This is the first time I have interviewed an MEP (Member of the European Parliament) so I was intrigued to discover more about what the European Parliament is about. I was delighted to be able to ask questions to Labour’s European Parliamentary Leader, Glenis Willmott, and find out why she decided to become an MEP and hear her thoughts on whether Britain should leave the EU.
- How important is it that young people take an interest in politics?
“I believe it is vital that young people take an interest, and hopefully an active role, in politics because we as politicians must represent people of all ages within our constituencies. Often, middle-aged and older residents are the most active in engaging with their politicians, for example by writing in, joining campaigns, requesting meetings, etc. If as many young people as possible took an interest in politics, then their voice would be heard loud and clear and politicians at all levels would have to debate their issues.”
- Why did you decide to become an MEP rather than an MP?
“Before I became an MEP, I worked in the GMB trade union. During my time at the GMB, I saw how vital many of the protections for workers are and how many of them came directly from European legislation. The right to maternity leave, paid holiday, health and safety guidelines and many more of the workers’ rights we enjoy in Europe are down to the EU. For this reason, I wanted to stand for election as an MEP so that I could contribute to protecting those rights, strengthening them and bringing in new protections that are desperately needed.
I also believe that many of the problems facing us now and in the future, such as climate change, conservation terrorism and international crime, do not stop at national borders and it is therefore vital that we work together with our European neighbours to solve them. MEPs have a vital role to play in this too.”
- What does your role as Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party involve?
“As the leader of the Labour Party’s 20 MEPs, I am responsible for representing their views and positions in negotiations within our parliamentary group, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (or S&D for short). Once a month, the leaders of each party’s MEPs, known as ‘heads of delegation’, come together to discuss what will soon be coming before the European Parliament. We try to work out a common position as well as any changes we want to make to proposed legislation. I then communicate with my group of Labour MEPs and we decide what stance we will be taking in light of these discussions.
Outside of the European Parliament, I also represent Labour’s MEPs in Westminster by attending Shadow Cabinet meetings. Here I can put across the views of our MEPs and how legislation and party policies could affect the EU as well as how EU legislation could affect the UK. I also deliver a speech at the Labour Party’s annual conference to outline what has been happening in the EU, how Labour MEPs are fighting for our values within the EU, and what is on the horizon such as the in/out referendum.”
- Do you believe Britain should remain in the EU, and why?
“I strongly believe that the UK should stay in the EU and so I am campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum on our membership which will be held in 2016 or 2017. Apart from the benefits for workers’ rights that I outlined above, Britain also benefits enormously from being part of the world’s largest single market. The CBI recently estimated our membership to be worth around £3000 to each British household. We are undoubtedly more prosperous and open to trade by being in the EU.
Many British jobs are also dependent on our membership of the EU. There are international companies that invest in Britain because we are a gateway to the world’s largest single market. Some are already holding back investment as a result of the uncertainty caused by Cameron’s plans for a referendum. Pulling out the EU would risk hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of jobs which would be catastrophic for our economy and future prosperity.
As I stated in my response to your second question, there are many issues which we all face across the EU that can be dealt with much more effectively through co-operation. This extends to some of the legislation I have worked on in the European Parliament such as new rules for clinical trials which will mean results from trials, whether they are successful or not, will be shared across the EU. This will reduce the likelihood of duplicate studies, increase opportunities for cross-border research and offer better safeguards for patient safety; something that would simply not be possible if the countries of Europe worked alone.
The EU also offers hard-won and vital protections for British consumers; for example, compensation can be claimed for delays when travelling by train, plane, bus or ship in the EU. There are also protections when buying goods and services from overseas, including a 14 day ‘cooling off’ period. The elimination of roaming charges next year is another victory for consumers over an unregulated market which is down to action at the EU level.
The EU also offers many benefits to our young people, such as the ERASMUS programme which allows British students to complete a year abroad without paying extra tuition fees. With shockingly high levels of youth unemployment in many EU countries such as Spain and Greece, the EU also offers nation governments extra funding for schemes to reduce this, known as a Youth Guarantee; unfortunately our government has consistently refused to implement one of these vital schemes.
In a globalised world with rapidly developing countries such as China, Russia, India and Brazil, Britain has a much stronger voice on the international stage as part of the EU. Many world leaders, such as President Obama, have stated that they hope Britain remains an EU member state.”