Liberal Democrat MEP candidates must be clear: Now is Europe’s moment

From Whitehall to Warsaw we see populists on the march – they decry the European idea which so many have fought for over the past century. The dilemma? They’re right to.

Tim Martin, the pro-Brexit Wetherspoons boss, told crowds in London that the European Union was undemocratic. The reality is (and bear with me) that he’s not far wrong – the EU has long faced the idea of a democratic deficit. Our MEPs in the European Parliament deserve more power as the voice of 500 million people. We deserve the right to choose the President of the European Commission, an effective figurehead for Europeans who’s directly accountable. We can explore similar ideas for the President of the Council, such as their election depending on a weighted vote of national parliaments. The answer to the democratic deficit? It’s not to leave the union, it’s more union. We must stop tip-toeing around the idea of Europe and unapologetically bring it closer to the people it serves.

Trying to defend the European Union in its current form won’t work, because even we know it’s broken. What can work is calling for reform, and evoking our friends and allies across the continent who know the same. Europe’s broken, but it can be fixed – it must be fixed.

The UK is slipping down the international rankings of global economies, but the European Union? It still remains $2 trillion larger than the USA and the largest free trade area in human history. In the near future the centre of gravity for global economic and political power will continue to shift, but without more cooperation, it will shift further away from Europe. Successive US Presidents have had their eye move from Europe, Trump’s no coincidence and he won’t be the last POTUS to look elsewhere. Our strategic problem isn’t going away. The answer again is reform.

I wrote a short while ago about more defence cooperation so that we as Europe can take our place in the world as a rule maker and a defender of our core values. Shortly after this, Brunei showed us exactly what we’re up against – despots will continue to threaten our values. People exactly like me are being stoned to death as we turn a blind eye, but do we realistically expect action under the status quo? Absolutely not.

France required US assistance to deploy counter-terror operations in Mali, European NATO members require US assistance just to deploy on relatively near NATO missions. Isn’t it clear that we can’t afford fractured capabilities anymore? 

Can we really expect to face up to our global responsibilities, to face up to those who commit violence against their own people and disregard human rights? We can’t right now, and people are dying as a result – people just like you and me – dying because of who they love at the hands of despots. The demand? Reform.

Our European candidates must be clear – Liberal Democrats know Europe is broken. We know Europe needs to be more democratic. We know Europe needs to pull together to pull its weight. We know lives depend on Europe taking a stand in the world. Ultimately, we Liberal Democrats must take the wheel to drive these reforms.

* Charlie Murphy is Campaigns Officer of the Young Liberals

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13 Comments

  • Paul Barker 4th Apr '19 - 10:49am

    While I agree with most of the article, I am not sure that packaging it as Reform is going to work when the word is already used to mean Less Europe, not more. We have to be very clear that we are calling for a Stronger EU & “Ever Closer Union”.

  • "G VerhofstadtVerif" 4th Apr '19 - 11:05am

    “For 70 years, NATO has been a cornerstone of our security. Now it is vital we strengthen @NATO by building its European pillar, based on a European defence community and a European Army, so that Europeans can take their future into their own hands.”

    Direct quote from his Twitter account.

  • William Fowler 4th Apr '19 - 11:18am

    Starts talking about making the EU more democratic and then ends by taking about ever closer union, etc for which there is absolutely no democratic mandate in the UK. Much better to highlight how the EU is moving towards protecting individuals against corporate interests whilst pointing out how useless the Conservatives are in this matter and how Labour would replace corporate supremacy with state supremacy. Yes, to directly voting for the currently unelected elite who run the EU – but that will have the same problem as MEP elections, very poor turnout. But don’t get too carried away, we are still supposed to leave…

  • David Becket 4th Apr '19 - 11:34am

    Supporting ever closer Union when we admit the democratic deficit does not make sense, and will put voters off.
    The EU has the potential to take the lead in tackling Climate Change, and this must be at the top of our list. Reform of the EU will not excite anybody, but Climate Change could attract a great deal of interest.

  • Laurence Cox 4th Apr '19 - 11:54am

    The biggest democratic deficit in the European Parliament is the spitzenkandidaten system where the candidate of the largest bloc in the EP automatically becomes Commission Pesident even though last time round the EPP only got 29% of the vote. Worse still, our own ALDE went along with this. If the EP cannot clean up its own act and demand that the Commission President must be elected by a free vote of MEPs, next time the largest block could be the populists and we will have someone like Salvini as Commission President.

  • Mick Taylor 4th Apr '19 - 12:02pm

    Indeed the author of this piece needs to check his facts. Both the president and the commission have to be approved by vote of the parliament and individual commissioners can be removed. So no democratic deficit there. Laws are approved by the council of ministers and the parliament, both democratic bodies and not by the commission as is widely believed. So again no democratic deficit. The EU bureaucracy is smaller than Kent County, so hardly the wicked Eurocrats of Mailspeak. None of this is to suggest that change is not needed, it is. If you are going to call for it, at least don’t start from a false premise.

  • Peter Martin 4th Apr '19 - 12:53pm

    “The answer again is reform.”

    Well yes. There are few people who would argue with that. But what kind of reform?

    The EU could work reasonably well as if it modelled itself on the United States of America. We’d have a democratically elected President, a democratically elected European Parliament. National Government and Parliaments such as we currently have in the German Bundestag and French National Assembly would still exist but they’d be on a par with the State legislators in the USA. They’d have much far less power than they now do.

    Alternatively, we could reform the EU by winding back to what worked well enough in EEC days. The euro would have to go. Everyone would have their own relatively independent government to set their own laws and run their own currencies. There would be no real need for a European Parliament. Just a council of ministers to set tariff rates and agree on such issues as how much freedom of movement would be allowable.

    Those advocating either of these two options are pushing in opposite directions. So the ‘reformers’ are likely to cancel each other out and we’ll have no significant reform at all. If this happens the EU cannot survive.

  • Richard Underhill 4th Apr '19 - 1:07pm

    Former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil tends to oversimplify and thereby become unsubtle. The widely experienced Ken Clarke MP, Father of the House, is saying on BBC tv Politics Live today, 4/4/2019, that Andrew Neil is arguing like a member of the ERG (exactly what I was thinking).
    Andrew Neil is a journalist looking for headlines. Listen to Italians talking about flexibility. The BBC told Ken Clarke that he had another important appointment. He said he was not aware of it. He should be accorded more respect.
    Ken Clarke also repeated his view about using STV in the Commons.
    Andrew Neil can take criticism from some people. One frequent broadcaster, now Shadow Home Secretary, called him an “Alpha Male”. A former Australian PM “outed him as a Martian”.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Apr '19 - 2:48pm

    This is good in attitude, a liberal attitude, less so in actuality, we need the latter, thus Liberal reality. It seems Charlie Murphy, you’re a member with strong values and also an enthusiasm that is valuable.

    Excellent efforts from some here, in response.

    David Becket as usual talks the sort of sense this party needs, a man older in years, younger in thoughts, who gets to the heart of an issue. I , though, do believe, reform, if advanced well, is election savvy. And would add security and crime to David’s rightful suggestion, on climate change, as worth promoting.

    Laurence Cox, William Fowler , say that which must be said too. Liberal in the EU, Guy especially, talk reform, but, a bit in the way of this party, the reforms seem, my way or the highway. Id not want , more Europe, as an antidote to poor Europe, I want lexible, varied, friendly, Europe, richer in our partnership because of recognition of differences of approach.

    I am often fair about leaders. Clegg and Cameron were lousy on reform of the EU, though both, yes, even the former pm, were good on effort to promote the EU.

    We need to realise, Martin is right, the EU is not without democracy, but the doing of things in a different way is essential, and in that, the main difference Liberals and parties in this grouping, have in no way grabbed at or even embraced, is the word Liberalism is, or it is not much, flexibility.

    And to David Raw I would add, that in a week that we find out a Commonwealth country wants to stone people who are gay or open sexually , I suggest that one of the best arguments for the EU, that even those tempted by the alt right might understand, and be attracted to, is defence of and promotion of, liberal, western, yes, European, values, not as imperialist, or exceptionalist, but as both idealist and realist, making ideals a reality, worldwide.

  • I suggest that if the U.K. were to take part in European elections this year then the LibDem campaign should be based on actual LibDem policies. We cannot force others to embrace democracy but at least we should attempt it ourselves.

  • Peter Hirst 5th Apr '19 - 6:08pm

    Why doesn’t the Party invite people to be candidates? It relies on them to apply, perhaps thinking that the person knows whether they’d make a credible candidate. The values that determine a person to apply might not be those that make a good MEP.

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