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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 May, 2004, 07:53 GMT 08:53 UK
South West: Happy Birthday EU
Janine Jansen
Politics Show South West

I wonder if you received any cards today saying Happy Europe Day? I doubt it. But officially it is Europe Day.

It is celebrated because May 9 was the day the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman first presented his proposal for the creation of an organised Europe.

EU flags
The EU flag alongside those of new members

Today his vision encompasses the unification of 25 member states. And at the heart of that process is the European Parliament.

With less than five weeks to go until we vote in the European parliamentary elections, Mike Fennell's been looking at how the Parliament impacts on our daily lives here in the South West.

Culture Euro-style

The arts in the South West have received a boost from European funding, and it is helping to make a difference.

The Miracle Theatre in Cornwall will play host to a celebrated European early next month, Quasimodo.

But the production has another European connection.

Trying to run a theatre company on a shoestring is no mean feat. Miracle Theatre were struggling to survive but then came along European funding and transformed the situation.

They are now able to recruit two permanent members of staff which are making the company grow and grow whilst they are also putting on three full tours this year. Everything is going brilliantly.

South Western Europeans

Like it or loathe it we are part of Europe. And that is what makes the role of the South West's seven MEPs important, though we might not always be aware of why.

Annie Ukleja from Miracle Theatre Company believes that the MEPs have a crucial role to play:

"Whether they lobby the Commission, which is very powerful still, whether they influence their fellow MEP's to get legislation and votes in the right way, or just to make sure that the profile of the South West is heard loud and clear throughout Brussels so we get a part of everything that's there to take."

And there is a lot. Cornwall has done well in laying the foundations for its future prosperity by getting a big chunk of Objective One funding.

Amongst the projects which have benefited is a new 5.5m skills centre in Camborne. As Robin Teverson, Chief Executive of Finance Cornwall says:

"This is about building our future well beyond the life of the programme in developing the construction, plumbing and electrician skills of the future."

Objective One

EU Objective One - supporting development in the less prosperous regions
gross domestic product is below 75%
low level of investment
a higher than average unemployment rate
lack of services for businesses and individuals
poor basic infrastructure
50 regions qualify in 2000-06

Carleen Kelemen, Director, Objective One Partnership agrees about the new opportunities provided:

"The Objective One programme from Europe gives us the opportunity to leapfrog the development of our economy a generation.

"We will see a new type of infrastructure for Cornwall.

"We will see better roads, better rail, better air connections, we will see at IT infrastructure second to none in the country."

Regeneration in action

Europe often gets the blame when it comes to fish quotas and farmers are rarely happy with the Common Agricultural Policy.

But the other side of the Euro is the financial help for instance towards a 70m harbour regeneration scheme at Newlyn.

Councillor John Lobb, Lib Dem Leader, Cornwall County Council says:

"I think it is fair to say in the past we have had our differences with Europe of course, we've had our problems, but equally I think what we are trying to do is accentuate the positive things that have resulted from Cornwall's association with Europe."

And Cornwall County Council has mounted an exhibition this week to acknowledge just that. Unlike flagship Objective One projects, the influences can be quite subtle.

Sarah Porter, Economy and Europe Co-ordination Manager for Cornwall County Council points to the impact of being part of the European Union:

"You can see everything from when you turn on the kettle in the morning to have a cup of tea that is dictated by European guidance on the electrics and water quality right through to the toys your children play with in the evening."

The influence of the European Parliament is pervasive.

Nearly half the laws passed in the member states, including Britain, stem from EU legislation, and 90% of environmental legislation is passed at a European level.

Business boost

Under the current programme, European funding has helped nearly 500 projects some of them quite small.

John Carley is Director of Carley's of Cornwall and he has been in the organic food business for thirty years.

Most of his work used to be done by hand on a very small scale above a shop in Truro.

But now thanks to tens of thousand of pounds of European funding, he can bottle his range of organic pesto sauces on a production line in new premises.

John Carley says;" We are very pleased and it has given us the opportunity to sell into the national organic food market which is growing all the time and is now worth a billion pounds at retail value so we're getting a little slice of that market for growers in Cornwall".

But John's experience will not be enough to put Europe on the map as far as voters in next month's elections are concerned.

For many the European Parliament, no matter how influential, will remain something of a mystery.

What do you think?

The Politics Show wants to hear from you.

Let us know what you think. That is the Politics Show Sunday 09 May at Midday.

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