The Blog

Three Yeses on Europe; No to Cameron's Long Run of Misery

In calling for a referendum, David Cameron does have a point. The Green Party believes in democracy and self-determination.

What does the next five years of British politics look like, according to David Cameron?

On the basis of yesterday morning's speech, there's only one political issue - one long, grinding debate, in Britain and across Europe, as he tries, to entirely reshape not just Britain's relationship with the other 26 members of the EU, but to entirely reshape the nature of that institution to being a free trade club.

Other issues - the issues that are of pressing concern to the British people - the 2.49 million unemployed, the one in 10 underemployed workers, the one in five workers on less than a living, and those who fear joining them - have to play second fiddle. (And of course the whole referendum pack of cards assumes that he's going to win the next election - a very large assumption indeed...)

You'd be tempted to think that, despite his recent protestations, Mr Cameron doesn't want the electorate to focus on the slashing in real terms of benefit payments, the continual erosion of funding to local government for essential local services, and the total failure of his Chancellor's Plan A for the economy, under which by a mysterious process of alchemy the slicing of funds from the public sector was supposed to produce a private sector boom.

As Philip Stephens said in the Financial Times, with a considerable sense of restraint: "It is hard to imagine how such uncertainty will enhance the UK's influence and prosperity."

Nonetheless, in calling for a referendum, Cameron does have a point. The Green Party believes in democracy and self-determination. On important issues like this - and let's not forget that withdrawing from the EU would have mammoth effects (just consider that we produce only 51% of our own food and the rely on Europe for the vast bulk of the rest) - voters should be given the opportunity to express a clear view.

So in the Green Party, we say 'Yes' to a referendum on Europe. No one under the age of 55 has had an opportunity to vote on our relationship with Europe, despite many promises in recent years. Self-determination shouldn't be restricted to the Scots. We even agree with Mr Cameron on the need for change in the EU - but we believe that it should be 180 degrees in the opposite direction to the kind of changes that he is proposing. The working time directive, which he holds up as a point to get out of, we applaud. He wants to reshape the EU even further towards being a playground for multinational companies and bankers, at the expense of its economic and social security.

The role of Europe should be to provide guaranteed decent, substantial foundations on workers' rights and consumer protections, on environmental standards, on human rights and peace, the basic conditions of life on which Britain was once a world leader. It can be difficult for nations to compete against others that are undercutting these rights - the answer is not to abolish them, but to fight to establish them as global standards, and making them standards in the whole of Europe is a great place to start.

And on issues of banking regulation, on the financial transactions tax, given that Westminster has shown itself unable to rein-in the excesses of the City, it needs all of the help it can get. Europe has made slow and uncertain progress on these issues since 2008, but it has done better than London.

So yes for change in Europe - but to a kind of Europe that isn't a giant institution, bearing down on peoples and nations from above (as it has born down particularly oppressively on the Greeks), but one that provides a supportive foundation, on the basis of which local people can make decisions for themselves as locally as possible - it's known as subsidiarity, and is there in the principles of the EU, just not applied as often as it should be.

And we say yes to staying within Europe - working together with our fellow states in a cooperative framework, not a storming high dudgeon or a take-it-or-leave it blackmail style, a la David Cameron. We need to continue to work with our European partners to build strong, locally democratic communities that decide their own way within the framework of strong, guaranteed standards.

Yes, yes, yes to a better European future - no to David Cameron's way.