The EU needs advocates as much as it needs reformists

Posted by European Movement on 22/01/13

David Cameron, seeking to reassure business, international allies and moderate opinion, says his Eurosceptic agenda is not about leaving the EU, but about reforming it.

Labour, seeking to reassure sceptical opinion, says its pro-European position is about reforming it.

Even the Liberal Democrats, the most pro-European of the main political parties, rush to outline their own shopping list of necessary reforms.

They all may have different ideas as to what reform should mean, but for the wider public that difference is not clear. It is indeed welcome that all 3 parties exclaim their wish to keep the UK in the EU and to work towards making it even more effective and efficient. But the word reform often sounds like just another form of criticism, especially if it is not followed by reference to all the things the EU does well.

So the EU is in the dock, facing a whole host of prosecution lawyers and with no defence lawyer. Very few people in Westminster defend the EU, which, to a large extent, is a creation of its Member States’ wishes.

Unlike national governments or other public authorities, where there will always be defenders as well as critics of their decisions and so a more balanced debate, the EU in Britain always lacked leading political figures prepared to justify it. Instead, by focusing on things that are wrong with it, even pro-European politicians sometimes unintentionally re-enforce the ample mythology pumped out for decades by the overwhelmingly anti-EU newspapers. Today’s qualified (to varied degrees) pro-Europeanism displayed by Cameron, Miliband and Clegg often sounds like an apology rather than a confident case in favour of the EU.

This is a sliding slope towards ever greater euroscepticism and even exit. Far from it being “realistic” and “hard headed” to be critically pro-European, this kind of triangulation simply plays into the hands of the Europhobes. Cameron and Osborne making Britain’s membership of the EU conditional to such “reform” risks driving the country out of the EU.

Of course, the EU makes mistakes, has its rotten apples and has policies that need changing. That is the routine stuff of normal politics at any level. But the current debate around reform ignores the fact that the EU constantly reviews, improves, replaces and when necessary completely removes laws and policies that do not work. It is all done through the normal decision-making process between Member States, the European Parliament and the European Commission.

Reform and improvement is a constant state of being for all public bodies. The European Union has been undergoing a process of institutional, political and economic reform for a while now, with the Convention on the Future of Europe, the Lisbon Treaty and now the redrawing of the eurozone’s governance architecture. Making the EU work better should be a continuous effort of course, undertaken by Member States and EU institutions in tandem. But talking about “reform” in a vacuum risks re-enforcing the negative image installed in the public’s subconscious after decades of negative tabloid campaigns.

The relentless questioning of the EU’s very structure or even existence is peculiar to Britain. Unless political leaders are prepared to stand up and defend the EU, triangulation will take us down a road that no-one wants to reach the end of. Merely reminding the costs of a possible exit is not enough. Pro-European politicians must also defend the EU and promote what it does for the wellbeing of Britain and its citizens.

2 Responses to The EU needs advocates as much as it needs reformists »»

  1. Comment by Charlotte Sabel | 2013/02/01 at 11:20:54

    Reform is being seen as a negative in this instance because it is.
    Reform should have been suggested and implemented over the years as the EU grew in size and altered from its original plan. It is far from perfect.
    But this reform can only occur when a member takes an active and positive role within the organisation.
    As it is, Britain only now suggests these reforms as a polite way of saying they dislike the EU and want out, i.e.. If we don’t get them we leave.

    It is true, the speech did try and be all things and as such said very little except placate the sceptics wanting full exit of the EU. For everyone else, it is merely putting Britain in limbo.

    Of course I am optimistic because I know that outside the bubble , the general public in actual fact care very little about EU either negatively or positively, and know so little on the subject for the Pro European lobby to have an apt pupil to teach in the merits of staying in.

  2. Comment by John McKay | 2013/02/07 at 02:20:44

    As Eddie Izzard said on the Jonathan Ross Show last week ‘If Europe (i.e. EU) fails the World will fail. Its about being part of a shrinking World and having forums which address a safe and stable world order not narrow national interests. Unfortunately most of the anti EU rhetoric comes from England who are not used to being in a minority. The Welsh Scots and Irish have always had to exist with a big neighbour with an in-built majority and are much more relaxed about EU integration. The biggest part of the problem is the total lack of European news coverage by the BBC in contrast to their continuous output on the US..


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