Opinion: Volcano! Will Europe erupt as an election issue?

Part of our shared European heritage is Ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy, where Hephaestus (called Vulcan in Rome) was the god of fire and controller of volcanoes. He was born after his mother was impregnated by a spark from a fire.

Thousands of years later, in last Thursday’s debate, Nick Clegg provided a spark to our national imagination that was more potent than any of us dared to dream.

Now we read that our opponents will try to make Europe the issue of the general election. The same strategy failed badly in 2001 for William Hague. Voters are more concerned with schools, hospitals, taxes, Afghanistan – the policies decided at nation state level.

The time for debating European policy, mes amis, was last year’s European Elections when UK Liberal Democrats increased our seats and UK Conservatives surrendered influence by leaving the mainstream centre-right European People’s Party.

Not for the first time, a non-EU state, Iceland, demonstrates the need for European co-operation. Last year, Iceland aggravated Europe’s banking crisis. This year, an Icelandic volcano has polluted Europe’s skies, stranding millions of Europeans at home or in other states.

The news is awash with stories of school children stuck far from home, operations cancelled because of doctors stranded in the wrong state, and all sorts of people from all over Europe in difficult situations.

It would be good if the authorities in Brussels, under the supervision of the Parliament, the Council and (because of Lisbon) national legislators too, had the resources to co-ordinate people and resources stranded by the volcano.

British school children I saw stranded in Athens could be found a classroom in a local school for a few days rather than sit in the airport. A Greek or other school group stuck in Britain could be taught at one of our schools. The 40 British surgeons I heard are marooned after a conference in Scandinavia might be able to do something useful in Scandinavian hospitals while they wait. No doubt, other European doctors are waiting here and could help the NHS.

Of course, this isn’t as good as getting people home to their families and there won’t be perfect symmetry in who is stuck in which country – but in the meantime it’s better than just sitting and waiting.

We do this domestically. During this winter’s heavy snow teachers, police and NHS staff who couldn’t reach their normal workplace were asked to help at any facility nearer their home that they could reach.

Repeating this on a European basis would not be an easy task. It would need skilful co-ordination, but it could be done and demonstrates how European co-operation can benefit us all. Divided, there is little we can do in the modern world. But there is little we cannot do in a host of co-operative ventures.

Is the issue today a vote for a super-state? No. A vote for a federation of hope? Yes. A vote for common solutions to shared problems? Yes. An issue for Liberal Democrats to fear? Quite the opposite.

We’re stronger together and poorer apart.

* Antony Hook is a Lib Dem member, and member of Project 3 (the South East and South Central Regions’ Campaign for the 2014 European Elections).

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7 Comments

  • ferrand stobart 21st Apr '10 - 3:52pm

    The problem with Europe is that their basis of law is that everything that is not permitted is forbidden, whereas the UK approach is that everything that is not forbidden is permitted – subject to common law.
    Europe is too “statist” which I suggest is neither Liberal nor Democratic in the true sense

  • Ajax Harington 21st Apr '10 - 4:20pm

    There are rumours emerging that Iceland deliberately engineered the volcanic eruption…

    http://tiny.cc/4qdl1

  • Malcolm Todd 21st Apr '10 - 11:34pm

    The problem with Europe is that their basis of law is that everything that is not permitted is forbidden…

    Oh, go on. Cite some evidence for that exceedingly improbably cliche. (With definition, if you’d be so good, of what you mean by “Europe” in this case.)

  • ferrand stobart 22nd Apr '10 - 10:34pm

    Europe is first question in party leaders debate this evening !!!
    BUT
    more crucially on a different matter Gordon Brown lied “on camera” by saying he had not authorised the inaccurate comments on Conservative policy in Labour Party Leaflets, when according to Alex Salmond of the SNP Brown’s own constituency leaflets contained the same “in accuracies”. Either GB lied, or he does not control what his supporters say on his behalf. Neither a good recommendation for continuing as Prime Minister ?

  • Terry Gilbert 22nd Apr '10 - 10:46pm

    @Ajax : Apparantly Icelandic has no letter ‘c’. We asked for ‘cash’ after the banking crisis, and they thought we meant ‘ash’….

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