European elections have never been seen as particularly exciting. Even when they were first past the post, the constituencies were vast. Now that they are done on proportional representation we have the whole of Wales as a single constituency. Small wonder most people can’t name any of their MEPs.
But that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. As our single Labour representative, Derek Vaughan has been doing a fantastic job of standing up for Wales. He is the only one of our four MEPs working within the mainstream political groupings that hold sway in the Parliament, able to form common alliances to achieve what matters to the people of Wales – which is economic growth across Europe with targeted support for the poorest regions.
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats seem hell-bent on persuading people that it is normal to lie in politics and that a manifesto isn’t worth the paper it is written on. This has created a fertile breeding ground for those who offer false hope. The argument over whether UKIP is racist is missing the point. They are unquestionably promoting xenophobia – the intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries. It is xenophobia which has so often led Europe into war in the past. The founding principle of the European Union (or European Economic Community as it was called in the 1957 Treaty of Rome) was to lay the foundations for “an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe”. The principle that decisions should be “taken as closely as possible to the citizen in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity” was added in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty. “Ever closer union of peoples” doesn’t mean creating a European superstate – it means the opposite of promoting xenophobia. It means persuading people in every country that they have a common interest in peace and prosperity.
Blaming someone else for the lack of jobs and housing is a simple message – but doesn’t help anybody. If we require the two and a half million people from other EU countries to leave the UK, it would actually create a huge problem for us, as there are almost as many UK citizens currently resident in other EU countries. By placing ourselves outside the EU, we would cease to have any influence over its rules and we in Wales would lose the support from the EU structural funds, many multinational companies would relocate away from Wales and we would lose the opportunity to influence the agenda.
When the Tories say they want to renegotiate our membership, they mean removing social protection – what Ed Miliband has referred to as the race to the bottom, where we try and compete by slashing wages and terms and conditions. Tackling financial insecurity requires the opposite – enforcing the national minimum wage and ensuring that employers treat their employees fairly.
Creating jobs and building more affordable homes must be the top priorities for an incoming Labour Government – but it is also what we need to happen across Europe. That is why Derek Vaughan has been fighting not to maximise the EU spend as Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats argue, but to maximise the impact of that spend in terms of getting people into work.
This week’s Welsh opinion poll shows the result of this election is in the balance. Supporters of extremist parties are more likely to vote. What matters is persuading Labour voters to vote as well. The more Labour voters there are, the more Welsh voices there will be in the European Parliament, committed to working positively with other European countries for economic growth and consumer and environmental protection. I will be working to remind people to vote on Thursday – what about you?