Jill Evans argues we urgently need a clear definition of the Welsh national interest if we are to maximize our European opportunities
Recent events in the global economy and the crises in the Euro (and Sterling) zones have highlighted, more than ever, the case for identifying and promoting the Welsh national interest. By a long chalk, this is not the same as the British one. At all levels, whether it be international affairs, shared cultural values and now, overridingly, economic considerations, we must understand and stand up for our real interests as a nation.
In or out of the Eurozone?
Tomorrow Conservative MEP Kay Swinburne says our politicians should work together to ensure the Welsh voice is heard in Brussels.
The election of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat government at Westminster in 2010 had within it the seeds for destroying the UK’s relationship with its neighbours and trading partners in the rest of Europe. The Conservative European agenda was clear to see in 2009 when they chose to leave the European People’s Party (EPP) – the mainstream grouping of centre-right parties in the European parliament. So it was no real surprise just over a week ago when this government was the only one out of 27 to withdraw from a joint plan to stabilize the Eurozone.
Liberal Democrats MPs, most of whom are genuinely pro-Europe, were completely sidelined by their more dominant Tory partners. They didn’t even feature in the decision-making. However, in Wales we have an added burden to the Tories’ isolationist attitude to the EU. This is being stuck with a Labour Government in Cardiff Bay, which has no real economic plan for Wales during, or after, this economic crisis, nor a willingness to understand, let alone defend, our national interest.
Above all during this crisis there is a need for solidarity and strong joint action. I heard a lot in the European Parliament last week about the lack of UK solidarity with other EU member states. That is certainly and justifiably deeply felt – one dreads to think of what will happen to UK calls for solidarity when the crisis hits the Sterling zone. But, it’s clear to me that this UK government has no solidarity with us in Wales either!
The UK position has genuine repercussions for Welsh families’ income and job prospects. Most obviously, in the European Parliament we are currently negotiating the next round of structural funding for 2014-2020. Between 2007 and 2013 this programme will have provided almost £2 billion from the EU to Wales. Furthermore, over 80 per cent of our farmers receive direct payments through the Common Agricultural Policy. These EU funding mechanisms are especially important to Wales because, as is well documented, we have some of the highest poverty levels in the EU, let alone the UK.
After Plaid Cymru battled for many years, there is now a mainstream consensus that we are underfunded by the UK to the tune of £400 million every year under the dreaded Barnett formula. This means that EU funds are really just plugging the deficit bequeathed to us by the British state, contrary to their intended purpose of being used as ‘added value’ to help raise ourselves out of relative poverty. The list of projects here that never go ahead because of this slight of hand is countless. UK policy in this regard stifles initiative.
Contrary to the Welsh national interest, both the current UK Tory/Lib Dem government – and its Labour predecessor – have argued that the EU should no longer administer structural funds. They want this money retained in London (not even Cardiff). We know from past, bitter experience that there has never been an effective UK regional development policy since the end of World War II. We would, therefore, see little of that ‘repatriated’ money. It would, instead, disappear into the bottomless pit of the UK deficit or be frittered away on wasteful prestige projects from which we would see no benefit here. EU funds are definitely in our national interest.
An isolationist UK in Europe is bad news for Wales in other ways. Our main export partners are in the Eurozone. Distancing us further from Europe jeopardises Welsh businesses and jobs, with negative economic and social repercussions on our enterprises and communities.
What Cameron’s veto highlighted more than ever is that Wales needs to have its own distinct voice within EU institutions. Crises demand radical rethinking and seizing new opportunities. There are demonstrably many economic benefits of being a small, independent state in Europe. My commissioned report on The Flotilla Effect strongly makes that case. No coherent argument has been made against it. Despite the misleading ‘clash of the Titans’ headlines that scream at us daily via the UK media, in reality the small and medium sized states have the majority vote in the Council of Ministers.
As a member state in its own right, Wales would be at the ‘summits’ always defending the Welsh national interest, but also in a spirit of European solidarity. We would never have David Cameron voting on our behalf. He represents and battles for the narrow interests of the City of London.
Instead of rewarding the bankers who got us all into this mess in the first place, we would support proper regulation of the financial markets, a financial transaction tax and democratic oversight of EU treaties. We would always vote in favour of our vital manufacturing sector and to benefit from the proper exploitation of our almost boundless natural resources. We would oppose wasteful public subsidies to the armaments and nuclear corporations and, instead, promote the industries we need here and sectors we cherish to achieve sustainable growth and spread prosperity across the country.
Wales is a European nation. We live in Europe, we trade with Europe, we travel in Europe and we speak two European languages. It is, therefore, right that the people of Wales should have a direct say in this debate on the future of Europe. But while the European debate takes place the referendum debate in Scotland will determine the very constitution of the UK. The nightmare of a permanent Conservative government in a ‘United Kingdom of Southern Britain & Northern Ireland’ makes the choice even clearer for us.
The present UK state’s reputation has been damaged by its recent actions. If the UK is to have less of an influence in the EU, it means its territorial jurisdiction will be a less attractive proposition to existing and emerging global powers in terms of trade. Consequently, Wales’ international trade links are potentially damaged, and our prospects of business growth are also seriously hampered.
It becomes ever clearer that we cannot rely on support from the British state. The practical, realpolitik response is for Wales to play its full part in European democracy through self-determination. We urgently need to construct a clear definition of the Welsh national interest grounded in the realities of the 21st Century and use all the levers of power we can acquire in Europe and globally to promote that paramount goal. No one else will do it for us.
6 thoughts on “Future of the Euro 3: Solidarity inside the European Union”
Jill Evans really shows how right William Keegan was last weekend to argue that ‘the reaction to Cameron’s veto has been little short of hysterical’. It might suit both Plaid, the SNP and Sarkozy to argue that the UK is isolated but the comments of European polticians who matter such as the German Foreign Minister suggest that this is not the case. The summit as Gerald Holtham has pointed out in another post was yet another failure and that is the real worrying issue not stressing the UK veto for short term political gain. The UK needs Europe but Europe also needs the UK. For a start the UK is major net contributor to the EU. A contribution which has in fact increased in the past few years. The structural fund might be free money to countries in Eastern Europe but for the UK regions it is merely recycled UK money. The UK is also the Eurozones’s largest trading partner so talk of driving the UK out of Europe or isolating the UK which might suit Sarkozy’s re-election strategy is clearly nonsense. Jill Evans also gives the impression that an independent Wales will have real influence because it would be represented in the Council of Ministers. A Council dominated by majority voting where the interests of the big countries would always dominate. Like the recent Irish budget any Welsh budget would first be seen in the Bundesbank and the Bundestag. Perhaps Jill Evans could outline the public sector cuts that an independent Wales would have to introduce in order to join the euro or will Wales still be linked to sterling in Plaid’s future economic utopia? As for some of the other issues in the article. CAP which wastes both taxpayers money and harms poor farmers in area such as North Africa should be reformed. Structural funds? It’s not the amount but what they are used for that matters. Instead of leading to economic impovement in a period of unprecedented economic growth structural funds have in many instances been wasted on schemes which might be politically correct but which don’t add one percentage point to GVA. It will be interesting to see the results in the future as European auditors start to trawl through the Objective One projects to see if there have been any ‘outcomes’.
There is a widespread perception that past structural funds have been wasted or at least spent on things with a low return. But I don’t know where the money went and nor do people I speak to. Does the WG have a list of programmes funded by the EU? Is it in the public domain? Has any evaluation been carried out of the programmes?
If the money was frittered away, surely we need to learn the lessons. And if it was well spent, the government should not let the perception persist that it was not.
In response to Jill Evans, Jeff Jones writes, “The structural fund might be free money to countries in Eastern Europe but for the UK regions it is merely recycled UK money”. True, but as Jill points out UK regional policy since WW2 has been a farce and a failure here. With the EU, we get our money back, with the UK we don’t. Member-states don’t just have influence on the Council of Ministers, they also have Commissioners, more MEP and CoR members and many more levers of power. Why would we not want that? And to emphasise Jill’s point, the Lisbon Treaty introduces more qualified majority voting, decreasing the influence of the former imperialist ‘great powers’. Plaid does not advocate joining the Euro-zone yet; we’d remain in the Sterling-zone for now. But that’s reduced to a 3-4% global reach. The mighty have fallen! We need to adapt. There is so much more opportunity for us as a member state of the European Union.
“UK regional policy since WW2 has been farce and failure here”. Where exactly is “here”, and many parts of Wales, including the Bridgend area up to past 5 years have hugely benefitted from UK regional policies pursed by both Labour and Conservative governments in London. There can be no doubt that the Nationalists are so “blinded” in their view of the United Kingdom, and in particular England that they are not objective in any way shape or form. Was Jill Evans MEP opposed in principle to a very major possible investment in creation of St Athan training centre for the armed services of UK, of which Wales is still a part, even though the NATS and BBC Cymru are determined to takes us out. I live about 10 miles from St.Athan and everybody I spoke to was excited at such a huge investment, which would have created jobs and hope for the future, but ideology which is strength of PC over rode common sense. We are currently in the EU, but not the euro, for which we can thank Gordon Brown, however the whole EU “structure” as at present needs a fundamental re-think or else the UK will pull out and that’s a fact. The sheer facts are that the Germans and their satraps, the French, are dominating Europe, because of the strength of its economy, and imposing such a level of cuts, that if imposed by Conservative government on Wales then PC and allies in BBC Wales would be up in arms. Plaid does not advocate joining th Euro-zone – yet, but remain in sterling. Plaid, thankfully, has no power whatsoever in relation to euro/sterling, and if it ever did there would be mass exodus from Wales to a sane land adjoining us. If anybody needs to adapt it’s PC as its constant negative view of Wales within UK is boring and irrelevant and a distraction from the real problems facing little Wales. In the end the English are going to get fed up with us and as a distant relative told me “if the Scots/Welsh want independence then they should ask the English”. This is somebody who is as English as Dafydd Iwan is Welsh so keep going PC and in the end you’ll probably get your wish and Wales will be in total poverty, except for our parliamentarians, bi-lingual of course!!!
“I live about 10 miles from St.Athan and everybody I spoke to was excited at such a huge investment, which would have created jobs and hope for the future, but ideology which is strength of PC over rode common sense.”
Are you suggesting that the St. Athan deal was cancelled by the UK Government because of Plaid Cymru’s influence? You must be living on another planet. The UK Government withdrew its support for the Metrix Consortium because of the crisis in the PFI market which meant it would have been poor value for taxpayers. Jill Evans had been saying all along that the points being made about jobs were being inflated and that PFI was not good value for money. Her stance was vindicated. We have seen poor value deals across the “defence” sector so regardless of Jill’s ideological stance, she got the technical detail right as well. I suppose you would have favoured squandering £14bn of taxpayers’ money for the creation of just 1,000 jobs. Plaid as a whole failed to actively oppose the St. Athan deal but Jill Evans was a strong exception.
If an independent Wales stayed within the sterling zone then it would effectively have no control over either its exchange rate or monetary policy. It would also have to probably pay a higher interest rate to the money markets than gilts to encourage the purchase of Welsh bonds. In terms of voting at the Council of Ministers what Syd Morgan doesn’t mention is that it isn’t one country one vote. Voting is based on population. The UK at present has 29 votes which is greater than Denmark, Slovakia, Finland and Ireland combined. An independent Wales would probably have 5 votes and like Greece and Italy have its government decided by the Germans if it ever stepped out of line on economic policy. More MEPs? Most European taxpayers would argue that we need fewer second rate politicians in the European Parliament not more. What is really required is a more democratic form of election for MEPs so that they are accountable to the electorate not the dwindling band of party activists who decide to place them at the top of the undemocratic closed list. More commissioners? Perhaps Syd Morgan could name the failed Welsh politician he would expect on independence to join the other failed national politicians who wash up on the Treasure Island called the European Commission. Finally on the summit he might read the following comments of the BBC economics correspondent Paul Mason ” I can only add at this stage that by enshrining in international law the need for balanced budgets and near zero structural deficits the eurozone has outlawed expansionary fiscal policy. It has done what the US Republicans would like to do -and if you think about it made what Gordon Brown did and what Barak Obama ( and indeed Wen Jia -bao) is doing illegal.”
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