Apathy in the EU: Is it us or the politicians?

Apathy in the EU: Is it us or the politicians?

Date: 3 June 2009

Apathy and discontent are a heady mix. MEP candidates in the UK are facing both in this week’s EU elections. But is it really the voters who are apathetic?

World Development Movement (WDM) supporters are committed people who care deeply about global poverty and work hard in their spare time to campaign locally on global justice issues and engage others to take part in the democratic process. During the EU election campaign, WDM supporters have written hundreds of probing emails and letters and held numerous MEP hustings across the country encouraging candidates to pledge to stop Europe’s unfair free trade deals, if they are elected.

Of course, in the context of global economic crisis the issue of free trade is one of the most important facing these aspiring parliamentarians. At the last count, 75 candidates had signed the World Development Movement’s ‘Trade Hero’ pledge, with more pledges coming in every day. Clearly MEP candidates have a responsibility to offer solutions and opinions to their constituencies.

And yet, despite the success of the pledge, feedback from WDM supporters also shows disappointment in the candidates who arrived at meetings late, unprepared or both, or who cancelled attendance at the last minute. Surely, prospective politicians should answer e-mails and turn up at events they committed to? One supporter even wrote to his local paper:

“In an effort to discover the views of candidates on issues of particular interest to me as a voter I have tried to contact all ten candidates of each party…. All emails were acknowledged but to date I have received only two replies. At a time when the expenses row has everybody wondering, ‘Just what sort of people are our – OUR – MPs?’ the difficulty of obtaining any sort of answer – literally – is depressing.”

Public cynicism in our elected representatives is understandably rife and it begs the question what are MEPs looking for by running? Confidence in our politicians cannot be rebuilt if they fail to answer e-mails or keep appointments, least of all when these communications address issues at the heart of the current economic crisis.

You can Contact your regional MEP candidates and ask them their stance on free trade deals using this guide, but in case they do not answer, this is the WDM analysis of the European election manifestoes of the main UK political parties:

Conservative Party:
“Trade will do more to eliminate poverty than anything else. Conservative MEPs will ensure that promoting world trade and securing a new, pre-development WTO agreement will remain a high priority on the EU’s agenda.”

WDM says: “The Conservatives have adopted a very traditional view that development can only occur through trade and by building-up exports. Helping developing countries to trade more could be useful, but not if they are pushed to open their markets before their local businesses are able to properly compete with established European multinationals.”

Green Party:
“At the heart of the European project is a commitment to free trade, both within Europe and worldwide. And worldwide the EU has been a cheerleader for the multinationals in the dogmatically free trade World Trade Organisation (WTO). The Green Party rejects the widespread view that free trade is automatically a good thing. Free trade comes at a cost…”

WDM says: “The Greens include a comprehensive critique of European trade policy, including strong suggestions of how trade policy-making can be made fairer, more progressive and more transparent. The Greens are the only UK party that has chosen to cover this issue in detail in their manifesto.”

Labour Party:
“The current economic downturn means that our active membership of the European Union is more important than ever for Britain’s prosperity. More than half of all our trade is with the rest of Europe and millions of jobs depend on it.”

WDM says: “Labour does not reflect upon the impacts of Europe’s trading patterns with developing countries. Nor does Labour comment on the proposed trade deals with developing countries and their potential impacts on the poor.”

Liberal Democrat Party:
“Liberal Democrats want the EU to promote a world trading system that is both free and fair. That means a liberal and open system that increases growth and jobs, but that takes account of environmental and social standards too. The EU has a key role to play in salvaging the Doha development round of the World Trade Organisation, including eliminating production subsidies in agriculture and trade barriers.”

WDM says “The Liberal Democrats criticise the EU’s unfair agricultural subsidy regime but do not question free trade or open markets. Pushing developing countries to open their markets before they are able to properly compete will threaten jobs and environmental/social standards.”

United Kingdom Independence Party:
“The UK has one of the largest economies in the world. We are an international trading nation, not just a European one. In the global economy in which we now live, we should not be focussing on the insular regional trading blocs, but opening our arms to trade with the rest of the world, starting with the Commonwealth.”

WDM says: “UKIP supports free trade and open markets. There are many criticisms that can be made of the EU as a trading bloc so a desire to expand that model further is misguided, especially when accompanied by a rejection of greater political cooperation, which could bring at least some safeguards, and could help ‘put trade in its place’.”

Kate Blagojevic
Press officer, World Development Movement
0207 820 4900/4913, 07711 875 345, Email: [email protected]