Clegg celebrates the “astonishing triumph of politics over conflict” which is the EU

eu_flagIn his acceptance speech – just over five years ago – after Nick Clegg had just been narrowly chosen as the next leader of the Liberal Democrats, he said that he is a “liberal by temperament, by instinct and by upbringing”. But if those influences make him a liberal, they also make him, arguably to a far greater extent, probably the most pro-European of Britain’s senior politicians. Europe is a subject on which Clegg can speak with the authority of someone who is at least as comfortable, if not more so, in Brussels as he is in Westminster.

Today’s Guardian, in the first of a series of pieces to mark Britain’s accession to the EEC nearly 40 years ago, carries a long interview with Clegg on the subject.

He talks of the past:

Clegg says the lesson of the past 40 years – and indeed of previous centuries – is that British interests are intimately bound up with playing a leading role in Europe. “It’s important to remember that at every point when there has been a fork in the road about whether Britain should retreat or lead, when we have led we have always surprised ourselves and others about how successfully we can lead,” he says.

“This isn’t of course just a 20th-century sort of dilemma. Actually how an island nation such as ours makes its presence felt in our European hemisphere is something which has characterised our history and our foreign policy for centuries.

“The ebb and flow of how Britain has participated or intervened in European wars and royal successions and power play in many ways has been the story of our whole history. I think we should just remember, 40 years after we joined the EEC, our astonishing record of successful leadership.”

And of the present:

Clegg is full of praise for the prime minister, who played a dominant role at recent EU summits on the budget and banking union. “The outcome … was curiously actually a rather good example of effective British diplomacy and leadership,” Clegg says of the banking union meeting, which agreed to hand regulatory powers for about 200 of the eurozone’s largest banks to the European Central Bank. Britain managed to ensure that the 17 eurozone members will not be able to “caucus” in the European Banking Authority, which oversees financial regulation across the EU.

But there are limits to Clegg’s admiration for the prime minister. He recently described Cameron’s plans to repatriate powers to Britain as a “false promise wrapped in a union jack” and does not believe the prime minister’s idea of holding a referendum meets the “smart” test for Britain. Cameron is expected to use a long-awaited speech on the EU early in the new year to outline plans to hold a referendum if he succeeds in repatriating powers in a revision of the Lisbon treaty to underpin new eurozone governance rules.

If there is one element that I’d like to see discussed at more length it’s how pro-Europeans should be leading to reform the EU – opposing the protectionism of some of our close neighbours, extending the single market. It was, after all, a certain Nick Clegg who called on the EU (pdf) to “do less to do more”.

You can read the interview in full here.

* Nick Thornsby is Thursday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs here.

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14 Comments

  • Martin Lowe 27th Dec '12 - 1:53pm

    Celebrating the EU is not enough.

    We all saw what a wishy-washy ‘preaching to the choir’ approach did for the ‘Yes to AV’ campaign when it got repeatedly monstered by the lies of the ‘No’ campaign.

    Those who believe that Britain is better off for being a part of the EU now need to fight for it.

  • I’m still waiting to find out in simple language what we have gained from the EU. I know the cost has been at least 200 billion so far.

  • Martin Lowe 27th Dec '12 - 4:37pm

    Peace, prosperity and political stability in our part of the world.

    Simple enough for you, David?

  • David, if you want to be self interested about it , the simple benefit is in a word: trade.

    Most of the money has gone towards developing a growing single market: building infrastructure and industry in the Czech republic, Poland, Estonia etc this has produced opportunities for the more developed EU countries and the growing economic activity of these countries has created further market opportunities.

    To oversee the single market there has to be democratically agreed regulation, which happens in Brussels and Luxembourg (where the court of justice is).

    Of course there are all the things Martin Lowe mentions and in addition there is coordinated protection of the environment.

    Then there are the projects and influence all over the world.

    Without spending that 200 billion that you mention (no provenance given, € or £? – not that it matters), the UK would be more than that amount worse off

  • Have to agree with Martin “the simple benefit is in a word: trade”

    Isn’t that why Wellington’s army fought on the continent – to break Napoleons’s blockade on our European Trade? That war and those since, cost a lot more in treasure (both men and money) than any financial contribution we have ever made or ever will make to the EU.

    When Germany cut-off our access to Europe a Century later, the Kaisers U-boat campaign was directed against British trade with North America and the Empire. When the Nazi’s occupied Europe, Hitler repeated the tactics in the Battle of the Atlantic in a effort to cut-off our vital food and supply lines.

    When Martin Lowe says “Peace, prosperity and political stability in our part of the world,” we in the UK should understand as much as any of the European powers, these are not simple platitudes.

  • Much of the peacetime gains in Europe were made on the back of an exceptionally good economic climate in the last 40 years. To attribute peace across the EU, to the European Union is a totally false claim. Proof is there for all to see. Now we see a downturn in the economy, we see a corresponding ‘unravelling’, of social cohesion, on the peripheral of Europe’s southern members. Like the man said, “It’s the economy, stupid !”
    Europe is a waiting game. Which will come first?
    1. The European project finally collapses under the weight of its un-payable debt, when its utter bankruptcy, cannot be concealed any longer.
    2. The Tories finally break ranks and allow the British people the democracy they have a right to, in the form of an in/out referendum.
    All the signs, the mood, and the economy, tell us that we will be rid of this EU monstrosity sooner or later. I suppose we just have to be patient.

  • Alex Matthews 28th Dec '12 - 11:26am

    @jedibeeftrix: The first line of your referenced text claims that this is an area of intense debate so even your own reference realises that for someone to just put forward one theory and then shout “FACT” does not really make a very persuasive argument. This is because it can easily be argued that:
    1=Our island status has had a massive effect on our political relationship with Europe; both culturally and in other areas such as trade.
    2=This is a complex issue and I am sure there is no one ‘true’ theory to completely explain thousands of years of international relations within Europe, and that in truth all these different theories have some effect to greater or lesser extents.
    3=Clegg is making a political speech, not speaking in a historical debate; so I think we can forgive him for not going into an hour long tangent on our historical relationship with Europe and all the factors effecting this relationship.

  • Martin Lowe 28th Dec '12 - 3:52pm

    @jedibeeftrix

    How is Clegg ‘essentially wrong’ when he says… says what, exactly?

  • So we have to spend hundreds of billions of pounds to trade with Europe?! Strange that the rest of the world can trade with Europe without problem. Two-thirds of our trade with the rest of the EU is imports. EU has an ever shrinking proportion of world trade. So that we are in the EU for ‘trade’ is a non-starter. So what’s the next answer? – peace? Again nonsense – we have had peace in most of Europe because the Soviet Union was the common threat, and forced to back down by NATO.

  • David, you are simply wrong. You wanted a simple answer and since you failed to comprehend the little bit of explanation that I added, I can understand why you needed it to be simple.

    Despite a world wide banking crisis, which has mostly been of USA/ UK origin, the UK has prospered as a result of being part of the EU. The idea is to get through the crisis to develop the EU single market and to prosper some more. I am guessing that I might be wasting my time if I went on to explain why this requires the EU political structures to sustain it.

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