A veto is when you say something shouldn’t happen and it doesn’t. This is not what happened last Friday morning.
When the proposals go ahead anyway but with the UK’s standing in the EU weakened and damaged and with us left twiddling our thumbs outside of the main decision making process then that is commonly considered to be a humiliating defeat not a veto. Has the Prime Minister really protected Britain’s interests or is it the case that by putting bankers and disaffected Tory backbenchers first, he has effectively pushed us out to the margins of the EU, and made the City more vulnerable? The UK will still have to play by the rules that are made, but without having a seat at the table where the decisions are taken.
Cameron has made much about protecting Britain's interests by taking this decision, but in fact he was only looking to serve one square mile of the City of London. And he hasn't even achieved that. One of the demands on Cameron's list was a British veto over any decision to introduce a Financial Transaction Tax. But under the Lisbon treaty every Member State already has the ability to veto a decision on tax raising powers, so this stance was pure posturing to give Cameron a powerful anti-EU narrative at home.
An engaged UK Government is key for the economic interests of Wales. Cameron’s isolationist position, whilst no doubt hugely pleasing for some his hard line Eurosceptic colleagues is bad for Britain and particularly bad for Wales.
We should, of course, not be surprised at these developments. The Prime Minister has history on this dating back to his campaign for the Tory Party leadership when he promised to pull Conservative MEPs out of the mainstream centre right EPP block in the European Parliament. In 2009, Tory MEPs went on to set up the ECR, a fringe group in the European Parliament, described by Nick Clegg, prior to the General Election, as containing “nutters, anti-Semites, people who deny climate change exists and homophobes”. Last week does not mark a change in direction but merely a ramping up of fervent Euro-scepticism that even out-does anything that occurred during the Thatcher and Major years.
Over 150,000 jobs in Wales rely on a successful trading relationship with the EU. More than £3.5bn of investment in some of our poorest communities comes as a result of EU Structural Funds, and is being used to tackle longstanding economic, social and educational disparities across Wales. Worryingly, the UK Government is currently arguing for a cut in cohesion policy funding, despite these funds creating well over half a million training and employment opportunities since 2007. On top of this, there is also the much needed support provided by the EU for our rural areas and our universities. Latest figures show that Wales receives around £1bn of EU funding each year – no small amount given that we are also bearing the brunt of savage cuts inflicted by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition as part of their misguided and heavy-handed deficit reduction programme.
The UK's loss of influence within the EU is, at best, seriously problematic and, at worst, disastrous for Wales. Discussions on future EU budget priorities which will decide how much Wales will get in the coming years are at a vital point and at the exact time when we need to build sustainable relationships with other European regions, the UK Government has decided to put short-term, internal party political gain ahead of our national interest. Policies on research and development, agriculture and Structural Funding are being shaped whilst the UK looks set to be sidelined. Plenty of pain it seems but very little gain.
What this reckless decision has demonstrated to all of us who have the future economic prosperity of Wales at heart is that we now need to form a progressive, cross-sector, alliance to put the case for continued membership of the EU and engagement at the highest level.
Both the public and private sectors in Wales benefit greatly from closer ties with the other 26 Member States and the increasingly hostile attitude taken by the UK Government towards the EU cannot be allowed to go on without a robust response from Welsh politicians, business leaders, trade unionists and others.
We know that we can't count on the support of the leader of the Welsh Tories, but we now need to join Carwyn Jones in making the case for the UK's membership of the EU. I will also be writing to the Prime Minister calling on him to reverse this highly damaging position of calling for drastic cuts to the budget for Structural Funds for Wales, and to think again about sacrificing the long-term future of the Welsh economy in favour of grandstanding headlines.
(Article published in the Western Mail - Wednesday, 14 December 2011)