Text of a speech given by Derek Vaughan to the 2012 Welsh Labour Conference.
When I became an MEP in 2009, I realised that my first responsibility would be to represent Wales in Europe but also to put a positive case for Europe.
After a while I realised the two responsibilities were compatible. It is vital that Wales influences decisions in Europe in order to maximise the benefits of the EU to Wales.
Indeed, I would go further and say that if Wales was not in the EU, or if it did not obtain the benefits of membership it currently does, we would be a lot worse off financially, economically and socially.
I therefore decided that when I spoke with local authorities, voluntary organisations, businesses, trade unions, colleges, universities, schools etc I would put the case for Wales being in the EU. The more I did it, the more I recognised there is a patriotic case for being in the European Union. If you love Wales and if you want Wales to prosper, you want Wales in the EU playing an active part.
The Tory Eurosceptics and UKIP say they are standing up for our country but they are damaging it. When I see UKIP in the European Parliament chamber sitting with their little Union Jacks in front of them, I know they don’t represent our communities.
Neither do the right wing Tories. They seem to think it is better for the UK Prime Minister to flounce off rather than staying at the negotiating table influencing decisions.
I am delighted that Carwyn Jones and Alun Davies are determined to put Wales at the heart of Europe. Ed Miliband, Douglas Alexander, Emma Reynolds and, before her, Wayne David also put the case for the UK in Europe. And that’s why I want to be at the heart of decision making in the European Parliament.
As the MEP responsible for the EU institutions’ budget and the budget of the next round of Structural Funds, I can play a role for Wales and the UK.
I will not stand on the sidelines carping.
I ask myself what true patriots would argue to stop EU regional funds coming to Wales? Wales benefits hugely from European Structural Funds. Between 2000 and 2006 we received around £1.5bn. In the current round of funding, the figure is likely to be around £2bn and with match funding, over £3.5bn.
This money is used to fund projects right across Wales. Projects to improve our infrastructure, to redevelop our town centres, to provide skills training and business support. Almost every community benefits from EU projects and we need to do more to publicise this.
The eurosceptics argue that if the UK didn’t contribute to the EU it could keep the money and use it for its own regional policy. This argument falls for two reasons:
One because even the figures used by the europsceptics show that Wales is a net beneficiary of Structural Funds to the tune of £915m. When you add CAP, Rural Development Funding, R&D funds to our universities etc then Wales is a huge net beneficiary of EU funds.
The second reason it falls is the eurosceptics belief that if the UK government saved money on its contributions to the EU then it would give the money to Wales is an absolute nonsense. Does anyone really believe that the Tory-led government would give Wales an additional £2bn to invest. Indeed, I believe that the question has been asked and surprise they were not keen to give such a commitment. They want to cut the funding we receive not give us more.
So it is better and safer for Wales to receive regional funding from the EU. We will have the guarantee of at least seven years funding.
There was a threat recently that Wales and other similar parts of the EU would not receive regional funds post-2013. I am glad that along with the Welsh Government and local government I played my part in ensuring we will continue to receive substantial amounts of EU funding in the future. A lot depends on the overall level of the EU budget but I am hoping we will get a similar amount for the next seven years to what we currently get.
Of course, Wales does not just benefit from the EU funding we received. Our businesses also benefit from having access to a market of 500m people in 27 Member States. With 50% of our trade being with the EU, it is estimated that 150,000 jobs in Wales are dependent on trade with the EU.
In addition to the vital jobs, the people of Wales also benefit from EU legislation. For example, much of our environmental legislation on emissions, waste and water quality comes from Europe. Additionally, much of our consumer rights legislation is European such as toy safety, passenger rights and mobile phone roaming charges. Finally, Welsh workers benefit from EU social legislation such as guaranteed paid holidays, equal rights for part-time workers and health and safety laws.
With the Tory-led UK coalition taking away workers’ rights, it is to Europe we must look once again to defend Welsh workers.
The final but important benefit to Wales from the EU is peace and stability.
We often forget the founders of the EU wanted to use economic means for political ends. In other words, they wanted to tie European economies together so we become interdependent and would not go to war again. This is perhaps the EU’s greatest achievement. The great powers of Europe have not gone to war since the formation of the EU institutions.
So when the eurosceptics say they are standing up for the UK or Wales lets remind them that to deny use regional and other funds, trade and jobs, beneficial legislation and peace and stability is not patriotic.
The true patriots want Wales to prosper.