A new survey by European news portal Euractiv has ranked Sharon Bowles MEP as the most influential Brit in EU policy-making, eight places ahead of David Cameron and thirty-three above Nigel Farage. The UK40 survey also features Lib Dem MEPs Andrew Duff and Sir Graham Watson in the top sixteen. National politicians such as Cameron, William Hague and Nick Clegg make the top twenty, but often lose out in the ranking to less well known Brits in the EU institutions.
We can be proud of the clout that our MEPs wield in Brussels, particularly Sharon’s key role as chair of the European Parliament’s economic and monetary affairs committee. Andrew is widely recognised as the Parliament’s leading authority on constitutional affairs, while Sir Graham’s influence extends beyond the EU as president of the European federation of liberal parties, the newly-renamed Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
But what does this say about the UK and our position in the EU? Well, to start with you don’t necessarily need to have a high profile to influence European policy. Or rather, you don’t need to have a high profile in the UK. British media notoriously focus on the superficial and usually scurrilous when reporting on EU affairs, frequently missing the key policy debates entirely, whether through ignorance, spite, or indifference. No wonder most Brits don’t know who their MEPs are or how hard most of them work.
And while people in the UK are generally pessimistic about Britain’s ability to influence the EU, the reality has long been different. British civil servants are highly regarded within European institutions for their professionalism while British MEPs have frequently held key positions in the Parliament – like the highly-rated Conservative Malcolm Harbour as chair of the Single Market committee.
What has changed of late is the ability of the British government and national politicians to influence EU policy, one of the clearest conclusions in this ranking. David Cameron’s grandstanding over the EU budget and Nigel Farage’s phoney crusade to throw off an imaginary European yoke cut little ice in the real world of EU policy-making. Sir Stephen Wall, Britain’s former ambassador to the EU, put it succinctly: “Carrying on about Europe is not the same as carrying influence in Europe.”
The real way to influence the EU, from financial services to fisheries reform, is to engage constructively and work hard from within – something which most of our MEPs and officials quietly do day in, day out. This is the approach which must guide Liberal Democrats in government too.
* Giles Goodall is a candidate for the Liberal Democrats’ Euro list in South East England
* Giles Goodall is a Lib Dem European Parliamentary Candidate for South East England.