The efforts of the Prime Minister at the much-chronicled EU summit in Brussels has effectively relegated the UK to the margins of Europe and, in turn, made the one square mile of the City of London even more vulnerable – not an outcome that he would have particularly wished for.
By putting the vested interests of Tory backbenchers and bankers first, the UK will still have to play by the rules that are made, but without having a meaningful seat at the negotiating table when important decisions are being made.
In or out of the Eurozone?
Tomorrow Plaid Cymru’s MEP Jill Evans argues we urgently need a clear definition of the Welsh national interest if we are maximize our European opportunities. On Thursday we hear from Conservative MEP Kay Swinburne.
In a week of Conservative smoke and mirrors, confusion still reigns as to what David Cameron actually achieved at that meeting other than a few cheap headlines in the anti-EU press. Certainly, for everyone else living outside of the Square Mile, particularly for those of us in Wales, the UK’s loss of influence in the EU is potentially disastrous.
We should, of course, not be surprised at these developments. The Prime Minister has history on this dating back to his campaign for the Tory Party leadership when he promised to pull Conservative MEPs out of the mainstream centre right European Peoples Party block in the European Parliament. In 2009, Tory MEPs went on to set up the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), a fringe group in the European Parliament, described by Nick Clegg, prior to the General Election, as containing “nutters, anti-Semites, people who deny climate change exists and homophobes”. Cameron’s veto did not mark a change in direction but merely a ramping up of fervent Euro-scepticism that even out-does anything that occurred during the Thatcher and Major years.
Fully engaged Welsh and UK governments, working alongside our European partners and not against them, are key for the economic interests of Wales. Cameron’s isolationist position whilst no doubt hugely pleasing for some of his right wing colleagues is bad from Britain and fundamentally bad for Wales.
Over 150,000 jobs in Wales rely on a successful trading relationship with the EU. More than £3.5 billion of investment in some of our poorest communities comes as a result of EU Structural Funds, and is being used to tackle longstanding economic, social and educational disparities across Wales. Worryingly, the UK Government is currently arguing for a cut in cohesion policy funding, despite these funds creating well over half a million training and employment opportunities since 2007. On top of this, there is also the much-needed support provided by the EU for our rural areas and our universities. Latest figures show that Wales receives around £1 billion of EU funding each year – no small amount given that we are also bearing the brunt of savage cuts inflicted by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition as part of their misguided and heavy-handed deficit reduction programme.
Discussions on future EU budget priorities which will decide how much Wales will get in the coming years are at a vital point. At the the exact time when we need to build sustainable relationships with other European regions, the UK Government has decided to put short-term, internal party political gain ahead of our national interest. Policies on research and development, agriculture and Structural Funding are being shaped whilst the UK looks set to be sidelined. Plenty of pain, it seems, but very little gain.
Whilst the Tory-led UK government continues to pursue policies that will prove to be detrimental to Wales, I am heartened by the positive and pro-active approach taken to the EU by First Minister Carwyn Jones and his Welsh Labour government. As Deputy Minister for European Programmes, Alun Davies AM is regularly seen in Brussels and Strasbourg, powerfully advocating the case for Wales. It is important that the voice of Wales is heard loud and clear at Europe’s top table and Alun, working closely with Welsh MEPs, is doing so.
Above all, what Cameron’s mishandling of negotiations and the resulting mood music emerging from the Eurosceptics within the UK government – and from certain Tory politicians closer to home here in Wales – has demonstrated to all of us who have the future economic prosperity of Wales at heart is that we now need to form a progressive, cross-sector, cross-party alliance to put the case for continued membership of the EU and engagement at the highest level.
Both the public and private sectors in Wales benefit greatly from closer ties with the other 26 Member States and the increasingly hostile attitude taken by the UK Government towards the EU cannot be allowed to go on without a robust response from Welsh politicians, business leaders, trade unionists and others.
We know that we can’t count on the support of the leader of the Welsh Tories. Instead, we need to join Carwyn Jones in making the case for the UK’s membership of the EU. I have already written to the Prime Minister calling on him to reverse this highly damaging position of calling for drastic cuts to the budget for Structural Funds for Wales. He should think again about sacrificing the long-term future of the Welsh economy in favour of grandstanding headlines.
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