Many people know about the benefits to business of staying in the EU, and business organisations from the Confederation of British Industries to the UK manufacturers Association have spoken out in favour of a remain vote.
The EU is the world’s largest trading bloc – giving traders access to 500 million consumers – so it’s a no-brainer for business.
However, most people might be surprised to find out that the founding treaty of the EU specifically mentions consumers, and states that protection for us when we buy goods or services needs to be taken into account in all EU policies.
Consumer policy focuses on a few key principles: protecting you from serious threats, giving you access to clear information and ensuring that you can access ways of resolving disputes with traders.
So, how does the EU protect you?
Firstly, as an EU citizen you cannot be charged a higher price than local residents when buying products or services. This means that if you’re on holiday in Europe, you pay the same as the locals to rent a car or eat in a restaurant, and stops traders from taking advantage of people with less knowledge of the local currency.
You also have the right to receive honest information about a product before you buy – and the full price! You may be surprised to learn that the reason there are no hidden fees when you buy flights is because of the EU – since 2008 airlines can no longer advertise a £1 flight only to add on £60 in charges and taxes at the checkout.
If you buy online from another EU country, you have a free two-year guarantee which means a seller must repair, replace or give a refund for any item that is faulty or doesn’t work as it was advertised.
EU rules even entitle you to a 14 day cooling off period, so you have two weeks to withdraw from a sale if you change your mind about what you’ve ordered online.
The EU also stands up for you when companies are charging unfair rates or promoting or selling a product unfairly. It’s now illegal to disguise adverts as newspaper articles or to falsely claim that your product is therapeutic unless you’ve got the results to prove it!
Even roaming charges are being scrapped thanks to the EU. Roaming rates have been dramatically reduced already, and thanks in part to campaigning from Labour MEPs will be completely abolished by 2017.
The EU provides us with invaluable protection when we buy goods and services, and the consumer rights we’ve fought for are another reason that Labour MEPs will be campaigning to stay in the EU.
As David Cameron jets round Europe to seal his EU reform deal, and with the various leave campaigns squabbling and in chaos, the big issues facing voters in the referendum mustn’t be lost.
The EU referendum is not about the future of the prime minister or the dramas of the Tory Party or which mad right-winger is running which leave campaign, but about working people – about workers’ jobs and workers’ rights. It will be about trade. About security, consumer rights, the environment, the future of our country and the futures of everyone in it.
Remaining in the European Union is vital for all these things. There are no circumstances under which we would be better off outside the EU, so we must not allow talk of this deal to eclipse the bigger picture.
That said, as Labour MEPs, we have worked hard to ensure that one of the biggest advantages we enjoy from being in the EU – workplace rights – were not up for discussion and have not been weakened as part of this deal. It is thanks to Labour, our trade union colleagues and our sister parties across Europe that David Cameron was not able to negotiate away our rights, and we must now ensure working people keep these rights by remaining in the EU.
These are major employment rights for working people in Britain, including a minimum four weeks’ paid holiday; a right to parental leave; extended maternity leave; the same protection for part-time workers as full-time workers, anti-discrimination laws, and protection for the workforce when companies change ownership.
Labour MEPs are working not just to protect but to extend these rights, for example to cover the abuse of zero-hour contracts. We will fight to stamp down on abuse of these contracts to exploit workers and avoid paying fair wages, and we want to tackle employers who exploit workers from other countries to undercut wages – this is the agenda we would be advancing if we were the ones negotiating reform.
And it is not just as workers but as consumers that British people are better off in the EU. Holidaymakers no longer face extortionate mobile phone bills when holidaying or working within the EU, and by June next year there will be no more huge bills; travellers whose flights are delayed or cancelled have rights to recompense; we receive equal consumer rights when shopping anywhere in Europe, with greater quality and safety of products.
Most obviously of all, being in the EU means we are free to travel throughout all 28 countries, free to work wherever we wish, free to trade with whom we want.
Looking at the bigger picture, when it comes to tackling the biggest crises we face, from climate change to terrorism to the refugee crisis, from regulating global banks and markets to tackling tax avoidance – issues that can only be tackled at international level through cooperation and joint action – we are self-evidently better off inside a multi-nation Union than going it alone, isolated and powerless.
We now have the details of the draft deal, and while Cameron dashes across Europe to secure it, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that our EU membership is worth far more than whatever he secures.
The time is nearly here, and when that time comes, it’ll be time to end the uncertainty, to vote for the future, to vote to remain.
4th February is World Cancer Day, when campaigners want to raise awareness of the disease and push governments to take action to save millions of preventable deaths each year.
Sadly cancer is still the second biggest cause of premature death in Europe. In the East Midlands, for every 100,000 deaths, 290 are due to cancer and Cancer Research UK estimates that 92,616 years of life were lost to cancer in the East Midlands between 2012 and 2014. Breast, prostate, lung and bowel cancer remain the most common cancers in the region.
1 in 2 people in the UK will get cancer at some point in their life, yet it’s thought that at least 40% of cancers could be prevented. For example, you can reduce your risk of cancer by adopting a diet high in fibre and fresh fruit and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking and cutting down on alcohol.
As Labour’s European Health Spokesperson, I’ve been working hard to raise awareness of these issues at a European level and to push for policies that will help governments and people to fight cancer. There’s lots that the EU can do to help, whether that’s providing funding for research, helping Member States to share best practice on prevention and screening programmes or ensuring people have the information they need to make healthier choices.
I’ve campaigned for a long time for stricter rules on tobacco packaging so I’m pleased that from May this year health warnings will have to cover most of the pack. With lung cancer the leading cause of cancer death in the East Midlands, I hope this will help to reduce the number of smoking-related cancers diagnosed every year.
World Cancer Day is an opportunity to raise the profile of cancer in people’s minds and I would encourage everyone to visit cancerresearchuk.org to find out more.
Labour MEP East Midlands
Responding to the publication of the draft deal between David Cameron and Donald Tusk on the EU renegotiation, Glenis Willmott MEP, Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament, said:
“Remaining in the European Union is vital for our economy, our rights, and our security – there are no circumstances under which we would be better off outside the EU, so we must not allow talk of this deal to eclipse the bigger picture.
“This referendum is going to be about working people, the rights they enjoy and the jobs that we have as a result of being in the EU – you only need look at the reaction of Eurosceptics to see that EU membership is worth fighting for.
“UKIP and the Tory right wanted workers’ rights slashed. Rights like a minimum four weeks’ paid holiday; parental leave; flexible working; equal protection for part-time workers. It is a victory for Labour and our sister parties across Europe that the undermining of these rights is no longer under discussion. We must now ensure that British people keep these rights by keeping Britain in the EU.
“We cannot wait for summits and talks. The battle must begin now, it is one we must win, we can win and we will win, and only then can we put an end to the uncertainty that is bad for Britain and bad for working people.”