Opinion: The UK cannot afford paralysis in its relationship with Europe

The world is becoming increasingly ‘globalised’ and interdependent, driven by technological innovation and the now virtually unlimited movement of people and capital. This has opened up extraordinary opportunities for businesses and individuals all around the world, but it also poses many problems for national policy makers and governments.

Perhaps the most important and publicised change brought about thus far by the global age is the rise of China and India as economic powerhouses. China is now the second largest economy in the world and will overtake the United States to be the biggest in a couple of decades. India is following carefully in China’s footsteps. Investment decisions and large-scale commercial deals will be increasingly made between and among the macro-economies: the United States, China, India, Russia, Japan and yes, the European Union. I believe that the UK’s best interests are served by being a more enthusiastic and serious player at the heart of the Europe, benefitting from the EU’s ability to export a whole range of services and advanced technological innovation to the new superpowers of the 21st Century, whilst helping to ensure that the peace and prosperity broadly enjoyed by Europe over the last 66 years continues.

But there is a problem. It will be clear to anyone who takes even a cursory interest in British politics that arguing for greater British integration within the EU is, at the moment, about as popular as advocating suffrage for prisoners or the right for convicted sex offenders to appeal a lifetime placement on a police register. To compound this problem, the coalition government has thus far adopted a sceptical stance in its dealings with Europe – perhaps an inevitability owing to the presence of so many eurosceptic Conservative MPs on the government benches. The introduction of the European Union Bill to parliament and the House of Commons’ recent indication that it will prevent the UK from complying with a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) are the two most pressing concerns in this area.

The main thrust of the European Union Bill is to prevent the UK government (via parliament) acceding to Treaty changes and other material alterations to the governance of the EU without the consent of the British people in a national referendum. If this consent is not forthcoming then the UK would not be able to ratify a new EU Treaty (meaning it will not be able to be brought into force) and the future direction of travel in Brussels would be left in limbo. This would inevitably breed resentment against the UK and potentially bring calls from other major EU countries for the UK to be ejected from the Union in order for Treaty changes and development to proceed.

The possibility of the UK defying the ECtHR is also significant. Although considerations involving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) are technically separate from those of the EU, I believe the House of Commons’ indication that it will prevent the UK from complying with the ECHR has more to do with pent-up euroscepticism (certainly on the Conservative benches) than anything else. Non-compliance will have a hugely adverse effect on the UK’s reputation in Europe and around the world as a defender of individual rights and liberty and will have a consequentially negative impact on our ability to be an important player in Europe.

It is perhaps unrealistic in the context of this coalition government to expect a ‘sale of the forests’ style u-turn on European Policy, especially when Conservative backbench disquiet with David Cameron’s leadership, voting reform and the coalition as a whole is factored in. However Liberal Democrat MPs should push for now, at the very least, compliance with ECtHR judgments and careful consideration of whether the provisions in the European Union Bill could bring real problems for Europe and the UK’s place within the EU in the coming years.

For progressive pro-Europeans, it is time to seriously consider how the importance of the EU (and the UK’s place at the centre of it) can be brought into the mainstream of British political debate. Should the UK hold an ‘in-out’ referendum to try and settle the question of Europe for a generation? Would the public be enthused by such a referendum and would the pro-European campaign be able to deliver a victory? I think the answer to both of these questions is ‘Yes’. I also think that pro-European MPs, commentators, MEPs and European Commissioners should focus more on issues where the public welcome cooperation between nations, such as the prevention of cross-border crime, environmental protection and financial services reform. The debate in the UK has to be moved on from processes, bureaucracy, negative headlines and the EU itself and onto the big issues that will increasingly come to dominate our globalised existence and national politics in the years ahead.

Nick Lane is an approved Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate and stood in Redditch in the 2010 General Election.

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.
Advert

28 Comments

  • Europe and anything to do with it is “box office poison” as far as the electorate is concerned, always costing LIb Dems between 7-10% of our vote. While clearly the ECHR is not the same thing as the EU, hostility to both hinges on the same issue: how much sovereignty do we want to cede to not very accountable supranational bodies whose aim is the steady accretion of ever greater powers? The answer most people would give is either “this much and no more”, or “less than at present”.
    The Eurozone countries are now in the throes of deciding how much they want to integrate their economic governance. Let them go ahead with this and good luck to them. It is not up to us to follow down a path which would give away yet more control of our economy without any mandate from UK voters.

    Likewise in the field of justice. Lib Dems who support greater co-operation in this field should find it deeply ironic that the European Arrest Warrant is now being used to extradite Julian Assange as a means of silencing an advocate of freedom of speech – one of the key underpinnings of our democratic society.

    Simply saying that we should be “a more enthusiastic and serious player at the heart of the Europe” amounts to burying one’s head in the sand. Europe is heading in a direction, particularly in terms of economic governance, for which the UK electorate has no enthusiasm (rightly in my view). Europe needs the UK’s large financial contribution and access to its market, as well as its political and military weight, so there is no question of us being “ejected”. While we do have a significant role to play, we should no longer be kidding ourselves that we want to be “at the heart” of the current European project. It is just not possible. We have to learn to work as well as we can on the areas where there is common interest, but at the same time agreeing to differ on the rest.

  • @Robert C
    And what if Mr Asssange is in fact guilty? Should we not extradite him because we believe him to be an ‘Advocate’ of free speak what does that say about the rights of the women he is accused of raping? Do they lose their right to justice?

  • The British public are simply not anti-European. No amount of astro-turfing from a tiny minority (most of whom, with amazing hypocrisy, seem to live in Spain) will disguise it. The politicians know it, which is why Cameron is desperately trying to keep a lid on his loony wing. And if you want to be at all pro-European, you’ve got to vote LibDem.

    Pro Europeanism is one of the main reasons why I vote LibDem and the same applies to a lot of people I know. The idea that it costs the LibDems 7-10% of their vote is ridiculous.

  • The Pro-Europeans would have more support if they were prepared to argue for repatriation of powers in some areas in exchange for greater integration in others. Otherwise it simply looks as if you believe in integration for the sake of it.

  • Chris – they’re not “anti-European” but they don’t think very highly of the EU. They don’t see why the EU should have a say over, for example, working hours (although we have been able to obtain an opt-out so far).

  • @ William

    And If he isn’t guilty and goes to Sweden, what chance does he have of a fair trial?

    Plus what chance then of not being extradited to face politically motivated charges in the US?

    @ Chris
    “The idea that it costs the LibDems 7-10% of their vote is ridiculous.”
    Lib Dems’ vote at 2010 General Election 23.0%
    Lib Dems’ vote at 2009 European Election 13.7%
    Difference 9.3%

  • “Likewise in the field of justice. Lib Dems who support greater co-operation in this field should find it deeply ironic that the European Arrest Warrant is now being used to extradite Julian Assange as a means of silencing an advocate of freedom of speech – one of the key underpinnings of our democratic society.”

    I had no idea that being an advocate of freedom of speech gave you an immunity from prosecution. I can now stop practising my archery and sleep safely 🙂

    “The idea that it costs the LibDems 7-10% of their vote is ridiculous.”
    Well there is something that means we poll that amount lower in Euro elections compared to local elections polling on the same day!

  • @ Chris

    “The British public are simply not anti-European.”

    No, quite right, but many are anti-EU. If they saw an EU that was run on a remotely sane basis, then things might be different. However, that would mean not spending 45% of its budget on agriculture and countless other millions on projects that are of dubious value (e.g. €720,000 for Elton John to headline a concert in Napes – I ask you) or are actually harmful to UK interests e.g. relocation grants for factories to leave the UK for cheaper Eastern European destinations or the common fisheries policy.

    Believe me, I am not some blinkered little Englander. I speak French, German and Italian (my partner is Italian) and have a great love of European cities, food and culture. We have a huge amount to learn from the rest of Europe in terms of economic organisation, transport, the green economy, even in many aspects of democracy e.g PR.

    But that does not mean that in any way I want a political union with these countries. For example, viewed close up, the way Italian government and society operates is beyond horrendous and I do not want their politicians anywhere near positions that would give them power over me.

    We have enough trouble keeping our politicians in Westminster under scrutiny and control. To give still more power to a bunch of people who don’t even necessarily have our interests at heart (to put it mildly), don’t share our political culture and are too far away to be held to account seems to me to be wilfully risking serious consequences.

  • @ Hywel

    And what if championing freedom of speech makes you the target of charges that have been resuscitated under extremely suspicious circumstances as a means of gaining your “rendition” into the jurisdiction of a hostile, bullying superpower?

  • Read todays judgement. The Judge seems pretty unpersuaded on that point. Specifically I’d draw you attention to the Judge’s final comments:

    “There was at one stage a suggestion that Mr Assange could be extradited to the USA (possibly to Guantanamo Bay or to execution as a traitor). The only live evidence on the point came from the defence witness Mr Alhem
    who said it couldn’t happen. In the absence of any evidence that Mr Assange risks torture or execution Mr Robertson was right not to pursue this point in closing. It may be worth adding that I do not know if Sweden has an extradition treaty with the United States of America. There has been no evidence regarding this. I would expect that there is such a treaty. If Mr Assange is surrendered to Sweden and a request is made to Sweden for his extradition to the United States of America, then article 28 of the framework decision applies. In such an event the consent of the Secretary of State in this country will be required, in accordance with section 58 of the Extradition Act 2003, before Sweden can order Mr Assange’s extradition to a third State. The Secretary of State is required to give notice to Mr Assange unless it is impracticable to do so. Mr Assange would have the protection of the courts in Sweden and, as the Secretary of State’s decision can be reviewed, he would have the protection of the English courts also. But none of this was argued.”

    So it seems that:
    Assanges witness said it couldn’t happen
    His barrister didn’t argue the point in final submissions*. (If Geoffrey Robinson QC has decided not to argue a point there’ll be a good reason!)
    Assange couldn’t be extradited from Sweden to the US without the consent of the Secretary of State – a decision which is judicially reviewable in this country.

    *It should be noted that his barrister is under a professional duty to (a) “promote and protect fearlessly” his clients best interests and (b) “must not make a submission which he does not consider to be properly arguable;”

  • @ Hywel

    (1) Yes, Sweden does have an extradition treaty with the US, in force since 1984.

    (2) “In such an event the consent of the Secretary of State in this country will be required, in accordance with section 58 of the Extradition Act 2003, before Sweden can order Mr Assange’s extradition to a third State.”

    Given our usual craven servitude to the US, how likely do you think we are to deny this consent?

    (3) Why, if the charges Assange faces so credible, were they first dropped, only for the case to be reopened, assigned to the Swedish Director of Prosecutions, Marianne Ny?

    (4) The EAW has already caused multiple cases of miscarriage of justice and is in drastic need of reform.

  • “(2) “In such an event the consent of the Secretary of State in this country will be required, in accordance with section 58 of the Extradition Act 2003, before Sweden can order Mr Assange’s extradition to a third State.”
    Given our usual craven servitude to the US, how likely do you think we are to deny this consent?”

    As I said it will be open to Judicial Review if it doesn’t meet the Wednesbury reasonableness standard or conflicts with the ECHR. Deportation to face the death penalty would be a blatant contravention. However that is true if he remains in the UK (qv Gary Mackinnon).
    The fact however seems to be that if Assange is extradited to Sweden he has exactly the same protection against further extradition to the US as if he remained here.

    Why does the only witness Assange produces says this can’t happen?

    “(3) Why, if the charges Assange faces so credible, were they first dropped, only for the case to be reopened, assigned to the Swedish Director of Prosecutions, Marianne Ny?”
    AIUI (which is to a limited degree) the strength and credibility of a case beyond a prima facie one isn’t one for an extradition procedure to consider. Whether charges are credible is a matter for criminal trial where the evidence can be tested – that probably applies even more in sex offence cases which often turn on the credibility of different party’s accounts.

    There is an analagous procedure to this in the UK where the CPS can be asked to revisit a decision not to prosecute.

    “(4) The EAW has already caused multiple cases of miscarriage of justice and is in drastic need of reform.”
    It’s certainly flawed. However on my limited understanding of extradition law there would have been a strong case for extradition proceedings for these offences committed in that country prior to the EAW.

    (Obviously it should be Robertson not Robinson above – getting my Geoffrey’s mixed up 🙂

  • “AIUI (which is to a limited degree) the strength and credibility of a case beyond a prima facie one isn’t one for an extradition procedure to consider.”

    Has a friend has pointed out – this doesn’t apply to an EAW (I did say a limted degree :-). A bit irrelevant here in any case as I don’t think there is dispute that there is a prima facie case.

  • @Robert C
    Agriculture takes up a high proportion of the EU’s budget because it is the only area of policy that functions on a fully European level. To put it more directly, agriculture is the only real EU policy. So of course it takes a large part of the spending. I’m a bit taken aback that you think agriculture is of ‘dubious value’. What do you eat? And of course we need common rules. Otherwise we’d have endless rows over national regulations. Look what John Major did to the pig sector by going it alone, rather than trying to get agreement with others.

    Similarly the EU should have say over working hours to prevent its members trying to outbid each other to attract employers. It’s about being fair and creating the level playing field that UK politicians are so fond of talking about. The rest of the world has spent many years proving that the so-called ‘free trade’ areas beloved of the europhobes, with everyone coming up with different rules for their little bit, don’t work.

    Every party that has taken an anti European stance in British politics has been massacred. The best examples are Hague’s tories and Foot’s labour party. UKIP, despite constant bigging up from the tabloids, is a total failure.

  • @ Chris

    “To put it more directly, agriculture is the only real EU policy.”

    What a grave indictment of “real policy” it is then, given how many hundreds of billions of Euros have been wasted under the CAP.

    ” So of course it takes a large part of the spending. I’m a bit taken aback that you think agriculture is of ‘dubious value’.”

    That is a wilful misinterpretation of my comments. It is the *policy* that is of ‘dubious value’, not agriculture itself.

    “Every party that has taken an anti European stance in British politics has been massacred.”

    While our miserable 13.7% in 2009 European elections is a ringing endorsement, presumably?

    @ Hywel.

    As regards the EAW, my core point is that it is very often to the detriment of true justice. If you were to be extradited to another European country with a dubious justice system, how assured would you feel of getting a fair trial?

  • What neither Chris nor Hywel have managed to establish is why we should want political union with the rest of Europe, which is the eventual goal of the “European Project” as stated and as is being pursued at present. Following this goal incrementally, by stealth, as is occurring at present, is both dishonest and in the long run, dangerous.

  • “Many of us have roots in other european nation-states, and indeed have direct family that are citizens of those nation-states, it is simply a matter of whether europe can ever be a legitimate Kratos arising from the lack of a common Demos.

    A nation-state is effectively a collective agreement that a people are a family, who have sufficient trust in each other to accept indirect governance from representatives of the prevailing will of a majority, it is also a collective agreement to work together for the benefit of the whole rather than the individual. In short it is a marriage which results in a social/transfer union.

    If there is no european ‘people’ then there can be no representative european government, it is therefore considered illegitimate when it is foisted on peoples of europe.”

    I strongly disagree with what you consider a nation state. A nation state is when one nation (people) controls one state (country) – on this basis you can consider many European “nation states” to be nothing of the sort. For instance the UK is a state containing the English, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and Cornish nations; and Spain also contains multiple nations such as the Basque, Catalonians and Gallicians; and Belgium the Flemish and Walloons. These are already multi-nation states and although I don’t think federation is the best option for the EU I don’t see any reason to reject it on your grounds. A pan-European state would be no less of a nation state than the UK or Spain or Belgium.

  • This is a very good article. Euro-sceptics are too often given an empty field on which to play. We need to do more to put the pro-European case across.

  • John Stevens 25th Feb '11 - 1:50pm

    A good piece. I think the case for Europe is in the process of being transformed by the global economic crisis, the emergence over the next five years of a much tighter inner core fiscally integrated eurozone, a shift towards trade protectionism world wide and a real sense of threat especially to European middle income electors of the ongoing rise of Asia, to say nothing of darker cultural forces associated with a growing sense of terminal Western decline. This is going to be an especially rough ride for Britain for which, I fear, neither our government, nor our party is remotely prepared. Amid enormous dangers are enormous political opportunities, but where are the pro-Europeans in a position to make the case? They all seem to be damaged or discredited or defunct. Europe is pre-eminently an issue that recquire leadership and credibility with the public: so it has become the principle casaulty of the loss of legitimacy of our democratic politics (and not just in the UK).

  • Old Codger Chris 25th Feb '11 - 6:33pm

    EU election 2009, UK result – Conservatives 27.7% of national vote, UKIP 16.5%, Labour 15.7%, Lib Dems 13.7%.
    The President of the Union of European Federalists is a Lib Dem MEP – he must be glad that the election system is Closed List.

  • David Wright 27th Feb '11 - 10:24am

    It’s hardly surprising that the British public is mostly anti-EU when for the past 30 years almost the entire British press and a large part of our other media – owned for the most part by people whose interests lie outside Europe – has been and is virulently anti-European, feeding us every objection and negative story about the workings of the EU and almost nothing that’s in its favour. And just as in a successful election campaign, in which voters start quoting back your key messages, newspapers can now justify their position by saying it’s what their readers want.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • Jeff
    expats 18th Sep '21 - 11:07am: The first of the French ‘off the shelf Shortfins’ wasn’t due for delivery until 2033 so any ‘start from scratc...
  • Jeff
    John Marriott 18th Sep '21 - 9:38am: I gather that New Zealand isn’t happy about the new arrangement, as she still wants good relations with the PR...
  • Peter
    Where does this put psychiatric, psychological, therapeutic and consultative treatment of children presenting wih gender dysphoria? Is all exploration of such a...
  • Simon Pike
    I agree with Stuart that we need to get serious about housing. But getting serious means listening to the members with experience on housing issues - and Parlia...
  • Hywel
    Alongside this is the significant - but rather under-reported by the press - position adopted over the summer that the price of supporting a Labour admin/govern...