The three things Nick Clegg would change about the EU

Nick Clegg York Q&A Some rights reserved by Liberal Democrats13 hours after leaving the debate stage last Wednesday night, Nick Clegg was back on his regular Call Clegg radio show. The show had been nominated twice in the Radio Academy Awards to be presented next month.

The first caller, Caron from West Lothian, (who might she be, I wonder?) made the point that she was highly amused by David Cameron trying to pretend that he was the voice of reason on Europe when his plan was to sell all our employment rights down the river and then give us a referendum.  Her question to him was that although he’s a powerful advocate of the EU, he acknowledges that it’s not perfect, what 3 things would he do to make it better.

Nick’s answer:

  • More Trade
  • Scrap the expensive monthly trek to Strasbourg (championed by all Lib Dem MEPs with a special mention for Edward McMillan-Scott)
  • Less red tape for small businesses

He also remembered that when he was an MEP it took a decade and a half to decide on a chocolate directive – hardly the work of a monstrous superstate.

Later on in the problem, he came back to discussing Cameron’s plans and basically said that nobody really understood what it was about. That rather suggests that James Forsyth’s suggestion that the Tory plan would not be a barrier to a second coalition is not accurate. This is what Nick actually said:

I think David Cameron’s renegotiation – I still don’t understand what its supposed to be about. From what I’ve read in the newspapers, it’s a little tweak here and a little tweak there. I don’t think it’ll satisfy anyone in the Conservative party many of whom agree with Nigel Farage and want to leave the European Union altogether.

Asked about whether it would be a “red line” in any coalition negotiations, he added:

I believe in reform, but I don’t believe it’s a realistic prospect to do what I think David Cameron initially suggested which is to repatriate a bunch of powers. We’ll keep the good bits and let everyone else keep the bad bits.

You can watch the whole programme here:

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16 Comments

  • Is that really the best he can come up with? How about real powers for the European Parliament with control of the Commission and a purely advisory role for the Council of Ministers? And the UK in Schengen too.

  • Charles Rothwell 7th Apr '14 - 1:47pm

    A REAL shame Nick did not spell out more how the EU should be changed when he and NF were asked what the EU would look like in 10 years’ time (and instead gave the answer, “About the same”!) Outside of the Brussels bureaucracy, you would need to interview a very large number of people indeed from northern Sweden to Cyprus to find more than a handful who would want the EU ‘to be about the same’ in ten years time! We have got to be the ‘party of IN’ but ALSO the party spearheading the move for change (from within).

  • Three Conservative priorities for Nick Clegg. No surprise there!

  • @JohnTilley

    For a movement that was, in-part, founded on ideas and reforms to improve trade it actually seems to be quite a Liberal thing to help businesses and increase trade. It can only be from successful trade that we can generate the taxes necessary to fund other liberal measures. For me, that is part of the beauty of Liberalism .

  • Matt (Bristol) 7th Apr '14 - 5:42pm

    I would like to see someone somewhere propose a change to the closed list system used for MEP elections. All parties involved in the Euro elections seem to be involved in a conspiracy of silence around it, whilst none of them seem to be prepared to recommend this system for any other elections (although I wouldn’t want to pre-judge UKIP’s permanently-being-reviewed manifesto).

    I would imagine this is not the system the LibDems would have chosen originally; it surely plays a part in the UK perception that the European parliament is a sideshow. Some real LibDem proposals (or a re-clarifying of any existing LibDem proposals) for re-democratisaiton of the EU would not go amiss; why have we swallowed the line that ‘reform’ of the EU ONLY means relaxation of trade rules?

    I’m not saying trade reform of the EU isn’t needed, and I don’t wish ot be business-unfriendly (although if more small Eastern European democracies are to join, a phased trade integration would surely be more friendly to their economies than full agreessive fast integration)

  • Those three desires on your wish list, could just as easily have be achieved under the parameters of the EEC which we voted for in 1975, without indulging in the rest of this ‘sovereignty sucking’, megalomaniac EU nonsense.

  • “He also remembered that when he was an MEP it took a decade and a half to decide on a chocolate directive – hardly the work of a monstrous superstate.”

    I’m pro EU but surely this comment plays into the hands of those anti’s who say it is an inefficient gravy train???

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Apr '14 - 8:10pm

    Matt (Bristol)

    I would like to see someone somewhere propose a change to the closed list system used for MEP elections.

    I would imagine this is not the system the LibDems would have chosen originally; it surely plays a part in the UK perception that the European parliament is a sideshow.

    It was what the Blair government would permit. Of course you can see why, it fits in very well with the Blairite centralising and top-down control mentality, whereas STV with its allowing the people to choose between candidates of the same party and its focus on individual candidates rather than party lists does not. The closed list system is a degenerate form of STV, what would result if in STV you were FORCED to limit your choice to one party and FORCED to list your candidates in the order that party told you to.

    The then leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, made a huge mistake when it was introduced of welcoming it as if we had reached our goal, as if this was the proportional representation we had always wanted, rather than a severe compromise between our ideal and what other politicians were willing to concede. As a consequence, many commentators at the time just assumed that the closed list system was this “PR” we had been going on about for years, and criticised it and us on that basis, went on about how it took the personal out of politics, gave power to the party centrally, meant people were forced to vote for the party image and not for individuals. All these criticisms did not apply to STV, but because our leader and those advising him did not point that out, and did not make clear “This is PR, but in just about the worst form possible, we have a much better system we would introduce if we had the choice”, the case for proportional representation, and our own image as a party of political reform, was damaged.

    I did point this out at the time. In some way its foreshadows the huge damage caused by the current leader going on and on about the current coalition as if it is the ideal we always wanted, and not making clear it is very much a compromise far from our ideal – not just because it is a coalition in which we are a small part and not a 100% Liberal Democrat government, but also in that the balance of the two parties in the coalition is greatly distorted by the first-past-the-post electoral system, so it does not fit in with the sort of multi-party government we advocate where the balance of the parties would be in accord with the balance of the vote.

    As I have noted elsewhere, we appoint fancy PR people (PR here with its other meaning), presumably at fancy salaries, because they are supposed to be experts at communication, yet we seem to be making so many basic mistakes in presentation, because the people we appoint just don’t seem to have the experience and deep attachment and knowledge of our party and how it works which would avoid those mistakes.

  • Matt (Bristol) 7th Apr '14 - 10:15pm

    @ Matthew Huntbach –
    I do remember that list PR was not LibDem policy at the time, and I also remember the curious Labour habit of choosing a different system of electoral representation for each new electoral body they decided to reform (for their own advantage? surely not!).

    It still surprises me that the current LibDem agenda for electoral reform seems to be only to press for STV for council seats, as if Labour’s reform had ‘settled’ the question of European election; if Lords reform is agreed by some (not me) to be off the agenda, surely now would be the time to revisit the question of what a LibDem version of a reformed relationship with the EU might look like?

    I take your point that being in favour of the principle is easily confused for being directly in favour of the only recent more-or-less manifestation of the principle unless you have very very adroit communicators.

  • peter tyzack 8th Apr '14 - 7:58am

    Charles Rothwell is right, and it’s not a million miles from the Cameron position, so would certainly give us room for discussion in any coalition negotiations. It would give our position greater credibility as well as saying to the Tory backbenches, support us or join Ukip. That would be no bad thing, ie reducing the size of Tory Party in Parliament and giving us more say.. which will be useful on the electoral/parliamentary reform agenda.

  • Oh dear! What a nothing of a list. Scrapping the monthly trek to Strasbourg is the lowest of low-hanging fruit and the other two are hardy annuals deployed by politicians of all parties when they haven’t a clue but have to tell the interviewer something.

    There are so many things he could have suggested, including the democratic deficit, the impetus to ‘ever-greater union’ (which conflicts with our instinct to devolve), the catastrophe that is the Eurozone (and its dire impact on southern Europe and youth employment), the CAP and its subsidies for large landowners and so on.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 8th Apr '14 - 3:49pm

    The recent debates showed a paucity in LD principles and policies, as expressed by NC – which he continues to repeat in the media. And his narrow view is taken up by the media as showing that LDs cannot win minds or support. NC lost the debates because he has no vision. Well, no vision to put right what the country sees as essential. All he spoke about were peripherals from which the public has moved on, often with contempt, though obviously these peripherals are central to NC’s thinking. A tweak here are there is not what we expect. A tweak here and there is what the EU does and we don’t like the EU as it is. There must be real change. A change to the EU itself. Most of the public deplore what the EU spends its time considering – to us it looks like an artificial debating chamber which we could do better in UK.

    Whatever pundits say is possible to re-negotiate, the public want bigger changes to this EU Leviathan, this monster which seems to consume more money than its belly should be able to hold – unless it regurgitates the cash to countries with old-fashioned agriculture and countries who could not organize their own governing without Germany’s support. The EU was created as a corner-stone for big issues like preserving the peace in Europe and elsewhere. And what does it do most frequently? The EU has become a laughing stock because it concerns itself with minutia, more irrelevant than any single government would dare to involve itself in at home.

    This is the main reason why the voters in UK want the various Treaties to be thrown in the air and reduced, especially in the tweakiness (meddling) of their scope. I suppose those ‘members’ of the EU Leviathan’s institutions want it to remain as it is because that is what they inherited at elections. Most of us know the EU is daft and want it radically altered. I’m an LD and don’t want us to lose what the EU is supposed to be for. But I’m certainly not for keeping the EU as it is with a few changes here and there.

    So NC and others like me who support EU – start to tell us what should be changed and how . And not much time to get your act together because your big chance you passed up as you thought it was an EU debate. Once a member of a system, always a member of the system – UNLESS you have vision. Start the real debate with Brits.

  • David Evans 8th Apr '14 - 4:29pm

    Is the narrative for the picture “… and how many MEPs do you think you will have after May 22nd, Mr Clegg?”

  • ‘I think we are going to get a drubbing in the Euros in May and this is one major reason. Considering we are supposed to the “the party of in” we have no plan for how the EU can be reformed and seem content to drift with “more of the same”.

    As a result, we will lose almost all our MEPs. Then we really will be “the party of in”. In deep €€€€ that is.

  • Julian Tisi 8th Apr '14 - 10:31pm

    @ Matt Bristol “I would like to see someone somewhere propose a change to the closed list system used for MEP elections” The Lib Dems are proposing exactly that – a change to STV. It’s party policy as of the recent Spring Conference. This isn’t an EU reform though, we can do it ourselves.

    One reform of the EU I would definitely like to see – and I’m surprised Nick didn’t mention it – as it takes up almost half of the EU budget – is reform / scaling back of / ideally abolishing altogether the Common Agricultural Policy. An absolute dogs breakfast of a policy, which does huge damage to third world farming, increases the cost of our food, costs about 40% of the EU budget and lines the pockets of large landowners.

    The CAP would never have been adopted had Britain entered the EU/EEC from the start – since then we’ve been pressing for reform for years. It previously took up 80% of the EU budget and caused overproduction – wine lakes and butter mountains. It’s protectionism at its worst and as liberals we should and have opposed it. As the EU has grown the CAP has taken less of the overall EU budget but it’s still to much.

  • Passing through 9th Apr '14 - 2:37am

    Regarding “closed lists” it has to be remembered that the election system Clegg chose in the failed HoL Reform was one which worked on a basis of only a “semi-open” list .

    IIRC the voter could indicate a preference of candidate if they chose or vote for a party and any “wasted” candidate votes (i.e excess votes for a candidate who has already reached the electoral threshold or votes for a candidate who fell short of the threshold) would be allocated, along with all the party-only votes, to whoever the party’s Central HQ deems fit. Which makes it the least open of the various “open list” variants.

    Combine that with no opportunity for a candidate to be personally endorsed by the electorate during a re-election campaign and it was a recipe for stacking the HoL’s with party loyalists from all parties representing the relative electoral fortunes of the parties from up to 15 years ago.

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