Monday, 23 May 2016

Vote remain for environmental protection

I support Remain because EU regulations are vital to protect us from exploitation by big businesses. They protect us personally, for example in the workplace; they protect our environment, where we live; and they ensure we play our part in minimising climate change, which protects our future and our children’s future.

If we left the EU, it would be up to our government to maintain these protections. However big businesses would lobby government to remove them whenever there is a cost burden on them to implement – they say cutting regulations would help them be more competitive. However, half our trade is with the EU and while we are in with them we all have to abide by the same rules. Outside the EU we would become just one more country competing in global markets for trade and investment and there would be massive pressure to remove the regulations that international corporations do not like – including the ones that we need.



Consider TTIP. This trade treaty is massively controversial not just in the UK but across the EU because it curtails safety and environmental standards. France is against it and there are rallies against it in Germany. It may yet be cancelled. But our government supports it. If we left the EU, I expect this government would try to sign up to TTIP anyway.

Conforming to EU rules costs money - OpenEurope tells us it costs the UK billions every year. They give a list of the most expensive five rules. Of these two protect the environment, two protect workers and one protects us from a collapse in the financial system. They are:

Environment protection:

  • The UK Renewable Energy Strategy - sets binding targets for the proportion of energy we use that is renewable
  • The EU Climate and Energy Package – EU wide targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions, proportion of renewable energy and improvements in energy efficiency

Worker protection

  • The Working Time Directive – sets limit on weekly working hours and minimum rest periods (prior to this I recall that 60 hour working weeks were common).
  • The Temporary Agency Workers Directive – protects agency workers so they have similar conditions to permanent employees doing the same job, so they get holidays and sick pay and the like.

Finance

  • The Capital Requirements Directive – sets requirements on banks and building societies to protect capital, and manage risk

I cannot judge the finance one as I do not have the expertise – but the other four are to my mind essential. Leaving the EU would almost certainly erode these protections and we would all lose out.

As well as climate change and renewable energy there are many other EU regulations that protect our environment. For example the Ambient Air Quality Directive and the Water Framework Directive set objectives for reducing pollution to protect our health. Our rivers and beaches are massively cleaner than they were – otters have returned to rivers in every county - and I doubt that would have happened without continuous pressure from EU regulations.

The Common Fisheries Policy protects fish stocks, and hence an important food source (fish in the sea do not respect national boundaries). The current quota system is heavily criticised – but a lot of that is nothing to do with the EU. Our government has control over how the UK share is allocated – and they give the lion’s share to industrial vessels, crowding out local coastal fisheries. They even allocate our quota to foreign owned vessels. One Dutch ship has 23% of the English quota; in all 43% of UK quota has been allocated to non-UK vessels. Greenpeace took them to court over this (and unfortunately lost). Under a recent EU reform the fishing quota is supposed to be allocated to businesses that support the local economy. I look forward to our government implementing this policy change. In terms of GDP, fishing in the UK is minor and that is why the government considers it unimportant. However it is important to local economies and to our culture and environment. Under EU protection it may survive. Without it, I am sure it will not.

The Landfill Directive is another important EU regulation that ensures that our waste is disposed of safely. Also, just recently the EU has defined an an Action Plan for the Circular Economy setting targets for recycling and economic incentives for producers to support recovery and recycling schemes.

Critics say that these regulations are unnecessary red tape but I say they are vital. Besides which, consistent regulations for products across the EU reduces business costs and enhances trade. For example the EU sets standards for safety (including car seats for children), maximum noise levels for outdoor machinery such as lawnmowers and and minimum energy efficiency for products from light bulbs to washing machines. You have to have some standards – having them consistent across the whole EU reduces costs because you only have to pass one set of tests.

The EU negotiations that lead to these rules are slow and the results are far from ideal. But they are better than nothing. If we were not in the EU, do you really think that regulations to protect people and the environment would be maintained? Successive governments have different priorities. The very slowness of the EU is actually an advantage, because it means that small swings in electorate voting patterns do not immediately lead to massive lurches in policy. Also, you never get knee jerk regulations from the EU.

Brexit may or may not lead to failing businesses, higher prices and rising unemployment. (196 mostly UK academic economists thinks it would be a big mistake with serious costs in the short and long term.) Personally I would rather not take the risk. In the event of Brexit we would certainly get stricter immigration rules but how much that would benefit the economy is arguable. These issues are important but difficult to be certain about. The one area where I think we can be sure is that EU regulations are enormously beneficial and I definitely want to keep them. So I will vote Remain.




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