These are the responses we received from Deputy Leadership candidate Caroline Flint to our questions on Europe and the EU:
1. In the upcoming referendum on EU membership, what are the key steps Labour should take to secure an ‘in’ vote? How can we mobilise support both within and outside the party?
I nearly trebled my majority in the 2015 election with UKIP in third place. I believe my role as a hands on constituency MP and community campaigner played a part in that. But also my background and personality which means I can have a conversation on any doorstep without sounding like a ‘politician’. Add to that I am well known and regarded for fighting Labour’s corner on some of the media’s toughest programmes. These are experiences and skills which as Deputy Leader I can bring to our campaign for an IN-vote.
I understand the EU. As a Home Office Minister in the Labour Government every six weeks I attended and negotiated at the Justice and Home Affairs Council. Outside of that I worked across Europe, inside and out of the EU, tackling organised crime; as Public Health Minister I worked with my counterparts on public health but also on directives such as those which affected the composition and supply of vitamins. During my time as Europe Minister I visited and worked with a number of countries who wanted to join the EU from Croatia to Ukraine and developed our relationship with members especially Cyprus. In the UK I initiated through the FCO organised visits to demonstrate the strength of our membership of the EU whether that involved the creation of new jobs or protection given to products such as the Melton Mowbray pork pie.
As Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change I visited Germany to find out more about developing renewable energy. Climate change does not respect borders but our membership of the EU is also about energy security, jobs and a functioning market which treats consumers well.
I also went to Norway to look at climate impacts on the Arctic as well as to understand better their relationship with the EU. In Brussels I have met Commission staff and in Government and opposition I have always worked with MEP colleagues.
Why is this important? Because we need people who feel confident about making the case for Europe built on substance not just soundbites.
Our campaign should not be conditional. We have forty years of the EU to build our case on – rather than hang on a handful of “concessions” negotiated by David Cameron. Our membership does not begin and end with his negotiations, which are driven by internal Tory tensions, not the national interest. The most important concern for us is to have a distinctive Labour campaign, as there are particular reasons we support the EU that are not shared by the Tories.
In addition we should identify people from all backgrounds who aren’t politicians to make the case locally and nationally.
It is important that the referendum debate is seen as open and transparent. That is why it was right for Labour to challenge David Cameron on the rules around purdah. As much as possible we do not want those wanting to get out of the EU to be able to suggest that the debate hasn’t been fair or fixed in anyway. I believe we can win this campaign but I don’t want those who vote no to resent the outcome or be encouraged to harbour grievances.
I believe we need to build a strong economic case – with better research – that our membership is central to our economic fortunes; that building our trade beyond the EU is a huge task (we export about the same to Belgium as we do to Russia, India and Brazil combined); and that exit does not produce huge savings (as we would still have to contribute financially and obey all of the rules, yet with no say.)
It is vital that our campaign for a Yes vote is a campaign FOR the British people, not for the EU. We want to stay in because it is in the present and future interests of our people that they benefit from membership of the EU. We can point to any number of policies that are adopted EU-wide, but we should avoid overstating (reducing roaming charges for mobiles is important, but rear seat belts in cars were here in the UK before the EU approved them).
2. What are your priorities for EU reform?
As we know reform is an ongoing process, and priorities change. 9/11 led to a huge review of EU management of passenger movement records and the introduction of the European Arrest Warrant from my experience, the following issues need attending to:
• A robust stance on climate change in preparation for Paris 2015, to secure a lasting, landmark agreement.
• Co-operation on policing – we need a streamlined process for guaranteeing swift co-operation and information sharing across member states; as crime and terrorism are both fluid, cross border activities.
• Immigration rights – member states must be able to impose residency tests on family benefits, avoiding the claiming of benefits for children in other countries. Likewise, reform to enable movement to work, but limiting periods of residency for non-working migrants is a necessary reform.
• A review of EU regional funding with more emphasis on R&D. R&D clearly impacts on a region’s productive capacity, whereas, the distribution of regional funds is so broad and general that its regenerative impact is sometimes limited.
3. What is your vision for Britain’s role in the EU, and how would you position the Labour party with regard to this?
The UK needs to try to re-establish itself at the heart of the EU, in order to influence future change. The UK lost this role in recent years, playing more the role of the awkward relative, the outsider. There is little prospect of the EU adopting British priorities if we remain semi-detached. Reasserting this role must be a priority once the referendum is concluded.
4. What are the key issues that the EU will have to address in the coming years?
Aside from staying in the EU among the future issues that the EU will have to address are: Greece and the Eurozone, jobs and growth, the plans for extended trade agreements with the US and Japan; the Paris climate talks, and the pressures for further liberalisation of markets, such as energy and financial services.
In responding to these questions, I am acutely conscious that, apart from the referendum, where Labour’s role is fundamental, while we remain out of power, Labour is heavily reliant on the efforts of our MEPs.