I don’t agree with Nick. We should be in Europe to reform the EU

Nick Clegg will today make the kind of speech which makes it very hard for Lib Dems to push the idea that our party is serious about reform of the European Union. According to the BBC, he will dismiss the chances of any significant changes to the EU’s budget:

In a speech to be delivered to the Chatham House international affairs think-tank, Mr Clegg will say Labour is well aware there was “absolutely no prospect” of achieving a real-terms cut. “Their change of heart is dishonest, it’s hypocritical. And worst of all, Labour’s plan would cost the taxpayer more, not less,” he is expected to say.

“Because in pushing a completely unrealistic position on the EU budget – one that is miles away from any other country’s position – Labour would have absolutely no hope of getting a budget deal agreed.” … He will also say that the Tory rebels have “absolutely no hope” of achieving their goal of forcing the EU to cut spending.

Do you think those quotes survive the ‘doorstep campaigning’ test? Can you imagine delivering them loud and proud at the hustings? Would you put them on your next Focus leaflet? Phrases like “no prospect … no hope” of getting a better budget deal for Britain – they don’t resound with me, they don’t stir me.

Of course, we have to stick by our liberal principles even (and especially) when we think they’ll be unpopular. But I don’t see much liberal principle under-pinning them, either. Here’s why:

The issues at stake

1) The European Commission’s proposed budget ceiling of £826bn is a 5% rise compared with the 2007-2013 budget. At a time when every EU country is trying to squeeze its budgets to stop debt increasing ever higher, that headline fact is a hard sell.

2) It is even harder to square given how that budget is spent. The single biggest ticket item is the Common Agricultural Policy, which accounts for some 47% of the EU’s total annual spend, the bulk of it on direct subsidies to farmers – a system which rigs the agricultural trading system in favour of rich countries and against poor farmers in the developing world.

3) Nor are Lib Dems against EU budget savings: Lib Dems have pushed for years that the EU should end the high-cost absurdity of splitting its working between three cities, Strasbourg, Luxembourg and Brussels.

The negotiating tactics at stake:

1) Ever since the Coalition deal was struck, Lib Dems have pointed proudly to our processes of internal democracy as having helped deliver a good deal which saw much of our election manifesto delivered. The ‘triple lock’ agreement – that the parliamentary party, the Federal Executive and conference representatives all had to agree to the deal – gave our negotiators a strong hand. Is Nick really saying that Parliament has now weakened the Prime Minister’s ability to negotiate? If so, I can’t see how.

2) Of course Labour is being opportunistic. Just as they were opportunistic 20 years ago under John Smith, voting against a Maastricht Treaty they agreed with simply to inflict defeat on John Major’s government, at a time when Paddy Ashdown and the Lib Dems bravely held out in support of their principles. But opportunism is not the same as being wrong.

3) Nick Clegg’s line of argument – we shouldn’t argue for something we’ve no hope of achieving – is neither assertive nor positive. Contrast this with the Lib Dem leader’s strong stand last December over David Cameron’s pointless non-veto (‘an inept negotiating strategy placed in the hands of an inexperienced prime minister’ as it was labelled at the time). I’m sure there’s much more in the speech than the lines that have been given to the media, but it’s the quotes at the top of this piece which will be regarded as the Lib Dem position.

What I want Nick Clegg to say

I am pro-European. I am, broadly speaking, pro-EU. But the Lib Dems have always championed a reformed EU. An EU which is more responsive to democratic opinion. An EU which liberalises the free movement of people and trade while tackling the problems we share, such as environmental pollution and crime. That is the positive version of the EU I want as a Lib Dem to be talking to voters about. I think that version of the EU is at odds with the budget the EU works within.

‘In Europe not run by Europe’ was one of the Tories more memorably successful campaigning lines. It’s a bit negative for my tastes. But ‘In Europe to reform the EU’ is what I believe the Lb Dem role should be. Perhaps there is “no prospect … no hope” of achieving that, either. But it’s what I want our party to campaign for.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • In agreement with the article.

    AsPeter the final two paragraphs sum it up nicely

  • Why is Clegg obsessed with attacking Labour over Europe when the current problems are due entirely to the Tory party?

    If Lib Dems care about remaining in Europe they will have to make common cause with Labour, attacking them while ignoring the Eurosceptic Tory rebellion is not helpful.

  • I’m sorry, Stephen – but you’ve fundamentally misunderstood the problem. The rebel amendment has created a negotiating position that sets Britain so far apart from our European partners that we are unlikely to get anywhere near what we want; so leading to more disappointment with the EU and so making the Eurosceptic case for withdrawal even easier.

    Maybe that’s true, though I suspect few people are sufficiently skilled in Euro-Kremlinology to be sure.

    But I’m sure this kind of sophistry – in effect, “We agreed with the motion but voted against it because it would have made our negotiating position in Europe more difficult” – is the last thing the electorate sympathises with. I can’t help remembering the Byzantine tactic of the whipped abstention on the Lisbon Treaty, coupled with a call for a referendum on withdrawal from the EU, in which the party would have campaigned to stay in. Does anyone now think those tactics were a good idea?

    Is there some reason why Nick Clegg has to say this in a speech? Does he have to make a speech about Europe at all right now?

  • I’m not in the least religious, but there’s an excellent biblical phrase about first taking the beam out of your own eye that fits this perfectly. Britain’s system of government is a farcial, corrupt and utterly undemocratic mess. If I don’t move house I’ll have the same MP for as long as that person (and it’s Nadine Dorries) feels like it. I get no choice of head of state. The most undemocratic thing about Europe is that the British state carefully developed the worst possible voting system it could come up for the election of MEPs.

    Compared to the London government, the EU is incredibly well run. Not perfect, perhaps, but it’s the UK that desperately needs reform.

  • Andrew Tennant 1st Nov '12 - 10:57am

    Is there an irony in that many of the same individuals calling for clear red lines in coalition with the Conservatives, would reject establishing them for EU agreements?

    The EU wastes the vast majority of its budget on illiberal and unaccountable actions. It’s about time we as a party did what we can to stop it – starting with saying no to worsening the situation.

  • I also totally agree with Stephen

  • Alex Matthews 1st Nov '12 - 11:29am

    In regards to the article, Tim has summed up my position well. Nick is not speaking against reform, he is against people who call for unfair and childish reforms that only benefit the UK, know full well that these reforms will be rejected and leave us in a weaker position, thus meaning that it is easier for them to argue against the EU. In short, he is against people purposefully turning the EU into a boogieman.

    As for the European Union itself, well I will be the first to admit that it has many structural problems and I, like many others, do sometimes despair at its decisions, but to me, it is developing as an intuition and has many more positives to offer us than negatives. In fact, on the whole, my problems with the EU are not actually with the EU, but with certain individuals acting within the system. And if people abuse something, then we should blame those abusing it, not the abused.

    These individuals come from the both pro and the cynical Euro camps, and use the system for personal agendas rather than to promote and strengthen the unity that the EU was formed to instill, and to my mind, this is they very reason why having a logical and coherent debate on Europe is so hard. Both these sides would rather muddy the EU in order to push through their own agendas or hide their own misdeeds than actually be open and honest about Europe. Even we as a party are guilty of this with the idea that the best way to get votes in European elections is to not talk about Europe. If even the most pro-European of parties will not give coherent and logical justifications as to its benefits, then how can we expect the public ever to understand and appreciate the European Union?

    It is all well and good calling for reform, but before we can even begin to put forward a clear plan of what/how we want to reform the EU,we need people to understand what the EU is and even more importantly, our ‘small’ place within it.

    Today’s statement is a small step towards this, as Nick has now set down, what we can and cannot realistically do in Europe, and the public will need to understand this if we are ever to have progressive politics here. Progressive politics come not from condescendingly hiding the truths from the public through the self-indulgent belief that they can neither understand nor handle the truth, but by giving them clear, open and honest messages about what the EU is, what it does and where we stand within it.

  • The EU budget amendment took Labour to a new low. Labour are aware of the implications of an EU budget cut: net contributor states pay less, net receivers get less. Net contributors are the richer states of Northern Europe, generally doing OK; net receivers are the poorer states of Southern Europe, currently being wrecked by austerity.

    The Labour Party has just joined with the Tory Right to vote through a spending cut for the European poor, funded by a tax cut for the European rich.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Nov '12 - 11:35am

    Nick Clegg will today make the kind of speech which makes it very hard for Lib Dems to push the idea that our party is serious about reform of the European Union.

    Oh, come on, what you really mean is Clegg is not going to jump on the populist bandwagon whipped up by the right-wing press to distract people’s attention away from what’s happening here. They love to play the great patriot game, relying on the fact that most people don’t know what the EU does and so are easily misled by the sort of silly stories our MEPs often do a good job debunking. The reality is that that the only “independence” the political right are REALLY interested in is freedom of big business from any attempt to exert international pressure to have common standards e.g. on things like human working hours. That is, they don’t like international co-operation because they want to see countries playing the game of beggar my neighbour, “if you don’t make it easy for me to sack people, or you take some of my millions in tax to improve living standards for ordinary people, I’ll take my company elsewhere”.

  • Malcolm Todd 1st Nov '12 - 11:41am

    As far as the negotiating position goes, it seems to me that parliament has strengthened the government’s hand. In negotiations they’ll no doubt continue to hold out for a freeze (not the Commission’s position of a 5% increase, which is not what Nick Clegg is defending!), and will be able to say to their opposite numbers “Look, our parliament has voted for a cut, against our advice, we’ll have the devil’s own job even getting them to agree to a freeze, so there’s no point you arguing for a rise, we’re simply not able to deliver it.”
    Of course, internally, the UK government’s authority is weakened by losing a vote in the House of Commons, because our political system is based on the idea that the government commands a majority in the House, but that’s a different matter.

  • Stephen your figures for the EU are wrong and badly undermine whatever argument you are putting forward. EU expenditure for the agricultural policy is not 47%. The figures give less than 30%. Even when you combine it with the Fisheries policy and Rural Development it is still 40% and these are not the CAP.

    Currently the main beneficiaries of the Common Agricultural Policy are Spain, Greece and Portugal. There are certainly those who would advocate further cuts to these countries, but do you?

    By far the largest portion of the EU budget is for investment in industry and infrastructure, particularly for developing the growing markets in the newer member countries. Many people see this as a good thing: a coordinated stimulus to the economy and the route out of austerity. Do you think now is the time to cut back on investment in infrastructure and new industries?

    Actually the EU works in more than three cities, do you really think that administration should be only in one centre. Has it been wrong of the UK to move parts of the civil service outside London? What is wrong with having the European Central Bank in Frankfurt?

    If you mean that the European Parliament decamps to Strasbourg at great expense, then why not just say so?

    How do you think last night’s vote was received around Europe? How has this not weakened Cameron’s negotiating position? You should be aware that in the event of no agreement a default budget + inflation applies.

  • Matthew Huntbach 1st Nov '12 - 11:55am

    The single biggest ticket item is the Common Agricultural Policy, which accounts for some 47% of the EU’s total annual spend, the bulk of it on direct subsidies to farmers – a system which rigs the agricultural trading system in favour of rich countries and against poor farmers in the developing world.

    Steady on – most of us have not faced starvation in this country, but when the “Common Market” as it used to be called was set up, people were VERY conscious of the real problems of food shortages.

    We have perhaps had a little reminder of this with the poor weather this year, leading to big rises in food costs. Ultimately we all need to eat, and if we get rid of our agricultural capacity on the grounds “there are poor countries elsewhere in the world who’ll always provide us with food”, we may come to regret in in the future. Once you’ve lost those agricultural skills and know-how and the use of the land to provide us with food, you may find it VERY difficult to rebuild them when you find you need them again. We may find in the not too distant future China outbidding us for some our traditional food suppliers, then what do we do when we’ve let our own capacity rot away? We may find in the not too distant future the rest of the world has developed its own capacity to produce the things at present they trade with us for the food they produce, than what?

    I’m not saying everything is fine with the CAP as it exists in its current form, but I’m also saying there’s a case for subsidy to maintain food production capacity which may not be profitable right now, but we may need it in the future. When I think of the many extreme crises that could bring this country to its knees, the Russians marching in with snow on their boots comes pretty low in order of possibility. Yet we spend billions on Trident just in case this happens. It seems to be a proper attitude to defence would consider all the things we need to defend ourselves against – I put a big food crisis quite high up, given what climate change may deliver to us and changes in the world which are marginalising Europe. On those grounds, yes I am prepared to pay a little to keep a few farmers around.

    I’ve often wondered if instead of moaning about the CAP we could find creative ways to use it to establish new jobs in agriculture here and soak up some of our unemployed now caught in the scourge of idleness – which once was a big concern of our political ancestors. But I guess big agri-business wouldn’t like a real “back to the land” policy.

  • Stephen Tall 1st Nov '12 - 11:57am

    @ Martin – My source for the 47% figure was this article on the BBC News website:

    In 2010 the budget for direct farm payments (subsidies) and rural development – the twin “pillars” of the CAP – was 58bn euros (£48bn), out of a total EU budget of 123bn euros (that is 47% of the total). The direct payments alone totalled 43bn euros.

  • Liberal Neil 1st Nov '12 - 12:06pm

    I’m sorry, Tim Oliver – but you’ve fundamentally misunderstood the problem.

    The issue isn’t about negotiating positions within the EU, or whether or not we’ve upset a few Germans, but that, in general terms, we’re on completely the wrong side of the issue as far as the public is concerned.

  • wasn’t there a panorama investigation that showed that these subsidies were going to very wealthy land owners and not the actual farmers.

    A majority of the farmers in the U.K where “renting” their land from the wealthy land owners who were the ones who actually received the subsidy. I seem to recall the duke of Westminster was one of the people highlighted who was receiving enormous subsidies for some of his land which was not being farmed.

    Surely if these subsidies are to exist then the money has to go for where it is intended, directly to the person farming the land and not to line the pockets of wealthy land owners who sit back and do nothing but “milk” the system

  • Stephen, you should have checked the dates. My link is for this year which gives all allocation of agriculture, fishing and rural development at 40%.

  • MBoy’s assertion

    The Labour Party has just joined with the Tory Right to vote through a spending cut for the European poor, funded by a tax cut for the European rich

    is basically right. Perhaps as jedibeeftrix and some others imply this might go down well on at least some doorsteps, but do we think it is right?

    matt’s point about who benefits from the CAP in the UK argues in the opposite direction, but given that the proportion of the budget for agricultural subsidy has decreased so much, we need to look again to see if the wealthiest landowners in the UK are the major beneficiaries. However whatever sums are involved will be tiny compared to the bulk of EU spending which does go towards Europe’s poorer communities.

  • Liberal Neil says :
    “we’re on completely the wrong side of the issue as far as the public is concerned.”
    Spot on correct. But the Lib Dem stance is ‘..so what? ‘, the public will never get a say in the matter as long as we are around.

  • Bill le Breton 1st Nov '12 - 2:25pm

    The speech was more about a future career than the best thing for the Leader of the Liberal Democrats to do for his Party.

  • The Liberal Democrat Party is clearly identified and identifies itself as the most pro EU party of all the English political parties. There is no secret about this, just as there is no secret that the Party stands for electoral reform.

    Any suggestion that a Europhobic position might help Lib Dems is barmy. The other parties will always be ready to out bid and no one is likely to be tempted to vote Lib Dem on the strength of the parties opposition to the EU.

    What is certainly needed, and very difficult to clarify whilst in coalition with a party that is dominated by Europhobics, is a clear narrative on the EU and EU spending.

    This should be a lot easier though. The bulk of EU spending is on infrastructure, industrial development and growth in regions of the EU where there is a lot of scope for growth. This is a path out of economic stagnation which we should be able to applaud.

    The CAP is changing (compare my data with Stephen’s couple of years out of date data above). The principles behind a common agricultural policy (as Matthew has articulated) are important. Europe is the more stable for being able to feed itself as resources become ever scarcer this will be more important than ever. That Spain, Greece and Portugal are the main recipients of CAP aid should give pause for thought. By all means make sure that the money is well directed and that it is accounted for (Greece??), but this does not mean that it is wrong to promote agriculture in these (and other) countries.

    The anti brigade appear to have little to contribute in terms of narrative except for an ill defined expression of yuck to the EU.

    There is an ever increasing likelihood of an IN/OUT referendum on the EU. The Lib Dems will be the last to stand in the way of this happening, it is clearly in the manifesto, however according to some Lib Dems are likely to be “on completely the wrong side of the issue as far as the public is concerned”. What would these people have the Lib Dems do? Campaign to leave the EU?

  • Andy Boddington 1st Nov '12 - 3:06pm

    There are two sides to the European negotiation.

    In Europe, we are negotiating with our EU partners. It is a moot point whether we will be weaker after last night’s vote in budget negotiations. My view is that IF Cameron shows any guts, we’ll be stronger in negotiation after the Commons vote.

    Within Britain we are negotiating with our voters. Labour’s vote against the budget rise is very popular here in a Tory/Lib Dem area. Many local Tories are openly sceptical about the EU. They know that demanding cuts to the EU budget is one of the best negotiating tactics with voters at the moment. On a broader scale, I suspect that if a national vote were held on whether to withdraw from the EU, the result would be too close to call.

    The truth is that the being part of the EU is essential for the UK. In that sense, membership of the EU is akin to defence policy. I disagree with war. But, if I had the power to do so, would I shred the UK’s defence capabilities? Would I abandon nuclear deterrent? I doubt it because I recognise that defence is an essential evil in our complex world.

    The EU is a similar essential evil. I do not believe that the people of Britain will ever love the EU. I certainly don’t. But we need it and I hope that it needs us.

    The question for the Lib Dems is how to balance the negotiation with voters against that with other EU countries.

    Being sceptical, insisting on change, refusing to sign up, demanding renegotiations of agreements is the best way forward. We might lose a bit of street cred at the EU level. But if we lose the credibility of UK voters, then we will not be in power and have no ability to negotiate in Europe.

    The public is sceptical. The Lib Dems should be also.

  • Martin writes :
    “Europe is the more stable for being able to feed itself as resources become ever scarcer this will be more important than ever.”
    This is an interesting point. But much of this was covered within the EEC project in 1975, (which incidentally I voted FOR).
    I still remember talk of butter mountains and wine lakes, back then. And whilst is was amusing, at least there was a tacit reassurance of ‘plenty’ rather than ‘scarcity’. And if memory hasn’t faded, I think I recall that these mountains of butter and the like were often dealt with by giving them to the low paid or pensioners. (which made sense!).
    Out with the EU !. Bring back the EEC !

  • Andrew Tennant 1st Nov '12 - 3:39pm

    Where I live, the party’s perceived Europhilia has been cited by voters as a reason why they won’t vote for our party. Even in local elections!

    When I tell them I’m an EU sceptic, then they’re normally taken aback.

    Campaigning for EU reform may or may not win is more votes, but unquestioning support for waste and unaccountability are definitely massive turn offs.

  • Andrew, there are very many things that put people off voting Liberal: I have encountered them myself – abortion, international aid, not sending foreigners ‘back home’, capital punishment, gay rights, equality for women, human rights, taxation, anti-pollution measures, global warming even beards and sandals, the list is endless. It is very easy to tell objectors that you sympathise with them on these issues and somehow hope they will be suckered into voting Lib Dem. I am not surprised they are taken aback.

    Waste and unaccountability is a Europhobic characterisation: are you implying Westminster is more accountable and less wasteful than the EU? As a result of the AV referendum has that made you an advocate of FPTP?

    Have you not realised that the EU is constantly reforming? What is the waste that you refer to? (I will give you the Parliamentary sessions in Strasbourg) Is it that everything has to be in different languages? What is it? Please do not go on about the EU audit, which Westminster fails on. You must have been told ad nauseum that this is a reflection of member states, not Brussels failing to adequately account for funds – unless of course you are in favour of central powers that can over ride individual states management of these funds.

    Do you support the idea of European nations working together, forming an important social and economic unit on the world stage? Do you have a coherent idea of how the EU could be and is it realistic? Do you understand the single market and its implications? Do you support the single market?

  • “Without any possible shadow of a doubt!”

    You are having a laugh of course.

  • Andrew Tennant 1st Nov '12 - 5:15pm

    What pan-European manifesto do our MEPs stand on? How many of the electorate can tell you who are the current largest parties? The process of legislation formation and passage? The current budget and breakdown of spending? The EU is a remote concept with no interest in explaining itself to voters or listening to their aspirations.

    If you asked voters how he EU budget would be spent would they choose how it is spent now? If not, how do we change this? How can any voter, or indeed any country, change the direction of travel?

    I believe in a single market to the extent that it serves the people, but not for the benefit of an elite of Eurocrat politicians.

  • Peter Bancroft 1st Nov '12 - 5:26pm

    Whilst I accept the premise that the Parliament vote could in theory “strengthen Cameron’s hand”, I don’t think that stands up to serious analysis in today’s environment.

    Cameron has managed to infuriate most of the key European political and commission leaders, plus the French hate him anyways. I strongly suspect that any out of touch demands like this one will simply marginalise the UK voice which today is less influential in the EU than at any point since the country entered.

    I do agree with Jonathan’s point that Nick’s speech isn’t exactly a call to arms and and inspiration of dreams, but it is factually correct and it’s quite difficult to pivot into a new European narrative is response to a budget renewal, which is what is being asked for. That does not mean that we should not be calling for this kind of stuff at other times, however.

  • Peter Bancroft 1st Nov '12 - 5:32pm

    Andrew, your rhetorical question about who can change the EU budget are clearly designed to show that it’s somehow out of democratic control and not voted on in pretty much the same way as any national budget. That’s not true.

  • Andrew, I understand concerns with people connecting to the political process. The EU certainly does have much “interest in explaining itself to voters ” and being responsive, though what it produces, although heavily circumscribed by anti bias legislation, gets dismissed as propaganda. (John Dunne was into that yesterday) Elsewhere in Europe, there is much better understanding of the processes, because the debate is at a more sophisticated level. What the EU does is mostly by agreement between heads of member states or their ministers, though the parliament can initiate policy in addition to its role in scrutinising policy, so influence is brought to bear from both angles.

    Unfortunately UK isolationism and exceptionalism has made the EU rather a remoter entity than it is for other EU countries.

    Of course you do realise that many of your questions about what people know could be similarly applied to Westminster. In fact in responding to comments I had to look up details of budgetary information and it was easier to get direct answers from the EU website that the UK gov site.

    “not for the benefit of an elite of Eurocrat politicians.” What mythical ‘elite’ is this? Do you mean the Commisioners who are chosen by democratically elected governments and who are almost always drawn from the ranks of elected politicians? The UK sometimes send unelected Lords, but that is not normal. Do you mean the MEPs? And anyway, how do you make out that the single market is to their benefit particularly? Perhaps you just mean they are paid too much, which is a reasonable point of view but hardly a great impact on the overall budget.

    I sense that you will have found some of my questions difficult to answer; I really do think you need to find out more about the EU and the single market, engage with other Europeans and work out a coherent view of the EU, what it does and what it could do.

  • I broadly agree, but I don’t see how this can be applied beyond the narrow national context.

    I’d like to see ALDE (and the other European ‘parties’) agree to propose a common Europe-wide manifesto for the next Euro election, and for the leaders of national parties to accept a common platform to campaign alongside partners in their countries. Only this will give the EU a real mandate for decision-making in our name.

    Clegg giving his public speechs in Amsterdam or Athens? Yes, please.

  • Julian Tisi 1st Nov '12 - 11:18pm

    I DO agree with Nick and I’m very glad he said what he did. Nick Clegg’s being realistic about the budget negotiations and very open about the need to reform. But we’ve got to be realistic and honest about how much power we have to dictate budget negotiations. Nick’s absolutely right to take on the unholy alliance between right wing Tories and Labour – and was front page on the BBC for doing so. Good.

  • Matthew Huntbach has it spot on. Further to that do any of our contributors seriously believe that the unpopularity of the EU is the result of serious analysis by the population ?? The popular press campaign against the EU is successful because it can set up a bogey and keep sniping at it without fear of understanding by Joe public.

  • I agree with Stephen. As a matter of urgency, can we please make sure we are consistent and happy with the principles we apply in arguing in favour of:
    (i) devolution and localism within the UK especially ahead of the Scottish independence referendum
    (ii) getting the right balance between UK and international co-operation in Europe and beyond?
    Clearly democratic accountability is key at all levels, as well as protection of the individual from tyranny at home and abroad.

  • I just think that too many people are willing to uncritically accept all the anti EU stuff. Liberal Eye’s ” no matter how flagrantly democratic norms are flouted or how disastrous EU policies” is a case in point. Does he/she have something particular in mind? Does he/she have proposals to discus for improving the EU?

    Unfortunately, I fear that hostility to the EU is such that a positive vision for the EU in itself would not pass what is here described as ‘the doorstep test’.

    BrianD – I concur,politicians have turned the EU into a useful scapegoat. They claim as their own any policies perceived as positive and lump as much blame for the negative as they can on the EU.

    But what is this ‘doorstep test’? Surely isn’t this simply a populism test?

  • Alex Macfie 2nd Nov '12 - 8:11pm

    @Oranjepan: I absolutely agree that there should be pan-European party platforms at European Parliamentary elections. But failing that, we as the Lib Dems must fight such elections on European issues, by which I mean those issues that affect the EU as a whole and on which MEPs vote. And not just the constitutional issues either, but the bread-and-butter issues where legislation is made at the EU level, such as consumer protection, employment, environment, trade etc. I tend to agree with “London Eye” who has criticised the party for running Euro-election campaigns that barely mention Europe; or where they do, they focus on things that are actually domestic issues. UK engagement with the rest of the EU is a domestic issue. Whether to have a referendum is a domestic issue. Whether the UK stays in or leaves the EU is a domestic issue. These things have no place in European election campaigns, because MEPs don’t decide them. But other parties are just as bad in this country, and the media are worse. Andrew Tennant asks, “How many of the electorate can tell you who are the current largest [European] parties? The process of legislation formation and passage? ” Probably not many, because of the conspiracy of silence that surrounds what happens in the European Parliament. The media in this country routinely ignore or misunderstand it; it is no wonder that the electorate do not know much about it.

  • If the European experiment is to work, then there have to be people — maybe not many, initially, but at least a few — who see Europe as something more than an averaged sum of local interests. I wonder if there is a single person in the UK who sees himself or herself as a European first and foremost, and as English/Scottish/Irish/Welsh second.

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