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The importance of the European Parliament

The European Parliament (EP) is one of the two decision-making bodies for the European Union (EU), the other being the Council of Ministers.

The European Commission is the "civil service" of the EU, but also has the power to propose legislation. However, their proposed legislation has to be approved by the Council of Ministers and, in most cases, by the EP as well.

The Council of Ministers consists of the appropriate ministers from all the member states, or, for major decisions, the prime ministers of the member states.

The co-determination by the EP and the Council of Ministers makes the EU highly democratic. 

Indeed, it could be argued that it is more democratic than the UK, where the prime minister and other ministers can in some circumstances make decisions without recourse to Parliament.

Alex Mayer takes over from
Richard Howitt

Alex Mayer MEPAs announced on the home page, Alex Mayer is now the Labour MEP for the East of England. She takes over from Richard Howitt, who has resigned to take up the post of chief executive of the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), where he will be able to promote the good governance of companies internationally - one of his passions - after the UK has left the EU.

Contact details are here.

European Parliament

The United Kingdom remains a full member of the European Union for two years from the date on which the UK government gives notice of leaving the Union under Article 50, and our MEPs remain members of the Parliament.

The government gave notice under Article 50 on 29 March 2017, so that MEPs remain in post until 29 March 2019. This is before the next election which would otherwise be due in the summer of 2019.

Richard Howitt MEP and Alex Mayer

Richard Howitt MEP, out campaigning with Alex Mayer during the 2014 European elections

Elections to the European Parliament took place on 22 May 2014. Details of this election are on the previous elections page.

European parliamentary elections are conducted using proportional representation, on the "party list" system, every five years. The Eastern Region constituency, which consists of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, has seven seats. There is more information on the voting system here. Richard Howitt was elected as the only Labour MEP amongst the seven MEPs for the East of England, but has now resigned in order to take up a job as Chief Executive of the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC), an organisation dedicated to linking companies with society, the environment and the wider economy.

He has been succeeded by Alex Meyer who was second on the Labour list of candidates for the East of England.

All the Labour MEPs are members of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the Parliament (S&D), which has developed from the previous grouping of the Party of European Socialists (PSE). Their website is here.

The Tories have now broken away from the main conservative group in the European Parliament and have set up a new grouping which brings in a small number of MEPs from other parties. The  Polish party in the group, which is known for its homophobic views, has ousted the Tories from the leadership of the group.

The referendum in the East

by Alex Meyer

At the regional count in Chelmsford I watched the results come in. From the outset it didn't look good and as time ticked by the outcome became clear. Sadly, Britain had voted to leave.

Alex MeyerNo one who has knocked on doors or stood on street stalls in the East of England can feel shocked at the result. It was always going to be close. There were nights when I would come home thinking we might stay but more when I thought we would leave.

Normally when you lose elections, you pick yourself up, knock on doors and have another go. Of course this time there is no going back. But there is still a fight to be had, for the very soul of our country.

Of the thousands of conversations I've had about the referendum, few were really about Europe. There are swathes of the population who feel angry. Some are angry that rents are going up or that they can't get their child into the local school. A woman in Stevenage told me she was voting leave because she was having to fight so hard to keep her mobility scooter. Others are angry about the rapid change in the country and the world, that has come about without their consent.

As a band marched by for the Queen's 90th Birthday in Woodbridge, a man shouted at me, 'you should be ashamed of yourself, we didn't win the war to have foreigners in my high street.' I gave a mum in Great Yarmouth a leaflet about how the economy would be in trouble if we voted out of Europe. She said she already struggled to get by each day and told me she was voting to leave. You can't frighten people with nothing to lose.

They want someone to blame - but it seems to me what people really need is hope. The result won't give them what they want.
It won't make life better, but will make life tougher for those at the bottom.

When a company looks to save money it's not the directors who go first, it's the cleaners. A couple of pence extra on a litre of fuel matters most to the people who don't have a couple of extra pence in their purse. Modern Britain won't look like sepia photographs of the past. The great lie of the referendum leave battle bus will be found out and under the Tories the NHS will continue to be starved of resources.

I hope the referendum result will not lead Labour to embark on more "listening tours" where we don't hear what people are saying and don't change our policies accordingly.

When people say they are worried about immigration the answer is not to tell them they are wrong, nor to adopt the policies of UKIP. We should accept that immigration as a whole benefits Britain, but it harms John in Peterborough. John needs a Government that redistributes wealth, power and opportunity.

The most heartbreaking time of my campaign came at a hustings where alongside a panel of politicians two school children - one for leave and one for remain - were put on the hustings panel. The leave child repeated the lines she had heard at home and on the TV but without the carefully crafted window dressing of the adult campaigners. It was racist, xenophobic nonsense.

There were great parts of the campaign too. The Labour Party was united and positive. New members came to help.

So many young people who I met wanted a remain vote, as shown by the 73% of 18-24 year olds who voted that way - yes we were on the side of the future of this country.

I loved the primary school assembly where the chorus of the song they sang was 'there's plenty of room for everyone.' Thank you to the man in Bedford who on referendum day spotted me sheltering under a tree as the heavens opened and asked, 'Are for for remain? Have my umbrella.'

Britain's pretty great.

But David Cameron put his party before his country and that always ends in tears. Now Cameron will go and we will have a more right wing Tory Government.

It is Labour's job to hold them to account, and do everything we can to win back power. We must seek to heal divisions, reassure the 48% of the country who voted to remain and sell our vision of an outward looking, modern, diverse and  tolerant country to the 51%.

After this campaign of vitriol, untruths and hatred we need constructive policies that speak to the real concerns of people across the UK.

Outside of Europe, we need to build more bridges and reassure our neighbours. Outside of Europe, the threats to our economy, rights at work and our environment are greater.

Britain needs a Labour Government even more. Let's redouble our efforts to fight for one.

26 June 2016

Refuting the Euro-myths

Labour In for BritainThe European Referendum, as both sides in the argument would agree, is one of the most important decisions to be taken by the British people. It is important, therefore, to get the facts right before making a decision.

There are many myths and misunderstandings that keep cropping up in the letter pages of the local press. Frequently these have been refuted by our parliamentary spokesperson, David Bell, or by colleagues in the Hertford and Stortford Labour Party.

It is worth setting out some of the facts here:

Our membership fee

The Vote Leave campaign persists in saying that we pay 350m each week (50m per day) to the EU, but the rebate is taken off this before we pay. Last year we paid 250m. Some of this comes back to the government, e.g. for them to pay out subsidy to farmers, making the net amount 188m.

The EU also makes some payments directly to bodies in the UK. For example, UK universities have been particularly good at obtaining research grants. This reduced the weekly amount to 162m a week.

To put this in perspective, this is less than 2.50 for each person in the UK. For this relatively small sum, we get all the benefits of being in the EU.

The allegation of the lack of democracy

People seem to believe that the "unelected bureaucrats in Brussels tell us what to do" and "we cannot vote them out".

Almost all EU legislation requires the approval of both the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. The Parliament has real powers and is not "just a talking shop".

The European Parliament is elected by the citizens of the member states, roughly in proportion to the size of those states. We have 73 MEPs. They are elected by proportional voting systems, which some might claim is more democratic than the "first past the post" system used for the UK Parliament.

The Council of Ministers consists of the elected ministers (as appropriate for the matters under discussion) from each member state. In Denmark, ministers do consult their Parliament before going to Council meetings and report back afterwards, giving their Parliament the power of scrutiny. The fact that our ministers do not is a UK decision, not an EU requirement.

The European Commission is made up of nominees from member states. They and their staff are the civil service of the EU. They do have the power to propose legislation, but it can only become law after approval by the Council and the Parliament. The Commission can be sacked, as a body, by the EU Parliament.

The Commission is not a sprawling bureaucracy either. It actually has fewer employees than Hertfordshire County Council.

The "unaudited accounts"

There is a persistent, but untrue, story that the EU accounts have never, or rarely, been signed off by the Court of Auditors. They have signed them off every year since 2007.

The amount of fraud detected was minimal. They did find in 2014 that there were "material errors" affecting 3.8% of payments. These errors can be missing supporting documents or mistakes in the application of EU rules. None of these was made by the EU itself. They were all made by member states in paying out EU funds.

The control of UK borders

Net immigration last year was 320,000. Half of this was from outside the EU, where we do have complete control of our borders.

The other half was from the EU. In most cases, they come to work. Indeed, the Office for Budget Responsibility attributed part of the UK's recovery from the financial crash to the work of immigrants.

We are not part of the Schengen agreement, so that even EU immigrants are checked and admission can be refused on grounds such as national security. EU systems ensure that we receive information from other member states about potential immigrants, enabling us to refuse entry if it is justified.

There is some dispute about the number of UK citizens living in the EU, but it does seem to be something over one million. Some of these have jobs in the EU. Others have retired to the sun in France or Spain. They spend money there, but also make use of the local health service.

28 April 2016

Free Trade with Europe

If we leave the EU, we have a two year period during which present arrangements still hold. Of course, no one knows for certain what sort of deal we could get with the EU, nor indeed whether a new arrangement could be negotiated within the two year period. Typically, EU trade deals take longer than this to negotiate.

The "Brexiteers" are fond of pointing out that Germany would still want to sell us Mercedes and BMW cars. BMW would also want to export Minis from the UK to the EU. But consider these facts:

Free trade with the rest of the world

We currently benefit from around 30 trade deals which the EU has negotiated with other countries. We could not rely on getting such good terms as the EU. Even if we did, there would be a period of uncertainty.

The trade deal currently under negotiation between the EU and the USA (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP) is often quoted as a reason to leave the EU. It is true that it has some really objectionable elements as it currently stands.

However, the European Parliament, which would have to approve the final agreement, has already indicated that it would not be likely to approve an agreement containing these objectionable elements.

The agreement would also require approval by the Council of Ministers and the UK would be able to veto it. Before that, the agreement would be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny in the UK.

Image of phone app However, the Tory government has tended to argue that the Investor State Disputes Mechanism (sometimes referred to as "secret courts") would not have the effect of allowing foreign companies to sue the UK government for changes in policy, such as restricting the provision of NHS services by private companies. It could be that we are more likely to be protected under an EU agreement than we would be under a bilateral UK-USA deal negotiated by a Tory government.

10 May 2016

More EU facts

To get more facts and more myth-busting, we thoroughly recommend the Doorstep EU phone app, provided free by Richard Corbett, the Labour MEP for Yorkshire and Humberside. There is more information about this app here.

28 April 2016

Contact Alex Mayer

Alex Mayer MEPEmail:
Post: European Office, Unit 5, ESpace South, 26 St Thomas Place, Ely, Cambridgeshire SB7 4EX
Telephone: 01353 644045
Twitter: @alexmayer

European Parliamentary Labour Party

Labour's red roseHosted by Ltd., Units H, J, K, Gateway 1000, Whittle Way, Stevenage, Herts. SG1 2FP. Promoted by David Bell on behalf of the North East Hertfordshire Labour Party, both of Town Farm House, Mill End, Standon, Ware, Herts SG11 1LP.