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The Euro has become a prison. There needs to be a way out

I've long opposed the single currency for Britain. But a middle way has to be found between leaving the European Union and being trapped by the single currency, and not just for the UK, argues Molly Scott Cato.

Eurosceptics will no doubt seek to capitalise on the misfortunes of the Greek people to further their own Brexit agenda. Indeed, it would be somewhat surprising if the Greek crisis and the way it has been handled by European leaders and institutions had not sown doubts in people’s minds. But as we enter the process of debating our place within the continent, and deciding whether this will include our membership of the European Union, it is important to draw a clear distinction between the European Union and the European currency of the Eurozone.

I must confess that the Eurozone is the issue where I have felt most isolated from other members of the Green group in the European Parliament. My colleagues are prepared to hear the serious reservations I have about the viability of a single currency, but do not sympathise with them. This in spite of the fact that nine other EU members have made the same decision as the UK, including Poland, Sweden, Denmark and the Czech Republic. By doing so, I believe they have also kept hold of vitally important economic powers.  

Perhaps we have forgotten just what a live issue the Euro was in the UK until relatively recently. Labour and the Liberal Democrats were keen for us to join the single currency. That we did not is, I think, credit to Jimmy Goldsmith, who poured money into a single-issue party to prevent this from happening. In 1997 the party stood candidates in every UK constituency to force this sole issue into the political debate and gave the Tories the courage to stand against the single currency.

 At that time I represented the UK on the steering group of the No Euro campaign. As Greens we broadened the campaign's base and provided political cover for the Little Englanders and their uncomfortable left wing allies.

I was also involved in the publication of a collection of essays that reflected a progressive case against the Euro. This outlined the extreme stretch of solidarity required by a functioning single currency area as well as critiquing the lack of democratic control over Eurozone institutions. It was a left wing argument for the preservation of national sovereignty, and for linking control of currency to where we vote, to match similar concerns on the political right.

Studying as I was for a PhD on employment policy at the time, I was party to the near unanimity of UK economists on the issue. It was a fairly easy question theoretically: with such a diverse range of economies requiring such wildly different interest rates, it was nearly impossible to conceive of the Eurozone as a single currency area. The success of the currency was always going to depend on the willingness of countries with more successful economies being prepared to transfer wealth to the weaker economies. A generation of European politicians decided to force that issue and the rise of Euroscepticism across the continent is the consequence. What was designed as a project to enhance solidarity and encourage federalism has done precisely the reverse.

Greece chose the loss of sovereignty that comes with joining a single currency. That has led to the appalling situation it faces today of losing control of its economic policy and its national assets, just as Portugal, Spain and Ireland did in their turn. But we should not allow the siren song of the anti-Europeans to blind us to the fact that it was the Euro and not the EU that gave the financiers this power. We do not face any similar loss of control precisely because we rejected the Euro and its flawed design.

Ever closer union is the logic of the European project and of the single currency area. This forced Union, brought about by the design of the Euro, is now undermining the whole EU. Those countries that are part of the single currency area will inevitably develop political and democratic institutions to guide how their currency is governed. Indeed, it is an urgent necessity that they do so. But there must also be a way out for countries for whom the Euro is now destructive and a way forward for countries that choose not to join but still want to be part of the European partnership.

 

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the southwest of England, elected in May 2014. She has published widely, particularly on issues related to green economics. Molly was formerly Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton. She is Green Party parliamentary candidate for Bristol West.

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The deafening killer - why noise will be the next great pollution scandal

A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. 

Our cities are being poisoned by a toxin that surrounds us day and night. It eats away at our brains, hurts our hearts, clutches at our sleep, and gnaws at the quality of our daily lives.

Hardly a silent killer, it gets short shrift compared to the well-publicised terrors of air pollution and sugars food. It is the dull, thumping, stultifying drum-beat of perpetual noise.

The score that accompanies city life is brutal and constant. It disrupts the everyday: The coffee break ruined by the screech of a line of double decker buses braking at the lights. The lawyer’s conference call broken by drilling as she makes her way to the office. The writer’s struggle to find a quiet corner to pen his latest article.

For city-dwellers, it’s all-consuming and impossible to avoid. Construction, traffic, the whirring of machinery, the neighbour’s stereo. Even at home, the beeps and buzzes made by washing machines, fridges, and phones all serve to distract and unsettle.

But the never-ending noisiness of city life is far more than a problem of aesthetics. A growing body of evidence shows that noise can have serious health impacts too. Recent studies have linked noise pollution to hearing loss, sleep deprivation, hypertension, heart disease, brain development, and even increased risk of dementia.

One research team compared families living on different stories of the same building in Manhattan to isolate the impact of noise on health and education. They found children in lower, noisier floors were worse at reading than their higher-up peers, an effect that was most pronounced for children who had lived in the building for longest.

Those studies have been replicated for the impact of aircraft noise with similar results. Not only does noise cause higher blood pressure and worsens quality of sleep, it also stymies pupils trying to concentrate in class.

As with many forms of pollution, the poorest are typically the hardest hit. The worst-off in any city often live by busy roads in poorly-insulated houses or flats, cheek by jowl with packed-in neighbours.

The US Department of Transport recently mapped road and aircraft noise across the United States. Predictably, the loudest areas overlapped with some of the country’s most deprived. Those included the south side of Atlanta and the lowest-income areas of LA and Seattle.

Yet as noise pollution grows in line with road and air traffic and rising urban density, public policy has turned a blind eye.

Council noise response services, formally a 24-hour defence against neighbourly disputes, have fallen victim to local government cuts. Decisions on airport expansion and road development pay scant regard to their audible impact. Political platforms remain silent on the loudest poison.

This is odd at a time when we have never had more tools at our disposal to deal with the issue. Electric Vehicles are practically noise-less, yet noise rarely features in the arguments for their adoption. Just replacing today’s bus fleet would transform city centres; doing the same for taxis and trucks would amount to a revolution.

Vehicles are just the start. Millions were spent on a programme of “Warm Homes”; what about “Quiet Homes”? How did we value the noise impact in the decision to build a third runway at Heathrow, and how do we compensate people now that it’s going ahead?

Construction is a major driver of decibels. Should builders compensate “noise victims” for over-drilling? Or could regulation push equipment manufacturers to find new ways to dampen the sound of their kit?

Of course, none of this addresses the noise pollution we impose on ourselves. The bars and clubs we choose to visit or the music we stick in our ears. Whether pumping dance tracks in spin classes or indie rock in trendy coffee shops, people’s desire to compensate for bad noise out there by playing louder noise in here is hard to control for.

The Clean Air Act of 1956 heralded a new era of city life, one where smog and grime gave way to clear skies and clearer lungs. That fight still goes on today.

But some day, we will turn our attention to our clogged-up airwaves. The decibels will fall. #Twitter will give way to twitter. And every now and again, as we step from our homes into city life, we may just hear the sweetest sound of all. Silence.

Adam Swersky is a councillor in Harrow and is cabinet member for finance. He writes in a personal capacity.