The voice of young liberal democrats


Time to re-open the debate on Europe by londonliberal
December 13, 2008, 3:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Europe has historically been a bit of a red-herring for UK voters. Despite being an oddly heated issue with plenty of impassioned arguments made on both sides, it never actually mattered to most people before 9/11 and the Credit Crunch, probably the two defining moments of this the first decade of the 21st Century. Back then the pound was strong, the economy booming, the biggest challenge facing our troops was keeping the peace in Northern Ireland and the biggest threat to the environment was the hole in the Ozone layer. However, as long as we could be a member of the Single Market and the single biggest trading bloc in the world, without having to give away any more of our sovereignty, Europe was only an issue for idealogues and academics.

Now things are different though. Our troops are struggling desperately in Afghanistan and Iraq; we have just entered potentially our worst recession in 30 years if not more; the pound, at its lowest point in years, is almost at parity with the Euro; and the developing world has become both a battleground for the Great Powers again as well as a breeding ground for terrorists. On top of all that, the threat of global warming has become an increasingly urgent concern that most political leaders are only just waking up to. Regardless of the wide-ranging political opinions on any one of these issues, all must admit that times have changed significantly and in turn so must our priorities as both voters and political activists.

However, whilst we have already a clear picture of where we stand on development, NATO expansion, the Special Relationship, taxation, the environment and economic policy, in light of these changing times, Europe has continued to take a back seat. Even when the press try to make it an issue again, bringing up the Lisbon Treaty and the prospects of joining the Euro, the government nips it in the bud, out of sheer terror of taking a position on which public opinion is ambiguous at best. Yet, the significance of our relationship with Europe is greater than ever before. Will joining the Euro save our economy or kill it? Is a more joined up European foreign policy the key to easing the pressure on our armed forces and better protecting our country or is that too high a price to pay for burden sharing? Is the European Carbon Emissions Trading Scheme the first step to a viable solution to global warming or is it a waste of time or simply not far-reaching enough?

I’d like to re-open the debate on Europe and see where it runs. I want to avoid repeating the mistakes of old though, with Europhiles and Euro-sceptics alike dogmatically drawing their lines in the sand, resulting in nothing more than an intellectualised name-calling contest. So, let’s start with a few key assumptions that hopefully we can all agree on and go from there:

1) Retaining our sovereignty is essential to securing the national interest, but there is only so much we can achieve alone which is why we were happy to pool some of our sovereignty to join the single market and NATO in the first place;

2) Co-operation with Europe is itself desirable. The only sticking point is the mechanism of co-operation i.e. should EU agreements be binding and how much of a role should supra-national bodies such as the European Commission and the European Parliament play in facilitating co-operation;

3) Britain’s relationship with Europe should not affect its ‘special relationship’ with the United States.

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