Clegg: Pro-Europeans are the real reformers now

european union starsSpeaking at a Reuter’s Newsmaker event this morning Nick Clegg argued the case for reforming the EU, and for the Liberal Democrats to lead this charge.

The economic rationale for being in Europe should speak for itself, but making the case for IN isn’t easy. The Eurosceptic establishment has gone unchallenged for decades and before you even get to the real issues at the heart of this debate, you have to penetrate a wall of assumptions and myths.

Or the biggest myth of all – the idea that if you are pro-Europe, you are somehow anti-reform. That if you are in favour of staying IN, you think the EU doesn’t need to change.

It’s utter nonsense. We do have to take some responsibility for this stereotype: the internationalists have been too quiet while the isolationists have complained endlessly about all of the things they hate about Europe, creating the impression that they have an agenda for change and we do not.

After some criticism of other parties’ lack of vision and ability, Nick sets out the stall

Finally, the Liberal Democrats can deliver a better settlement for Britain reform because we understand that this isn’t simply about “less Europe”. The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, recently said decisions should be “European where necessary, national where possible”. I would put it slightly differently – Europe should do more of what it’s good at, less of what it isn’t.

Yes, we need to ensure that Brussels doesn’t meddle in things which ought to be the preserve of member states. National parliaments should play a much bigger role in scrutinising proposals from Brussels, and where those proposals are unacceptable, they should work with other nations to send them back to the drawing board.

Yes, we need to cut back on unnecessary red tape, which particularly hits our smaller businesses. We should exempt the smallest businesses from EU legislation where appropriate, as my colleague Ed Davey did when he negotiated the removal of accounting rules from firms with less than 10 employees.

And yes, we need to build on the UK’s success in negotiating a £30bn cut to the EU budget by reallocating wasteful spending towards job-creating policies such as cross-border energy and transport infrastructure, the digital economy, and research and development.

But there’s another side to this ledger too – and one you only really understand if you value the benefits of European cooperation. In today’s world our greatest challenges are those which demand we work across borders. These are the areas where we need to do more, not less.

The single market – pioneered by Margaret Thatcher – is the crowning achievement of the EU. But it’s unfinished business. For our budding technology companies in places like Shoreditch, red tape still holds them back from expanding into the European market and creating new jobs. The same is true for our service industry and our energy companies. I want us to work with our European partners to sweep those obstacles away.

Second, we should redouble efforts to sign a comprehensive trade deal with the USA, which could be worth up to £10 billion extra to the UK economy each year, and the EU-Japan trade agreement, which could increase UK GDP by £5 billion a year.

Completing the single market could increase our national GDP by 7% while completing the EU’s trade agreements and increasing EU R&D spending could create over 300,000 new jobs in the UK.

Then there are further steps that we should take, together, to improve our collective security.

For example, I want us to build up the EU’s capacity to tackle cross-border problems like cybercrime, VAT fraud and money laundering.

On defence, there can be and never should be a European army. But we do need to strengthen our collective defences in the face of continuing austerity and uncertain regional security. The European Defence Agency, working together with NATO, should help member states to pool and share military capabilities.

And on climate change, the only solutions are international. We should continue to use our position of leadership to secure new, ambitious and binding commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the whole of the EU.

There’s more on the top ten priorities for EU reform here.

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This entry was posted in News.


  • Alex Macfie 9th May '14 - 1:25pm

    Nowhere near enough mention of the role of the European Parliament, and specifically of its Lib Dem members, in EU reform or just common-or-garden EU policy making. We are in the middle of a European Parliamentary election campaign, so why is there no mention of what OUR MEPs have actually done? Our MEPs who are not bound by Coalition politics, and are thus free to promote the undiluted Lib Dem line on policies and laws that affect the entire country ( as well as the rest of the EU). It should not just be about “reform” (whatever that means), but what we, as LIBERALS, want to make of the EU. He missed a trick by failing to point out that the European Parliament is where voters can decide who actually makes EU policy.

    And if we’re talking about institutional reform, one good one that he missed out is giving the European Parliament power to initiate legislation.

  • >Nowhere near enough mention of the role of the European Parliament
    I wonder whether this is because, under the current system, stuff gets agreed by the commission at the regular sessions attended by the PM etc. so Westminster people can retain the fiction that “we are in control”; whereas admitting a larger role for the MEP’s and european parliament, would effectively also admit that power has transferred…

  • Intrigued by the use of the phrase ‘Eurosceptic establishment’. I think he has a point but not sure if the public will buy it. Bit late, really.

  • Clegg seems to just assume that he is right. The economic case “speaking for itself”. If you always assume you are right, how do you even set about persuading others?
    The Euro is hardly a shining example of success with a number of countries struggling with it.
    Has he forgotten about the British ERM experience ?

  • “I would put it slightly differently – Europe should do more of what it’s good at, less of what it isn’t.”

    That’s exactly what we should have been saying more clearly all along. The disastrous point when Nick Clegg said the EU would be pretty much the same in ten years’ time as it is now was when he lost a lot of people in the debates.

    Of course it needs to change, and the Lib Dems are the ones to do it. So why didn’t he make it clearer. It’s just less than two weeks till the Euro elections and this is pretty late in the day to be making a fairly basic point.

  • Alex Macfie: Whilst I strongly agree that the work of the European Parliament and particularly that of Lib Dem (and other ALDE) MEPs is not getting anything like the prominence that it should, you must be careful not to propagate tired myths.

    The European Parliament can and does initiate legislation: from

    Initiative under Article 225 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union
    On the basis of a report by one of its committees, under Article 225 TFEU, Parliament, acting by a majority of its Members, may request the Commission to submit any appropriate legislative proposal

    Basically if the Parliament asks for legislation, the Commission , the Civil Service, does what it can to draft the legislation in a way that complies with legal systems.

  • Very little that is specific, is ever given in terms of “less” of what Europe is not good at doing. This is hardly surprising. Whilst some Brits might want various opt outs, relating possibly to employment conditions, they would be outraged if a country such as Poland or Bulgaria was able to out-compete by claiming an opt out for themselves.

    If people believe some responsibilities should be repatriated, I would be interested to hear from them.

    One area that does seem to have gone in the wrong direction recently is MEP’s payment and expenses. In the UK, the behaviour of UKIP MEPs in particular has shown how wrong it is to break the democratic link between those we elect and how they are paid for. The other more radical suggestion would be translation of EU documents from the main vehicular languages: surely it should be up to national governments to decide which documents need to be in their national languages, surely it should be upt to the Irish to decide what needs to be in Irish, just as much as it is up to the UK to decide what is in Welsh (which I believe is the case since Welsh is not an official EU language).

  • Jedi.: Surely, the social chapter is about ensuring baseline standards in a single market. As I indicated above, I am sure there will continue to be other countries ready to out bid us at the bottom, but is it acceptable to set up a competition in which state can offer the worst working and social conditions? I doubt if such an EU could hold together.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 10th May '14 - 10:41am

    RC and others,
    Agree with your points – maybe someone has finally read what we have been saying all along. The debates were missed opportunities to make clear these, and many more, positive areas of agreement with other European nations. More of our excellent MEPs could have been saved if a wider debate had been raised a year ago. We needed a better focus on the distinctive Lib Dem approach. Now, at last, we are beginning to read more resonating calls to back a wider European approach. I also agree it’s too late for the elections in less than two weeks time – as many voters have made up their minds to vote negatively. But staying positive on the above can join our fewer MEPs to those of similar views in other countries – and still make progress in the EU Parliament.

  • Jedi.: to be clear on this by ‘Social Chapter’ you mean all of labour law, consumer protection, financial market regulation, company law, legal obligations and property rights and competition law? Do you really think a single market is tenable without these? All I have given here are the sub headings in what I think you call the ‘Social Chapter’. If it is not these things then you will have to explain what you are referring to by ‘Social Chapter’.

  • jedibeeftrix 10th May '14 - 11:38am

    it was perfectly tenable before blair signed away our opt out, and it would be perfectly tenable if it were to return to a national competence.

  • “The Eurosceptic establishment has gone unchallenged for decades …

    This is a completely revisionist line from Clegg. Perhaps he forgets that the Lib Dem establishment has always been a cheerleader for whatever the EU dished up, it has studiously ignored calls from many of us (in my own case going back around 20 years) for a proper debate about our policy towards the EU and that he had to do all sorts of intellectual gymnastics to try and pretend that the Lisbon Treaty was nothing to do with the constitution that had just been rejected by the voters.

    The result is damage at many levels going far beyond Europe per se. For example, how can we argue that we are a party that believes in localism and devolving power when our approach is to close down discussion of how that might happen in Europe? How can we argue that we are democrats when we work to frustrate the democratic view expressed by referenda that go against the pro EU-just-as-it-is establishment? Also all the evidence I have heard (admittedly anecdotal) is that our stance on EU has had a dire effect on membership and is one of the main reasons people lapse – and presumably also why even more never join in the first place.

    It’s all very well for Clegg to bemoan the “Eurosceptic establishment” but he has been party leader for several years now. So why did he not lead a debate on this from the start – or even before? (It would have made a great theme for his leadership campaign.) To wait until days before the euro elections is … well, I can’t really think of a word that quite does justice to situation.

    For the avoidance of doubt let me say again that I am pro-EU. At Westminster I don’t support the establishment just because it’s there; I want to see a reformed government that actually works for the people and I want just the same in the EU. That means reform. Sadly, the only conclusion that even begins to fit the facts is that the main objective of Clegg and others in the party establishment is to join the establishment in both Europe or Westminster and that they see any sort of meaningful reform as a dangerous impediment to that ambition.

  • Jedi.: Signing up to the social and market regulations, which I think is what you mean by the ‘Social Chapter’ was probably done with good reason. It took place at a time when the EU was about to enlarge to include many poorer, under-developed states. The UK opting out is very different to all states opting out should they wish. Naturally you may think it tenable for the UK to have privileged status, but for common standards to be optional across the EU? You really think people in the UK would accept unrestricted import of manufactures goods from where working and social standards are shamefully low? Wouldn’t this cause more rather than less unemployment in the UK?

  • jedibeeftrix 10th May '14 - 4:17pm

    “The UK opting out is very different to all states opting out should they wish. Naturally you may think it tenable for the UK to have privileged status, but for common standards to be optional across the EU?”

    What other countries choose to do is up to them, this is not a competence that should have been signed away, and if the only way to remain within the single market is to accept the loss of parliamentary sovereignty in important majority of governance areas then I will swiftly vote “out”.

    What the euro is becoming is of NO interest to me, so the EU either makes space for essentially sovereign nation states or it is time to leave.

  • Last eu election I voted libdem I have today via postal vote voted ukip

    Why it is a protest yes I and I think many more wish for a referendum on EU membership, I am old enough that I voted years ago for in but that was not a vote for what we have now

    I am sorry Nick after watching your debate with Nigel you seemed so sure “you know best” trust the electorate for a stay in vote, if / when a referendum comes I will vote stay in but resent being told I must do as I am told

  • “On defence, there can be and never should be a European army. ”

    Leaving aside the marvellously tangled syntax above, why not?

  • Leaving aside the marvellously tangled syntax above, why not?

    Because you can’t have an army with two commanders-in-chief, that’s why not. There’s no reason to think that the military interests of the UK, France, Germany, Spain etc will always coincide, and indeed they might sometimes turn out to be directly opposed. Ask yourself this: who would a European army fight for if Spain invaded Gibraltar? That very question shows the absurdity of a ‘European Army’.

    That is why nations need their own armies to defend their own interests (ours agains Spains, France’s against Germany’s, Italy’s against Greece’s, etc etc), and why co-operation between nations on military ventures needs to be on the basis of treaties which spell out chains of command etc (such as NATO) or for particular, specific shared aims (such as the Gulf Wars), not a standing force that has many masters.

  • (There could be a pan-European mutual defence treaty, of course, along the lines of NATO, but (a) what would be the point as we already have NATO and the European version, lacking NATO’s most important member, would be irrelevant, and (b) that still wouldn’t be a ‘European army’, in the same way there is no ‘NATO army’, there are various national forces on secondment to NATO operations.)

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