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Talking about Europe

September 28th, 2011 Posted in EU Politics, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Philosophy by

Everyone knows that members of the Liberal Democrats are pro-Europe. There are many reasons why this is the case. The party has a long-standing international tradition. It supports free trade and the removal of protectionist barriers. The party is a product of a merger between the Liberal party and the SDP. The SDP founders left Labour because of that party’s anti-European position. And finally, there is a practical side that says it is better to be part of an organisation that impacts on how the UK operates than trying to influence that entity from the outside.

The recent Euro zone crisis has led many Euro-sceptics to argue that the Euro will be dead soon and that possibly the whole European project is coming to an end.

Nick Clegg has said made the case that the rules that were meant to apply to countries joining the Euro were not implemented. If they had been, he believes, the problems we are facing may have been avoided.

It is doubtful that this technical point will be enough to win over those voters who are beginning to question how things are being run in the EU.

Clegg has talked in the past of making the EU more liberal. Now would be a good time to set out what that means and what the party is going to do to try and influence European policymakers so that the EU pursues a more liberal policy agenda.

Offering voters a reforming liberal agenda for Europe would help differentiate the party and develop Clegg’s liberal narrative.


16 Responses to “Talking about Europe”

  1. chessnuts Says:

    And it’s our responsibility to dispel any fallacies about the EU being free-trade…
    It is just a bigger protectionist club, and just like most so-called free trade agreements, e.g. NAFTA, SAFTA, APTA, EFTA, etc. even bilateral agreements, it is MANAGED trade rather than FREE-trade. Of course bilateral agreements are preferable though.

    Of course you will never get perfect free trade as governments around the world will always subsidise home grown industries. The only thing that needs to be done is to eliminate all forms of protectionism, e.g. tariffs, taxes, quotas, and subsidies, and we would only benefit as a result. Anybody who understands why free-trade is crucial to prosperity understands that taxes and tariffs are a tax on the people, so we would only profit from it, at the loss of trading partners, especially when more companies would move abroad to the UK for fewer barriers, and it prevents more productive investments from emerging domestically. I assure you it would meet all the promises of these international ‘free’-trade agreements. International trade organisations only serves the special interest groups who have the wealth and political connections to lobby them.

    Making economically literate people understand this is the easy party, however, the government and the general population is a far bigger challenge.

  2. dan Says:

    Do we really need the EU for free trade and movement?

  3. Neil Says:

    I’m not anti-Europe – I’m not anti-world, in fact I’m not anti any individual BUT I’m most definitely pro-putting my own family or Country before others.
    If appropriate I’ll offer my ‘experience’ for free but I’ll not mortgage all that I’ve worked hard for to fund their future.
    Liberals and their idealism have no place in my house.

  4. Toby MacDonnell Says:

    The difficulty is France, Greece and Italy, whose social contracts are fundementally different to those of Britain, the Neatherlands, Poland, and Scandenavians. Whereas the North East form a fundementally pro-trade, capitalist social contract the South favours controling companies in order to garentee the surival of their population’s workplaces, thereby discouraging innovation and efficiency. One of these social contracts must win out over the other, and I am rooting for free trade over Fance’s protectionist leviathan.

  5. dan Says:

    I wonder how Neil found Liberal Vision?

    Toby, I think it’s clear that the leviathan has won through. I doubt that Nick Clegg or anyone else is able to change the very nature of the EU which is fundamentally illiberal. I also don’t understand why liberals in the Lib Dems seem willing to forget their principles and turn a blind eye when it comes to the EU.

  6. Toby MacDonnell Says:

    At present, the leviathan is winning. It looks like it could win again if it creates a two-tier Europe excluding non-Eurozone countries from EU-wide decisions, at which point I think it would be worth reconcidering Britain’s future in Europe. But there is potential for a North-Eastern Bloc of liberal free trade parties to face off against the Gaullists, and with new treaties on the cards it could be a moment at which to highlight the failures of nations like France, Greece and Italy and make liberal arguements for the EU.

    Free trade is a liberal priority, and the EU has the potential to further the cause. To pull out of Europe and not fight that corner would be to abandon it to spendthrifts, profligates, and protectionists who would endanger Britain’s economy once our major trading parties began to stall.

  7. Jack Hughes Says:


    Any idea what these liberal policies would be for the EU?

    What would be on the “reforming liberal agenda” ?

    I would like to see a much smaller role for the EU with a return of powers to national governments. And slash the EU budget.

    The decision to stay out of the euro looks like a good choice and I’m puzzled why the coalition govt is pouring UK taxpayers money into bailing out the Irish and Greek.

  8. Simon Goldie Says:

    @ Neil Thanks for your response. I don’t think anyone was saying you should have liberalism in your house. In fact, one of the themes of the posts of Liberal Vision, is that in a liberal society you have control over your life and can do as you wish as long as you cause no harm to others. So while liberalism may not be in your house, its values and structures would ensure you have that choice.

    @Jack Hughes I think Toby makes the point about why it is worth staying in for the time being to stop the rise of protectionism. Of course, the situation isn’t ideal and yes the mere fact that the EU exists is a form of protectionism but there are historical reasons for why it has come about. I have thought for a long while that there is some agreement between critics of the EU and Lib Dems, it is just that Lib Dems believe one should play a more active role in trying to change things. Whether the party can do that is a different discussion. But as it is in government, it has more of an opportunity than previously.

    What would a liberal reforming agenda look like? Well,Lib Dems used to talk about dispersing power and making sure that power was exercised at a suitable level. On that basis many powers would go from the EU and the EU would deal with cross border issues and issues where one country wasn’t in a position to negotiate globally. I imagine there would be much discussion over how one defined all that. This would inevitably lead to a reduced EU budget.The party doesn’t seem to talk about that much these days and part of the reason for my post was to encourage that debate.

  9. chessnuts Says:

    It seems many people even on sites like this still believe international trade agreements like the EFTA, EU, NAFTA, WTO, is pro free-trade.

  10. Lotus 51 Says:

    I’ve been an avid reader of LV for well over a year now and have to say I am utterly baffled. Neither the Liberal Democrat Party nor the EU can, in the true sense of the words, claim to espouse “liberalism” or “democracy”. The Orange Bookers have turned distinctly yellow since the election.

    Even if you personally have different perceptions of the words liberalsism and democracy, the policies of the LD party and the institution of the EU are anathemical to the political and economic philosophy that I perceive (and vehemently agree with)on this website.

    The EU is beloved of statist on the left and right for a combination of the following; high welfare, high regulation, high taxation, state intervention, corporatism, protectionism and crony capitalism.

    How can a liberal espousing personal freedom, democratic accountability, dispersal of power away from central political elites, free-markets and civil liberties support the LDs and the EU?

    The sad fact is that the EU is descending into soft-fascism; a state-directed capitalism which enriches big corporations and protects vested interests at the expense of small businesses, citizens, consumers and taxpayers. This is a logical consequence of the concentration of power to an unaccountable central political and beaurocratic elite.

    The difference bewteen corporatism and socialism is that with corporatism the boot stamping on your face has a company logo and with socialism the boot stamping on your face bears your national flag. The EU seems to manage to do both of these.

  11. Simon Goldie Says:

    @Chessnuts I don’t think anyone is quite saying that. The argument is that if you participate in these organisations you can push for free trade whereas outside it becomes far more difficult. It is a tactical decision about how to change things and only time will tell whether it can work. Of course, it will never work if one doesn’t try to change things.

    @Lotus51 As my reply to Chessnuts it is a tactical decision. If the EU reaches a point of no returning, then the Lib Dems would have to seriously rethink. Some clearly feel we have reached that point but I don’t think the UK has really tried to build a liberal consensus. I think what worries liberals who are arguing to stay in the EU for the time being is that if the UK leaves, the EU will stay impose policies on UK businesses and we will have no say whatsoever.

  12. Simon Goldie Says:

    @Lotus51 by the way, thanks for reading the LV blog and I am glad you agree with the general approach even if you may disagree with some tactical ideas.

  13. Angela Harbutt Says:

    Can I make one small point- it was Ed Davey – lib dem mp and Employment Relations minister in BIS that actually went to Europe and got 13 other member states to vote against the EU proposed mandatory 20 weeeks maternity leave on full pay across all states – arguing that a one size fits all policy would not work -and was for many smaller UK companies (and other nations companies) simply unaffordable.

    That I think is one example of Lib dems in power engaging with other European states to stop at least one tranche of madness. It was as I say a small win – but shows that change can come within and hopefully will spawn future liberal initiatives.

    I for one am a Lib Dem who is a neutral on Europe. I sign up totally to the concept but have, like many, been appaulled at the direction it has taken. I think it is however worth attempting change from within – and am actually hopeful that the current economic problems in Europe will act as a check to the bureaucrats power and bring about much-needed change. Sitting on the sidelines carping about the ills but doing nothing is surely not a very satisfactory approach to our situation.

  14. Simon Rigelsford Says:

    One of the reasons why I’m slightly uncomfortable with “libertarian centre-right” groups like the Freedom Association and the Taxpayers’ Alliance is their obsession with the EU.

    I don’t disagree that much of what the EU does is bad for this country. But so is much of what our own Parliament does. This idea that if not for “regulations from Brussels” then we would be living in some free market paradise is absurd.

    Free market liberals and libertarians should remember that the vast majority of those who support leaving the EU are not generally people who are strongly opposed the CAP, protectionism and business regulation. They’re people who don’t like immigrants. So my concern is that if the EU was to break up, it would give a real boost to European nationalists – who are far more protectionist and socialist than the EU.

  15. Lotus 51 Says:

    @Simon R.
    You are arguing that we should stay in the EU to save it breaking up into protectionist, nationalist and socialism states…. but that’s precisley what the EU is itself becoming. I also strongly disagree with your comment that “the vast majority of those who support leaving the EU are not generally people who are strongly opposed the CAP, protectionism and business regulations” I am vehemently opposed to all of those and I the son of a farmer! Even if what you say is true, then at least in my opinion these people are advoctaing the right policy (EU withdrawl) for the wrong reasons. This is vastly preferebale to advocating a bad policy for the right reasons, which is precisely the situation for those supporting EU membership. I have no doubt that Europhiles are well-intentioned, they are superficialy appealing (collaboration, cooperation..yada, yada), but the consequences of their policies enacted by the political elites tye support are truly dire and disastrous.

    “They’re people who don’t like immigrants”
    I advocate withdrawl from the EU, not becasue I am a xenophobe but because I am democrat and a liberal.

    @ Simon G
    If I thought that the EU could reform itself, I would be in favour of staying in as a tactical move. I was once an enthusiastic supporter of the EEC, but have come to see it as an unrelenting ratchet of corporatism and statism. I was born and brought up in Portugal and have dual nationality. In Portugal I lived under the fascist regime of Salazar’s “Estado Novo” and then later under the revolutionary socialism of the 1970s. Believe me I know what a totalitarian state is like and I recognised from a very early age that the left-right axis is an incorrect description of politics – that far left and far right were the same statist monkeys sitting on different tree. And I sincereley believe that these monkeys haven’t gone away, they just moved to a new tree..the EU.

    “Sitting on the sidelines carping about the ills but doing nothing is surely not a very satisfactory approach to our situation.” You’re absolutely right, which is why we should be negotiating our exit from the EU but maintain free trade, just like Norway & Switzerland who have free trade with the EU without the expensive monetary and regulatory costs of membership. Oustide of the EU we would then be free to properly open up trade with the rest of the world and leverage our historic links with the anglosphere.

  16. Angela Harbutt Says:

    The failure of UKplc to trade with the rest of the world and leverage our (somewhat dubious) empire links, special relationships etc can hardly be blamed on the EU. There has been nothing – and is nothing -to stop us. We, the UK made ourselves over-reliant on that particular market – which in turn will make it harder to step away – if that is what is to happen. Methinks that is why DC is dashing about the likes of India so often these days….

    I am also astonished quite frankly at how gold-plated every single EU directive is over here. i think the point has been made previously..but on many occassion UK governments have used the EU as an excuse to do something that they wanted to do anyway… The EU was a convenient bogeyman to hide behind.

    I seriously doubt that leaving the EU would deliver liberal freemarket govenements in the UK – though I sincerely wish that were the case. Nor do I believe that it will create the conditions that are more conducive to them. I rather fear that Simon R is right about why so many want to leave – though you are clearly not in that camp.

    At least we are agreed that whilst we are in it we should do all we can to make it more liberal… a big challenge – but not an impossible one.And as I say – perhaps the current economic woes may cause all member states to consider again the actions for the bureaucrats in Brussels and reign them in too.