The European Union: reform long overdue
The National Health Action Party is neither slavishly loyal, nor blindly opposed, to the European Union. We look at the facts.
In the 40 years since we joined the “Common Market”, the quality of the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe have all been better regulated, thanks to joint European oversight, to which Britain, too, has been a contributor. We are also less likely now to work punishing schedules that put our health at risk thanks to the EU; more likely to get maternity leave; less likely to be sold unsafe medicines and healthcare products; less likely to be exposed to dangerous chemicals. The EU also has a useful role to play in co-ordinating disease control efforts and our response to major health and environmental threats.
However, there is also much that is wrong with the EU as currently organised. The big down side of this huge institution is the massive democratic deficit that leaves ordinary citizens of any individual country with very little power or influence over decision-making at the European level. The European Commission's own polling puts trust in EU institutions at 31%, an all-time low.
As at all levels of government, there is always a danger that those with power and influence can undermine democracy. And EU institutions are simply not good enough at controlling corporate lobbyists, or transparent about how all its decisions are taken. Nor is Westminster of course. But the further away the decisions are taken, the more they need to be under strict democratic control.
So long as the United Kingdom is a member of the EU, we will work with fellow Europeans for its reform, to
Put health and the wellbeing of EU citizens, not corporate interests, at the centre of policy-making
Make the EU democratically accountable to voters, with mechanisms to allow the public to hold elected officials to account
Make the European Commission more accountable to the European Parliament
Establish a register of lobbyists
Tackle the proliferation of health-related EU agencies that are accountable only to the Commission, and not to the public.
TTIP: the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
The secret negotiation surrounding this proposed trade treaty between the European Union and the United States of America has been an embarrassment to democracy. It has also been a tribute to international activism that we now know as much about it as we do – and there is widespread public opposition to it.
“Harmonisation” of regulations between trading nations is not necessarily a bad thing – if it is undertaken for the benefit of citizens. But TTIP aims to remove key social and environmental protections that limit transnational corporations' ability to maximise their profits at all costs.
Under the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause, corporations would be able to sue sovereign governments – not in properly constituted international courts but before appointed tribunals – if democratically decided policies and regulation impact on their profit margins.
Currently, under existing ISDS clauses in similar trade treaties around the world, democratic countries, states and regions are being sued for lost profits by companies that operate in
- Tobacco – suing over plain-packaging laws.
- Oil and gas – suing over a fracking ban due to health fears.
- Mining – suing because they were closed after polluting the water supply.
- Genetically modified food – suing to stop mandatory labelling of genetically modified foods.
ISDS undermines the most basic principles of democracy. More specifically, in the case of the United Kingdom, it could not only open up our NHS to further privatisation, it would lock that privatisation into an international agreement we can never get out of, no matter what or who we vote for.
While major parties and UKIP all approve of TTIP in principle, some say the NHS must be excluded from its terms, some say it is automatically excluded, while yet others claim it cannot legally be excluded. Often these conflicting messages are put out by different members of the same party.
The National Health Action Party policy on TTIP is crystal clear. We think it poses multiple threats to the health and well-being of British citizens and we oppose it in its entirety. If the EU does sign this treaty with the United States, we believe the British Government must exercise its right to a full opt out.
In common with other parties, the NHA Party believes the United Kingdom should keep the pound and not join the Euro. We are opposed to monetary union in principle. And, in practice, since the financial crisis, the Eurozone has been transformed into to a two-tier system in which richer nations have the power to impose Austerity policies on poorer ones, to the direct harm of the health of their citizens.
As seen above, there is much to be said on either side about EU membership. Future developments may further radically change the balance of good and bad. We therefore leave it up to individual candidates to offer their own perspective and to consult with their constituents on whether or not to support a referendum on the issue of EU membership.
In the event a referendum on EU membership takes place, we would ask, based on the evidence
1. Will leaving the EU contribute to public health and wellbeing in the UK?
2. Is there sufficient economic evidence to justify leaving the EU?