We need a shift in our steely approach to Europe

Business Green: http://www.businessgreen.com/bg/opinion/2457125/we-need-a-shift-in-our-steely-approach-to-europe (Pay wall)

Published: 6th May 2016

Molly argues the UK will be in a better position to protect its strategic industries and pursue high environmental standards if it remains within the EU.

Full article:

The prospect of the end of steelmaking in Britain has raised serious questions about how our government operates within the context of our membership of the EU.

Of the three bodies that make law and policy in the EU, the Commission and Parliament are relatively open. This is in contrast to the Council, where member states fight for their national interest and where their actions are often opaque.

On the issue of steel however, we were offered a rare insight as heads of European governments revealed that British business secretary, Sajid Javid, opposed long-standing Commission proposals to impose swinging tariffs on Chinese steel. This move, supported by other EU countries with large steel industries, was not a form of subsidy but an act of retaliation against China’s attempts to dump steel that is sold for less than the price of making it.

High-energy producers in the EU also have to work with higher energy prices, a deliberate policy commitment that is an important part of our response to climate change. So, our steel industries in Europe are not uncompetitive; they simply cannot compete with this dumped steel.

Whether on tax policy, where Osborne has engaged in a competitive reduction game on corporate tax rates, or on our policy of kowtowing to the Chinese at the expense of our European partners, Britain has shown itself to be a disloyal European member. The European Union will only work if we take our role as Europeans seriously and work together with our European partners.

So would we be able to take adequate action against China’s anti-competitive practices if we were to leave the EU? The strength of our membership of an economic block of half a billion people is precisely that we can work together to defend our common interests. This is as true of steelmaking as it is of our rights to paid leave and determination that companies should not be able to pollute our shared environment. The value of the single market is that it protects the standards for the most fortunate consumers in the world.

But we also need to be producers and to do this we need to charge tariffs to protect our external borders. Supporters of Brexit, such as former CBI boss Digby Jones, have long argued that European workers need to make themselves competitive with workers in China and Brazil. They also criticise strong environmental protection, condemning it as red tape and calling for it to be removed.

For me this offers a nightmare vision where multinational corporations force governments in Europe to race to the bottom on social and environmental standards. It is the total opposite to my vision of Europe. We need the EU to set the highest environmental and social standards and to charge tariffs on goods coming into the market that don’t meet those standards. I also believe it is our duty to share the standards we have come to expect in Europe with the rest of the world.

I am campaigning hard for us to remain a member of the EU but I hope if we do stay we will use the 23rd June as an opportunity to change our approach to our membership. We need to become a constructive and cooperative European partner contributing towards maintaining a continent with high social and environmental standards; a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.