In which Steve Dyke tells us what our Green MEP has been up to in the European Parliament..
Thanks in part to the fairer voting system of proportional representation, since 1999 the Medway Towns have had the good fortune to be represented by a Green Party Member of the European Parliament (‘MEP’). This is as part of the South East England constituency and our elected members have been Caroline Lucas and, since she became an MP at Westminster, Keith Taylor. Keith is retiring at the imminent unplanned election but I am confident that there will be continue to be a Green representative for the South East after May 23rd (Alex Phillips, a Green councillor from Brighton & Hove is our lead candidate). There are also Green MEPs currently representing London and the South West.
Because of the size of their constituencies MEPs will never be as visible as our MPs, but they do have an influence over the lives of people in Medway, even if in an indirect way. Whether you think this is a good or bad thing I guess depends on your political viewpoint. The Green Party is outward looking and believes in building bridges, not walls. We recognise that cooperation between countries is essential if we are to meet the challenges that every human being now faces, from international terrorism to cybercrime and climate/ecological breakdown. The European Union is by no means perfect, but it has been a valuable way of securing cooperation and of healing the scars of years of conflict between individual nation states.
In 2016 when the UK voted by a very narrow majority to leave the EU, the European Parliament did not stop working. Despite all the squabbling and recrimination at Westminster as a result of Brexit, it has largely been business as usual for Keith Taylor and the other MEPs from the UK. The Parliament has continued to debate and make law. It is a co-legislator with the parliaments of individual member states, so many of the directives and regulations it has passed over the years have actually been ones that the UK government wanted and actively sought.
Over the last nine years our South East Green MEP Keith Taylor has worked hard in pursuing green issues for the benefit of all of his constituents. He has particularly concentrated on three areas: climate change, disabilities and animal welfare:
1. To help achieve reduced carbon emissions, he has built strong links with NGOs and community groups opposing unconventional oil and gas extraction, such as fracking and acidisation, and worked on legislation to reduce air pollution and cut carbon from cars and lorries.
2. He championed access to transport for people with disabilities, working alongside the European Disability Forum, calling for direct benefit for the 80 million disabled Europeans.
3. He was also vice-chair of the EU Animal Welfare Intergroup, working to better protect companion animals, control puppy farms and the trade in exotic pets, and to improve the welfare of dairy cows, pigs and farmed rabbits.
Beyond his personal campaigns, as part of the wider Green group of MEPs in the European Parliament Keith has worked to pursue a vision of Europe that champions the greening of economies, pursues social justice and inclusive democracy, empowers its citizens, cherishes diversity and promotes international peace and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
As legislative change can take many years to take effect, it is perhaps difficult for people to see the benefits of the work of MEPs – and the divisive referendum campaign in 2016 did not help. However the benefits are there in the background, such as the vital health and safety legislation and protection for the environment and worker’s rights that we all take for granted. We have also benefited from funding provided by the European Union over the years. According to MyEU, many projects local to the Medway towns have been part funded by the EU, including those benefitting schools, the Strood Community Project and the Medway Youth Trust.
I still do not really understand why people voted to leave and give up all the benefits of being a part of a wider European community. Will the people of Medway notice if they are no longer represented by a MEP? Probably not immediately, but in the longer term I think they will. With climate and ecological breakdown facing us all, now is the time for co-operation with our neighbours, not for turning our back on them.
Steve Dyke is a member of Medway Green Party and a previous local election candidate for Strood North and Strood South wards. Born in Northfleet, he moved to Medway aged 5 and has been here ever since.