The EU Referendum and the Environment

You’d have to have been living under a rock the past few months to fail to notice that Brits are facing possibly the most important decision of our lives – to Brexit or to Bremain?

I still don’t know, and I don’t have long to make up my mind. Facts and statistics are constantly being presented, but most of them are contradictory or misleading. And anyway, it’s more of an abstract question we’re being asked: is this undemocratic institution worthwhile?

Given the focus of this blog on wildlife and the environment, I’m going to examine the EU as an organisation that serves to protect the environment and how effectively it functions. Perhaps this will help me decide!

Friends of the Earth have produced this helpful document that outlines some of the main reasons to stay:

  • EU rules forced Britain to clean up its sewage-filled beaches in the 70s and 80s
  • Restrictions on the use of bee-harming pesticides
  • EU laws prevent industries from gaining profit through reducing environmental standards.

However, (there is always a ‘However’): FoE also point out that the EU’s focus on economic growth and free trade jeopardizes its protection of the environment, and believes that the negotiations for TTIP should be abandoned.

What about the much-maligned agricultural and fisheries policies of the EU that lead to massive produce waste and over-fishing? Well, there have been some reforms recently, I guess. Absolutely NO ONE on either side is saying the EU is entirely perfect (or even remotely efficient.)

But what is the point of subsidizing a dying rural industry – subsidies, which, by the way go mostly to the landed gentry and agro-business rather than struggling rural communities? Then again, the alternative is to import more and more food and export less. Furthermore, the CAP gives more money to farmers who maintain boundaries as hedgerows and use fewer harmful chemicals.

Despite over forty years of the Common Fisheries Policy, designed to manage fish stocks and support fishing communities, three out of the four main commercial fish stocks are over-fished and the EU fleet is double the sustainable level. But perhaps we need to be more patient? Wouldn’t things be even worse if fishermen were left to their own devices? A common policy to manage European marine life sounds like the best way to protect fish stocks – IF it worked.

In theory, a lot of the EU environmental policies sound ideal and absolutely essential to protecting wildlife and reducing the impact of climate change. In practice, some policies have been disastrous, especially to developing “partner” countries.

It seems to come down to whether or not you think the ‘failing EU project’ can be reformed, or if indeed things would be worse without a common environmental goal. Would the UK’s moral backbone suddenly collapse without the parental guidance of the EU and we forget or lose interest in protecting the environment?

 

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