Jude's Column: We can't miss the boat because we believed the bus

10 October 2019

Back in April this year, as it was starting to become clear that the UK will in fact take part in the EU elections, I helped draft a pro-Remain manifesto which stood at the core of my subsequent campaigning across the region. Titled Remain, Reform, Rebel, the manifesto - written by left-wing politicians, leading trade unionists and academics - envisages a Europe for the many, not the few. Its three main pillars focus on a Green New Deal, a democratic and humanitarian Europe, and one that works for its people: the workers and those who are not in employment, the youth who study or are training, as well as the elder generations; the citizens who make the European Union the successful project it has been for many decades.

It chimes with the Labour Party’s policy priorities at national level and, more recently, with the direction the EU will be taking once it forms its new Commission at the end of October. And I must admit that, despite the troubling ongoing chaos at home which has led to many late nights scrolling through Twitter, this has truly put a spring in my step and given me hope for a brighter 2020 and beyond. Let me explain why.

While it may not have made headlines in the UK because our government didn’t put a nomination forward, hearings for the new EU Commissioner candidates have been the hot topic for discussion in the rest of the EU for the past couple of weeks. Every 5 years, following the European elections, a new Commission team is put in place, ready to pick up the policy agenda set by the Member States and MEPs on the 1st of November.

Coming into the European Parliament to be grilled by MEPs for several hours, the Commissioner-designates have been allocated their own portfolios on topics covering jobs, environment, justice, health and everything in-between. If they pass this test, these will become key policy shapers in the EU whom we, MEPs, will be holding accountable and steering in the right direction.

It’s not an easy pass-and-go for them. Their nomination, made by their country’s national government, doesn’t account for anything if they fail the interview and, unlike any other job I can think of, the panel deciding on their performance is made of 751 people. It can be a very long and daunting process, and some have already flunked it, receiving the thumbs down from MEPs. This now means their national governments need to put forward another nominee who will be scrutinised and vetted in the same way. We have another week to get through the scrutiny process, before a confirmatory vote in Strasbourg, to allow them to take office on the 1 November - the first day the UK is due to be out of the EU.

Should we leave, I’m struck that we would be missing out on seeing some truly fantastic commitments taking shape, policies that would make life easier for gig economy workers who are typically young people doing precarious jobs, policies that would help us tackle the climate crisis sooner and more efficiently while also creating jobs, policies that would make sure the rich pay their dues in tax which in return would provide greater regional investment for places like our North East. This coupled with the new Commission President’s commitment for enhanced right of initiative for the European Parliament which in practice means even more power to us, your MEPs, is exciting news and I believe we should be part of it.

So why does this give me hope? Public opinion on Brexit is clearly shifting and with the increasing likelihood of a Public Vote to decide how we move forward, the Remain campaign cannot be about the status quo. Those who complain that our national politics has stagnated because of Brexit are right in doing so - we’re falling behind. With this new wave of ambitious plans for Europe with better rights for all at the core, a strategy for curing and protecting our environment, and unity as the basis to build it all on... it’s starting to feel like we’re about to miss the boat because we believed the bus. There’s still time to change our minds and the EU is giving us the right reasons to do so.

Do you think the North East needs its own voice in the EU exit negotiations?

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