Europe Day Special: Avoiding the slippery slopes towards euroscepticism

Today is Europe Day. The Treaty of Rome, the EU’s founding treaty was signed 55 years ago; post war Europe sought a new strategy to end old enmities and forge shared prosperity through economic growth. However one measures the achievements of those goals, the conclusion has to be the European Union has delivered on both counts.

For those of us who believe in the EU’s objectives and feel that Britain should be leading in Europe, these are turbulent times.

Restoring faith in a political structure which may appear removed from the citizen, and rebuilding an economic framework which has been proven inadequate is a challenge for Europe’s political leaders.

The rise of fringe anti-EU political parties is also testament to deep-seated dissatisfaction, largely aimed at politicians at the national level, although the EU institutions have become a protest lightning rod.

The first round ballot of the French presidential elections tells the story; Le Pen’s Front National and Melenchon’s Communists – both populist parties playing the anti-European card – scooped almost 30 per cent of the popular vote. We’ve seen similar trends in a number of other countries. Conservative grandee, Tim Yeo, has warned the Tory faithful that UKIP presents a similar challenge to his party’s fortunes; a strong showing in the 2014 European elections will, he fears, dent Conservative prospects at the General Election.

Against this backdrop, the temptation is to pick up the eurosceptic rugby ball and run with it. Less Europe, not more; sovereignity not shared solutions.

Liberal Democrats tend to default to a more enlightened, progressive mindset. Our values are anchored in being engaged in the international community, sufficiently self aware to recognise the UK no longer has the clout to go it alone. Internationalists by instinct, we recognise the challenges of our age are rarely managed at the national level alone. Tackling global issues can only be achieved in concert with other countries and within an agreed framework of action that has political and legal bite.

Take the issue of crime.  Drug smuggling, trafficking of people (including children) and the market in illegal weapons and firearms are transboundary. It defies logic, then, that UKIP and some Conservatives call for our withdrawal from European justice and home affairs initiatives such as the European Arrest Warrant, EuroJust and Europol. It’s easy to bang that particular drum, but the consequences would lead quite simply to more crime on our streets.

However, the temptation remains on the doorstep to deliver a populist line. While we should keep the EU in check, we should not sleepwalk down the slippery slope of euroscepticism.

Let UKIP spew nonsense, and Conservatives spin half-truths, but it is our responsibility as Liberal Democrats to defend the reality of living in a globalised world; that if we want less crime on our streets, if we want a cleaner environment, if want to guarantee affordable energy solutions, if want to safeguard economic growth and prosperity, that can not only be achieved realistically by means of the European Union.  There isn’t an alternative.  The logic then follows, we should make the best of our membership; leading beats being led.

The climate is tough, and sentiment on the doorstep can be chilly.  However, landing the message that vetoes and other futile posturing ends in the UK shooting itself in the foot is an opportunity that, as Liberal Democrats, we should not shy away from.

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10 Comments

  • Richard Dean 9th May '12 - 12:15pm

    I happen to think we should be in the Eurozone. I am sure some economists will disagree, but is it just an economic issue alone? I also equation the ide of anti-Europe being “populist” – sure it;s what manynmedia owners seem to prefer, but would it really be what the electroate say if they were properly informed?

    I am reading a book. It is one way fo finding out more. According to the book, the pound lost about 25% in value against the euro between 1980 to 1997, It then picked up a 15% but then dropped 20% over 2008/9. This sems to suggest that Europe has done a lot better than us, at least up to recently. If we had been in since 1980 we might have changed some of the events leading to the present crisis, and if we were in now we might be able to change some of the decisions that affect is and are being led by France and Germany. We would also have better information about Euproe and the Eurozone.

    All institutions need to develop, and the faults of Europe argue for development, not breakup.

  • Daniel Henry 9th May '12 - 12:16pm

    Agreed, but we also need to highlight or plans to reform and improve the EU. An honest assessment in its flaws and the improvements we wish to implement would help make our defence of it more credible.

  • It is very hard going to defend the EU these days, given that its most prominent project, i.e., the Euro, has some severe structural flaws. We are not going to win the argument unless we acknowledge these flaws and lead the efforts to remedy them.

    The EU has much to be proud of in terms of securing peace and co-operation among its members, as well as encouraging trade and cultural exchange. However, enthusiasm cannot supplant honesty if we want to be taken seriously.

  • Alex Macfie 9th May '12 - 1:43pm

    If we are going to defend the European Arrest Warrant, we must also make clear that it urgently needs reform. The EAW has been used to bring many serious criminals to justice, but has been used far more often to send people to Poland over minor allegations like possession of a few grammes of cannabis many years ago — matters over which our own courts would not prosecute due to passage of time. [I know Poland isn't the only offender, but it is by far the worst, due to having no formal statute of limitations and no prosecutorial discretion.] The gross abuses are simply not acceptable. Even in the US, with a properly federal system of government, a person cannot be sent from one state to trial in another state just on the say-so of this state. I do not advocate withdrawal from EAW, but I do think that reform should be made a top prority.

  • Alex Macfie 10th May '12 - 8:13pm

    To be fair, our party’s MEPs do campaign for CAP reform, EAW reform, single-seat parliament and a lot of other reforms. Unfortunately, there is a media conspiracy of silence surrounding the European Parliament, and as a party we do not campaign properly for it, so no-one ever gets to hear about it. As a party we need to set out our stall as a Euro-reformist party (pro-EU, pro-reform of EU). We should also move towards having full (Westminster) parliamentary scrutiny of national government positions on EU laws in the Council.

    [And I don't think anyone supports the current two-seat parliament except the French, who are blocking any reform of it in the Council.]

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