Organised by European Movement Macclesfield
Account by Helen Atkinson
Before becoming an MEP for the North West, Julie Ward worked in the theatre industry, so she’s no stranger to being on stage in village halls. Although giving speeches in her capacity as one of 8 MEPs for the region may seem a little more dry, the energy and enthusiasm she bought to the talk at Wistaston Memorial Hall in Crewe made the evening extremely inspiring and engaging for everyone involved.
Julie was introduced by Lynne Barnes of European Movement Macclesfield, who first gave a talk on how Brexit may impact culture in the UK – specifically with respect to touring musicians. Lynne used to run a music agency which promoted events, and she explained how barriers to the movement of people from outside the EU, such as visas, green cards and carnets (paperwork for equipment), had impacted events she had run in the past and had even led to the detention of musicians, including one 74-year-old man. Lynne explained what was necessary for artists from the US, for example, to come to the UK to tour and stressed that having these same rules for EU nationals would restrict the number of bands touring, both to and from the UK. As most bands make around 60% of their income from touring, Brexit will make the UK culturally poorer. Lynne is part of Rock for Europe, whose events over the past 2 years since the referendum result have highlighted this.
Lynne’s introduction was very appropriate – Julie Ward spent 35 years working in theatre and the arts before becoming an MEP, running an artist’s co-op that uses culture for social change and transformation. This innovative project took young people from extremely deprived backgrounds on a 2 week summer school to a Peace School near Hannover. The young people involved often had a history going off the rails - taking drugs, playing truant from school – and many of them found their lives were transformed during the summer school where they were able to interact with people of different ethnicities, backgrounds and languages, who often didn’t speak English. By learning to communicate with each other they broadened their minds and overcame their fears. They became empowered, and many of them got back into education upon their return to the UK. As Julie commented, “you only get to know yourself when you see yourself reflected in the eyes of others”. This project, is now part of the ERASMUS+ scheme which brings huge benefits to education and youth in the UK. The co-op, like many similar organisation, also received funding from the European Social Fund (ESF) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). The co-op is now run by Julie’s sister, although its future is at stake with Brexit looming.
Despite loving her work in the arts, Julie considered putting herself forward as an MEP as she became increasingly horrified by the anti-EU rhetoric in the right wing press, which was so against the values of the Peace school in Germany. These values reflect those of the EU - democracy, respect and tolerance. However, her application went unposted until the day Julie read the story of Jyoti Singh Pandey who was brutally gang raped on a bus in Delhi in 2012. At that moment Julie decided she must do more for the rights of women worldwide and she now sits on the European Parliament‘s Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee, alongside committees for Culture and Education and Regional Development. Julie said “Violence against women and girls is a scourge in the 21st century… I cannot be a bystander. Until we have true equality, we will always have violence. Working within the sphere of women’s right, I clearly see how the EU defends our rights - it provides a safety net for all our rights.”
Julie also highlighted that the North West in a net gainer from European Regional Development Funds, which proactively supports deprived areas. “When Liverpool was abandoned by Westminster, the EU stepped in. When the floods happened in 2015, the Commissioner for Regional Development gave solidarity money to help affected areas. Solidarity is a core EU principle”
Julie spoke of her work in Bosnia Herzegovina (BIH) where democracy is still fragile, and how becoming part of the EU family will ensure that ethnic wars don’t happen again and help fight corruption. There is recognition in BIH that in a globalised world you have no power if you are a small country – in the words of Nikola Dimitrov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Macedonia, “Britain seems to have forgotten how cold it is outside of the room”. Julie expanded on this, saying, “In times of war, the only people who make money are the people who make weapons. The European Union is a market, but it’s also a peace project. Having a trading bloc is a way for people to come together, work together, and to live in peace… Brexit shouldn’t just be about what’s good for us, it should also be about what’s good for the whole world.”
Julie paid credit to those in the audience who have been out campaigning and said, “Yes, it’s exhausting, but I look at campaigners on marches and I see love, joy, creativity, companionship, diversity and people making friends. The worst thing is being quiet, is shutting up, accepting it. I have to live with myself in the future, I have to tell the truth. Britain is making an historic mistake. There is no good Brexit”
More information on the work Julie does can be found on her webpages:
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Helen Atkinson is press officer for Manchester for Europe and Stockport for Europe
Twitter: @hellsbellsEU @Mcr4EU @Stcokport4EU