By Debbie Jolly
The majority of the DPAC steering group believes disabled people should vote to stay in the European Union.
Today we publish two pieces. The one below, outlines why it should be a ‘yes’ vote to stay in EU on the 23rd June. The other HERE outlines the ‘no’ perspective
So what exactly is the EU?
Many criticisms of the European Union are based on a lack of understanding of how its different parts interact. This tends to promote the myth of an unelected and unrepresentative European union with dictates coming from Brussels. In fact the main parts of its headquarters are in Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg.
Here’s a quick rundown of its main parts and what they do so we’re clear about how each of the member countries are represented and how the parliament works by individuals in each of the member countries electing members of the European Parliament:
European Commission-Commissioners are made up of a representative from each member country. Also where new laws are proposed
European Parliament-elected members of the European Parliament (MEPS), elected for each of the 28 member countries. The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats and the Group of the European’s Peoples Party have consistently pulled in 50-70% of votes . It’s the Parliament of elected MEPs that vote on the laws proposed by the commission
Council of the European Union-where government representatives of the 28 member countries/states have their say on the political direction of the union and their stake in it. For example Cameron’s latest ‘deal’ for an emergency brake on in work benefits for so called migrants was done here.
European Court of Justice-The 28 Judges come from each of the member states. As its name suggests it is a court of justice regarding member countries squabbles or issues where member countries are not fulfilling the rights of citizenship. They also take cases of discrimination and have established issues such as equal pay and combated issues around the forced institutionalisation of disabled people
So the different parts of the EU and its parliament are representative of each of its member states and MEPs are elected by the people. The electoral system uses proportional representation -as opposed to the British first past the post system that allowed the Tories to govern again in Britain.
The right wing media mouthpieces such as the Express and Mail have been at the fore front of anti-European rhetoric. So that issues such as free movement in Europe that allowed those in war torn countries to try and seek a decent peaceful existence ( more on that later), the working time directive and other social gains are always ignored, misconstrued or demonised.
Social policy gains from the EU: what has EU ever done for us?
While some on the left cite the EU or European Parliament social gains, social charters and key treaties, taking resistance, development and co-operation as the route to build on the social gains-the Eurosceptic left charge the EU with being a capitalist monolith that cannot be reformed, so let’s throw it all away.
We need to ask ourselves if we do that: what are the consequences? Will we really fair better under ‘Tory Boys Limited’? They and Thatcher before them sought to limit or block every improvement in employee rights and social rights put forward by the EU. Let’s look in brief at some of the social gains that being part of the European Union gave us in employment protection against ‘the bosses’.
-Maternity and Paternity leave criteria, protection against workplace dismissal due to pregnancy
-Protection of employment if business is transferred or sold (TUPE)
-Protection from workplace discrimination re gender, disability, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age
-Working time directive: rules on paid leave, holidays, working breaks, no more than a 48 hour working week (UK has an opt out option between employers and employees on this one , of course)
-Employment contracts and information they must contain for any employee
-Protection against less favourable treatment for part-time workers compared to full time workers, no right of employer to transfer someone from part-time to full time or vice versa without employee agreement
-Health and safety regulations in work
-Data protection on employees’ information and data protection issues more widely
And before we hear any cries of Europe imposing nasty equality and protection and undermining member countries sovereign whatever, please note that member countries can and did tinker around the edges. For example, whether paternity leave was paid or not. For more detail see reference .
If we leave the EU these protections for workers will no longer be applicable and the current government would be all too happy to remove them. In fact Cameron wanted part of his recent EU deal to deal with the ‘red tape’ of these employment rights
Disability: why disabled people would be better in Europe than out
The European Union also have a wealth of social policy on gender issues and other equality issues. Here I’ll focus on disability issues
–Non discrimination: as previously covered a variety of non discrimination measures to protect disabled people is written into treaties, directives and strategies at the European level on goods and services, access and independent living
–Non discrimination by association: The principle of not discriminating because of association (e.g partner, child, parent etc) with a disabled person came via Europe through a European Court of Justice case and was written into the UK Equality Act 2010
Forced institutionalisation: The European court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights has overseen many cases on forced institutionalization by member countries this is in line with commission signing up to the UNCRPD and its own EU Disability Strategy. As such precedents have been made to prevent both forced institutionalisation and combat conditions within institutions. This does not mean that all situations across European member states are now perfect, but that individuals and NGOs have other routes as well as their national government/national legal system to challenge human rights abuses against disabled people and disabled children at the European level.
European Social Funds: The EU provides millions of euros in social funds to NGOs/local authorities/regions/universities in its 28 member states to combat poverty, to promote and enact independent living, to challenge injustice and to remove institutions. It has also provided much needed regeneration in many areas as well as educational and project funds around human rights. These funds would be removed from disabled people and from communities if we leave. The Tory government will not replace them.
Misuse of social funds by member states: while social funds are meant to increase access to independent living and disabled people being part of the community with adequate support, i.e. the closure of large institutions, some member state governments have been misusing such funds to build smaller institutions. These issues are now being dealt with by the commission-and the point is: what Europe is accused of is often in reality a failing of a member state, but it is often wrongly blamed on the European Union itself.
Access and EU Accessibility Act: the UK enjoys comparatively good access in relation with some other European countries, but harmonization is important across the EU to serve all disabled people. The recent EU accessibility Act builds on other directives from the EU to improve access and harmonize the social gains disabled people fought for. Most countries have regulations on ramps and buildings, although these are not always adhered to. The EU can strengthen these gains and has provided more in line with their EU Disability Strategy
Transport-EU rules on accessible vehicles standards and provision of assistance on all forms of public transport, including planes meant that those countries that did not provide this can now be taken through the courts
Public web sites –must adhere to EU rules on accessibility
The list below shows new products and services that must be accessible to all impairment groups
-computers and operating systems;
– ATMs; ticketing and check-in machines;
– TV equipment related to digital television services;
– telephony services and related equipment;
– audiovisual media services (AVMS) and related equipment;
– air, bus, rail and waterborne passenger transport services;
– banking services;
For example the EU access directive means that:
ATMs will provide sockets for headphones with the support of audio instructions. Keyboards will provide tactual clues. ATMs will also have visual alerts (blinking lights) in addition to audible signals to indicate where the cards need to be introduced or where the money comes out.
Booking and travel: accessibility requirements of the Directive will allow disabled passengers to be able to book their tickets on the transport companies’ websites or directly via accessible ticketing machines. For example, a blind person will be able to use voice or tactual interfaces to interact with the ticketing machines and also to get information about the schedule of his/her journey. Deaf and hard of hearing persons will get information about the changes in the schedule of their train/bus journeys in real time in text format, complementing the oral announcements.
The European Parliament also has a disability intergroup made up of MEPs with an interest in protecting and extending the rights of disabled people, a disability strategy focused on independent living and equal rights and a whole set of different groups looking at issues such as de-institutionalisation.
Disabled people and European NGOs are the ones that fight for disability rights, but being in the EU can help extend those rights and also help fund our battles. While we in the UK may know we have a significant battle, other countries have significant battles too in terms of access, attitudes, being part of the community, and poor financial support for the extra costs of disability-pulling out of the EU means rejecting our disabled European friends and significantly weakening our own fight too.
The closure of the ILF (independent Living Fund) has been covered and protested by MEPs and by European NGOs in a way that would not have been possible if we were not members of the EU. The additional 4 years of funds for ex ILF users were not given because the government wanted to be generous, but because of the campaigns around the ILF-a campaign that was supported by those in Europe.
The European Court of Human Rights is separate from the EU. It was set up to take cases under the European Convention on Human Rights and its members are the signatories to the convention. The Tory government plans for a British Bill of Rights might mean that the European Court of Human Rights and the European Convention become irrelevant. It’s also much more likely that we’ll lose the European Convention rights if we pull out of the EU which will mean we lose the European Court of Justice and the court of Human Rights in one swoop. We need both.
Myths and misunderstandings
The previous piece arguing for a vote to leave the EU because disabled people would be better off raised a number of points that need to be clarified.
1.’ it is a false division to treat the interests of Disabled people as a distinct entity separate from the rest of the 99%’ It isn’t when the piece is on a disabled peoples’ campaign group’s site, disabled people are a distinct entity in that many of our rights are not met as they should be, as such we need to examine why remaining in the EU can aid and increase those rights, not just for us as an Island, but in solidarity with disabled people across Europe and beyond
- The EU ‘forces disabled people to suffer under austerity’, no it doesn’t national governments do. Is it nations (or member states) that chose their austerity measures and chose its targets? Nations do both not the EU. Nations do both whether they’ve been bailed out by the EU/IMF (international Monetary Fund)/member states money or not. For example Ireland was not directed by the EU (or any other parties to the bail out) to specifically cut disability spending by 10% any more than Ireland was directed by the EU not to sign or ratify the UNCRPD. It’s the same case for other ‘bail out’ countries. The false conflation between the EU and its member state actions are misleading
- The EU is ‘an institution that condemns refugees (many of whom are Disabled or children) to drown in the sea’. The EU’s Schengen treaty of free movement across European borders is the thing that allowed people to escape war torn or other types of country within or outside the EU. It was a Tory dictate that rescues wouldn’t happen. They claimed it would just ‘encourage more to come’-so a national government that refused rescues and funds. The EU is not responsible for refugees having their cash and valuables confiscated either, but national governments- Denmark followed by Germany and Switzerland. Again, the false conflation between the EU and its member state actions/inactions are misleading
- ‘Sweden, a country considered for a long time to be a world leader in independent living, did not join the EU until 1994. Demands made by STIL, the Stockholm Co-operative for Independent Living, set up in 1983 and inspired by the Independent Living Movement in California, forced the introduction of Direct Payments, using demonstrations and actions that gave them a “radical reputation” that they “exploited in our dealings with the authorities”. In Norway, which is not an EU member, disability benefits are a universal right, while in EU member states including Sweden these are increasingly limited’ STIL is a great model for independent living in Sweden, there are many around Europe and in the European Economic Area (EEA) including ULOBA in Norway. However, Norway has also seen reductions in support. They, like STIL and inspired by STIL, have fought a long battle to develop direct payments and gained a personal assistance law in 2014, Sweden had personal assistance law much sooner. This is not about being part of the European Union or not- it’s about the context, histories and cultures of individual countries. It should also be noted that that other member countries of the EU are not seeing reductions in disability financial support in particular those in Eastern Europe-again we cannot conflate what happens with a single issue on a national basis and claim that it’s the EU’s fault/not the EU’s fault, issues including those connected with disability, are much more complex.
Voting to leave the EU will protect us against TTIP??
No it won’t. Leaving the EU will not mean that we suddenly cease trading with other parts of Europe-we will still import/export and trading will continue. It’s likely that if we do leave we will take a position similar to Norway and be part of the single market or European Economic Area. We will still be subject to TTIP whether we’re in or out. If we’re out we can’t be in the fight to change aspects of TTIP through the European parliament or with other member countries such as France or Greece who want to veto aspects of TTIP. National governments do have a say in TTIP contrary to some of the media’s claims.
If we’re out the current government might also see the need to create their version of TTIP too, given their appetite for cuts of all kinds and an abject lack of responsibility for any standards concerning our health or well-being this would prove to be an even bigger nightmare. Cameron’s extreme pro TTIP stance show this is highly likely. ‘Red Tape’ and safety would be swept away and even more deregulation and privatization will follow. While we remain in the EU we are protected by the ‘precautionary principle’. The precautionary principle protects public health, the environment and food –stuffs. The Lisbon treaty states
“Union policy on the environment shall aim at a high level of protection taking into account the diversity of situations in the various regions of the Union. It shall be based on the precautionary principle and on the principles that preventive action should be taken, that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source and that the polluter should pay”
From 2006 these protections went beyond the environmental to products, additives, food stuffs, genetically modified food stuffs, and the disposal of waste
If we leave the EU we’ll lose the protections we have, still be subject to TTIP and more than likely need to watch as the Tories create their own version of TTIP that will rocket their extreme unregulated privatization and love of the free market beyond even their wildest dreams as they rip the last vestiges of the NHS to its final defeat- don’t let it happen
UK vs EU on Google, tax avoidance and regulation
The Google tax deal proved once more that the Westminster government and Osborn will do little but tinker around the edges in relation to unpaid tax by multinationals and large companies. They’re just not interested in changing the British owned tax havens, or bringing corporate tax avoiders to account-worse they’re quite happy to make sweetheart deals with the likes of Google and co. while they cut disability support and other social support while claiming austerity.
The Common Consolidated Corporate Tax base (CCCTB) from the EU could change everything. The European Tax commissioner Moscovici told MEPs that he wanted to make 2016 “the year of tax reform”, with the EU’s CCCTB at the centre of his plans. “We have a serious problem with tax avoidance and lack of transparency. Too many people have looked the other way”. He claimed the string of global tax scandals and the anger from the public can be used to bring those member countries currently against such measures in line.
The EU isn’t just gunning for companies like Google and Apple through its digital tax on tax avoidance and ‘hiding’ multi billion profits. The EU has already secured regulation on mobile phone companies’ exorbitant roaming charges through a vote by MEPs to scrap them. As anyone unfortunate enough to have needed to use their mobile phone in Europe will tell you there are charges for the calls/texts out and receiving calls, and additional costs for internet on top of any service agreement or credit. The extra charges have been reduced and will be removed completely by 2017due to EU membership
Do those agreeing with Brexit ‘want to have their cake and eat it’?
A report by the High Pay Centre Think Tank ( a think tank monitoring excessive high pay and inequality) shows that some may. While many agreed with measures of the EU to tackle inequality and improve rights few knew that such measures originated from the EU, were on the EU remit to tackle or were in danger if we leave the EU.
The findings suggest that UK workers are unaware that their working conditions could be dramatically affected by plans to re-negotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership. Influential eurosceptics have argued that the reform of laws guaranteeing workers’ rights should be a priority for any re-negotiation.
While there is widespread support for the workers rights, just 25% of those polled were aware of the fact that these came from the EU.
The polling also found that:
70% of respondents supported the EU bankers’ bonus cap, limiting bankers’ bonuses to twice their annual salary
59% support a European-wide corporation tax floor, whereby European countries agree not to reduce tax on big companies below a certain level
60% support a wealth tax on the richest EU citizens, such as that proposed by the French economist Thomas Piketty in his best-selling book ‘Capital in the 21st Century’
66% support a European wide pay cap, limiting the pay of company executives to a fixed multiple of their lowest paid employee.
So should we stay or should we go?
The EU referendum has been couched in right wing Eurosceptic terms of ‘stopping migrants’, regaining the sovereignty of the punitive ‘empire’ of centuries past, or left wing Eurosceptic terms of leaving an unaccountable capitalist monolith. Ian Duncan Smith has recently bizarrely announced that Europe is ‘a security threat’ while Boris Johnson sees Eurosceptism as the ticket to becoming the next Prime Minister.
Such rhetoric may be entertaining or rage inducing, but it obscures the facts and it stops us focusing on what a UK outside the EU will look like.
A vote to leave the EU is a vote to accelerate the Tory machine in cutting more social rights. A vote to leave will push us into even greater inequality; a vote to leave will push further forward with relentless privatisation and corporate tax avoidance, a vote to leave will erase standards on drinking water, clean air, safe food and a lot more, a vote to leave will erase social gains and rights, and a vote to leave will have every UKIPper and racist feeling supremely justified in their insufferable xenophobia.
Yes, the EU can be improved, but we can’t do that from outside. The last EU referendum was in Greece-they voted to stay. Yanis Varoufakis ex Greek finance minister thinks that the UK should stay in the EU too. Asked how the anti -austerity and equality proponents should focus discontent, he suggests a new pan European movement
‘..because the only way of changing Europe is to do this by a groundswell that rises throughout Europe. Otherwise the protest vote manifesting itself in Greece, Spain, the UK, Portugal, if it is not synchronised everywhere, will eventually dissipate, leaving behind it nothing but the bitterness and insecurity’.
Let’s create that groundswell-say yes to the EU-say no to Tory Boys Limited
 Consolidated Version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union article 191, paragraph 2
 Recuerda, Miguel A. (2006). “Risk and Reason in the European Union Law”. European Food and Feed Law Review 5.
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