That statement has perhaps never been as boldly underlined as it was this week, with the continent-wide consciousness being collectively appalled at the unfolding horror in the Mediterranean. The horrific events have mobilised a pan-European discourse of outcry in a way that other EU issues often fail to do, primarily because it highlights the need for European collaboration, and the human cost of our failure to do so. It is also perhaps because it underlines to us the extent to which Europe is viewed as a single entity, or collective, by the rest of the world.
Immigration, regional and international, is now an issue not just for European states, but for Europe as a whole. The call for collective action highlights that in certain respects we presume that responsibility lies beyond the remit of individual governments to deal with this issue. For this reason, the Liberal Democrat case for Europe has never been more important. The belief in a Britain at the heart of Europe displays our commitment to Britain’s responsibility to the EU, which in the field of immigration, should operate in two ways.
As members of the EU, Britain should play its part in both accommodating those who risk everything to make it to Europe as well as working abroad in order to stabilise and assist in the development of the states these people are fleeing. Within the EU, Britain should play its part in promoting the all-too-bashed doctrine of the freedom of movement but also act to stabilise the Eurozone and develop the former Eastern Bloc states in order to make purely economic migration within Europe unnecessary and a thing of the past.
Liberal Democrats have a proud and historic commitment to humanitarianism and internationalism. Our responsibility now is to defend these values within a national context of the fusion of nationalism with populism, and maybe even isolationism. We talk a lot during this election campaign of the risks to domestic policy of the potential for a “Blukip” government, but what about foreign policy beyond just the EU? Some may blame British intervention for causing this humanitarian crisis, but to isolate and ignore the plight of millions under extremist groups in North Africa and the Middle East now would be to exacerbate the economic pressures posed to European countries by increasing humanitarian immigration, because no pulling-up-of-drawbridges can ever stop the courage and determination of those fleeing the horrors of war.
Liberal Democrats also have a proud and unapologetic commitment to the cause of European integration. Our responsibility now is to defend these values against the soft Euroscepticism of the major parties and a culture that is failing to acknowledge its place in Europe. By teaching Britain to understand and care about its role in Europe, we can deal with the issue of immigration, not through the “Cameron approach” of restrictions, but by playing our part to stimulate the European economy. Britain should recognise that its current economic migration is due to its (Liberal Democrat induced) current economic stature, which makes most of Europe pale in comparison. By helping to stimulate growth in the rest of Western Europe, and by helping to save debt-crisis countries like Greece, as well as assisting the development of Eastern European source countries, we can reduce economic migration.
This process can show the electorate that by committing to the Liberal values of freedom from oppression and freedom of opportunity in our foreign policy, we can bring about practical solutions to the issue of immigration.
* Guy Russo was the Parliamentary Candidate in Enfield North at the General Election and is an Ex-President of the Queen Mary University of London Liberal Democrats.