The EU-Brexit debate covers a lot of ground. So much ground that the British public will either be glad to hear the end of it on Friday, or will find the debate incomplete, depending on the results for who hoped what. As the Liberal Cynic’s environmental editor, my priorities in engaging in the debate lie in the environmental factors.
To start with… let’s get the against out the way
Most of the arguments against EU membership are able to demonstrate a nice list of achievements the UK has made independently in protecting the environment. Westminster can claim to have supported river management out of its own initiative, which of course is a vital step considering the extent of the waterways’ networks through the entire land out to the sea. Furthermore, the UK’s fishing market has found itself a victim of poor fishing regulation under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), under which dead fish are allowed to be discarded into the sea, easing some fishermen’s trade at the expense of waste efficiency on a broader scale. Also, since the EU is overall unsure about pursuing with the use of genetically modified crops, many scientists have criticised it for ignoring the fact that GM crops are better for the environment as they are actually reduce the need to use particularly harmful pesticides in organic farming. Finally, the EU is well underway with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, which could accumulate in negative effects of pesticides and chemical usage. So, the EU is not ecologically perfect.
And now… the for arguments
Whether the UK remains or leaves, its government will continue to have a poor record of promoting fracking and other such anti-green industries. However, concerning the EU itself, this section of the article can remain short and sweet, simply because its benefits are endless: it has significantly enhanced animal protection, survival of bees, insects and biodiversity, beach conservation, general water, sewage and air hygiene, and renewable energy. Although Gordon Brown and Nicholas Sarkozy are examples of national leaders who had seriously proposed ideas to tackle climate change in 2009, such as through carbon taxes and funds to incentivize the developing world, each European country also run the risk of being taken over by the likes of David Cameron, who has to work hard to make up for saying, years ago, “we have got to get rid of all this green crap.” We should also elaborate on the arguments against EU membership: the CFP has been noted to improve, seeing an end to wasteful fish-discarding; GM crops have been placed under more flexibility according to each country (which, fancy that, makes procedures more democratic); and TTIP is equally supported by MPs from all camps in the UK, while EU membership at least strengthens the anti-TTIP campaign between member-states. TTIP is a fight between individual politicians, not between states and the continent.
So what are we getting at….?
It is clear that Brussels does better than Westminster on green policies. There are probably several theories behind this, one concerning size and another concerning representation. As a large territory, the EU’s obligation to worry about its role supporting the rest of the planet is higher than that of countries that use their small size and futility as an excuse to cop out. That point suddenly becomes easily contradicted when we consider some of the biggest countries on the planet, USA, Brazil, China and Russia. All these countries ranging in their degree of democracy, they manage to pollute and deforest the planet, and exhaust energy at high levels. The same does not apply to the European Union, that is to say a union of different democracies. There is plenty of evidence, rest assured, to show that the EU possesses democratic qualities, just different to the structure of democracy that we are familiar with. However, where it appears at fault for being too bureaucratic and alienating, we should be feeling more relieved than angry. The so-called ‘democratic deficit’ is, on the whole, the purpose of the EU (now that member-states are no longer at war with each other): to implement policies that will, on an objective basis, protect and maintain our basic rights, our welfare and wider environment, regardless of each government elected.
I also get the impression from conversations that another reason why the British public tend to find the EU alienating may even be because they simply are not engaged in or even undermine the importance of the issues it addresses, so possibly cannot grapple with why any institution would dare impose these relevant stigmatized regulations on them. Every general election, the British public vote for a party that decide new agendas regarding tax, pensions, education, healthcare, benefits and employment; all those nitty-gritty institutionalised elements tied to state’s economy, contextually satisfying particular voters. But somebody needs to address health and safety, social rights and the environment, which most of the public forget to panic about at the voting booth? Therefore, the EU steps in at its “supranational” level to implement those policies that ensure that all the efforts of each state’s government and working public are all the more worthwhile – i.e. that we will survive in good health. When 28 states come together, all with their own agendas for the Union and within their own little territories, Brussels has to represent everyone and therefore no-one.
In making politics, a very human invention, objective, its aims are reduced to what academic research stresses is necessary for the environment as well as the economy. Staying in the EU will increase the likelihood of us really enjoying the air that we breathe, the water we drink and the soil we walk on and use to grow veg. The technocrats in Brussels are very competent bodies indeed. To separate Westminster from Brussels would not turn that sea into just a fully-fortified border, but a graveyard to our little island and the habitats beyond.