South Central Regional Conference- Can we muster Euro enthusiasm?

catherine bearderThe European in-out referendum dominated the South Central Regional Conference last Saturday. Speakers included Catherine Bearder, our own MEP, who spoke of the complete negativity of the large contingent of UKIP in the European Parliament.

Not everyone accepted that the EU is a force for good. As one questioner asked, how can our party muster enthusiasm to campaign for an organization that is obviously undemocratic and very deeply flawed? Perhaps the Outers are right; there really are sunlit uplands outside the EU, where the UK can benefit from truly representative democracy, run companies uninhibited by red tape and carry out extensive worldwide trade.

As a Libdem member who is lukewarm about the EU, I have found this a tricky question.

Nevertheless I will be campaigning with enthusiasm, and here’s why. Leaving the EU would only be the beginning of the journey. I want more representative democracy, but as the AV Referendum made it painfully clear, our political leaders have neither the faintest idea of how to achieve this, nor the will to push the job through. When the outers complain about red tape from Brussels, they forget that Britain has already achieved world class leadership in red tape, without any help from Brussels. We have by far the longest tax code in the world, amounting to 17,000 pages, and this might be even longer if our urge to write new tax laws was not constrained by EU regulations. By contrast Hong Kong, no economic slouch, has a tax code only 267 pages in length. We wish to carry out extensive worldwide trade, we will need to put in place dozens of trade agreements. Perhaps these will be drawn up with the public interest at heart. More likely they will be written to benefit the wealthy and powerful individuals who operate from our many British tax havens, who will breathe a collective sigh of relief at being no longer constrained by Brussels.

We may eventually reach the sunlit uplands that we are promised, but this would take competence, persistence, and dedication. Can we expect such qualities from Boris Johnson? Will Nigel Farage have the patience to stop his destructive grandstanding and engage in some self effacement?

So it is possible to muster the enthusiasm to campaign for staying in the EU, despite its flawed, undemocratic and lumbering nature. It helps to visualize the following scene. While our economy stutters, the pound tanks, and property values plunge, an Etonian fop with tousled blond hair breaks into an winningly self deprecating smile, and blurts “Cripes – sorry about that, chaps. All those devilish dull details- such a bore!”.

* David Cooper is a member and constituency treasurer of the Newbury Liberal Democrats and has been a party activist for over a decade. He is also secretary of Libdem ALTER (Action for Land Taxation & Economic Reform). The views expressed are his own.

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  • Richard Sangster 1st Mar '16 - 8:41am

    Yes, the system of governance of the EU is different to that of the United Kingdom. This does not necessarily mean it is less democratic. The parliaments of both the United Kingdom and the EU are elected by the population. In the case of the first, this is done using the First Past The Post System, which means that a substantial minority will never be represented by somebody for whom they voted. Whilst , in the latter case, a more modern proportional representation system is used.

    One of the advantages of the governance system of the EU is that based around a separation of powers, whereby unlike the House of Commons, where more than half of whose members are beholden to the Government, by being government ministers or by virtue of being members of the same party(s), none of the members of the European Parliament are beholden to the European Commission. Thus the European Parliament is free to have a mind of its own.

    The European Commission’s involvement in the legislative process is essentially limited to proposing legislation. Legislation then has to be agreed to by both the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, which consists of representatives of each of the 28 national governments, in order to be enacted. Not all proposals are agreed to and of those that are, frequently they are amended along the way.

    Neither system of governance is perfect with both systems having their own advantages and disadvantages.

    It might be asked that if we are to remain in the EU, would we want the EU to have the same system of governance as the United Kingdom, thus repeating the disadvantages of the latter.

  • “The parliaments of both the United Kingdom and the EU are elected by the population.” – the whole parliament of the EU is not unliaterally voted by the whole electorate of the UK: we are a minority in the EU?

  • Denis Mollison 1st Mar '16 - 10:15pm

    Philip – and what’s your problem with that? At each level of democracy – community council, local council, devolved parliament or assembly, national government and supra-national union – the relevant population votes. The EU is in my view more democratic than the UK, with our disproportional electoral system for our lower house and appointed upper house; we are one of very few countries whose parliament(s) include appointed religious leaders – even in Iran the religious supreme council is elected I believe.

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