What has the EU ever done for us?

I remember trips to the seaside as a child in the 1980s. Bucket and spade in hand, a net for catching crabs, a stripey windbreak and some Factor 4 suncream (only in case it got really sunny!).

You had to be careful though. The beaches weren’t as clean as they are today, thanks to the brilliant idea of pumping raw sewage into the sea and hoping that all our waste would be washed away and would never need to be worried about again.

The scattering of nappies, toilet rolls, and mushy stools along the beach would seem to prove otherwise.

I remember questioning my dad about the sewage pipe: “How come it’s OK to pump poo into the seas? Does the seawater get rid of the poo and clean it up?”.”Not really, son”, my father sagely replied, “But they’re stopping it soon, because the Europeans are making us clean up our beaches”.

And sure enough, within the next 10 years or so, the use of effluent pipes in our coastal waters ceased, and the beaches are now cleaner, safer, and much less smelly. The blue flag flies proudly at many popular coastal resorts.

The EU is thought by some to be just bureaucratic nonsense, “it’s health & safety gone mad”, they claim. However, we should be aware of the vast benefits of EU membership for the UK when it comes to our environment.

The UK got a record 25 per cent of its electricity from renewable generators last year, partly because of its own 2008 Climate Change Act, one of the most far-reaching in the EU. But growth was also driven by EU targets obliging the UK to get 15 per cent of its energy from renewables by 2020.

The EU has proposed that the average car sold in Europe by 2020 should have emissions of less than 95g of CO2 per km. This is one of the main ways in which car manufacturers such as Nissan have been encouraged to develop zero emission cars like the LEAF. The LEAF is built in the UK, and exported across Europe, thanks to the free movement of trade which the EU allows.

If we vote to leave the EU, will the UK continue to lead the way in innovation and green engineering as we have done recently? Will the renewable energy subsidies be cut further, but Fracking be allowed under our National Parks?

The big environmental challenges the UK faces – air pollution, catastrophic climate change, fish stocks, the hunting of migratory birds – do not respect national borders and can only be tackled collectively. I hope, for these reasons, that the UK vote to remain in the EU, and challenge these issues head-on.


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