I guess talking about Europe is not what a party wants come September. With the conference fast approaching, the polls painting a gloomy picture, debate about the leadership raging and the small subject of the economy hanging over everybody, the last thing one needs is a debate about Britain’s place in the EU.
But in politics there is no escaping the big issues. The EU is not just a club we are members of. We are the EU. Our economy is deeply integrated in the wider European economy and our ability to influence the global events that affect us depends to a large extent on the EU’s status. Britain is geographically, economically, politically, culturally, historically part of Europe and the EU. So what happens over there has a pretty heavy bearing on what happens over here.
Which is why we need to talk about Europe. While the British political elites will be gathering in Brighton, Manchester and Birmingham, important issues about the future direction of the EU will be debated in Brussels and capitals around Europe. The Commission will be presenting proposals for a banking union members of the eurozone are engaging in a process of closer political integration, Germany is even contemplating an EU treaty convention. The Eurozone is being redesigned and re-engineered. The EU is in a state of change and renewal.
Britain should be right in there, taking part in the debate, having an input in the drawing of the EU’s new blueprint, influencing the decisions that will affect it so much. Instead, thanks to the Prime Minister’s self-defeating and completely ineffectual “veto” last year, Britain is left outside of the room. Sitting on the side-lines, exclaiming that you are not a member of the Eurozone (and “never will be”), while lecturing those that are, is not exactly an influencing strategy. Whether we like it or not, the Eurozone is here to stay. It is already a global currency, the second most held after the dollar, and a systemically important player in international monetary policy-making. It is only a matter of time before it resolves its governance issues and takes its place along the dollar and the renminbi in a tripolar currency world. We have the opportunity to influence what the Eurozone will look like in the medium and long term (just in the off chance we decide, or we are forced by circumstances to join one day). But instead we chose to stand by and have history pass us by.
Just like it was done back in the 1950s, when the decision was made not to participate in the creation of the EEC, only to join later a Community that did not have Britain’s genetic footprint.
Making the same mistake twice is not a trait of a wish person, the ancient Greeks used to say. Britain still has the opportunity to get actively and constructively involved in the reconstruction of the EU. Our European partners have left the door open. Which is why this year’s conference needs to talk about the EU, Britain’s membership of it and how Britain can help shape what the Union will look like in the next 20 years. Because Britain’s future wellbeing is intimately connected with the future wellbeing of the European Union, talking about the EU has never been more important.
‘The Independent View‘ is a slot on Lib Dem Voice which allows those from beyond the party to contribute to debates we believe are of interest to LDV’s readers. Please email [email protected] if you are interested in contributing.
* Petros Fassoulas is Chair of the European Movement