How would you make the positive case for Europe?

by Stephen Tall on January 12, 2009

The countdown to elections to the European Parliament – to be held in tandem with local government elections on 10th June – is now on. Last week, here on LDV, the Lib Dems’ vice-chair of our Euro election campaign, Willie Rennie, staked out the internationalist, liberal principles around which he said the party should fight the elections, and contrasted it with ‘lethargic Labour’ and ‘isolationist Tories’.

And, over the weekend, two Lib Dem bloggers also elaborated their own views of Europe, the EU and what the Lib Dems should be saying. James Graham at Quaequam Blog! noted the political muddle the party got itself into over the Lisbon Treaty referendum, but argued, “all that I could live with if the pro-European parties were prepared to stick their necks out and actually argue the case for European Union. Except they don’t, fearing it will make them unpopular.”

The theme was taken up by ‘Costigan Quist’ at Himmelgarten Café, who reckoned the bigger problem is that

… we’ve lost sight of what we want the EU to do. That clarity of post-war vision is a distant memory. The people of Europe have left it up to our political masters to run the thing, and that suits the political classes rather well as they use the EU as a convenient whipping boy to take the blame for unpopular decisions (if it’s popular, it’s a government success; if it’s unpopular, it’s been forced on us by some EU directive). … Instead of messing around with referendums on obscure treaties, we need to understand what we, the people of Europe, want the EU to achieve over the next few decades and then figure out how the EU needs to change to do it.

And he laid down this two-fold challenge for our party:

The Lib Dem part in this story is to figure out how the EU can be used firstly to further the interests of the British people and secondly to achieve good things around the world that the UK couldn’t hope to start to do alone. It has the potential to play to a Lib Dem strength: entering into a genuine dialog between politicians and the people.

On ‘Costigan’s’ second challenge – to show how the EU can “achieve good things around the world that the UK couldn’t hope to start to do alone” – it strikes me there are two complementary challenges. First, to ensure Europe maintains a global voice greater than the sum of its parts, as a bulwark against the US superpower, and the emerging giants of Russia and Asia. As Timothy Garton-Ash put it in The Guardian last week:

Why can’t we Europeans get our act together when it comes to dealing with the rest of the world? On our own continent we have done great things: we have almost completed the most ambitious enlargement in the history of the union; we have just marked the 10th anniversary of the euro. In external policy we are little further on than we were a decade ago. And time is not on our side. As powers such as China and India rise, the relative power of Europe inevitably decreases – so pooling our resources is to some extent simply running to keep up. Global warming and nuclear proliferation will not wait on our endless internal debates.

Secondly, through its enlargement into eastern Europe and the near Middle East, the EU could, as Chris Patten has put it:

… attempt to prevent that ‘clash of civilisations’ predicted by Samuel Huntington and devoutly hoped for by extremists, especially (but not solely) Islamic ones. The reconciliation of France and Germany was the necessary and admirable European accomplishment of the twentieth century; reconciling the West and the Islamic world, with Europe acting as hinge between the two, is a major task for the twenty-first. (Not Quite the Diplomat, pp.143-44)

These are powerful propositions. But I am well aware they are unlikely to connect with the British electorate in the same way that assaults on the vagaries of the EU – from ‘metric martyrs’ to the iniquitous CAP – will strike a chord for the anti-EU parties. So how would you answer ‘Costigan’s’ second challenge, to show “how the EU can be used firstly to further the interests of the British people”?

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James Graham at Quaequam Blog! noted the political muddle the party got itself into over the Lisbon Treaty referendum, but argued, “all that I could live with if the pro-European parties

There was no muddle. It was just a lie to the electorate and adeal with New Labour and the DUP to avoid the vote

by Newmania on January 12, 2009 at 10:42 am. Reply #

A very strange question to consider as the basis of your election strategy.

I don’t start planning County Council elections by considering “”How do I make the positive case for County Councils”

A few thoughts:
1) Opposition to unnecessary legislative interference. The scrapping of the rules categorising some vegetables by shape and size is welcome but do we really need them at all? Similarly where is our Euro Parliamentary opposition to the Data Retention directive – how about our candidates commiting to ensure the European Parliament votes on it’s abolition within 6 months of being elected.

2) What do we see as the role of a European tier of government. As liberals committed to decentralisation we should be very careful about a very high tier taking on extra powers (either by stealth or open decision). We should be stronger to oppose decisions being taken in Europe which, whilst we might agree with the ends aren’t appropriate at that level. Why for example is a report on European City Guides being considered in Brussels/Strasbourg? http://www.libdemmeps.eu/new/index.php?page=legislative-work-in-progress.

3) A strategy to end the twin site nonsense – eg proposing that the commitment for a certain number of sessions is met by holding them all on one day with each session having one 5 minute item of business. We should have enough procedural obsessives to find a route to do something like that.

4. Campaigning for proper enforcement of appropriate European legislation. The rules on packaging for example don’t seem to be enforced particularly well.

by Anonymous on January 12, 2009 at 11:57 am. Reply #

I will get the hang of putting my name in at some point……

by Hywel on January 12, 2009 at 11:58 am. Reply #

Keep to what is simple, urgent and very important.

“Its the economy, stupid”. Both we and the world badly need the EU to help sort out the mess.

by David Heigham on January 12, 2009 at 12:46 pm. Reply #

I don’t start planning County Council elections by considering “”How do I make the positive case for County Councils”

No, Hywel, but you probably do start off by asking the question, “How do I show the Liberal Democrats on the County Council can further the interests of the people in my area?” (Which was the actual question, rather than the headline).

David – what’s your thinking of how the EU can sort out the economy?

by Stephen Tall on January 12, 2009 at 12:59 pm. Reply #

We really should democratise the EU. It’s a good institution, but MEPs should serve as Commissioners, and should run for smaller constituencies, i.e. counties and cities. I’ve written an article on EU reform before.

But that won’t solve the whole problem. We must challenge those papers which pedal (peddle?) anti-EU lies. Otherwise, we start an election with the battle already lost.

by Thomas on January 12, 2009 at 1:04 pm. Reply #

I think many people have forgotten what good EU has achieved with abolishing toll barriers and introducing the four freedoms. People might need to be reminded, how difficult it used to be. But even then, Liberal Democrats shouldn’t be uncritical and think that everything what comes from EU is perfectly liberal, but tell what they would like to change in EU. Obviously at least less bureaucracy, but the initiatives should be concrete enough.

by Anonymous on January 12, 2009 at 1:35 pm. Reply #

Opponents of the EU use examples as bad legislation as the primary argument for leaving. I look at that as cutting off your arm to cure a bruised elbow.

Being pro-EU doesn’t have to mean automatically supporting its every move. Taking a more critical tone with the mistakes made by the EU would help win over people whose understandable scepticism is being captured by the EU’s enemies.

by Different Duncan on January 12, 2009 at 5:20 pm. Reply #

“There was no muddle. It was just a lie to the electorate and adeal with New Labour and the DUP to avoid the vote”

There was no deal. There was no obligation to have a vote.

by Thomas on January 12, 2009 at 5:49 pm. Reply #

And the muddle was not actually about the EU at all, but because the party has yet to arrive at a principled position on the appropriate use of national referendums.

by Paul Griffiths on January 12, 2009 at 7:14 pm. Reply #

How would you make a positive case for Europe?

Stephen, why should I?

by Martin Land on January 12, 2009 at 7:46 pm. Reply #

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