Friday, January 18, 2013

It's Europe that has made our land more green and pleasant

Do you think that the UK's membership of the European Union is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing? If a referendum were held on the UK's membership, how do you think you would vote?

These are the questions that David Cameron is addressing in his speech on Europe, and that are asked in public polling surveys on this most touchy of subjects.

According to one recent survey, which asked just these questions, over 56% would "probably or definitely" answer that they would vote to leave, and 45% think that Britain's membership is a Bad Thing. Only 28% believe it is Good for the country.

But the answer you get depends on the question you ask.

Suppose a pollster asked you this question:

Are you grateful that we have clean beaches?

Or how about:

Is legislation to keep our water and air clean from industrial pollution a good thing?

What about:

Do you think it is a good idea to set targets for manufacturers to make their products consume less energy?

I am willing to bet that well over three quarters of the population would answer yes to all of these questions.

Then the polling company might ask the question:

Are you aware that all of the above are controlled by laws emanating from Europe that have been accepted by the British government?

I am willing to bet that well over three quarters of the population would answer no to that question.

In this debate on Europe we hear a lot from the business lobby about red tape from Europe holding back growth.

As if, were we tomorrow to cast off from the continental landmass, like a hot air balloon we would rise majestically into a sky of profit having jettisoned the ballast of legal compliance.

It is never mentioned exactly which laws are supposed to be jettisoned.

Even the coalition government's own campaign to cut red tape, in which the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs has played an enthusiastic role, has actually found little besides ancient and redundant legislation that it can bury without affecting health and ecosystems in a way that would cause public outrage.

It is precisely our membership of the European Union that has forced business and agriculture in this country to take care of our environment and protect our health, to safeguard species and habitats from the otherwise careless activities associated with the production of goods and wealth, energy and employment.

These are successes that figure high on people's list of priorities. Breaches of, say, pollution laws, occurring on their doorsteps trigger howls of anguish and outrage.

The Bathing Water Directive protects our beaches. Directives like the Groundwater, Habitats, Industrial Emissions, Landfill, Nitrates and Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive protect us, our children, families and neighbourhoods from dangerous pollution.

Do UKIP and Eurosceptic MPs in all parties wish to abolish all of these as they abandon Europe?

Do they, perhaps, want to make Britain the continent's 'dirty old man'?

Let me ask you: are these protections, instead, not something to celebrate?

We can legitimately ask that, if our national government had not been not forced by Brussels to incorporate these laws into national legislation, whether it would have done so, and indeed whether they would be enforced, and by whom?

Think of how many times Britain has been taken to court for breaches of environmental laws, for example in the case of dirty beaches.

It is because of Europe that raw sewage is no longer poured straight into the sea and our rivers and waterways.

Even now, London is under threat of prosecution from Europe for breaches of air pollution legislation.

These foreigners should not be sticking their noses into our business, you say? Who else is going to protect our environment?

If you want us to leave Europe then you have to be clear on this.

That 'the environment', meaning weather, sea currents, migrating birds and so on, does not respect international boundaries is precisely the reason why we need a continent-wide protection regime.

And it is because it has set, and is due to meet as a bloc, its targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, for growth in renewable energy, and for increases in the energy efficiency of products made within its boundaries, in its fight against the worst ravages of climate change, that Europe can speak with a louder and more authoritative voice at global climate change talks.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive and the Landfill Directive encourage recycling. The ambition of the Water Framework Directive is to protect our waterways.

I am sorry, but unless you can convince me that, outside of Europe, we would introduce protection at least as good as these for the environment, and, even more importantly, enforce all of these, I will vote overwhelmingly for us to stay within the European Union.

I'm all for simplifying red tape. But let's hear it for European green tape. Without it, our environment would be even more despoiled than it is already.

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