I am aware the euro-elections – which take place next week – are the Cinderella elections of British politics, ignored by many, and used as a protest vote by others.  This is a disaster for the North-East, for few people appreciate the extent to which our survival as a region depends on the European Union.
FUNDING: Over the next five years, the North-East will receive £660million ‘Transition Funding’ from the EU to stimulate economic growth and counter deprivation.  By contrast, our own government has abandoned us to our own devices.
Whilst the Tories give funding and powers to our nearest regional neighbour Scotland, and have actually increased funding to some southern councils, they have halved funding to North-East councils, and abolished the Regional Development Agency altogether.  The government had to be lobbied to apply for the Transition Funding, and still refuses to apply on our behalf for European Youth Guarantee money, which would guarantee all young people under 25 access to a job, apprenticeship or training.
TRADE: The North-East’s domestic economy is not wealthy enough to kick-start internal economic growth, so our region depends on foreign trade – the North-East is the only region in the economy which exports more than it imports.  So it is not just huge inwards investors such as Nissan and Hitachi that need the European link – many North-East firms across the region depend on trade with Europe.  We already struggle to compete with the much-stronger economy of the south-east; any disruption to our links with Europe could tip us over the edge into economic meltdown.
RIGHTS: We have a Coalition government which believes in a low wage economy – it supports things like zero-hours contracts, agency work and part-time jobs, because it believes that the way to attract the ‘wealth-creators’ is to offer them a low-paid workforce without working rights.  So the Tories have reduced our rights-at-work, legal aid etc., until we approach a situation where most of our protections come, not from British law, but from EU directives.   Stigmatised by the right-wing press as EU ‘red tape’ which is ‘holding back British industry’, these in fact are the rules which protect your hours-at-work, safety, equal pay, time off, maternity rights and many others.  Why do you think many right-wing politicians are so desperate to leave the EU?  Because exit from the EU’s ‘Social Chapter’ will allow a bonfire of our rights.
I appreciate that many people – on the principles of sovereignty and ‘interference’ – want Britain to leave the EU.  That would simply be an economic and social disaster for the North-East.  On the contrary, more than any other region in the UK, it is vital for the North-East that Britain works energetically WITH Europe.
So THE LAST THING WE NEED in Europe are UKIP MEPs, who will simply disrupt or do nothing, or half-hearted Tory MEP’s who ally themselves which some of the nastiest right-wing parties in Europe.  Rather, it is essential – whatever your political opinions – that we elect Labour MEPs, who will join the left-wing coalition in the European Parliament, and ensure that the EU’s powers are exercised on behalf of its people.
John D Clare