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What does an MEP do?

  Out of the ashes of the Second World War were born the desires to never take up arms against each other and to build a Europe of peace, freedom and prosperity.

The old, divided Europe is gone. The hatreds, genocide and suffering of the past century are over. Their lessons remain important today, but they have less and less emotional resonance with young Europeans who have grown up in a time of peace and of plenty. For them the question, "Why Europe?" needs to be asked again and answered.

For them it is not enough to enumerate the achievements of the European Union, including frontier-free travel and trade, a greener environment, joint action on crime and terrorism, increased security, safer food and water, better working conditions, equal opportunities, cross-border consumer regulation, better living standards in poorer regions, cheaper phone calls and air travel, and many of opportunities to study abroad.

We live in a complex and fast changing world, where increasingly borders and frontiers are less effective or important. People, goods, money, culture, even illnesses, terrorism and infectious diseases are on the move. The world is moving ever closer together and distances are becoming ever shorter. Many national governments understand that to ensure the safety, security and prosperity of their citizens they must work together with other countries.

How else can we face up to the challenges of global warming or pollution? How do we deal with bird flu or the threat of terrorism? How do we fight unemployment or world poverty without being able to work in tight cooperation with others, without uniting your government's voice with that of others?

Throughout the world, sovereign governments are coming together to form clubs of nations to better look after their citizens. We in Europe are lucky. We belong to the most advanced and effective of such clubs, the European Union.

The United Kingdom belongs to this club of nearly half a billion citizens. At 492.8 million this is considerably larger than Japan and the US together The European Union is a strong voice for peace, democracy and sustainable development on the international stage. Being in the club does not make us weaker, but stronger. It makes us stronger to face up to climate change and global warming, stronger to fight against poverty in Europe and throughout the world; stronger to fight against terrorism, and stronger to fight for sustainable development.

A cleaner, greener Europe

Pollution does not carry a passport; it crosses international borders. With EU Member States working together to protect the environment, European citizens enjoy cleaner rivers and beaches. They drive cleaner vehicles and benefit from strict rules for waste disposal.

The EU is also at the forefront of efforts to preserve the global environment, in particular through the Kyoto agreement to tackle climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Labour MEPs have pushed through European laws to increase recycling. Today, Britain recycles 44% of all waste packaging. This figure is set to rise to 55% by 2008. Industry is already making significant improvements in recycling waste packaging.

From 2006, new rules are being phased in to ensure all waste electrical goods such as old TVs, irons and computers must be recycled. In addition, all old cars must be recovered and recycled by manufacturers.

A safer Europe

To better tackle terrorism and international crime, EU countries cooperate to ensure that their police and customs officers, immigration services and law courts work together.

The European arrest warrant makes it easer to transfer suspected criminals from the country of arrest to where they are wanted for questioning.

EU countries coordinate their asylum and immigration policies and are strengthening controls at the EU's external borders. They are also fighting against trafficking in human beings by streamlining regulations and policies at European level.

The EU is also working to simplify cross-border family issues such as marriage, divorce and child custody. For example, court rulings issued in one EU country can be enforced in another.

Safer food

Whether it is Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (mad cow disease), dioxin in salmon, beef/pork proteins in chicken or misleading labels, British and European consumers want - and deserve - better food safety laws. Your Labour MEPs have pushed food safety to the top of Europe's agenda.

The European Parliament established the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in 2002 following several food scares that undermined consumer confidence. Its tasks are risk assessment and risk communication. (Risk management measures and the operation of food control systems are not within EFSA's remit and remain the responsibility of the European Commission and Member States.)

Tough new labelling standards are being adopted, so consumers know what they are eating and drinking.

The mixing of meat products and excess added water will be outlawed. GM (genetically modified) products must now be clearly labeled. European Labour MEPs are also pushing the European Commission for better regulation of claims on labels such as ‘fat free' and ‘five-a-day' fruit/vegetable content.

Safer, cleaner water

Wherever you travel in the EU, you can now be sure that the water you use is safe.

To reduce the amount of harmful substances found in the water we use, the EU passed a law in 1980 that first set the same water quality standards in all EU Member States. The law is continually being strengthened to take into account new scientific developments and to improve health and water safety levels, including for bathing and river water.

Better working conditions

All British workers now have the right to four weeks' paid holiday, thanks to a European law. Whether you work full-time or part-time, this is a right. For many, part-time work used to mean fewer - if any - paid holidays, no company pension, no access to in-service training and little chance of promotion. European law changed all of that. Since July 2000, six million part-time British workers, the vast majority of them women, have enjoyed the same rights as their full-time colleagues regarding training, pensions, maternity rights and leave.

The same law has brought shorter working hours. Most workers are already benefiting and cannot be forced to work more than 48 hours a week. The original law did not cover some people, for example, transport workers, offshore workers and junior doctors. Protection for workers in these sectors is being phased in. This is very good news for those fed up with Britain's long hours culture.

This important piece of legislation builds on other advances for women workers, such as equal pay legislation and better maternity rights and parental leave for both parents when a child is born or adopted.

In addition, if you move to another EU country, you can take your social security and pension rights with you. The same applies to your family.

Europe stands for equal opportunities

EU law bans employment discrimination on the grounds of nationality, gender, race, religion or belief, disability or sexual orientation. Under the EU Treaty, men and women must have equal pay for equal work.

Race discrimination at home or abroad is banned under a European law that took effect in 2003. British law already offers a high level of protection, but for many other EU countries, the anti-discrimination law was a first.

Labour MEPs played a key role in drafting these new pieces of legislation and made sure they were enacted in record time.

Europe is good for business

Today, the EU's Single Market is comprised of 489 million consumers with more purchasing power than the US. It is the largest trading block in the world.

British companies are free to trade across a market of 489 million people living in the biggest single market in the world. The EU determines the legal framework for doing business, which means it is cheaper and simpler. It also creates certainty for both large and small businesses working cross border. Across the EU, the same rules apply in the areas of:

  • Domestic and international trade laws.
  • Tax rules - VAT (value added tax) and tariffs.
  • Competition law, acquisitions and mergers.
  • Product standardisation.
  • Environmental regulations.
  • Intellectual property rights - patent, trademark and copyright.
  • Bookkeeping, accounting rules, financial disclosure.

All internal tariffs among EU Member States have been removed. There is a common external tariff of about 3% for all goods coming into the EU, with Member States' customs officials collecting tariffs. In addition, the European Commission represents the EU at international bodies such as the World Trade Organization.

A better deal for consumers

Consumer policy is central to the EU's goal to continuously improve the quality of life of all European citizens. The aim of promoting the interests, health and safety of consumers is enshrined in the Treaty establishing the European Community. EU consumer policy aims to ensure that the internal market - the trade area among the EU's 27 member countries - is open, fair and transparent. This ensures that consumers can exercise real choice; rogue traders are excluded and consumer and businesses can take advantage of the internal market's potential.

Implementing this policy involves developing legislative and other actions to promote the interests, health and safety of consumers in the internal market, to ensure the proper integration of consumer concerns in all EU policies, and to complement the consumer protection policy of Member States.

To this end, the European Commission actively supports consumer organisations and is seeking to enhance the role of consumer representatives in decision-making. EU consumer policy involves:

  • Increasing consumer confidence in the internal market, which contributes to the improvement of business competitiveness by setting a regulatory framework that is the same and equally enforced across Europe and that protects consumers effectively.
  • Strengthening consumers' rights in the market place by the development of consumer education tools and the active support of consumer organisations and their involvement in policy making.
  • Ensuring that consumer concerns are taken into account in all EU policies.
  • Complementing Member States' consumer policies.
  • Collecting consumer-related data to support the development of legislative proposals and other initiatives.

There are many examples of Europe-wide rules supported by Labour MEPs that benefit consumers. For example, there are now fines for airlines for deliberate overbooking, as well as doubled cash compensation for stranded air passengers with the right to meals, refreshments and hotel accommodation if necessary while passengers wait.

Children under three are banned from travelling in cars without a baby or child seat.

UK consumers are also benefiting from cheaper car prices. The so-called ‘block exemption', which allowed car manufacturers to sell new cars exclusively through agreed dealerships expired in 2002. Since 2003, new rules increase competition and flexibility, allowing dealers to sell more than one brand at the same site. The result is lower prices for all.

EU-wide rules also provide for a seven-day ‘cooling off' period for people to change their minds about any purchase made by phone or mail order.

More growth, more jobs

To be competitive in today's globalised marketplace, Britain and Europe need news jobs and a skilled workforce. Research and development (R&D) is an engine of job creation. EU Member States plan to increase R&D spending by more than 50% between 2001 and 2010.

One third of the European Union's budget - around ₤26.3 billion (€40 billion) annually - is spent on attracting investment and creating jobs in disadvantaged regions, as well as training unemployed or under-qualified workers.

Thanks to EU financial support, people in countries such as Ireland, Portugal and Spain are much better off than they were 20 years ago. In Wales alone, citizens have benefited from ₤1.5 billion of European regional funding since 2000, bringing more and better jobs and regenerating communities. (Other benefits/transfers can be added later.)

A Europe of opportunities for young people

EU programmes such as Erasmus have helped more than two million young people study or train in another European country. The most popular subjects are business management, social studies, humanities and languages. However, in recent years there has been a growing interest in engineering and architecture, medicine, the natural sciences, computing and mathematics. A total of 2,200 higher education institutes take part in Erasmus. They come from the 27 EU countries, plus Turkey, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

More humane treatment of animals

Labour MEPs advocated and voted for one of the most important advances for animal welfare. New European rules due to come into effect in 2009, ban not only the testing of cosmetics on animals, but also the sale of cosmetics tested on animals anywhere in the world. Animal testing of cosmetics is already illegal in Britain, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands. However, currently, products tested on animals abroad can still be sold in shops. The new law means a long-overdue closing of this legal loophole.

Thanks to new EU rules on animal welfare, animals will suffer less stress and harm during land and sea journeys. Better conditions and better handling of animals during transport are two of the main aspects of a regulation that entered into force in January 2007, radically overhauling existing rules on animal welfare.

Under the new rules, vehicles used to transport animals for long journeys - more than eight hours - must meet higher standards for ventilation, drinking equipment and temperature monitoring. It is no longer legal to transport very young animals over 100 km or female animals within one week of giving birth.

For more information about the membership benefits of belonging to the EU club, see 100 Labour Achievements

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