EU Referendum: Let's Remain Part of the People's Europe

22/06/2016 16:39 | Updated 22 June 2016

What is the European Union? The answer most commonly given to that would no doubt be the parliament and commission in Brussels, the bureaucrats who work for it, and the legal framework around them.

But there's another side to the EU that deserves more attention as we draw closer to a vote on Britain's future within or outside the union, a vote that polls suggest could see Britain opting to leave this cross-continental alliance.

It's the People's Europe - the people's union.

For the EU is also all of the campaign groups, the unions, the civil society alliances that work together across Europe to achieve their aims of workers' rights, human rights, environmental protections and many other ways to improve the common good.

The People's Europe has many successes to report, its victories delivering many laws, rules and rulings that do a great deal to protect the rights of workers, to make us safer in our homes and communities and to prevent further destruction of our much-damaged natural environments.

It's this alliance that's grown strong, principled, determined opposition to the proposed EU-US trade deal known as TTIP - that produced what may be the world's largest -ever petition, signed by more than 3.5 million people and ensured it wasn't signed at the end of last year as scheduled.

It's the alliance that's jointly campaigned against pollinator-threatening neonicotinoid pesticides, and working to end the use of "probably carcinogenic" glyphosate across the union.

It's the alliance that, with Britons to the forefront, won the ban on the disastrous discarding of fish by the European fishing fleet.

EU civil society organisations working together are far stronger collectively than they would be as individual national groupings - the unions in France and Germany stronger than those in the UK, the environmental organisations in the UK contributing to work in eastern areas of the union where such concerns are just starting to get public attention, the Scandinavians offering their strong gender-equality models.

There's a lot of focus on the existence of corporate lobbying interests in Brussels, and that is a serious concern - although certainly one not restricted to, or at its worst in, the European institutions. In Westminster, where the influence of the fossil fuel industries and the nuclear lobby are painfully evident in our energy policy, to give just one example. It was the EU that agreed to put a cap on bankers' bonuses, the British government that used our money to try (and happily failed) to legally challenge it.

Working together we can also draw on the strength of different nations.

Many people from other parts of Europe have told me how much they value the work of the New Economics Foundation (NEF) and other British think tanks and researchers. Perhaps because we live in the most extremely neo-liberal nation of the continent, we come up with some of the most potentially transformatory proposals and plans for change, from the RSA working on universal basic income to NEF offering alternative models to our failed financial system.

When it comes to planning to rebalance the British economy away from our dangerous, unproductive reliance on the financial sector, the model of German banking, with regional and local banks that fund and support small and medium enterprises for the long haul has a lot to offer.

Of course we can also work with knowledge and skills from other parts of the world outside the EU, but by being already partners, members of the same union, the impetus for cooperation is stronger, the frameworks clearer, the funding available for cross-EU work ready for applications.

So I urge you, when you think of Europe, think of its broader aspects, its cooperative, constructive, human side, that brings us together to tackle the pressing economic, social, environmental and political problems that we face.