European Movement UK

Britain's future is with Europe! Join the debate and put your opinion forward!

by Lord Liddle – Chairman, Policy Network

A lot of what has been said since Mr Cameron’s Europe speech in January seem to make an assumption that he is going to be Prime Minister after 2015, and that therefore the referendum promised for 2017 is going to take place.

This is by no mean a foregone conclusion and what I would like to do is briefly set out what I think a Labour-led Government should do.

One assumption lying behind our present predicament is that, because of the crisis in certain parts of the eurozone and the presumed strengthening of integration needed to resolve it, Britain is condemned to be on the fringes of a much more integrated eurozone and therefore can no longer aspire, as Tony Blair’s Government certainly aspired, to play as leading a role in Europe as France and Germany.

I think that that assumption is flawed. I am sceptical about whether the steps necessary to save the euro require the creation of an inner core federal Europe. That argument is overdone. I also believe that there are policies that a Labour Government could advocate which would put it right at the core of Europe.

The key thing is that we present a positive vision for the future of the EU, which suits our policy priorities but can win support from our EU partners. There are three key elements to this.

First, is to have a plan for growth, which must be pro-reform and pro the single market. Mr Cameron’s demands threaten the very integrity of the single market he professes to want to strengthen. We also need a plan to get out of the trap of collective austerity in which Europe has put itself. There are a variety of instruments, like the European Investment Bank for example, which could be greatly expanded to deal with that problem.

Second, is the need to demonstrate the role of the European Union in tackling the big long-term challenges that all our European societies face, including innovation, climate change, demography and inequality. On innovation, we should be pressing for more co-operation in research and development. On climate change, there is an urgent need to do something about the minimum carbon price. The failure in the European Parliament last week to support proposals by the European Commission, which would have helped reform the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme, was extremely significant. We cannot have a credible national climate change policy without a complementary EU policy. On demography, we should be talking about how we manage the challenges of migration, rather than making cheap points about benefits tourists descending upon Britain. On inequality, we should look again at how we use European legislation to strengthen a more Germanic model of responsible capitalism.

Third, there is the crucial role that the EU can play in the world. We heard a lot in the aftermath of Margaret Thatcher’s death about how she put the “Great” back into Britain. But given that, in our changing world, Britain accounts for about 2% of world GDP, which will be our position in about 10 years’ time? The idea that Great Britain can on its own influence the world is for the birds. We have to do it through the European Union; that is the only way in which we can protect our essential values and interests, and that is what I believe a Labour Government would try to do.

Along with all the above, sensible institutional reforms would have to be engineered. A belief in a stronger EU in some areas is not necessarily an argument for a more centralised EU. We should continue looking at the present arsenal of EU laws and keep scrutinising what can be improved, amended or removed all together. We must also continue arguing for political reform that makes the European Commission and the EU Council more accountable both to the European Parliament and to national Parliaments.

But the fundamental point is that this has to be an agenda of reform, not of unilateral negotiation of some special deal for Britain, which is really a blind alley.

In conclusion, I would like today’s government to answer two questions. First, are there are any conceivable circumstances, if they should be in power after the next election, in which they would recommend withdrawal from the EU in a referendum? Second, do they agree that the task is to forge an agenda of reform with our partners and not to draw up a list of unilateral demands?

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Comments

  1. Many many truths outlined in this article and probably the best short term strategy I have seen for some time. However, to put this into place, it will need a Labour Government or Labour led coalition to be elected at the next General Election and I feel that for all that is right about today’s Labour Party that might not happen. Labour has to witness how it is perceived especially in the south and south east for that is where it will need to gain voters. For whatever is the truth it is the perception that counts and people in high positions in the party are still seen as the architects of the financial disaster that hit the country and will never be trusted with the economy again, no matter how bad the present incumbents.

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