Europe is never far from the news, and with European Parliament elections fast approaching it has been a conversation I have been having with my constituents across Cardiff and Penarth.
There are clearly a lot of people who rightly have concerns about the functioning of the EU, its processes and how accountable it is to citizens. I share many of these concerns, but at the same time I firmly believe Wales benefits from EU membership.
This is hugely important, when you consider that Wales has historically had significantly higher levels of poverty than other parts of the UK. And since the 2010 general election, the Welsh budget has been cut by £1.7 billion; our energy bills have risen more than anywhere in the UK; we’ve lost thousands of public sector jobs; and we’ve seen Welsh wages shrink faster than elsewhere.
This is why it is vital we retain a strong voice in the EU, where Wales is playing a positive part and where we are benefiting from European funding which is creating jobs in communities across Wales – and where our MEP Derek Vaughan has secured an extra £500m for Wales by 2020.
We need to continue to secure investment to deliver jobs and growth. We must be at the forefront of new laws to protect and improve worker and consumer rights. We must secure and deliver European regeneration cash, continuing vital support for communities in Wales. We must tackle rising energy bills by reforming the European single market in energy. And we must push for ambitious environmental targets and to tackle climate change – on which the EU is leading the rest of the world. It is always better to be involved and arguing for reform than to walk away and fail to work with others.
We simply cannot risk causing further damage to our economy, hitting jobs and reducing investment; so rather than scaling down our presence and our voice, we need instead to reform Britain’s relationship with the EU, while retaining our influence with our European neighbours and protecting jobs in Wales and elsewhere across Britain.
For all these reasons, Europe matters to us here in Wales and across the UK, and this is why the vote on May 22 is important for all of us.
* Stephen writes his weekly View from Westminster column for the Penarth Times (www.penarthtimes.co.uk) – this column was printed on May 15, 2014.