Feedback on Europe and Jobs

03mar98: Pauline Green: Speech to Labour Party Conference, November 1997

Speech to The Labour Party European Conference

by Pauline Green MEP

Leader, Socialist Group, European Parliament

Eastbourne 23rd November 1997


To be a Member of Parliament is a great honour. To be elected by the community amongst whom you live, to represent them in the Parliament of Europe is an immense privilege.

Conference, I had not stood for election to the House of Commons, I wanted to go to the European Parliament. I wanted to go to the European Parliament because I believe there is a real job to be done in Europe.

I believe that the process of drawing the peoples of Europe closer together is a process that is good for me, for my children, for my country, for my continent and for the world.


We, the British, live in Europe. For many centuries and in particular twice in this century, we Europeans have fought, murderously fought each other.

To our cost our forefathers have slaughtered each other.

There has to be a better way. I want, indeed I demand a better way for our children, for the children of those of our European neighbours with whom, to our collective shame, we have fought.

There is a better way. The European Union may not be the most exciting institution in the world, but let us for a moment just be proud of a body which has brought together, from strength, 15 countries.

15 countries united in their desire to find that better way. Determined to come together around the table when there are arguments to be sorted out, rather than send our young people out into the fields of Europe to fight it out. It may be slow, it may be bureaucratic and it may often be boring - but by God I'd rather do it that way than put our young at risk of war.

This has always been for me the major motivating factor for working together in Europe.

It was summed up very eloquently for me in Rome last December at a meeting of the Socialist International our global family which now comprises 140 member parties throughout the world.

In Rome we welcomed Yasir Arafat and his Fatah organisation into membership of the SI. At that meeting Shimon Peres and Yasir Arafat spoke together.

It was an incredibly poignant moment given the nature of the peace process in the Middle East during the last year.

At that meeting it was Shimon Peres who said that Palestinians and Jews would never agree on the past, but they could develop a shared vision of the future.

Would that Binyamin Netanyahu could share that vision.

Conference, the European Union is a shared vision of the future. A vision that Europeans share for their young.

A vision of a Europe, united, secure, at peace. A Europe prosperous, dynamic, innovative, exciting.

A Europe which does not just tolerate those of different cultures, ethnic or racial origin, but rather celebrates, enjoys and benefits from those differences.

A Europe sharing and pooling those things which we can do best together, whilst preserving those precious and special features of each country and each people.

Each year I take two visitors groups to the European Parliament so that they can learn just how it works.

I always try to bring non-British MEPs in to speak to my visitors groups.

For them to hear what it means to be Spanish and European or Danish and European is a valuable experience.

On one occasion I brought a German MEP from our sister party the SPD.

He began by telling the Group that he believed that we should accept what each country could do best and, well, yes he always told Germans that we should have one language in Europe and it should be english.

English was after all the international language. It was comparatively easy to learn and yes he thought we should speak english in the European Union.

You can imagine the impact which this had on a group of 40 north Londoners - here was a German telling them that english was without question the dominant language.

I could see them nodding and smiling to each other with pride. Until he said that what, of course, followed from that was that as the Germans were without question the best economic managers in Europe they should run the European economy. He was, of course, using humour to make a serious point!

So the European Union is something of which we should be proud.

It, like all democratic institutions, is far from perfect.

It still needs a great deal of work to make it what we would like.

And now it is confronting some of the greatest challenges of this century.

First and foremost is how to meet the challenge of the global market and the revolution of the information society.

Most of us can recognise that globalisation with its impact on trade, should lead to increases of growth, investment and employment; we recognise that financial globalisation should facilitate increased international investment.

But, as Socialists we also recognise that if left to the vagaries of the market alone, globalisation corporate, trade and financial - creates competition between states to attract transnational companies by reducing wages and company taxes, with its resulting downward pressure on social expenditure.

That it creates often unbearable competitive pressures on local or small industries with resultant erosion of labour rights and environmental destruction.

That, uncomfortably, it reduces the economic autonomy of nation states with the potential for crises on the financial and currency markets such as we have just experienced in south east Asia. We, in the older Western industrialised countries, are feeling the pain.

In the European Union we have 18 million plus unemployed people in our fifteen member states. Those who oppose the process of European integration would tell you that those 18 million are the result of European countries trying to prepare for the single currency.

Let nobody here believe such simplistic arguments. Of course, in some instances preparations for the single currency have exacerbated the problems in national economies - but the underlying cause of unemployment in the European Union is globalisation and its impact on the structure of our industries.

Herein lies the dilemma for us as a party of the Left. For generations we have argued that the so called 'developing' world needed, indeed deserved a greater share of the world's wealth.

That it was a crying shame that industries could not be induced to invest in the new world so that those countries could be in control themselves of their economic, social and civic development.

But as globalisation shifts resources and technology across the world and we see 18 million unemployed citizens in the European Union, let alone beyond, it is difficult to explain and even more difficult to obtain a sympathetic response for our traditional support for a more equitable distribution of wealth in the world.

Certainly, it would be easier to explain if globalisation were a process managed for the good of the people of the world rather than one driven by transnational companies and financial markets.

Certainly, it would be easier to explain if the out turn of globalisation really did give to the new world more autonomy over their own development rather than have it driven by the imperatives of the financial markets and multi-national companies.

For all these reasons it is imperative that our political family find common cause and a common response to combat the negative aspects of globalisation without losing the positive advantages. This is our challenge.

We must find ways to strengthen the hand of workers in the global ised marketplace.

Our workers must have in their hands a strengthened card when they come to the job market. That strengthened card can be created by education.

By ensuring that every worker is able to adapt themselves to a rapidly changing economic environment. Nothing gives greater force to an individual worker and his or her trade union representation than knowing that their skills and capacities are an invaluable asset, in demand by employers.

The need for greater investment in education, training, retraining, upgrading of skills, high technology skills has never been greater. Europe also lies at a crucial juncture.

Whether you regard the enlargement of the EU to the Baltic States, Cyprus and Central and Eastern Europe as the ultimate historical moment to unify Europe; or whether you see it as an enhanced trading opportunity, the decisions and processes of enlargement are, without question the most significant for generations.

The pace of enlargement, which countries come in first; in what order; in ones and twos or blocks; is, in the wider scale of things unimportant, although has immediate strategic significance.

There are many reasons for enlargement. But all should be aware that the current EU Member States are not engaged in some major effort of altruism. Rather the opposite. They are acting from an overriding vested interest.

A vested interest that tells them that the costs of non-enlargement are greater than the costs of enlargement.

A vested interest that tells them that they cannot succeed in the global market if Europe remains divided with all its potential for conflict, destabilisation, economic dislocation, political confusions and mass migrations.

If the EU is to cope with the challenges of the US, Pacific Rim and increasingly India, China and other parts of the developing world, it must respond with new, innovative structures and approaches.

One thing the current EU Member States have realised is that no one of them on their own is any longer able to offer their people a long term future on their owne

The global market1 coupled with the revolution of the information society has, is and will increasingly change the working, educational, social and cultural life in Europe.

Vested interest is not, however, in this context to be seen as negative or somehow murky in moral terms.

Rather it is the best guarantee to all the applicant states that their future lies in the European Union.

Not only does future prosperity across the EU depend crucially on stability, peace and proper democratic evolution in the wider Europe; but the global market is increasingly leading to regional economic groupings across the world - the EU, without doubt is the biggest and most advanced and not to build on that would be a folly.Enlargement of the European Union is a major challenge to the current structure of the Union. One area in particular which has specific resonance in Britain is the need to reform the Common Agricultural Policy.

The CAP was initiated in 1958. Since then minor, tinkering reforms have been carried out - the most profound of which was the 1992 Mcsharry reforms.

But despite all of that, the CAP is viewed with a very critical eye, particularly in relation to the environment, consumer protection, trade and development co-operation food policy let alone its financing which still absorbs a massive 43% of the EU budget.

The Socialist Group in the European Parliament has tried to come to terms with this debate and our colleagues on the Agriculture Committee led by an Italian socialist have developed a consultative paper which has been circulated widely inside agricultural circles.

It calls for a dynamic and modern vision of agriculture policy a policy that can and must promote a fairer vision of the world and of society.

A policy that is complimentary to a broad rural policy.

A policy that has the confidence of all sides of the agriculture industry, farmers, farm workers, processing industry and, of course, the end consumers.

In 1999, there are two major events which seriously challenge the continuation of the CAP. Firstly enlargement of the Union and secondly the next stage of EMU and the single currency.

Those two major political events coupled with the commencement of new negotations in the World Trade Organisation which will bring agriculture under world trade rules for the first time; and the reform of the European Union's structural funds; and the examination of the funding package of the European Union place a huge opportunity for major reform of the CAP in our lap.

Labour in Government in Britain has a chance to make a significant difference on one of the perennial problems of the EU.

But to succeed we must begin the preparation now.

This is all for the future.

How does Europe look now to its people. Well it depends just who you are.

If you're an industrialist, or financier in the financial sector in one of our major cities, then the growing confidence in the coming of a single currency is probably like manna from heaven to you.

Your long term future is taking a more stable, secure turn; planning your resource allocation, your investment decisions and prospects for growth is easier and less speculative; transaction costs look to largely disappear; whilst current monetary orthodoxy seems fairly sure to keep inflation to minimal levels and ensure the downward pressure on individual and corporate taxes. Not too bad.

If, however, you are one of Europe's 18 - 20 million unemployed, the situation looks pretty dire.

One thing they know is that on the back of the global market and the information society - jobs have been lost.

The socially excluded, the unemployed and the underemployed can be excused for eyeing last Friday's Employment Summit with some scepticism or indeed indifference.

They have been there before, seen that, done that, got the T shirt.

Without question the best way that we can really aid job creation is to begin the process of co-ordinating our economic and employment policies. I am confident that the job summit began that process and provided at the same time a package of support measures.

In the coming months, we may be in the business of giving real prospects and opportunities for those who need our help.

So what effect does Europe have if you are a business operating in the Single Market?

Well life is still beset with a fair degree of red tape, obstruction and lack of information.

Judging by the complaints I get from business in my constituency of north London alone, there is the ongoing problem of VAT; protectionism still abounds when it comes to product licences and patents; there is a marked lack of enforcement.

Seen through the eyes of us as consumers, the Single Market has provided a greater variety of better quality goods.

But in the last two or three years we have seen the danger of adopting a less than rigorous approach to consumer protection and public health at European level. The BSE crisis focussed attention on the paucity of the lowest common denominator approach to consumer protection.

In this context the European Parliament has done the consumer a great service by insisting that the European Commission re-organise its services, policies and resources, to give a high priority to consumer protection and public health.

I must tell you Conference that following the BSE crisis, the European Parliament l aid down through its spokesperson, a Spanish Socialist, 75 recommendations for change to the European Commission under a threat of a motion of no confidence.

The European Commission to its credit has carried out 70 of the 75 recommendations who here in Britain knows that the European Parliament has acted to enhance consumer protection and public health in this exemplary way!

If you are an animal ferreting away in your European habitat the European countryside does not look at all rosy just now.

However you might see the European Commission as your friendly gamekeeper, given that they have just announced infringement proceedings against 13 of the 15 EU states for failing to transpose the Habitats Directive into national law.

Those involved in the struggle for the environment know that the recession which engulfed Europe post Rio saw the shameless jettisoning of many of the commitments made there.

Whether that be in terms of habitats, climate change, marine pollution or much more.

There is now a further opportunity following the New York meeting on climate change to join with the rest of the UN Member States at Kyoto in December to expedite change. This is not a Europe-only struggle.

But our position can be influential1 not just to keep pressure on the developing world to pay attention to the environment in their economic programmes, but crucially to force the United States to understand its responsibility and its role as the world's leading nation, to take action with us.

If you are one of the growing band of drug smugglers, an international criminal or the like, there is still, sad to say gold to be had in Europe.

For them the EU and its Member States still offer opportunities to be exploited.

Each Member State experiences its own increases in international crime of one kind or another be it the rapid and tragic growth in the drugs trade; whether it is terrorism and the trade in arms; or the growing malevolent trade in humans.

If you examine the extent and the scale of these areas of activity as this Parliament did in its Committee of Enquiry into fraud of goods in transit, under the quite excellent chairmanship of our own John Tomlinson, it becomes clear that the only way to combat this sort of multi-country, cross border trade is through international co-operation.

That is why the role of the European Union is so important for the future development of inforination sharing, enforcement authorities, policing strategies and co-operation across borders.

And it is only by working together with agreed strategies that we can have a real impact in those areas of the world who need help and support to reduce their domestic dependence on the drugs trade in particular. Europe's citizens, who quite understandably worry about the drugs culture in which their young are growing up, and which is responsible for so much of the violence in our society, have much to gain through greater European co-operation in this area.

For Europe's current 370 million citizens, enlargement of the EU to a further eleven countries in the forseeable future is a huge leap into the unknown with fears of dwindling support for them through the EU budget, agriculture, structural funds and cohesion support.

There is a big job of work to be done by all of us engaged in the politics of Europe to make clear our determination, firstly, not to isolate or marginalise any of our partner states in east and central Europe; but secondly, to point out to our own citizens all the costs of non-enlargement.

If you are a black person in Europe it has always been tough. Recent years, however, have been grim. An increase in the politics of hate, jealousy and scapegoating have led to increases in racist abuse, harrassment, attacks and most tragically murders.

Thankfully Europe's new Treaty now contains the broadest possible anti-discrimination clause - unthinkable just nine months ago - and made possible by the election of our Labour government. A competence in the TEU which promises to "combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation".

European Year Against Racism and Anti-Semitism; an Observatory in vienna to combat Racism and the Treaty competence - a fitting way to remember 1997.

So, for its citizens, the state of the European Union isn't simple. It is sometimes bad, sometimes good.

It could hardly be otherwise.

Our opportunity in the next few months, leading up to and through the British Presidency of the European Union is to develop a balanced view in Britain, of European membership.

It would be as wrong of us to claim that Europe is uncritically good as it is for the euro-sceptics to claim it is the devil incarnate.

We now have a Government committed to Britain in Europe. We here today, must be in the vanguard amongst our Party in opening up that ciebate in Britain in support of our Government's fresh start in Europe and in delivering the case for the positive European agenda.

I hope this conference gives us all the information, the enthusiasm and the heart to get out and argue our case for Britain in Europe.