Comment: YES to a referendum, YES to a better Europe


A referendum should be held sooner rather than later – pro-Europeans must not be afraid to make the case for EU membership, writes former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MP

David Cameron today set out his plans to renegotiate Britain’s role in Europe and then hold a referendum. But not for another five years. And only if the Conservatives win an outright majority.

David-Cameron-Europe-speech-23-01-13In other words, he wants to bury the issue of Europe until after the next election, as a way of blackmailing the public into a Tory vote. He also intends to blackmail his EU counterparts with the threat of an in/out referendum in the important negotiations about our relationship.

I have consistently supported a referendum on our membership of the EU – not because I am anti-EU, but because I’m pro-democracy. It’s right people should have a say on an issue of such importance to their everyday lives.

No one under the age of 55 has had an opportunity to vote on our relationship with Europe, in spite of the fact the three largest parties have all promised EU referendums of one sort or another in recent years. To continue to oppose one undermines trust in the political process, and breeds anger and resentment.

But let’s ensure the debate in the referendum isn’t just about pro EU versus anti-EU: far more relevant is, what kind of EU?

Green Party MEPs have long been building support for radical reform of the EU, increasing its transparency and accountability, and refocusing its objectives on co-operation and environmental sustainability rather than competition and free trade.

And let’s not indulge in political gamesmanship by saying “yes to a referendum – but not yet”. Instead of trying to fix the timing of a vote to maximise party advantage, let’s put the national interest first.

Postponing a referendum until 2018 will commit us to five years of economic uncertainty – with all the damage that will cause to UK industry and inward investment. It will also mean another five years of bitter political feuding and mounting media-driven hostility to the EU, poisoning our relationship with other member countries and limiting our influence.

The truth is we won’t be able to make progress until the in/out decision is resolved one way or another.

Far from being a distraction from our economic and environmental woes, our relationship with Europe is critical to their resolution. It is at EU level proposals for serious banking reform are being made and suggestions for a Financial Transaction Tax are being taken forward.

Crucially, it is also where steps are being taken to bring about tougher climate policy within the 27 member states, and to influence the policy of others worldwide.

That’s why, in a referendum campaign, the Greens will fight for continued membership of the EU, but – with equal vigour – will make the case for wider EU reform. It is a case that already has considerable support amongst other member states.

During that campaign, we will set out a far more compelling vision of the EU’s role and purpose, and aim to inspire people about an EU which can genuinely spread peace and sustainability, and promote democracy and human rights.

This is very different to David Cameron’s outdated vision of the EU as little more than a free trade club. It’s about creating a new, better Europe which will put people’s security and quality of life ahead of the profits of banks and big business – and which can truly rise to the challenges of the 21st century.

See also:

Watch: Cameron and Miliband talk Europe, Europe, Europe at PMQsJanuary 23rd, 2013

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  • Ben

    I’ve been impressed with you and your party’s approach to social, economic and constitutional issues of late. I think your probably right on the EU issue also. It could be a genuine force for good if it’s changed effectively.
    Because of your party’s clear positions on other issues I’m more likely to take green issues seriously when voting.

  • Ewan Valentine

    There isn’t any transparency or visibility in the E.U. there never will be! Give up on the idea.

  • Newsbot9

    No surprise, you want to damage British democracy further with another dirty election. How do you plan to counter the cash which will pour in from some American backers?

    Neither Atlee or Thatcher would have agreed your stance is pro-Democracy, and in the wake of the dirty, disastrous AV referendum…

  • Ann

    I want to stay in the EU but an EU of your vision Caroline. I have been very disappointed with it’s lack of joined up thinking . I live in Greece much of the time and it is heart breaking to see what has happened to that country since they joined the EU. There were good things of course for the environment but they were not enforced , meanwhile a population that before were unable to borrow money and self sufficient were suddenly offered all sorts of loans, and were plunged into debt. It never stopped the corruption but encouraged it. Those in the EU that lent out money should have known that there was no tax base to pay it back . If I lend you £5 pound and you don’t pay me back , it doesn’t matter , it becomes a gift but if I lend you 10 thousand pounds and don’t ask how you will pay me back I’m the ‘mallaca’. The EU should take the responsibility for what happened , and not expect the old , the poor to pay robbing the youth of their dreams and causing the rise of a Nazi party. It is true that the politicians were corrupt, but if I know that why didn’t those who doled out the money know that? Someone, somewhere, got rich out of the current misery of the Greek people.

  • https://twitter.com/Mr_Roshan Mr Roshan

    Hahaha the musing of a naive, narcissistic liberal

  • Simon Hales

    The EU, like the Westminster parliament, is a bourgeois institution. Like all bourgeois institutions it will not be possible to “reform” it to make it work for the benefit of ordinary people. Instead it must be overthrown through armed struggle or revolution.

  • Mukkinese

    The truth is that most Euroscepticism here is driven by the rightwing media.

    They have been allowed to put their side of the argument almost entirely without opposition.

    It is hardly surprising that when most people hear very little, if anything at all, positive about the E.U., that when asked they are also negative about it.

    Having said that, most M.P.s, including the majority of Tory’s, even Cameron, are very likely to campaign for us to stay in.

    If this referendum even happens, which is unlikely, the danger is not the unlikely even of us leaving, but what the other choice will be?

    Cameron will unilaterally renegotiate our relationship. We know that his main targets are workers rights.

    So we could, possibly, end up in the terrible position of having a referendum where the majority of voters see no other choice than to give the Tory’s a mandate to remove many workers rights.

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