Catherine Bearder MEP writes: Europe is about more than the economy, it’s about opportunity

Catherine Bearder with Liberal Youth members October 2015At the official launch of the Stronger In Campaign on Monday it was great to see such a huge range of people, of all ages and from all walks of life, prepared to work together to secure Britain’s place in Europe. The board of the campaign represents all sections of society – students, the arts, business and trade unions – and almost half its members are women. This couldn’t contrast more with the male, pale and stale line-ups of the Vote Leave and Leave EU campaigns.

The challenge now for Stronger In will be to translate such a broad base of support into a coherent and positive message. We don’t just need to win over undecided voters, we need to make sure those who are broadly in favour of remaining in Europe turn up to cast their vote and play an active role in the campaign. Young people in particular are historically the least likely to vote, but the latest polls show 83% of them want to stay in the EU. They probably won’t get passionate about dry economic facts on the impact of Brexit on trade and investment. We need to develop a powerful and uplifting narrative about why Britain’s future in Europe matters to them and their everyday lives.

For me, part of that should mean emphasising that the EU is all about opportunity. Whether it is a ski season in Austria or a summer working in a bar in Spain, being in the EU has made it easier than ever before to start a new life almost anywhere in Europe. Since 2007, 100,000 British students have received Erasmus grants to study abroad, giving them a chance to expand their horizons and make friends from all over the continent. Thousands of young people currently live and work around Europe, from Barcelona to Berlin. Many of us now take it for granted, but one central achievement of the EU is that opportunity no longer ends at our national borders. As EU citizens we have easy access to opportunities in 28 different countries.

This includes the chance to come out and work in Brussels (which unfortunately young Brits don’t often take advantage of!). There are paid traineeship schemes at the various EU institutions (see here and here), which provide an excellent way to get your foot in the door and gain some international experience. The ALDE Group of MEPs offers traineeships for young graduate Lib Dems interested in European politics (please contact me if interested). We also need to broaden access and ensure these kinds of careers aren’t just the preserve of the well-connected middle class. That’s why, along with Liberal colleagues, I’ve started a Young Visitors’ competition which pays for young people from more disadvantaged backgrounds to come out and do a weeks’ work experience in the European Parliament.

So I hope in the course of the referendum campaign we will make a strong case for why remaining in the EU is not just about the economy, it’s about opportunity. It’s about being part of something bigger, a borderless community of nations in which we can celebrate our shared values as well as our diverse cultures and traditions. If in the process more young people become aware of the opportunities they have to live and work around Europe, that will be an added bonus.

* Catherine Bearder is a Liberal Democrat MEP for the South East and Leader of the European Parliament Liberal Democrat Group.

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  • A borderless community? That will lose you the referendum. It is not just Europeans using the lack of borders but a culture that is entirely alien to our beliefs of equality. Besides this is TTIP which puts the rights of corporations above the people.

  • Sorry just not good enough to make me vote to stay, the EU is just way out of touch and after Greece we can all see Germany has way to much power. Yes I know it is very good employer for people especially Politicians MEP and the gravy train.

    Time for us to stand on our own two feet….

  • Good start, Europe isn’t just an economy, its a community. But where do we want to take this community? We Liberal Democrats need to have a plan for the future, so that when people put misinformed or caricatured ideas, like say ‘the EU is the instrument of German hegemony’ forward, we can both rebut them and chart a course forward that isn’t just the status quo.

  • I am so fed up of hearing how the UK will be able to negotiate new terms with everybody as if the UK’s bargaining power is somehow enhanced (or at least not diminished) by leaving. The ‘5th largest economy’ is based on its current status quo of being in, and will be changed irrevocably by being out. Purely in terms of population, earning power, market size I don’t see how you can equate the negotiating power of a nation of 70 million people with the status of a nation of 300 million like the US, a trade bloc of 500 million like the EU or a country of 1 billion like China or India where all parties are within the 10 top economies in the world.

  • Little Jackie Paper 16th Oct '15 - 7:02pm

    Well…OK. But isn’t a very big part of the problem is that the EU seems to have fostered a community that is strangely limited. You actually highlight the problem well. At present the EU is absolutely wonderful if you have the wherewithal for, ‘a ski season in Austria or a summer working in a bar in Spain.’ But that is not a serious number, nor is it exactly what community is built on. You say that the EU has made it easier to start a life abroad. Well, again this is great if you are granny with your bubble-priced house to sell to a French banker. Not so great if you are young and competing for housing with the large influxes. It’s great if you work in a big multinational corporate. Not so great if you are having your job zeroed and outsourced to Romania. The EU might be there, but is it really and meaningfully accessible to large numbers? Put another way, is the a community for the winners, not the, ‘left-behinds.’

    The fundamental point here is that community implies reciprocity. If large numbers of UK people can not meaningfully head to countries East of Germany for wages/benefits/housing then this is not a reciprocal union. There’s more to community than student exchanges, skiing and Granny’s sunshine retirement. Flows of people (as well as capital) would look more even in a reciprocal union.

    I don’t know what the answer is. None of this of course is fixed, In 25 years’ time we may have advances in transport and translation technology that will really make the EU open and more reciprocal. My feeling is that technology, not treaty will save the EU vision.

    Not everyone is easy-living with ready access to the EU’s undoubted opportunities Ms Bearder. Now I’m sure that you know all this. But when you start throwing out lines like, ‘As EU citizens we have easy access to opportunities in 28 different countries,’ I think you fail to recognise that to many people that, ‘easy access,’ exists on paper only and you need to give much more thought to how the EU can be reciprocal in reality as well as on paper.

    The EU’s future can not just be about mobile professionals and those with time and capital and contacts on their hands.

  • Little Jackie Paper 16th Oct '15 - 7:08pm

    TJ – ‘ But where do we want to take this community?’

    Precisely – that is probably one of the most fundamental questions in the referendum. You and Ms Bearder are absolutely right that the EU can not merely be an economic transaction (important as that aspect may be). What has been lacking is BOTH a vision of the future of the EU and the OUT UK.

    If the EU is to have a future it is one where our young children will travel quickly, use their multi-language ear-piece and be able to base themselves in many countries North, South, East and West. It will be a mix of transient and settled. Does the EU have such direction? I’m honestly not convinced.

  • The EU is more than about the economy and a convenient destination for gap years or holiday jobs. I feel very sad that our young people have never experience true parliamentary democracy. They have grown up in a society where our legislation magically appears, handed down from Brussels with no hint of intention, public debate or the legislative process.

    When did you last hear the BBC report on today in the European Parliament and the decisions of the Commission?

    Almost every aspect of their lives are managed from Brussels by majority voting or directives from the Commission. They have probably never heard of the Famous Five. I refer to the Five Presidents who control everything. Still, that probably doesn’t matter. These people do not stand for election so our young people have no need to know about them.

  • Helen Dudden 16th Oct '15 - 8:39pm

    a very expensive place to try for court actions for child access under the Brussels 11a and Hague Convention.

    When the situation fails it fails. There was a pro bono completed in 2006, on how we need to work together to produce better results.

    Not all members don’t give their all, but those that fail, continue.

    Not my idea of a dream. I once supported the thoughts of Winston Churchill, and his very special speech in Zurich.

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Oct '15 - 9:34pm

    This is a good positive message, but the problem is the UK will choose people who sound like the PR department of the United Kingdom over ones that sound like the PR department of the European Union.

    We need to throw in some EU support with some EU bashing from time to time. It’s not good enough to just leave the bashing to others because then you get the PR department problem and the public will probably choose UK nationalists over EU nationalists/federalists.

    I’ve been learning French for the past 19 months and it hasn’t given me a romantic attachment to the EU. I think the strongly pro EU vote is tiny.

  • @Jo Wan
    The EU is a bureaucratic, inward looking, protectionist custom union, strangling its businesses with red tape so your view of its global power is misplaced. It is a captive market for Germany, but even that is now failing as the Euro divides the continent into those with an exchange rate that is too low and the rest with an exchange rate that is far too high.

    That is just one of the many reasons for it being a failed experiment.

  • Peter states : ‘They have grown up in a society where our legislation magically appears, handed down from Brussels with no hint of intention, public debate or the legislative process.’
    The way Peter and all the other Brexiters would have it European Commissioners are dictators handing down diktats like medieval Sumptuary Laws. This is not the way the EU is run. There are layers on layers of democratic process. The Commissioners do not actually make the laws, they only propose potential legislation. It is for the elected Parliament, followed by ratification from the elected Heads of State of 28 countries that decides on legislation. Furthermore, only 7.8% of UK legislation come directly from the EU. The only legislation proposed is that which affects the whole of the EU and not just UK. If you want argue, please do not take your information second hand from the BBC, the Daily Mail or whatever your reading poison is. Read the Lisbon Treaty, watch live debates from the European parliament, read some of the legislative documents, speak with your MEPs about the work they do ( not UKIP however, because they do nothing constructive) before making rash statement on a public forum.

  • @ Howard
    You are wrong. Primary instruments are a very small percentage of the total.

    The UK has about 9% influence in voting.

    The UK almost always loses the vote in majority voting so most of our enforced legislation is unwanted.

  • There are a host of reasons for remaining in the EU and I hope to be part of future debates airing these reasons, but for now Little Jackie Paper raises some very pertinent objections.
    The video broadcast by the official Remain campaign kicks off the debate by showcasing a line up of successful, high profile, business people, saying how wonderful it is for them to be in the EU and how it would be a great shame to spoil the party. It says nothing about the benefits for (to coin a favourite of David Cameron’s) ‘the hard working men and women of this great country of ours.’ That said, without these entrepreneurs where would the economy be ? Non-existent.
    Catherine Bearder, a person I have great admiration for, has said nothing in this blog to assuage these objections. I appreciate her audience were a group of students, who wanted to hear about opportunities in Europe. ( My own nephew did a Masters at the prestigious Uppsala University’s Peace and Conflict faculty, something which would have been almost unthinkable without EU membership). There are plenty of employment opportunities for skilled UK citizens in Europe.
    The issue of what is in it for ordinary people on average earnings and those near ( above or below )the bread line must be addressed, if we want to convince the electorate to stick with Europe.
    Liitle Jackie Paper is also right when (s)he says there is no vision of European future by either camp. There is a good reason for this.
    The Remainers are afraid to mention ‘ever closer union’ and the ‘f’ word Federalization for fear of scaring off the punters.
    While the Brexiters haven’t got a clue about what a Britain or a Europe of the future would look like. They just want out, whatever the cost.
    Yes. If we are to remain in the EU we must have a clear and concise vision of Europe in the future. We must also convince Europe that our vision is the pragmatic one to follow, tempering the ambitions of Federalists and ever closer union. We must make sure Europe makes provision for our less well off citizens ( it actually does some serious work in deprived areas ) . Most importantly, the LibDem campaign slogan ‘Lead in Europe – not leave Europe’ must not be a hollow one, although not in the David Cameron ‘renegotiation’ farcical sense of leading in Europe.

  • Peter states : ‘The UK almost always loses the vote in majority voting so most of our enforced legislation is unwanted.’
    Firstly, I was not talking about UK’s voting record in the chamber.
    Secondly. how do you know ‘enforced’ legislation is unwanted. Do you have any examples to back up this assertion ?
    It is interesting to note that UK’s voting losses increased when UKIP became the largest party to represent us in the chamber. What a daft thing for the electorate to do, to vote for a party that will not represent them effectively in Europe and had no intention of doing so. Even if I wanted to leave the EU, I would not vote for a party that was not prepared to represent its constituents. While we are in the institution we should make the best use of it.

  • I hope in the course of the referendum campaign we will make a strong case for why remaining in the EU is not just about the economy, it’s about opportunity. It’s about being part of something bigger, a borderless community of nations in which we can celebrate our shared values as well as our diverse cultures and traditions.

    Me too!

    This is the Liberal Democrat message: let’s keep up the wider, positive case. In the long run, I think that it would be harmful for Liberal Democrats to be associated with a negative, fear based campaign.

  • Peter, the EU is an instrument of economic liberalism, a major vehicle for world trade and global standard setting and the most successful promoter of democratic politics to countries recently governed under dictatorship around today.

    The UK’s voting record in the chamber is fine. The voting record of EFDD is abysmal, inconsistent and fundamentally irrational, as a result of this they are almost always on the losing side of a vote. The coincidence that a plurality of British voters have chosen to send EFDD members to the chamber under the colours of UKIP is unfortunate for Britain and dilutes our influence on the legislation coming from the chamber. But one of the hallmarks of democracy is that voters are free to vote against their own interests.

    And I don’t think pity is really appropriate. As it happens, I am aware of the Five Presidents (I really wish they’d fall on Europe’s vast lexicon of names for people in charge of things and start using terms other than ‘president’, but whatever), and can even tell you what they do. There’s Mario Draghi, the President of the ECB. Similar sort of idea to the role Mark Carney plays in the UK. Who voted for him? Then you’ve got Martin Schulz, the president of the Parliament. Think the Speaker of the House in the UK. Who voted for Bercow? Not me. Then there’s Donald Tusk, who presides over the European Council. Now here’s where you’re onto something – where’s his European mandate to do so? He’s nearly as bad as putting someone who just happens to have been born to the right parents on a throne and calling them Queen. A directly elected President of the Council might help there. Then there’s Dijsselbloem who presides over the Eurogroup, which brings a layer of intergovernmental wrangling to the proceedings and who in my view should be squeezed out in favour of the Parliament and the ECB and Commission. Which brings us to Juncker, who won the European Elections in 2014 as the nominated leader of the centre right bloc. This is in the same sort of way that David Cameron is now Prime Minister of the UK despite not collecting a single personal vote outside of Witney. So you were saying about unelected governments and young people today?

  • Alex Macfie 17th Oct '15 - 3:59pm

    Peter: MEPs don’t organise or vote en bloc by nationality, so this statement of yours about the European Parliament is meaningless:

    “The UK has about 9% influence in voting.”

    The European Parliament is organised like any other legislature, with members associating and generally voting by party groups (e.g. S&D, ALDE, EPP).

    The UK almost always loses the vote in majority voting

    As there is no “UK vote” in the European Parliament, this statement makes no sense at all. Actually if MEPs did vote en bloc by nationality, there would be little point in them existing at all as they would just duplicate the Council, when they are actually supposed to be a counterweight to it.

  • Well the European court may have added something to the ‘Remain’ campaign…

    With it declaring the EU-US ‘Safeharbour’ agreement concerning data protection in breech of EU law and human rights, the current focus is on the fundamental changes in US law that need to be made, for there to be any EU-US agreement on privacy and data protection that does comply with EU and human rights (although many suspect that the EU Commission et al will try and include data protection in TTIP and so totally undermine the effectiveness of EU law…). However, if the UK were to leave the EU, we can expect it’s laws to be subject to the same level of scrutiny that has taken place with respect to the US. With the various calls for reform of relevant UK legislation, there is a real risk that the UK will fall foul of EU data protection laws, meaning that would not be able to host data from EU member countries.

    So here we have a clear case where remaining within the EU, means that we will be subject to the higher level of privacy and data protection afforded by EU law….

  • Alex Macfie 17th Oct '15 - 4:12pm


    “When did you last hear the BBC report on today in the European Parliament and the decisions of the Commission? ”

    What do you think people who want a constructive debate on European politics are complaining about? The media conspiracy of silence on European affairs is precisely what leads many people towards Euroscepticism, because there is little informed comment on what actually happens there. I have been banging on here about how there was almost nothing the European Parliamentary election campaign about what MEPs actually do, or about the different policy positions of the European Parliamentary parties on the issues that are discussed and voted on in the European Parliament. And the Lib Dems were the same: they basically joined the media conspiracy of silence and allowed Farage to set the terms of reference of the campaign. It was a disgrace that there were not, for instance, all-MEP panels on BBC Question Time in the run-up to the European election. The lack of proper coverage of EU affairs is not an arguemnt against the EU, it is an arguemnt for media outlets and the political classes to take EU affairs seriously.

  • Why are people saying there is nothing in the EU for ordinary working people? To take just one theme as well as the free movement of people, goods & services, and finance the EU has put in place employment protection. To take one example I know because I have worked with it – in the past colleges and universities could employ hourly paid staff and effectively sack them for the summer holiday and then if they wanted to re-employ them in the autumn term. Now all these staff are entitled to holiday pay and have continuity of employment protection. Another example in the past if say schools contracted out a school meals service there was no protection for the existing workers now as a result of european legislation the original workers have protections through a device known as TUPE. It is not just our brightest professionals who have security provided by european legislation.

    I know this argument is a two-edged sword and the reason why some people want to leave the EU is because they want to go back to the “gold old days” when part-time staff had no protection and if you “contracted out” a service the existing workers had no protections. But there is a different argument to be had over that.

  • @ Richard. The reason for zero hours contracts, a way round legislation? No holiday pay or guaranteed hours.

  • Helen Dudden 18th Oct '15 - 8:17am

    If there are issues with the implementation of law, there should be interest to make improve.

    As with any association, there has to be the downside. This is where the EU fails. Distant, in the involvement of all the needs of the community.

    There has to be realized the funding has to be justified, we are all in this.

    I have made unpopular comments on the need for cut backs within the spending of our Government. Parliament has to look at the subject with the view what can be saved, from MPs, and other areas.

  • Little Jackie Piper, the EU is for everyone – I have a cousin, not very well, got no money – lives in an old camper van in Spain for the winter – cheapest and warmest place in Europe – lives on his UK benefits better than he could anywhere in England. My son lives and works in Berlin in the gaming industry – better pay and cheaper cost of living than London – loves it, great buzzy city. Europe is about opportunities for all – and all you have to do is use your imagination and regard it as part of the solution to the problems in your life.
    The EU has done more for ordinary folk – from limiting working hours and guaranteeing holidays nad maternity leave to food safety regs, clean beaches and consumer protection than Westminster ever has! Cameron is the last person we wannt to give more power. We really do need to stay IN!!

  • @Anne many of us have zero hours contracts no holiday pay it is called being self employed

  • Helen Dudden 18th Oct '15 - 12:22pm

    In Spain it is not as easy as you say. Education is not free to all. Evictions from Government owned homes, then sold go the private sector.

    Many empty homes in Madrid.

  • On what LJP and others are saying about Europe and the opportunities for all to move around it, it is true that there is a lot more we could be doing to encourage a more mobile workforce. To make a perhaps slightly tired comparison, Europe at present has a cross-border mobility rate of about 1%, in contrast to inter-state mobility in the US of around 3%, and that is despite us having a continent that is much more geographically condensed than America.

    The European Union’s strategy at the moment is to try to encourage more circular migration patterns, that is, movement between all countries rather than simply into the core, and movement where individuals see moving across an EU border as a job move rather than a permanent migration. With this flexibility, we will be able to make a lot of progress towards solving the mismatching problem that so many of Europe’s separate economies are suffering from and bring the structural unemployment especially in the south down without having to hope for sudden miraculous economic booms driven from outside our Union.

  • To make a perhaps slightly tired comparison, Europe at present has a cross-border mobility rate of about 1%, in contrast to inter-state mobility in the US of around 3%, and that is despite us having a continent that is much more geographically condensed than America

    Yes, but that misses the obvious point that someone moving from Arizona to New York is moving within the same country, whereas someone moving from the UK to France is moving to a different country.

    It stands to reason that more people are going to move within the same country than are going to up sticks and go to a different country, doesn’t it?

  • Bim, it stands to reason that within a single market, labour mobility should be higher than it is between unconnected countries but lower than it is between members of a full federation. If the world were as simple as you suggest I would have expected a larger gap between the US and EU in these terms. And in future, it also stands to reason that we can solve a certain amount of our skills mismatching problem in our small, specialised economies if we link up to form one large generalist. If the migration patterns encouraged are circular, we can even hope to see not only structural unemployment, but also its underlying causes, reduced in the European fringe while also benefiting the core.

    It would be interesting to see how the UK’s internal patterns of movement compare to the two larger economies in Europe and America, though. I suspect that Britain shows what you get when you fail to encourage circular movements of people through the economy – all the money and a great majority of the jobs pile up in one metropole, leaving the regions starved. Europe will need to consider how to avoid that in its own fringe, of which the most deprived parts of Britain are a part.

  • Neil Sandison 19th Oct '15 - 5:52pm

    Peter .When did you last see the BBC reporting a debate in the European parliament ? Sadly I have seen one recently on the parliament channel .It was heavily dominated by far right nationalists from Farage UKIP ,Le Penn,National Front and Hungary .No wonder the French president lost his cool with them and said in effect if you don’t like it go.
    And that’s the real enemy we have to fight not the tories , labour or SNP but nationalism just as damaging now as it was in the 1930s.

  • The Europhobes appear to hate successful multinational corporations on the one hand (TTIP) and so on, yet have an obsession with how trade (presumably by multinationals) will be better outside the EU.

    It is utterly meaningless.

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