The Public Gallery: What’s Europe ever done for Croydon?

By - Thursday 24th April, 2014

Taking the TPG reins this week is former MEP Robert Evans, who explains why you should vote in next month’s European elections

On the evening of 15th August 1940, the first major air raid in the London area struck Croydon. As nine Hurricanes from 111 Squadron intercepted the bombers, they missed their intended target. That target was Croydon Airfield.

Instead, it was the civilian population that bore the brunt of the damage. A total of 62 civilians died, in addition to six airmen. Four airmen, one officer, two civilian telephone operators and 185 civilians were also injured.

For nearly six years, the Second World War dominated life in Croydon and changed many lives forever. Thousands of homes were destroyed or damaged by repeated air raids, with more than 750 civilians losing their lives. This was in addition to the military casualties recorded on the borough’s many war memorials. Twice in the last century, Europe ripped itself apart, socially, physically and economically with devastating wars.

We can take for granted that the water in our taps is to the highest standards as agreed and enforced for every European country

Today, anyone under 70 years old has no memory of the war or any war in Europe. Much of this is thanks to the growth of modern cooperation across the continent, culminating in today’s European Union. Eurosceptics will say it is NATO and not the European Parliament or the EU that has kept the peace in Europe. I believe however, that whilst military powers and forces can stop fighting and end the war itself, it is only democratic structures that can deliver a lasting peace. We have seen examples of this all over the world, perhaps most starkly in the north of Ireland, where power sharing has brought peace on a scale never imagined possible during the dark years of the Troubles.

In 1945, it would have been unimaginable to think that there would be a European Parliament with British, French, German, Italian politicians all sitting down and discussing a positive way forward for a Union of 28 countries. But that is where we are today – a far cry from the original aim of just preventing violence. Instead, the European Union is the most powerful economic bloc in the world. Five hundred and fifty million citizens living together in harmony, able to travel freely to work where they like in any one of the 28 member states – a model of international cooperation and high standards that is being copied around the globe.

Everywhere in Croydon, every morning, people wake up and make themselves a cup of tea. We can take for granted that the water in our taps is to the highest standards as agreed and enforced for every European country. We use electric kettles and other goods all of which have to have the European mark of quality – no country is able to sell poor quality goods that could explode or endanger lives. The food we eat has a sell-by date ensuring quality control and consumer confidence. It’s the same whichever country in Europe you go to – the need to drink bottled water abroad has been eliminated.

The ‘Built to Compete 2 project’ has resulted in over £8 million of new business for local companies, and more than 100 local jobs have been created

When one steps out onto the streets of Croydon, you can feel safe in the knowledge that the lorries from other EU countries supplying our supermarkets and warehouses have tyres and brakes that satisfy the demanding standards set buy the European Parliament. Additionally thanks to EU legislation, which individual countries just couldn’t create alone or bilaterally, we know that the drivers have had periods of rest and haven’t been driving non stop for dangerously long hours.

European cooperation initiatives are also providing employment opportunities in the borough. For example the ‘Built to Compete 2 project’, jointly funded by Croydon Council and the European Regional Development Fund, helps Croydon-based organisations to win new business with the public and private sector. This has resulted in over £8 million of new business for local companies, and more than 100 local jobs have been created and safeguarded

‘Coast to Capital’ is working on a plan with its partners to use £55m of European funding to aid economic growth in Croydon and the corridor down to Gatwick and Brighton. To ensure this European funding strategy reflects the needs of local business communities, representatives from the public, private and voluntary sectors were all invited to consultation events hosted by the Local Enterprise Partnership.

In the field of education, thousands of youngsters at Croydon College and the borough’s schools have benefited from a range of European schemes that have enhanced their skills and broadened their life experiences – the Erasmus programme allows students to spend part of the university course at an institution in another member state. There they learn the language, culture and lifestyle in addition to gaining enviable skills for the workplace. Additional options, study visits, exchange of resources and experimental results are provided by the European Centre for the development of vocational training. The European Credit Transfer System ensures that Croydon’s students, teachers and academics can have their qualifications recognised at the appropriate level in other countries.

It was your MEPs who argued for the highest possible levels of protection from pollution and against global warming

In another development, the European Arrest Warrant was used recently to detain a Selhurst man to answer a charge that he had an outstanding sentence of five years imprisonment to serve in Poland, in relation to convictions for 81 burglaries!

On 22nd May you can elect some of European Parliament’s 750 members – MEPs who will know Croydon and who will listen to your concerns. For example, it is your London MEPs who have negotiated deals to make mobile phone calls cheaper when travelling abroad, your MEPs who ensured that disabled people can have proper access to aeroplanes, and your MEPs who argued for the highest possible levels of protection from pollution and against global warming.

If Britain were not a member of the European Union what would we do? Join the four member European Free Trade Association? One of its members, Iceland, has a smaller population than the London Borough of Croydon! And Norway and Switzerland are both smaller than Greater London.

No, for all its faults, we are better off in the European Union. We are playing an active part in the world’s largest single market, and helping to shape legislation that has, for more than seventy years, improved the lives of ordinary people in Croydon and across the nation.

Tom Black will return to The Public Gallery at the same time next week. In the meantime, look out for the May 2014 election special of the Croydon Citizen news magazine at major railway stations and venues across the borough.

Robert Evans

Robert Evans

Robert Evans first stood for the European Parliament in Croydon in 1989. He was then elected in 1994 and served as a London MEP until 2009. He is now Labour’s leader on Surrey County Council.

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  • Anne Giles

    And we can also have NHS health care anywhere in Europe too.

  • Sean Creighton

    As a long-term opponent EU membership on the same basis as Tony Benn, this is a perhaps the best argued case for staying in I have yet seen. For people like me the issue who to vote for on 22 May is a tricky one. No way can we vote UKIP. So we are left really with either abstaining – which is politically ineffective as long as there is no ballot paper box saying ‘none of the above’ , or voting for a pro-candidate who will be committed to further progressive action by the EU, such as the end to Britain’s opt-out on the working time agreement,. which allows scandalous shift patterns in e.g, catering.

  • David White

    I agree with Sean that Robert makes out as good a case as can be made for EU membership. However the EU Parliament is a toothless and expensive body. It has virtually no control over the unelected Commission which makes the decisions.
    How many people in Croydon even know who their MEPs are? I could only name 2 of the 8 without looking it up, and I’m active in politics.
    I shall vote in the European elections, as I believe we should always take the opportunity to express a view when it’s offered. But I’m not under any illusions that it will make much difference to anything.