional policy to deal with the levels of poverty and unemployment caused by the decline of heavy industry and manufacturing. In contrast, EU regional policy manifested in the structural funds still provides huge amounts of funding to West Wales and the Valleys – three quarters of the country. These funds have not been used as effectively as they could have been to strengthen and build a sustainable economy, but they have been invaluable. Yet UK governments of all colours have tried to repatriate regional funding which would rob us of this essential solidarity: one of the fundamental principles of the EU.
Wales benefits from being in the EU. We are a net beneficiary of membership. Over 42 per cent of Welsh trade is with EU countries with over 500 Welsh companies exporting over £5 billion annually to other Member States. About 150,000 jobs in Wales depend on that trade – one in 10. Furthermore, the UK’s membership of the EU has acted as a springboard to enable us to form trade deals with countries the world over.
The underlying problem is that, although the EU has gained powers and enlarged, it has failed to become more open and more democratic and thus failed to become more relevant in the eyes of its citizens. This is why we need reform.
I have seen the problems at first hand. One of the starkest issues is the monthly move from Brussels to Strasbourg for plenary sessions for four days every month. This costs some €180 million and emits 19,000 extra tonnes of CO2 annually. Despite its substantial powers, the European Parliament cannot stop this practise, even though three quarters of MEPs have opposed it and asked the Council to prepare a roadmap for a single seat. The fact that the €600 million valued buildings in Strasbourg stand empty for 317 days a year, but still heated and air conditioned, does little to inspire voters’ confidence.
The economic crisis shifted attention from people onto markets and that has to be reversed. I opposed the austerity measures which have caused such misery across Europe. I understand why people have lost faith in the EU but the answer is not to walk away but to change it.
Plaid Cymru belongs to the European Free Alliance, made up of parties from nations and regions working for independence or more self-determination and equality for all languages and cultures. We sit with the SNP, Catalan, Basque, Galician, and Flemish parties. We have a vision of a real Europe of the Peoples: an effective EU.
The EU faces huge challenges yet I believe the benefits of EU membership far outweigh the negatives. It can and must change.
The threat of climate change is greater than ever. This can only be tackled by international co-operation. The EU has to re-establish its role as the world leader in this field.
And in this year when we mark the centenary of the horrors of the First World War, we are reminded of one of the basic principles of the EU: to promote peace and tolerance. That means an enhanced role in conflict prevention, defending human rights and workers’ rights and fighting poverty and injustice. Many scoffed at the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU in 2012 for its role in maintaining peace in Europe. But I believe that in this special commemoration year there is a real opportunity for the EU to prove its value in creating a better Europe for all its citizens. We can make Europe work for all of us.
Published: Wednesday 14 May 2014
© Copyright of Endeavour Public Affairs 2014
Photograph: © Copyright of Jill Evans MEP
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.