This week the Remain campaign has been talking about the importance of the EU to the UK's future economy. My work in the Parliament has had a similar focus, working on the research and innovation investment programmes of the EU and the benefits that this brings to the UK. It is a little known fact that Europe does over a third more research than the US does and this difference is growing.
An example where this means we are at the cutting edge is in Quantum Computing. I can't begin to explain the physics behind this technology here but the possibilities are extraordinary, from reducing the huge electricity demands to a minuscule fraction of our current IT systems energy needs (estimated to be 10% of global demand) to revolutionising cyber security.
But to achieve these possibilities requires fundamental research and this is being done in the EU, including some work being done in Bristol. The big US tech companies are coming to the EU for the research in this area. We should be shouting about this, celebrating it but most of all making sure we continue to be a central part of this future.
I spoke with Commissioner Ansip on the situation of Europe's strategy for the Digital Economy. The EU has championed Britain's digitalisation by funding over half of the superfast broadband rollout in the UK, and but totally financing superfast broadband in Cornwall.
I questioned Commissioner Ansip on how we can use broadband and online working to tackle the issue of low pay in rural areas. I also asked him how the EU intends to address the issues of citizen trust in use of government services and personal data, and address the concerns of the manufacturing industry in facing new cybersecurity concerns in their manufacturing.
I also raised my concerns about ensuring we have life ling learning for all workers in the digital economy, to make the transition in industry workplaces is as inclusive as possible.
I am continuing my work as shadow draftsperson on the packaging and packaging waste bill in the European Parliament. When these laws are in place, we hope binding targets will increase rates of reuse and recycling of plastics, glass, metals, as well as a variety of other waste materials.
Resource efficiency is crucial for a clean, green economy, and crucial for our environment. These laws which will protect our air, water, and countryside from pollution are the sorts of rules that the Tory government would tear up the moment we left the EU. Just remember how this government has already tried to sell off our forests and frack our national parks. Europe is only of the only defences we have to protect our animals, forests, and beaches as I wrote in an article for Environmentalists 4 EU last month.
I met with both the Scientists for EU campaign and with Universities UK on Wednesday to discuss the critical threat British science, businesses and universities if we leave the EU.
62% of UK research is not international collaborations, and with the EU's scientific output 34% higher than the US, Europe is the scientific powerhouse we want to be part of.
The EU is spending its €80 billion scientific research budget over the next four years on cutting edge research to help British employers like Rolls Royce and Airbus stay competitive in the UK.
I am also the responsible MEP in the Socialist & Democrats Group in for a file in the Industry committee on the mid-term review of the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF). The MFF is the 7 year plan for the EU Budget and the midterm review is an opportunity to learn what is working and what isn't working so that the budget can be improved. This week I gave feedback to the MEP responsible for the file before I submit amendments on behalf of my political group. My aim on this file will be to protect investments and projects which are economically valuable for the UK and our region. Programmes like the Galileo GPS programme which has created jobs and stimulated private investment in our region.
In the Trade Union Intergroup this week we discussed the necessity of protecting workers in the EU. In particular, the terms and conditions of construction workers. The EU provides vital protections for employees such as maximum work periods and minimum rest periods, paid annual holidays and minimum rates of pay, including overtime rates. The UK's membership of the EU helps to facilitate an safe environment for workers that ensure they can do their jobs in safe conditions and have the social rights they are entitled to.
I met with Georgian Ambassador to the EU to discuss setting up an informal Friends of Georgia group in the Parliament. The Friendship Group will bring together MEPs as well as other relevant stakeholders to support and promote EU Georgia cooperation – including supporting Georgia’s reforms to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law, economic reforms and bilateral trade and investment.
I finish the diary with the crisis in our Steel Industry. There has a huge amount of misinformation about the EU's role in the steel crisis over the past weeks, and following a debate in the parliament this week, I wanted to take the opportunity to separate the fact from the fiction.
The simple, unadulterated truth is that the EU has been trying hard to be part of the solution for UK steel. The government has been consistently part of the problem.
It is the Conservative party's ideology that is to blame, not EU rules. The Tories are libertarians who believe that the state has no role to play in the economy, despite EU rules allowing direct state aid to ailing industries in certain circumstances. The government let the Redcar steelwork go bust in 2015, arguing that the EU would not permit them to save it. We have always argued that this was just an excuse: nothing in EU law prevents a government from stepping in, as long as certain conditions are met. The French, German and Italian governments have done it in the past. Now the UK government is considering whether to temporarily nationalise Port Talbot. It's great that they are finally seeing the light, but this won't give us Redcar back. It won’t undo the damage already done.
China is pursuing a determined strategy to take over the European market. Their plan is to keep prices as low as possible until all EU producers are forced out and unable to return. This is costing China a great deal as they have to subsidise their own steel sector heavily to keep prices artificially low. But this will pay off eventually: China will soon be the only provider of steel in Europe, and thus be able to raise prices as it sees fit.
Rather than letting UK taxpayers bear the full cost of this war of attrition, we need to correct prices on the market to end the battle for good. The Conservative Party's ideological bias is the biggest hurdle we have to overcome in order to be able to do so. Unlike the European Commission, or even the World Trade Organisation, the Tories equate legitimate defensive measures against unfair trade with protectionism. Until we can convince them to shift on this too, there won't be any lasting relief for UK steel.