The European Union needs reforming, not abandoning

Jonathan Freedland (Opinion, 10 October) is right to warn that a “remain” vote in the forthcoming EU referendum is by no means a foregone conclusion, not least because some will doubtless use it as an opportunity to show two fingers to likely “in” supporters Cameron and Osborne, rather than as a chance to express a view about the future of Britain in Europe. That makes it even more important that those of us on the left build a positive inspiring case for staying in, on the basis that we are stronger when we work together, while at the same time redoubling our campaigns to make the EU more democratic and accountable, with social and environmental justice at its heart.

After 10 years working as an MEP in the European parliament, I’m in no doubt that the EU is in need of far-reaching reform. Too much power is held in the hands of the elites, and not enough by the people, who too often feel shut out from its decisions. It’s easy to blame the EU when free-market economics tramples across our rights and freedoms, but in reality it’s rightwing governments like our own which have taken a lead in seeking to make the EU a vehicle for greater liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation. Indeed, when the EU has attempted to regulate finance, it was the UK government leading the charge to protect the interests of the City of London. When the EU proposed a “Robin Hood tax”, it was our chancellor who launched a legal challenge to it. Similarly the UK government rose up in bitter opposition to the EU-wide cap on bankers’ bonuses.

Our response to a Tory government in Britain isn’t “let’s do without parliament”, it’s “let’s win it back and reform it”. The same principle should guide our response to the EU. We need to work with pro-European allies like Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain to build the case for reform of the EU that promotes social solidarity and protecting our shared environment. Implementing that reform requires fighting and winning at the ballot box at European and general elections across Europe. A new EU is possible – but only if we stop leaving the case for Europe to the establishment and instead build an EU-wide progressive movement for the kind of Europe we can believe in.

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