‘Heavy fog over channel, continent cut off’. This 1950s headline from the Times rather neatly sums up the attitude Britain often displays towards Europe. And today, a fog of political indifference threatens to cut us off from our European partners.
Most of you will be aware that elections to the European Parliament are taking place shortly (on May 22). But how many of you genuinely understand the critical role that UK members of the European Parliament (MEPs) play in shaping your working lives, or even know who your MEP is? I must admit, that until fairly recently, I had little idea of quite how significant a role they play or of how the BMA can influence the development of EU policy.
EU law supersedes UK law in the vast majority of cases and MEPs are a critical cog in the legislative process. They can vote to amend European Commission proposals which seek to dilute the European Working Time Directive or reject free trade agreements which prioritise corporate interests over patients' rights.
As such outcomes do not occur by chance, we have written a manifesto which details the organisation's policy objectives for the next legislative session (2014/19) of the parliament.
It seeks to secure a greater role for doctors' expertise and professionalism in the development and delivery of all EU policies impacting upon the health of Europeans, and focuses on three key areas:
- Improving public health
- Securing patients' rights and safety
- Championing a professional workforce
We are working with UK candidates, and with returning MEPs from across Europe, to ensure that these goals are the forefront of their minds and to secure a role in their legislative development.
Five years is an exceedingly long time in politics and Brussels can seem distant enough to sometimes be out of mind. It is imperative that our elected representatives know what must be done and that they will be held accountable for their actions.
Whatever one's views of the EU or the UK's future therein, apathy on May 22 will not help to secure the future of our profession. Seventy-three MEPs will represent the UK whether or not you choose to vote. Who is elected and what they do when in situ is something that you can influence.
The parties' policies and candidates can be accessed via the link below. Given the scope for the European Parliament to impact upon your working lives, I would urge you to make your voice heard and help candidates understand the importance of using doctors' expertise and professionalism to secure a healthier Europe for their constituents.
As doctors we are trained to make important decisions based on limited evidence. Let's make sure that our politicians don't have to.
Mark Porter is BMA council chair
The BMA European election manifesto
The UK political parties which have so far announced their lists of candidates
A good piece of writing Mr Porter and I agree with you about apathy in the UK. In Germany, where I trained, the European elections are as important for voting as the federal ones. This is not because the consequences of the policies are as big, but because ordinary people fear if they don't turn up, the extremist parties get in.
It's amazing what Europe has delivered to the NHS already - free movement of labour, the working time directive. It has transformed my life, although I think it is fair to suggest that it has had more impact on Germans (who speak good English) than on the English whose foreign languages are not so good.
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