We must claim back Europe’s role in the world from populist Eurosceptics

Type 45 Destroyer, HMS Dauntless in the Mediterranean

Type 45 Destroyer, HMS Dauntless in the Mediterranean

We must claim back Europe’s role in the world from populist Eurosceptics

Image: Type 45 Destroyer, HMS Dauntless in the Mediterranean (Royal Navy, used under the Open Government License)
When campaigning for Europe, we must be unapologetic, and we must be frank with our stance. Europe as an idea and the EU as an organisation are both under enormous pressure from within and without. To recognise Europe’s value, we must avowedly call for reform, and we must be the dynamism needed for change.

One of those changes must be the capacity to defend itself and its neighbourhood.

This week, Chancellor Angela Merkel endorsed her successor’s plans for Europe, including a seat at the UN’s top table and a European aircraft carrier. The carrier plans are a following from France and Germany’s program to procure a new European fighter jet.

In 2016, Jean-Claude Juncker told MEPs that soft power is not enough. He told us all that analysis shows up to €100bn in savings are possible via closer cooperation. Americans operate one variant of Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), we Europeans operate a staggering 19 – the inefficiency is widespread, and it’s understandable for all to see. European defence is too fragmented, and it’s costing us all money and international clout.

Europe must be capable of defending itself and taking responsibility in its neighbourhood. We need the capacity to step in when states fail, preventing crises on our doorstep. We need the ability to stop the inhumane scenes we saw on European beaches when Libya and Syria failed.

There is a duty for a community such as ours; the largest economy on the planet, and the most successful peace project in history. That duty is to stand up when our neighbours need help; to stand up when hard-won human rights stop at a border, and it is to stand up to despots and injustices. It’s a duty to fight injustice and fight for peace.

Our mission is clear, the capacity is indisputable, and the necessity is plain.

Europe needs a greater role in international security, and the capability to operate without America. We as Liberal Democrats must take a stand for European defence, and Britain’s role in it.

* Charlie Murphy is Campaigns Officer of the Young Liberals

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17 Comments

  • Helen Dudden 13th Mar '19 - 3:05pm

    We do not all feel the same on issue’s.
    This is where it’s all going wrong!

  • John Barrett 13th Mar '19 - 3:56pm

    After wasting 6.2 billion pounds on two aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy, if anyone else is foolish enough to want more Aircraft carriers, I would suggest that we offer them one, or both, of ours.

    Charlie writes that “we must have the capacity to defend ourselves and our neighbourhood.” but then takes a massive leap of faith to link this to aircraft carriers. When many experts have concluded that the vast amounts spent on aircraft carriers have in fact been at the expense of much of the defence budget, leaving us weaker than before this vanity project was undertaken.

    I would like someone to explain exactly how aircraft carriers will defend our country and bearing in mind we do not have the support vessels required to send them into any war, or other dangerous zone, just what use are they?

    There are many other much better ways we could make the world a safer place.

    Charlie concludes by saying “Our mission is clear, the capacity is indisputable, and the necessity is plain.” I think not.

  • John Marriott 13th Mar '19 - 4:02pm

    Oh dear. It is precisely this attitude that puts so many people off the EU. It would be better if countries like Germany paid their fair share of the costs of running NATO instead of relying on the U.K. and France to shoulder Europe’s burden. As David Raw said, in delicate times like these banging on about a European army or its nearest equivalent is not helping us find a way out the Brexit maze.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Mar '19 - 5:38pm

    While David Raw offers a sarcastically cynical response, and John Marriot a satirically comical one, or maybe each offers both, I agree with them more than our author herein.

    I am a patriotic pro internationalist son of an immigrant, but want none of this nonsensical idea that more of Europe is either a description of a philosophy or a practicality.

    As with the unfortunately very disappointing Emanuel Macron, the notion that the answer to one extreme is the opposite, is exactly why this party is on a very low score with the public.

    The answer to overspending was not rigid austerity, but a moderate cut in waste.

    The answer to right wing populism is not rigid Europeanism, but moderate international responsibilities being faced up to.

    Other countries need to pay their two per cent and this one needs to play a greater part in being an example of a country that is neither neoliberal warmonger or bleeding heart liberal dogooder, but a liberal democracy, was aware of the second word, as the earlier word, one this party too often does not understand .

  • Charlie Murphy 13th Mar '19 - 9:16pm

    I’ll try to get through all of the points mentioned in these comments, many of which I’d hoped to address in the initial article, however I didn’t want to write anything too long.

    On the first point raised by Helen – there’s an awful lot Europeans do agree on. An example of this is counter-terror operations, currently undertaken in Mali by France (but requiring American support). Other operations are already undertaken with an EU banner, such as in the case of Somalia. The issue is, where we may agree that there are problems which need tackling, Europe lacks the capacity to do so individually.

    On Steve’s point about Libya – you’re quite right, it was somewhat stable under Gaddafi. What this does gloss over is the regime was in power for over 40 years, and had a terrible human rights record. When the Arab Spring came, the people overthrew Gaddafi with the help of a limited intervention. This intervention was under a coalition led by the US, despite being in Europe’s back yard, and some analysts touting it as ‘Europe’s moment’. What became clear is that once again European capabilities hampered any efforts. The state never really recovered from the uprising, and this is a missed opportunity where European forces could’ve supported a new democratic government, and helped in setting up a new, stable Libyan state. It would’ve been far better if we had that capability to step in and help to stabilise the region when oppressed populations overthrew a despot.

  • Charles Murphy 13th Mar '19 - 9:17pm

    On David’s point – it possibly would inflame the populists, true. But doesn’t campaigning for a People’s Vote? We shouldn’t be in fear of what the dangerous political forces of populists might disapprove of, we should stand for what’s right regardless and not let them dictate the rhetoric.
    I take your point on NATO, it’s one I’ve considered at length on this subject. We absolutely should not leave, but we shouldn’t allow the current gulf between European and American capabilities to continue either. American hegemony does no favours, and an alliance depending on American capabilities is unhealthy for all involved. However, as 28 states we’ll never have adequate capabilities individually – we must pool our resources. This is already happening within EU structures in the area of transport aircraft, take a look at the European Air Transport Command for more.
    Deeper cooperation on European defence isn’t zero sum, and it can work well with NATO. We saw the spirit of this in the joint statement from NATO and the EU in Warsaw in 2016. Closing the capabilities gap between the USA and Europe is a key goal for NATO, and closer cooperation in Europe is a great way to achieve that and achieve greater European autonomy too.

    As for the point regarding Young Liberals elections – the federal elections are in November. This article isn’t relevant to my position in Young Liberals, and is an op ed. I’m pleased to say though, Young Liberals do address issues of poverty and inequality; you can read more about our work on our website (www.youngliberals.uk) or attend the debate on our motion on unpaid internships in York next weekend.

  • Charles Murphy 13th Mar '19 - 9:18pm

    I digress to John Barret’s points. I won’t dive into the specifics of the strategic value of aircraft carriers here, it’s not really the main argument of the article and I’m not by any stretch an expert of blue water strategy. I will pick up on a couple of the points you raised alongside though; firstly the lack of support vessels. This indicates exactly why closer cooperation has been so successful in the past – where one NATO member has lacked a specific item of equipment, others have been able to contribute to task forces. Building on NATO cooperation in Europe would have a similar effect. We have limited resources among the EU28, and it is sensible to pool them for greatest effect, just as I mentioned earlier with the transport aircraft. Many smaller powers couldn’t maintain their own fleet of transport aircraft but they’re important for deployment overseas, so now around 8 states are contributing to a joint fleet within the EU to plug the gap.
    As for “Our mission is clear, the capacity is indisputable, and the necessity is plain” I maintain the point. Our mission – to keep stability in our region and promote human rights – is clear. The capacity of 28 European states (collectively the largest economy on the planet) to achieve this is indisputable. The necessity of cooperating more closely in a changing security environment is very plain – a revanchist Russia, a less reliable USA, and our Mediterranean neighbours remain in disarray.

    The points raised by John Marriott seem similar to David’s. Why exactly should we accommodate for populists and their anger against Europe? We can provide an alternative, a vision for a better, more active Europe, including a positive case for European defence cooperation.
    I agree that Europeans should take more responsibility for their defence, and in fact it’s admitted by many European governments (although our own don’t admit it, and try to fund defence less regardless). It’s exactly because I agree on that point that I believe we need more Europe in defence, and that ultimately our region and beyond need a more active Europe too.

  • Charles Murphy 13th Mar '19 - 9:18pm

    Finally, to address Lorenzo’s points. I share your self-identification as a patriot and an internationalist – I’m proud of what Britain achieved in Europe, and it’s the desire to see more British and Europeans leading the way that has driven my support for closer European defence cooperation. The reality is that it’s the only practical way to keep our voices heard effectively and maintain Europe’s geostrategic relevance, and that it’s within our grasp.
    I understand and to an extent share your caution when it comes to falling into a kneejerk reaction of supporting anything ‘Europe’ in response to Euroscepticism. We must only support those reforms and changes in Europe which would build a better community and ultimately a better world, but that’s again exactly why I support defence cooperation.
    We are of course a liberal democracy, and that’s exactly why I believe parties like ours should stand up for what’s right and deliver the case for it to the electorate.

    (Hopefully I addressed all of the points in these comments, however I apologise if not, as there were a lot to get through and I’m pressed for time!)

  • Helen Dudden 13th Mar '19 - 10:07pm

    I’m not prepared to accept terrorism as something we have to live with. What happens next?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Mar '19 - 11:56pm

    The response from Charey very eloquent and fullsome, please do not think I dislike more cooperation, no, more integration is my foe as expressed top down by EU chiefs too much.

    The desire good though it is, to integrate, is a nonsense as designed by an outdated type of EU leader, it is bottom up friendliness we need, a culture shift.

    Cannot disagree with good Liberals when so moderate in tone and approach.

    What is important is to fight populist ideologues ,not with more fantasist ideology, but with new ideas.

    I shall regard the author herein as a proponent of the latter.

  • Steve Trevethan 14th Mar '19 - 8:23am

    Might a reduction in our optional military activities abroad result in less actual harm for the victims of our “help”and less terrorism for us at home?

  • Perhaps the best way of dealing with failing states is for us to stop interfering in other countries.

  • Peter Martin 14th Mar '19 - 9:28am

    Is there any chance of allowing Charlie Murphy to expand on his ideas in broader forum? Maybe a party political broadcast?

    If money is an issue, I would expect you could attract donations from previously unlikely sources! 🙂

  • Peter Hirst 14th Mar '19 - 3:52pm

    If we believe in militarism as a legitimate tool in international affairs, then it is only by cooperation that we can achieve our aims. Apart from the nuclear option that should be taken off the table even if we maintain it, logistically it is impossible otherwise for us to achieve our objectives. Europe is the obvious place to look for allies, inside or outside the eu.

  • @John Marriott – It would be better if countries like Germany paid their fair share of the costs of running NATO instead of relying on the U.K. and France to shoulder Europe’s burden.
    Evidence?

    What is clear if the UK leaves the EU, it will almost certainly be told to vacate it’s seat on the UN Security Council. Given Europe currently effectively has two seats (UK & France) it would make sense for the UK seat to go to the EU…

    What has yet to be explored is the effects of an EU27 spending more on building up it’s defence on a non-EU UK. Whilst the UK might still be in Nato etc. I get an uncomfortable feeling some, in the UK, will use this to portray the EU as being a threat to the UK…

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