The weekend debate: Are Lib Dems too pro-European?

Here’s your starter for ten in our weekend slot where we throw up an idea or thought for debate…

With the looming debt crisis in the Eurozone and Eurosceptics from across the political divide baying for blood, the LDV weekend debate couldn’t resist the pressure any longer.

So, with people openly talking about the possibility of the end of the Euro as we know it, and Europe seemingly in crisis, are Lib Dem Ministers taking the right decisions for the party and the country as a whole?

The party has long been proud to proclaim itself the most pro-European of them all but can we and should we sustain that in the current political climate?

Recent opinion polls have led certain well-known commentators to suggest UKIP is on the verge of overtaking us. Is it just a flash in the pan or a fundamental shift in the country’s attitude to Europe?

And should Nick Clegg still be leading the charge against Tory Eurosceptics when the issue is so unpopular with voters?

Post your comments below…

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59 Comments

  • Don’t apologise for kicking this debate off – the party desperately needs to develop its thinking on developments which are of huge significance to our economy and politics.

    Some quick thoughts:

    – We need to be robust on the need for resolution of the euro crisis. It is no good pretending that the eurozone has worked well, but it is now ‘too big to fail’ from a British economic perspective. I can understand why Germany wanted to see real commitment to economic reform and debt reduction from Italy and Greece, but we are now on the edge of the precipice and they need to get the cheque book out.

    – We need a vision for Britain leading a successful non-eurozone EU. This should be a liberal Europe – pro consumer, competition and trade; promoting human rights and tackling international crime; working together to tackle climate change. But as a party that believes in decentralisation where possible we should not assume that every regulation that has come from Brussels needs to be made by Brussels – its the wrong policy and bad politics. And we should push for a democratic, accountable EU. How about requring the Commissioners to come from the European Parliament for example?

    – We need to sharpen the divide between Cameron and his party. Watching the referendum debate the other week, it was obvious the Tory backbench is stuffed full of anti-EU obsessives (not Eurosceptics) who will never be satisfied until Britian leaves the EU. This is not the view of Cameron, Osborne or even Hague, and there is clear potential for a massive split within the Conservative party as events unfold. However, there is a danger they will be unified by painting us as blindly pro-European, if we don’t get the political dividing lines in the right place.

    – We should recommit ourselves to an in/out referendum. A referendum now is ridiculous, because we don’t know what the eurozone will look like in a few months time, never mind the non-eurozone EU. So we wouldn’t know what we are voting for or against. But it is clear that significant changes are on the way, and that should have the people’s consent. I think we can win an in/out ‘take it our leave it’ referendum if we play a leading and positive role in reshaping the non-eurozone EU.

  • “should Nick Clegg still be leading the charge against Tory Eurosceptics when the issue is so unpopular with voters? ”

    I missed that. When did that happen? There’s been a perfect opportunity to stress what a great idea it would be to join Schengen, as the tories discovered how unworkable a policy of treating every bus load of primary school children that arrived at Dover as terrorists really was. Not a peep from the LibDems.

    The LibDems should stop accepting the right wing press’s version of the world outside Britain. Why on earth are people writing things like “It is no good pretending that the eurozone has worked well”? They’ve consistently outgrown us for a decade. They’re still doing it. Our policy of devaluing at the first sign of trouble has failed again and again and again.

    The most likely result of the debt crisis in some eurozone countries is going to be the end of London as a major financial centre. By playing no part, other than to snipe from the sidelines we will lose out massively as a nation.

    We need a party that reminds us of the reality – that Britain’s only future is as a committed part of Europe. A closed country that is nothing but a Puerto Rican style US dependency – the dream of the Europhobes – would be a nightmare for Britain. The LibDems should start speaking up for the ideal of a united Europe without apologising for it.

  • Simon McGrath 12th Nov '11 - 10:36am

    It might help if our Euro MPs were not in so many cases the most fanatical of European federalists who seem to have no intention of putting the interests of the UK first.

    A first weeks ago Fiona Hall was calling for the UK to lose our rebate ( no doubt we will be hearing a lot more of this from the Tories in the next Euro elections).

    And in this weeks Lib Dem news Andrew Duff is explaining (yet again) why referendums are such a bad thing ( people tend to vote the wrong way basically). His article contains this extraordanary line :

    “MEPs loyal to the European project” – I want our MEPs to be loyal to the UK and our Party not a supranational project which can only advance by ignoring the wishes of people in this country.

  • @Simon McGrath You don’t get the whole concept. Why ‘our’ rebate? Are they sending you cheques? I don’t want the proportion of the tax I pay that ends up at European level to be repatriated to the London government. They won’t use it well. They keep starting wars apart from anything else.

    This isn’t about ‘the interests of the UK’ which can only mean the interests of the clique who run the UK. They aren’t ‘us’. This should be about our interests as Europeans. MEPs are there to represent their constituents, not follow the London line.

  • We should always be in favour of European and wider international cooperation.

    We should be against the bloated, unaccountable and often corrupt bureaucracy of the EU, against its attempts to micromanage matters which ought to be delegated to the lowest level of Government possible.

    We have to realise that there is a huge democratic deficit with the EU. And draw the appropriate conclusions.

  • Perhaps if pro-Europeans hadn’t isolated themselves by shouting words like “”Little Englander” and “xenophobe” at those critical of the EU they might now have an easier time. Frankly there seemed to be too few who were prepared to criticise Europe for fear of being seen to agree with the Daily Mail. The comments above are encouraging because they show that it is possible to be pro-European without swallowing the whole EU “project” hook, line and sinker.

  • The EU undoubtedly needs reform and leadership and it would be in the interests of the UK to influence this, unfortunately the Tory party, from top to bottom, are ideologically incapable of doing so thanks to their lack of intelligence on the matter. Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems should be ideally placed to influence where Cameron cannot and will not. To retreat from doing so would be an act of political cowardice.

    If the Lib Dems lose their position on Europe then there is no dividing line between them and the centrist Cameron supporting parts of the Tory party, just degrees of difference. There is not enough space in the UK for two right wing parties at national level, it’s why UKIP don’t have any MPs.

    That will be an (even bigger) electoral disaster for you come the next general election

  • Keith Browning 12th Nov '11 - 2:16pm

    I can’t believe how anti-Europe Britain has become in such a short time. As someone who spends plenty of time in Portugal I’m not sure what the problem is, and who has stirred up the anti-Europe stuff.

    My educated neighbours in Portugal all think the solution to the European problems are greater integration, and the end of nationalism. They believe that the ‘rich and powerful’ of each government are scared of losing their dominance and so the best way of ridding Europe of corruption and dominance by an elite minority is for a large Federal state. I think the Greek people have a similar attitude. Everyone wants to get rid of the money men and remnants of the Knights Templar Crusaders.

  • “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” Sun Tzu

    I some how feel that you are at the imperilled stage, the title (“Pro-European”) alone indicates that you do not understand your opponents (in the terms of this debate the phrase should be either pro-EU or Anti-EU). You’ve blamed others for being “anti” yet never seem have taken the time to understand why that is the case, nor have you ever really put forward a credible counter case for what would happen if the UK left the EU.

    You are clearly in a dilemma on how to obtain credibility after years of being totally pro-EU/Euro. In some cases the support has been blind to the facts – especially true in the case of the Euro. When many of the more thoughtful (and intelligent) people in the Anti-Euro camp were voicing concerns about allowing some nations into the club you were calling them “idiots” (or other names, as pointed out by Richard).

    I’m afraid it’s a little late for this debate, you should have been sorting it out a long time ago and the result now is out of your (and the UKs) hands. This is a crying shame, without such an ideological rush to an EU Socialist super state we may have had a far more favourable outcome for the EU and the countries who are about to suffer. Once the crisis is over though, we may see a more evolutionary approach to the EU (i.e. the “multi speed Europe” which was often scorned by the pro camp) that one day could lead to a European State.

    How all off this will effect the LDP in the future is anybodies guess, Simon McGrath thinks you will hear a lot more of Fiona Hall from the Conservatives at the next EU election; I have a feeling that you’ll be hearing a lot more than that from the likes of UKIP.

  • It’s good to see folks commenting IN FAVOUR of the EU and Euro. However, I think we need to go futher – there are some good suggestions in the previous posts. But if Britain and the EU are not going to lose out, we need to start a comprehensive plan NOW to make it happen. We need to capture and implement good ideas.
    For example, if an EU referendum comes up, we need to ensure we don’t get an AV referendum rerun. And we have to decide in advance what we will do to win such a referendum.
    We need to bat back the negative comments in the press and elsewhere. I know our excellent MEP does a good job in batting back the barrage from Farrage, but we should ensure that the voters hear common sense from lots of sources regularly. And I am sure there are other actions that I haven’t thought of, but as I said, comprehensive planning needs to be kicked off NOW, at a senior level in the party.

  • Mark Thompson 12th Nov '11 - 5:00pm

    IMMIGRATION is the reason people are becoming Eurosceptic.

  • revsimonwilson 12th Nov '11 - 6:30pm

    I am proud to be a federalist and a Liberal who wants to see an enlarged, reformed and inclusive European Union

  • David Pollard 12th Nov '11 - 7:01pm

    Just keep riling the Tory EU – nutters. It drives Cameron into a corner where his only option is to stay close to the LibDems in government. If Cameron tries to rely on the Tory party as it is now constituted he will be destroyed.

  • Andrew Duffield 12th Nov '11 - 8:53pm

    I’m proud to be a sceptic and a Liberal who wants to see Britain open for business with the whole world, not shackled to a protectionist and increasingly prescriptive supra-statist entity that – although it undoubtedly means well – has proved itself incapable of meaningful reform over many years now. The CAP is the pinnacle of this folly, with VAT not far behind.

    Diversity and competition are the dynamic drivers of social and economic progress. Sustainable best practice will out. The enemy of Liberalism is homogenous harmonisation and the protection of privilege at the expense of the poor, at home and abroad – everything that the EU, regrettably, has come to embody, promote and perpetuate.

    Fortunately, there are other reasons for being a Liberal Democrat.

  • Leekliberal 13th Nov '11 - 9:43am

    As a strongly pro-Europe party we are in a good position to be listened to when we call for reforms. The EU seems to have forgotten ‘subsidiarity’, a good Liberal concept that all decisions should be taken by the most local competant tier of Government. Also I find it impossible to defend the fact that the annual EU accounts have not been approved by auditors for well over 10 years.

  • Chris Davies MEP 13th Nov '11 - 10:01am

    The ‘Europe’ debate is conducted almost entirely in generalities, not to mention superficialities: “we are being pushed around”; “there are too many directives”. I asked a Lib Dem AGM audience yesterday what directives they opposed. They couldn’t name one. I asked them which ones they welcomed. They couldn’t name one.

    Most Directives appear logical and reasonable when explained; there are very few that don’t make sense, though there are some that shouldn’t have passed a subsidiarity test in my view. Most Lib Dem MEPs consistently voted against the Working Time Directive on subsidiarity grounds. The Zoo Directive (minimum standards) only got accepted after much debate on this score. The proposed Soil Directive (minimum standards to prevent erosion) has not been accepted because of subsidiarity grounds.

    But you will never get to hear any of this in the UK media. There are more journalists in Brussels, it is said, than any city bar Washington but there is not one single journalist from The Sun, Express, Daily Mail or Mirror, and at best one from each of the ‘broadsheets’. Can anyone tell me when they last heard an MEP from a party other than UKIP or the Greens on Question Time or Any Questions? After a while even those of us who think we are not bad at self promotion stop bothering and just get on with the work, and after 12 years in Brussels I still have no doubt at all that every month I spend in the European Parliament is worth in terms of political achievement every one of the two years I spent in the House of Commons.

    Please let no Lib Dem run away with the idea that we are not critical of the EU institutions. Many of us are very critical, just as we are of Westminster, but except when we may reveal something about misuse of expenses you won’t read a word of coverage. Mind you, when there are so many MEPs and others who spend their lives finding reasons to be critical there is a need for a few to put the case for balance.

    Oh, and lest we stray down the line of demanding more ‘accountability’, let people explain how that will work. We have seen enough over the past few months to appreciate (note Obama’s frustration) just how sclerotic is the EU decision-making process. What about an elected European President? Just see how that idea goes down with the Prime Ministers of Europe whose role would immediately become subservient!

  • Pro-European LibDems like Tim Farron, Graham Watson and Chris Huhne show it is perfectly possible to get elected when you talk and campaign positively on Europe. But when you are collectively scared of being tarred with the Euro brush — as I am sure is now happening with student targeting — the majority of associations will target their funds elsewhere.

  • @leekliberal – the accounts are not signed off mostly because the auditors are not allowed to see what national governments spend the money on. It would be incompetent of the auditors to do otherwise. The EU side of things gets a clean bill of health these days. The financial problems within the Commission documented by Marta Andreasen appear to have been dealt with, for now.

  • I think we should look at the alternatives to the EU first.
    Surely at this time in the year we can’t dismiss peace in Europe lightly. Those of us who , even as young children remember WW II appreciate that it wasn’t a few coffins coming, home tragic though that is. Visit the Menin Gate for goodness sake and get a sense of propodrtion.
    But the EU is surely even more than that. Peter Wilby puts it perfectly when he says,”When Tories say they are happy with a free trade area but not with a loss of sovereignty,what they really mean is that they prefer a capitalist’s paradise of zero government and zero regulation where countries compete by continually lowering taxes, eroding wages, increasing working hours, aboloshing safety regulations and reducingsafety regulations and consumer protection.”
    It seems to me that Germany outperforms us in maufacturing. The quick City buck worked well until it imploded. It isnt working people who are the problem it is a long history of incompetent British management. Otherwise why would the japanese and even the German companies employ native Brits?
    Sadly the buddies of the incompetents, the Tory press, have convinced a large secion of our people to become turkeys voting for Christmas.
    Surely we know where we stand!

  • Of course we should be more pro-active and publicity-seeking about the reforms needed within the EU. For example why do we keel over when we get a refusal to abolish the ludicrous monthly transfer of the entire European parliament beween Brussells and Strasbourg and back again? Could all those MEPS who abhor this nonsense not simply refuse to participate in it?

    However that is not the same as growing cold on the basic raisons d’etre of the EU concept. Oranjepan – some way back in this thread- says ” European freedom must mean more than France and Germany not going to war with each other”. Yeah right but why be so dismissive about that crucial underpinning to the project. Does anyone think it is a coincidence that there has been no war between any of the Western European countries since 1945 – perhaps a record period without such a war in modern history.

    This weekend Catherine Bearder MEP said –
    “There are many critics of the European political system and we have seen a lot of anti-European rhetoric in the UK parliament and media recently.

    “But we need to remember the strongest argument for European cooperation and the most important success of that cooperation is the 65 years of peace that have existed between a group of countries that have spent centuries at near-constant war.

    “Democracies that work together and come to rely on each other to trade with are far less likely to go war. Winston Churchill knew this when, speaking in the aftermath of war he said that “if Europe were…united in the sharing of its common inheritance, there would be no limit to the happiness, to the prosperity and glory which it’s three or four hundred million people would enjoy.”

    “Well, it’s now five hundred million and that original argument still remains the strongest one for the existence of a strong union of countries in Europe. We owe it to those that we remember today.”

    Good stuff Catherine. Let me just finish by saying that the day we Liberal Democrats start kow-towing to the UKIP and its ilk will be the day I look for the exit door from a party for which I have been an activist for 50 years.

  • If Jedibeeftrix thinks wars or avoidance of wars are based entirely on military issues and are unconnected with economic and political issues, he knows little of history.

    Also why does he assume that anyone defending the EU is in favour of an “ever-deeper union” by which is usually meant a process ending up with a “United States of Europe”. I for one am much more in favour of a widening union. Indeeed I regard the extent of this widening already – with more to come – as virtually ruling out this “country called Europe” straw man erected by europhobes (of which I am not accusing Jedibeeftrix of being by the way)

    I doubt if any of the idealists who first launched what has now become the EU would have envisaged the vast spread of countries now within it – or would have thought such a conglomeration would or should become one country.

    However the degree of political and economic co-operation is unprecedented, represents an enormous achievement and is quite capable of further improvement if all concerned were to get down to to that rather than constantly questioning its existence.

  • Paul Murray 14th Nov '11 - 2:51pm

    “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”.

    I have been forced to conclude that had we been in a position to implement the party’s long-standing commitment to replacing the pound with the Euro then it would have been an unmitigated disaster for this country.

    The facts here are simple enough : the Eurozone in its current form is an economic death sentence for its weaker members. The last two years have eloquently demonstrated that a common monetary policy that includes both strong and weak economies can only work if it is combined with a common fiscal policy – in other words, a transfer union.

    In the absence of the ability to devalue their currencies, indebted countries like Greece and Italy have had no option but to embrace austerity which simply decreases GDP and therefore increases the cost of servicing their debt. A vicious circle of utter illogic.

    The appalling vista of the democratic deficit that has opened up in Italy and Greece must give all democrats pause for thought. It is a damning indictment of the current state of the Eurozone that so many of our European colleagues are prepared to welcome the replacement of democratically elected governments by unelected “technocrats” – the exact set of bankers who got us into this mess in the first place.

    I still believe that our future is in Europe and in the EU. But there can be no blind allegiance to the ideals of “ever closer union”. We must be muscular critics of what is being done in the Eurozone or we will be rightly held up to ridicule at the next election as the party that wanted to lead the UK to economic oblivion, or worse.

  • Andrew Duffield 14th Nov '11 - 7:26pm

    What absence of war?
    Like poverty, it remains a primary UK / EU export surely?

  • Additionally the point we have to cover is that the only option for the Euro Group is to go for tighter fiscal and political union- the only circumstances in which the single currency can actually work. The UK will be excluded from this inner union because It is politically impossible for the UK to join the Euro in any foreseeable medium term future. The UK will therefore be excluded from the inner counsels of the EU which will be dominated by Germany and its glove puppet France. So as a party competing for power in the real world we have to start thinking about real practical alternatives.

  • I am not following your reasoning, Jedibeeftrix. Previously you have agreed with me that the EU must not try to be a “country” but have recognised great benefit in its co-operative achievements. Now you are rather grandiloquently setting out that only those features which make up the essence of a nation state are of any value – or is this what you are saying?
    I do have a sense of familial sentiment with fellow Europeans but not to the same degree that I feel within UK. Indeed it appears that the Scots keep their deepest familial layer for their fellow Caledonians before they even get to the UK level. The fact that it is unlikely many of us will ever achieve the nirvana of feeling our first and greatest loyalty to Europe is no argument at all against the degree of European sharing that the EU represents.

  • Alex Macfie 15th Nov '11 - 1:20pm

    jeedibeeftrix:

    It is all very well to create mechanisms of accountability, but what is the point if their decisions are not representative of what you/Britain wants?

    How do you define what “Britain” wants? The interests of nations (read: national governments) are represented in the EU by the European Council. But that is not the purpose of the European Parliament, where members sit, and mostly vote, according to party groups (ALDE, EPP, ECR etc) determined (usually) by the national party to which they belong. If MEPs voted en bloc by nationality, then there would be little point in voting in European parliamentary elections, because whomsoever you voted for, they would vote the same way (for the “British” position). In other worse, it would just duplicate, not scrutinize, the Council, and its members would have absolutely no accountability.

  • Alex Macfie 15th Nov '11 - 1:22pm

    You could just as well argue that the UK Parliament’s decisions are not representative of what Cornwall wants, since there are only 6 MPs representing Cornwall.

  • Sniping from the sidelines is all we are able to do and crucially always have been able to do – because of the intrenched views of our own mandarins and politicians that every ounce of crap-legislation emanating from the Brussels Bunch must be adhered to by the letter. We have been the only country to react in this way to punitive and crass declarations from this bunch of twits – scared of our own shadow or too bone-idle to resist, when it came to standing up for our interests and common sense. Now, the situation we all are in becomes clearer – why it has taken so long is beyond me as ordinary folk have been railing for ever against the rediculous bureaucracy that EU-politics has spawned. Not too many people that I know are anit-Europe per-se. Most people I know are anti EU and simply because the clowns involved, led by Barosso the chief clown of clowns, have, missing the real opportunity that a united European trading front could have, encouraged things to move towards the federalistation of Europe – but not in a savvy, constructional or clever way. By instating the Euro prematurely, probably the easiest of steps within a federalist programme, they hoped that the rest would simply fall into place and follow – as usual, being politicians, they made the usual political assumption that by stating and wishing for something it would happen. Just like that. Wrong! Planning, Analysis, Thought , Strategy and Hard Work were, as always in trying to achieve something of worth, necessary but lacking. As it is now. Peeing against the wind is at best what they are doing. Our own politicians of whatever ilk should admit to seeing the writing on the wall – if they genuinely can’t see it they should consider becoming consultants!
    To continue saying and believeing things like “Within Europe not ruled by Europe” is naive, when for Europe read “EU”. It will be many years before our voice within the EU means much, if it ever does or has. Our voice within Europe, however, has a much better chance if we play our cards right. Options are there and this is well past the ideal time for exploring them and showing that we do, after all, have a bit of backbone left in us. Come on! All you politicians – time to get real!

  • Oranjepan
    Posted 18th November 2011 at 2:26 pm

    “Perhaps I could encourage you to ask some questions instead of rehashing blithe statements and breastbeating.”

    I Know that statement wasn’t directed at me, but what the heck. I fail to understand some of the statements that you have made about the Council of Europe.

    ““CoE and EU are designed to work in combination, so it is self-defeating to support one without supporting the other or withdraw from either to concentrate on the other.”

    This isn’t entirely accurate – they are seperate bodies. There are 20 non-EU members of the CoE, some may wish to join the EU at some stage but it is unlikely that others will (although anything is possible). In fact, if you read the CoE Treaty Office web page it does quite clearly state that treaties are “open to accession by non-member States, even non-European States”.

    I could understand if you had said you couldn’t support the EU without supporting the CoE, after all the EU has tied itself to it and you can’t be in the EU without being covered by it. So the question is, why would you think it pointless to support the CoE if you don’t also support the EU?

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