Small is Beautiful but Big Matters Too

| 20th June 2016
Green MEP Molly Scott Cato
The only revolution, if we leave Europe, would be an uprising against a raft of EU environmental and social legislation, under the guise of ‘reducing red tape'. This would leave workers, our important nature habitats and the health of our citizens in far worse shape than is currently the case within the EU warns Green MEP Molly Scott Cato
Opposition to progressive reforms is particularly frustrating. Greens believe strongly that another Europe is possible and work hard to bring about positive change

If Greens truly believe that 'small is beautiful', why are more than 90% of the party's members and nearly 100% of their councillors voting to Remain in the EU?

Polls have shown Green voters are second only to Guardian readers in taking a positive stand on Europe.  

To the tiny minority of Greens who are critical of my clear decision that we are "Greener In" I would quote Keynes: 'When the facts change, I change my mind'. This is what I, along with the overwhelming majority of Green Party members, have done. We have not changed our principles but have responded to a changing world.

An epiphany, subsidiarity and the precautionary principle

So what has persuaded me to take my own personal journey from euroscepticism to playing an active role in Europe as an MEP? The journey began with an epiphany on a boat leaving Helsinki for St. Petersburg. There was something about being literally at sea level, watching my continent recede from view. It made me feel a strong connection to Europe not as a piece of land but as a unique example of civilisation and a system of values of which I felt and feel immensely proud.

This has not diminished my critique of the European Union and many of its policies; it is still too wedded to the dangerous ideology of growth and the misguided political project of neoliberalism. Does this mean it runs counter to the Green vision of ‘small is beautiful'? I continue to believe in this principle, but we must adapt our politics to the post-globalisation world and accept that politics now operates on several different levels.

The European Union has recognised this concept of 'subsidiarity', writing it into the Treaty on the European Union. As such, it aims to ensure that decisions are taken at as local a level and as close to EU citizens as possible. Only the EU has this, and the equally important, precautionary principle, enshrined in law.

Humanising globalisation

Leaving the EU would not challenge neoliberalism or in any way reduce the powers of multinational corporations who now dominate the global economy. Rather it would remove us from, and perhaps terminally destabilise, an organisation which is helping to humanise globalization and take back control from the corporations.

As an MEP my main area of work is combatting tax avoidance where the corporations have created loopholes precisely because they operate across national boundaries and have subsidiaries in several countries. The Commission and European Parliament are making progress together to ensure public reporting of company profits in the countries where they are earned and Greens have just secured a powerful new committee to explore the implications on the Panama Papers revelations and expose the degree to which national governments have colluded with the tax avoidance industry.

Time for a revolution?

One of the greatest problems I face as a Green MEP is that so many European citizens voted for right wing parties in the last European election, including in the UK. This means that those wanting to chip away at environmental and social regulations have a built in majority. But the belief by Lexit supporters that if we leave the EU we will then be able to gain a progressive majority at Westminster is fanciful. Neoliberalism is not a disease unique to the EU. Leaving the EU would simply result in leading, highly neoliberal, Brexit MPs taking control of our country. It would not lead to some glorious socialist revolution. The only revolution would be an uprising against a raft of EU environmental and social legislation, under the guise of ‘reducing red tape'. This would leave workers, our important nature habitats and the health of our citizens in far worse shape than is currently the case within the EU.

How about progressive reforms?

A criticism levelled at the EU from both the left and right of the political spectrum, is that it cannot be reformed. But dispensing with something because it fails to match a non-existent blueprint is not a good enough reason to leave it. The EU is an organization constantly in flux. Not least because there are elections every five years to the European Parliament, and new appointments to the Council of Ministers to reflect changing governments across the continent.

As to accusations that there is opposition to progressive reforms from within the EU, this is certainly true. But such opposition is often led by our own government which has opposed a range of reforms that Greens have fought hard for, from the ban on pesticides that are harmful to bees to regulating fracking and stronger proposals on air pollution. Opposition to progressive reforms is particularly frustrating to Greens, who believe strongly that another Europe is possible and work hard to bring about positive change. However, opposition to progressive reform is only possible because the EU is, somewhat ironically in view of frequent complaints to the contrary, democratic.

A return to Think Global, Act Local

Many left wing sceptics of the EU choose to ignore its crowning achievement: the 70 years without war that previously disfigured our continent. It is this aspect above all others that causes me to urge all Greens and those on the progressive left thinking of voting Leave to think again. Is it really the responsible thing to do, to sever ourselves from the world's largest ever peace project when nationalism and fascism are on the rise across the continent?

Think global, act local is truer now than ever. We need to maintain our commitment to protecting our special local places and building resilient local economies but not allow our vision to be limited by them. We must also think globally and evolve into an era of multi-level democracy. This is a challenge for everybody, not just for Greens. But since some of our key issues - climate change, species extinction, air pollution, marine pollution, the refugee crisis, terrorism - can only be dealt with globally, we have an absolute duty to do this.

Greens have never believed or said the EU is perfect. Many of the criticisms levelled against it will continue to energise our political campaigns if we remain a member. And of course, as an MEP, I have direct experience of its shortcomings. But leaving the EU would be the ultimate acceptance of defeat and failure of confidence. Walking away from our own continent will not solve its many problems. Facing them in a spirit of cooperation will ensure we tackle them together in solidarity.

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the South West of England, elected in May 2014. She sits on three committees in the European Parliament: Economics and Monetary Affairs (ECON), Special Committee on Tax (TAXE) and Agriculture and Rural Development Committee (AGRI). She is also Green Party speaker on economy and finance and has published widely, particularly on issues related to green economics. Molly is formerly Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton. See for further details.




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